Presidential Public Speaking: A Tale Of Two Extremes

23/08/2016 14:39 | Updated 23 August 2016

Last month, I discussed what makes a good speaker, focusing on the EU referendum to examine the body language and rhetorical devices employed by various personalities in the political arena.

In light of the political campaigns happening in the US at the moment, I feel it is an appropriate time to re-visit this area - this time looking at the disparate nature of the Clinton and Trump speech performances.

What's amazing about the US election campaigns so far is, in my opinion, the two extremes we're experiencing in terms of speech delivery, revealing a battle of style vs. substance at its absolute limits.

On the one hand, we have an orator with the capacity to stir up the emotions of all the delegates in the room. Donald Trump is a master of eliciting fervent passions from individuals who sit at both ends of the love/hate spectrum. It is this ability to divide an audience, while still engaging with them, that could potentially mean his supporters' emotions will be the overriding factor as they carry their vote to the polling station.

If it was possible to remove the emotion from these supporters and to focus them, instead, on the actual policies, I'd suggest that they would struggle to articulate the platform that Donald Trump would deliver to the nation should he be elected on Tuesday 8th November.

On that basis, you'd think it reasonable to assume the other candidate must be sitting pretty in the race for the US presidency. On the other hand, however, we have Hillary Clinton. Solely focused on displaying her gravitas and content-driven approach, she has gone to the other end of the 'speaking spectrum'.

Keen to demonstrate her ability to have a handle on all issues, whether domestic or foreign, and to position herself as the intellectual superior in the presidential race, Hillary has forgotten to engage the hearts of the electorate. In doing so, she has run the risk of being viewed as cold and clinical, and potentially turning off voters who may begin to question whether they want her to be in charge of their country as a result.

You could equate this situation to the classic school election - the naughty school bully who can rile up the emotions of the class with their controversial claims vs. the serious school swot who appears aloof to other students, despite being the perfect choice according to the teacher. In most cases, the majority of the class is not 100% happy with either candidate, which means they end up making their choice following an internal battle of heart against mind.

So what does a choice between two extremes of candidate mean for the presidential election? I maintain that a speaker who gives a strong performance and taps into the emotions of their audience will win the day, at least in the short-term, because they will leave their addressees feeling empowered and uplifted in the immediate aftermath of their speech. In the long-term, however, the audience will be most rewarded by the speaker who focuses on content, and delivers this with substance and clarity.

Perhaps the real winner here is the sitting President, Barack Obama - an individual who understands how to deliver a sweeping, emotionally intensive and engaging speech, while simultaneously ensuring that its content has substance and value. While some argue that Obama has been detrimental to his country during his 8 years of presidency, the one undisputed factor is that he has always been clear about his goals, delivered these with passion, and made sure that they have been adhered to - the electorate have been delivered to in both the short- and long-term.

The big question, then, is will Tuesday 8th November arrive quickly enough for Donald Trump - while the electorate are still captured by the mood of the moment generated by his emotional oratory - or will rational thought prevail as the result of a reflective populace, despite the less emotionally stimulating delivery of Hillary Clinton's speeches? In my opinion, this election comes down to a race between style and content - and, at this point in time, it is not certain which one will win.

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