Presidential Persuasion: How Do You Compare?
The best communicators avoid these pitfalls:
— Clouding rather than clarifying your point
— Using language that floats above the heads of your audience
— Being insensitive
— Being inaccurate
— Giving words your own definition so your errors seem less serious
— Being too emphatic.
To learn what the best communicators actually do, rather than what they avoid doing, consider the successful verbal techniques used by influencers who are good at what they do. First, though, take this little quiz.
√ Assume you are scheduled to deliver a short speech following the person who is now speaking. (Feel free to find a YouTube video of the person addressing an audience.) Which of the following persons do you think would be the toughest act to follow? Circle your answer.
a) Actor Tom Hanks
b) President Obama
c) Businessman Warren Buffet
d) Comedian Jay Leno
e) CEO of OWN Oprah Winfrey
f) Singer Beyonce
g) Tesla, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk
h) Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
i) former basketball player Magic Johnson
Based on the selection you made, what does this person say or do that is likely to positively influence his or her audience? Write two details here:
How could you use some element of influence employed by these individuals (or another effective influencer) in your next influence effort?
Use the list as a discussion prompt with those who are considered influential in your organization or community. Compile a list of the methods used by successful influencers.
At the end of three months, ask a friend or co-worker to be present at the next occasion when you are expected to influence others. Have your colleague evaluate your presentation on the basis of the effective attributes you have listed.
Bill Clinton, to be sure, can be regarded as one of our most persuasive speakers. Read this excerpt from his remarks at the first 1996 presidential debate, in Hartford, Connecticut. Then, examine the stylistic devices that were used.
Clinton began this way: "I want to begin by saying again how much I respect Senator Dole and his record of public service, and how hard I will try to make this campaign and this debate one of ideas, not insults. Four years ago I ran for President at a time of high unemployment and rising frustration. Four years ago, you took me on faith. Now, there's a record: 10 and 1/2 million more jobs, rising incomes, falling crime rates...."
Study these four sentences and try to isolate at least three elements that might influence voters to support the President and not his opponent.
Now see if your analysis of his words matches the analysis below.
1. Clinton's opening words constitute a very clever ploy. Not only does he appear gracious by expressing his admiration for the Bob Dole, but he also places the debate on "high moral ground." Should his opponent begin with attacks on Clinton's character, he will appear to be relying on insults and not ideas. Few would dare make themselves vulnerable in this way after what the President said about discussing ideas.
2. Clinton acknowledges there have been problems--high unemployment and rising frustration. Typically, disclosure helps create the sense that the influencer can be trusted. Of course, the implication is that the President inherited those problems but nonetheless he cuts to the quick by telling us what his focus has been.
3. Clinton juxtaposes long sentences with medium-length sentences, with short sentences.
4. He indirectly compliments the audience's good judgment in having taking him on faith.
5. He sets up a bi-polarity between faith and fact.
6. This bipolar structure permits him to seamlessly introduce the accomplishments of his first term in office.
Here’s your challenge. Assume you’ve been asked to deliver a commencement address (or asked to speak to any audience of at least 30 people). What would your first four sentences say? And, what persuasive elements would you be able to incorporate in them. Once you have a clear sense of what works, use those techniques in future situations that require the best of you, in terms of persuasion. And, realize that very few people can “wing it” and hope to be a powerful persuader. You need to structure your words for optimum effect. After all, as famed keynoter Somers White observes, “Ninety percent of how well the talk will go is determined before the speaker steps on the platform."