Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Speaking vs. Talking: Lessons for CEOs

82097_the-battlestar-galactica-presidential-podiumAs expected, President Trump’s inauguration speech was followed by an avalanche of analysis from former presidential speechwriters and other pundits. For CEO’s and their speechwriters, one of the most interesting pieces was a New York Times OpEd by John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia.

McWhorter pointed out that Trump communicates at the podium by “talking” rather than “speaking.” That is, in his speeches “Mr. Trump talks the way any number of people would over drinks.”

This conversational, informal approach to speeches certainly worked for candidate Trump. “Mr. Trump’s come-as-you-are speaking style was part of his appeal, making the scion of a wealthy New York family seem relatable to someone in the rural Plains,” McWhorter argued.

It’s far too early to predict whether the new president’s “talking” style will work from the White House bully pulpit. But should corporate and nonprofit CEO’s try shifting from speaking to talking?

The short answer, based on my experience, is… “It depends.” The chat-with-folks-the-way-you-would-in-a-bar approach can work well on some occasions, especially when introducing speakers, or presenting awards. But when a leader is articulating a vision, or making an argument for change, it’s critically important to be clear and concise and–above all–inspiring.

For most CEO’s, I’ve found the best way to do that is to start with a prepared script. Without one, CEO’s can be tempted to go off on tangents, losing the audience’s attention (and even respect).

However, even though I write speeches for a living, I know all too well that a prepared script is not a guarantee of success. A leader who glumly recites his or her text can lose the audience just as quickly as the leader who goes off on tangents.

That’s why I strongly recommend CEO’s work with a writer to develop a strong script, and work with a speech coach to practice ways to deliver that speech naturally and persuasively.

 

 

Inauguration Speech Advice Part 2: Learn from the Best

trump podiumAs I noted in an earlier post, I’m quite sure that Donald Trump’s speechwriting team will NOT be turning to me for advice about the inauguration, but … what the heck?

A few weeks ago, I suggested that DJT’s writers learn from the worst: Don’t channel Warren G. Harding!

I hereby conclude my free advice by suggesting the President-elect also learn from the best. And the inaugural speech I have in mind is not by an American president – but by Nelson Mandela.

Now, before steam rises from your ears and your fingers leap to the keyboard to protest, let me be clear: I am acutely aware that there well may be no two people more different in personal history, character, judgement, and values than Mandela and Trump. (That’s right, you just saw “Mandela” and “Trump” in the same sentence.)

Still, I think our new president could (and certainly should) learn a lot from the words of South Africa’s first black president.

Mandela spoke after an historic, decades long struggle for freedom that took many lives, cost Mandela and thousands of others their freedom, and left his nation bitterly divided. His inauguration speech is an extraordinary message of reconciliation and human dignity.

Almost 25 years later, it still inspires and uplifts. Here are just a few samples

  • To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld….
  •  Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change….
  •  The time for the healing of the wounds has come.
  • The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.
  • The time to build is upon us……
  • We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world…

Of course, America 2017 is radically different than 1994 South Africa. Still, we have gone through an extraordinarily divisive election, and our political system is more polarized than I can remember. If President Trump wants to set a new tone, he could start on inauguration day…by following the example of President Mandela.

Inauguration Speech Advice Part 1: Learn from the Worst

170px-WGHardingI’m quite sure that Donald Trump’s speechwriting team will not be looking to me for advice on preparing his inauguration speech. But, what the heck, I’m going to offer some anyway, in my next couple blog posts.

Unsought bit of advice #1 … learn from Harding.

In the 1920’s, William Gibbs McAdoo a Democratic Senator from California, described the speeches of President Warren G. Harding, with these words:  “[A]n army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.”

Harding certainly got off to a really bad start, delivering an inauguration speech that is usually rated as among the worst, if not the very worst, ever given.

Just a few samples (I read it in full so you don’t have to.):

Let us express renewed and strengthened devotion, in grateful reverence for the immortal beginning, and utter our confidence in the supreme fulfillment.

But America, our America, the America builded on the foundation laid by the inspired fathers, can be a party to no permanent military alliance. It can enter into no political commitments, nor assume any economic obligations which will subject our decisions to any other than our own authority.

The unselfishness of these United States is a thing proven; our devotion to peace for ourselves and for the world is well established; our concern for preserved civilization has had its impassioned and heroic expression.

With the nation-wide induction of womanhood into our political life, we may count upon her intuitions, her refinements, her intelligence, and her influence to exalt the social order. We count upon her exercise of the full privileges and the performance of the duties of citizenship to speed the attainment of the highest state.

The speechwriting lesson here could not be more clear: stay away from platitudes, clichés, and leaden phrasing.

Off the cuff revisited

trump podiumAlmost exactly a year ago, I wrote an article for Ragan.com, “Should you let your CEO go unscripted?.” It was prompted by the fact that one of the reasons Donald Trump was doing stunningly well was that his presentations were ad-libbed. As a result, a lot of pundits said, he was coming across as much more “genuine” and “authentic” than typical politicians.

I warned, however, that most CEO’s should NOT follow Trump’s example. Instead, they should work with a speechwriter and presentation coach to deliver prepared speeches in a convincing, natural sounding way.

Well, it turns out going unscripted doesn’t even work for Trump himself. Much of the recent analysis of the campaign has highlighted attempts by Trump’s team to keep him on message. They’ve even got him using a teleprompter during his presentations. And sure enough, he seemed to be doing his best and closing the gap with Hillary Clinton when he followed a disciplined approach.

Unfortunately for Trump, he returned to “off-the cuff” big time, starting with first Presidential debate. How the Washington Post described a recent speech tells it all.

Donald Trump’s campaign announced Saturday evening that the candidate would soon deliver a nine-sentence critique of comments Hillary Clinton made months ago about many of the millennials supporting her primary rival, Bernie Sanders… It didn’t work. It took Trump nearly 25 minutes to read the brief statement because he kept going off on one angry tangent after another — ignoring his teleprompters and accusing Clinton of not being “loyal” to her husband, imitating her buckling at a memorial service last month, suggesting that she is “crazy” and saying she should be in prison.

There is no doubt that being genuine is now costing Trump votes, lots of votes.

Both politicians and CEOs should remember that those who live without a script can just as easily die that way, too.

The Melania Flap: The Good News for Speechwriters

microphoneWhen the insider books about the Trump campaign start popping up late this year, it will be fun to find out exactly how those lines from Michelle Obama’s speech made it pretty much verbatim into Melania’s. My guess is a Trump speechwriter or researcher started off with a great idea – Let’s look at past speeches by would-be first ladies that were well received. But somehow the writing and vetting process got so messed up that what should have been background research became lines in final script.

I’m sure that whoever worked on the speech is scared to death of hearing “You’re fired!” from The Donald himself. But for the speechwriting profession as a whole, I think the Melania flap is very good news.

Why? Because it underscores that fact that – even in an age when new forms of communication seem to pop up every minute – the prepared speech remains critically important. Social media, of course, has become an extremely powerful tool. But when people are deciding whether someone has what it takes to be a leader, they want to see and hear how that person does at a podium. That’s why the speeches of aspiring leaders (and even their spouses) are scrutinized so closely. And that’s why they should be.

Business executives and political leaders who want to inspire audiences should be sure to include strong speechwriters, and great presentation coaches on their communication teams. Oh yeah, and you should invest in some good plagiarism detection software, too.