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3 Convention Speakers & What We Can Learn From Them

khizr-khan

I am admittedly a speech nerd and as such I watched just about every speech at both the RNC and DNC forums. While doing my own analysis I was struck by something that NY Times columnist and PBS commentator, David Brooks said. He remarked that at the conventions he found that speakers generally fit into one of three categories:

1. Screamers (See Congressman Luis Gutierrez https://youtu.be/XVIxMwzKDd4)

These are the individuals who forget how to properly use a microphone and blast their message to the rafters with no filter. They forget that they don’t have to yell to be heard. When I do it, I call it my “gym teacher voice” – trying to be heard over a bunch of screaming kids. The message may be good but it loses its effectiveness and it shuts down listeners.

2. Conversationalists (See Michael Bloomberg: https://youtu.be/9n3vuf-rbd8)

These are the folks who deliver their message in a conversational tone as if they were sitting across a dinner table with friends. It is authentic to them but may not carry the emotional punch needed to truly ignite the audience.

3. Quiet Passion (See Khizr Khan: https://youtu.be/Xzkkk-oJ6bo)

Khizer Khan, the father of a deceased Muslim U.S. Soldier delivered one of the most dignified and powerful speeches at the DNC. Brooks described the “quiet passionate speaker” as someone who is able to convey an intensity in the voice but with a quiet and more thoughtful tone.

There were many examples of speakers in all three categories at both conventions. Again, these groupings are not necessarily a critique of the actual message but it is a reminder that the power of a good speech lies not just in the words you speak but in the delivery of that content.

As a speech coach, I believe there is value in working on the quiet passionate delivery model. A client recently asked me, “Great, but how do you do that?” Here are a few pointers to get there:

• Practice using a microphone
Rehearse with the particular kind of microphone you will be using in the room where you will be speaking, This is key to comfort, confidence and success. Remember that a microphone amplifies your voice but is not a substitute for vocal expression. Get to the meeting room early and do a sound check. Understand how close or far away you need to be from the mic to achieve the desired affect. Position someone at different points in the room and gather feedback on how well you are being heard. You will always have the most control with a handheld microphone but if you are using a lavaliere on lectern mic you will need to ensure that the placement is just right.

• Vary your pitch, rhythm and volume
When you give a speech you are really telling a story to your audience. And good storytellers master their vocal dynamics to engage the listener. Practice daily. I recommend reading children’s storybooks aloud. When we read to children we slow down, speed up, change our volume and vary our pace – all to keep the child engaged in the story telling. The same is true when making a speech. Rather than thinking you have to talk louder to get people’s attention, consider that a whisper will draw people in and is often much more effective.

• Identify the operative word in each sentence.
All words are not created equal. In any given sentence there will be a single word that is most important to highlight. For instance, consider the seven-word sentence:
I NEVER SAID SHE STOLE MY MONEY.
Try now to deliver that sentence seven times giving emphasis to a different word in the sentence each time. Choosing a different operative word each time can change the meaning of the sentence. When we give each word equal emphasis we end up speaking in a monotone.

• Be vulnerable and speak from the heart.
This is likely the most difficult of the practices. Quiet passion’s most essential ingredient is the ability to convey what matters most to you. Look for the universal truth, the common human theme in what you are saying. Loyalty, Commitment, Honor, Courage… Once you identify that, tell your story in the most genuine way you can. Practice your delivery with a close friend or family member. Work to mirror that same level of intimacy with a large audience. If you can allow yourself to be vulnerable, the rewards will be great.