You’d have to live in a sight or sound-proof room – underwater – to have missed the action at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions over these last few weeks.
I wasn’t able to catch much of either live, but I saw plenty of tv coverage, read some news articles, and watched several of the speeches on YouTube. At first I thought it would be fun to write an oratory Family Feud-like blog post and see how the Clinton family (Hillary and Chelsea) stacked up against the Trump family (Donald and Ivanka), but the speech I couldn’t get out of my head was Michelle Obama’s.
Now, before I go any further you should know that Robin and I really admire Michelle Obama. She’s the total package: an articulate, intelligent working mom, with great fashion sense and arms we envy for days. Those arms – and how to get a pair as toned as them – are a regular topic of conversation in our office. We are so inspired by them that there are several Michelle Obama arm pics in the office, providing us with inspiration for our next workout.
So the first lady probably could’ve turned out a real clunker of a speech (as if) and we’d still be in her corner. But in true Michelle Obama fashion, she rocked it – again – to the point that we should all take a page from her presentation handbook.
If you haven’t seen Mrs. Obama’s Democratic National Conventions speech you can find it here. It’s quick (14 minutes) and definitely worth the watch. A YouTube search will also yield a host of other speeches our first lady has given over time. And it doesn’t really matter which speech you watch. Mrs. Obama employs the same tried and true methods each time to deliver speeches that are relatable, accessible, and as a result, inspirational.
What’s her secret? What made her more convincing and likable than almost any other speaker at either convention? Aside from the actual content, which we won’t get into here…
She shares herself, she doesn’t just tell a story. Mrs. Obama opens her Democratic National Convention speech with a story about watching her girls leave for their first day of school in Washington DC, wondering what the impact their new life as the first family will have on them. But she doesn’t stop at the story. She shares the doubt and fear she felt – emotions every audience member can relate to – and in the process gives the audience a little piece of herself, strengthening her connection with the audience. She uses this method throughout the speech so that by the end, we feel like we know her, we like her, and we want to hear more of whatever she’s got to say.
Donald’s self share strategy is 180 degrees different from Mrs. Obama’s. He doesn’t share one personal detail about himself throughout his speech, relying instead on the stories of others to illustrate his points. He waits till the very end of his speech to get to the personal stuff – an introduction of the family he loves dearly – which isn’t much of an emotional stretch.
Hillary fares a little better than Donald in the self-sharing category, but can’t hold a candle to Mrs. Obama. We get glimpses of Hillary’s heart as she shares her history of public service, but she stops short of sharing anything really personal the way Michelle does. At the end of the speech we still don’t feel like we know Hillary much better than she did when she walked onto the stage.
Now the “share yourself” strategy isn’t for everyone. It can be hard to share in front of an audience of strangers, but it pays off big if you can get it down. Vulnerability fosters a connection between speaker and audience, as is expertly demonstrated here by Mrs. Obama. Need some ideas for putting more of yourself out there on the stage or in front of the audience? See Robin’s recent post about authenticity.
Her tone is open and inviting. Somehow this lady is able to turn a speech in front of thousands of people into a living room conversation between friends. She’s talking with the audience, not at the audience. So, even though this is a speech and there is not opportunity for dialogue, Mrs. Obama’s tone is one that suggests she would like there to be a dialogue, and if she weren’t on this stage in front of all these people, she would sit right down with you for a chat. She likes us, we like her…can you come over next week and hang out?
Maybe it’s because they are running for office and the stakes are higher, but the tone used by Donald and Hillary – both remind me of the tone I use when I am exasperated with my kids – contrasts sharply with that of our fabulous Mrs O. There’s no hanging out and no conversation with Donald and Hillary, it’s “my way or the highway” with not much tonal indication that they have any affinity for their audience. No hugs here.
She uses hand gestures that draw the audience in. I hadn’t really noticed Michelle Obama’s hand gestures until this DNC speech, and now that I have I will be emulating her for sure. Mrs. Obama’s gestures are open and inviting, she holds her fingers are slightly apart – not rigid – and they curl in a bit. Her hands face her body most of the time. When she points, she points up to the sky (not at the audience) and she often joins her pointer finger to her thumb in gesture, kind of like the “A-OK” gesture. Her gestures match her speaking style: relaxed yet confident. Bill Clinton, another of my favorite convention speakers, uses similar gestures. Their hands say, “Come with me, let’s go together.”
What do our candidates’ gestures say? To my amateur body language eye they say, “Take cover!” Hillary tends toward rigidly held hands, with fingers closer together. She likes to chop, chop, chop on an imaginary cutting board in front of her. Alternately she gestures with palms out toward the audience. The Donald’s hands are a little more relaxed with fingers apart, but he likes to hold them up, palms outward as if he is hitting something in front of him or chopping the air. He also points – at the audience – a lot.
Success in presentations is about connection with the audience and Michelle Obama bested the entire field of speakers at both conventions in this category.
Mrs. Obama, I hope we get to see more of you as you and your family leave the White House and transition back to “normal” life.
Hillary and Donald, you don’t have to look far for some surefire presentation pointers.