Most of my students admit to being afraid of public speaking because they’re afraid to look stupid in front of a large group of people. I’m no different; very few of us enjoy public humiliation. There are a few brave, thick-skinned men and women who have to suffer through occasional embarrassment for lack of public speaking skills: politicians. And when you’re constantly on the road campaigning, speaking to crowds, and doing interviews with press, when gaffes happen, they’re captured on camera. One of my favorite cringeworthy moments, for example, was the infamous Howard Dean “yeahhh!” back in 2004. As opposed to ruining a politician’s credibility, I think the occasional gaffe can actually help that politician connect with the public.
We know from studying the delivery master, Garr Reynolds, that the ultimate goal of delivery is connecting with an audience. I often find, however, that politicians have a hard time with this. In fact, I always tell my students that political leaders break most of the public speaking and presentation rules we learn in class. For example, they have speech writers do much of their research, audience analysis, preparation, and content organization for them instead of doing it themselves. They stand behind a podium, putting a barrier between their bodies and their audience. They’ve been known to read an entire speech word-for-word from a script on the podium or from a teleprompter. All of these are presentation no-nos, but politicians are more worried about saying the right thing than they are about ditching the script and connecting with people in an authentic way. Why? Because it’s hard!
While a few gaffes quickly go from missteps to viral YouTube videos, as a whole, I think making a mistake and acknowledging that mistake is a good thing. Take Mitt Romney for example. This morning, he announced Paul Ryan as his running mate. Check out the video below:
Romney’s gaffe was the first time that day many people got to see him ditch the pre-written script and really work off the cuff. In my opinion, this was Romney’s strongest delivery all day! He was humorous, engaging, and natural… a real person as opposed to a robot. What’s not to love?
We have increasingly seen more “town-hall” style meetings and less formal, stogy, boring, inauthentic presentations from politicians, especially with our presidential candidates. I love this style! A town hall feels much more relaxed and real, doesn’t it? As far as public speaking and politics go, I’d love to see a lot more authenticity and a lot less formality. What are your thoughts? Are there any politicians who embody natural, authentic delivery whether at a town hall or a more formal setting? Whose political presentations have you enjoyed lately?