Courtesy of Radio Four’s Today the soaring rhetoric of Obama filled my hotel room on Tuesday morning, pitch perfect as ever. But he’s yesterday’s man. Obama the Citroen 2CV to Trump’s eight cylinder Merc, the one with the fastest acceleration, biggest engine and highest top speed. A chat with an investment manager on Monday provided proof, near-as-dammit. My financial friend awoke to the news of Trump’s victory last November and immediately emailed her team: prepare to buy, markets will be 400 points down. When she got to the office markets were only 50 points down and all bets were off.
Trump’s remarks, around 5am UK time, were the reason. Much to everyone’s surprise he channelled his inner Mandela and was pitch perfect. Empirical evidence- or as near as you can get in such matters- of the power of the right words at the right time. The eagerly anticipated sharp fall never happened and the money manager’s strategy was tweaked before breakfast.
On the big stage, when the stakes are high, words carry weight: they change things. Obama in Pennsylvania and Lincoln at Gettysburg made remarks that endure in the history books, but more importantly had an effect as soon as they were said. A More Perfect Union secured the Democratic nomination for Obama and The Gettysburg Address set America on its improbable experiment in democracy.
We know our words always carry weight and their heft (with a nod to Aristotle) is a combination of character (ethos), the facts (logos) and how we say them (pathos). Jeremy Corbyn spoke this week too and after a year still appears underprepared for the lectern and reluctant to lead. The only effective oratory Theresa May has delivered is the speech that got her the job, everything else since then bodes ill if you believe the prime minister’s role is more leadership than management.
There are a few key things everyone who is tasked with speaking one in front of many can work on:
- The long-term project that is your reputation, or your character; put the hard yards in and make the effort to get that “you” out there.
- Know your stuff as being good on your feet is not style over substance; be an expert by finding something you love to do and knowing more about it than everyone else in the room.
- Become skilled with words and what your audience sees when you say them; find your sweet spot: the right phrases, the pace and pause, volume, structure it to suit your style and how you like to pitch. Make the sum of everything congruent with your character.
The last word on this should go to recently passed Zsa Zsa Gabor:
It’s not what I say it’s the way that I say it.
It’s not what I do it’s the way that I do it.
And how I look when I’m saying and doing it.
You simply can’t trump that.
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about the author
Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive and is an expert on public speaking. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.