The presidential candidates are already in a 24-hour spotlight. By November 2016, we will know them—or think we do—and judge what we believe we see and hear from them. Are they credible? Likeable? Trustworthy? They know our votes depend upon the answers to these questions.
Unlike Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, and others, we may never have to grapple with the glaring spotlight of a national campaign. Yet we regularly present ourselves in a variety of settings—at meetings, webinars, interviews, conferences or seminars. Some of us speak publicly all the time. Yet being the focus of attention can still challenge our confidence.
With a few “insider” tips from presidential candidates or winners, you can shine both in and out of the spotlight.
Focus on your message—not on how you’re feeling to overcome nervous jitters. How you approach the podium or the webcam is key. Take time to breathe from the diaphragm, smile and make eye contact with a familiar face or the camera, rather than your laptop screen. Know your opening and closing cold so you can connect at these two critical moments. Don’t try to cover up your nervousness. Experienced speakers learn to move beyond nerves immediately to what their audiences need to know.
Never memorize. Instead, go over your words so frequently that they become conversational for you. Open with an attention-getting fact, quote or anecdote. If you have a script on a teleprompter, or notes in hand, mark both for pauses, eye contact, breathing and emphasis. Use large type, double-spaced lines and the top two-thirds of the page only, so you can quickly spot your points when you need them. If you’re really familiar with your message, then you may only need bullet points on a notecard, which is a plus. Then look up, speak—and if you’re reading from a script, slide the pages across the podium rather than turning them over. Flag your closing with “finally,” “in conclusion” or “before closing,” then sum up and hit the home run. Don’t just fade away. Move people to act!
Learn how a teleprompter works. Remember, when there is laughter or applause, the prompter operator will be moving ahead to your next speaking point. You can begin whenever you like. The prompter operator can’t move too far forward until you actually speak, so you’re in control, not the operator. He may have to stop and go back, but you can prepare him, by telling him to move through the blank space at the same speed as through the word space. Obama is comfortable with this, but McCain was not, and it showed.
Practice, practice, practice, especially if someone else has written your speech. Read it aloud to be sure it sounds like you. Busy people often wait until the last minute to review a speech and then stumble in the delivery. Sounding good in your head is different from getting your lips, teeth and tongue around the words. If it doesn’t read well aloud, edit. Ronald Reagan made every speech his own by skillfully editing and including his own stories.
Communicate leadership and strength through your tone of voice, the words you use and your body language. When these expressions of yourself are consistent and in alignment, you build trust. What do you believe? What do you stand for? Let people know. Personal stories are the very best way to do this.
Use positive, genuine emotion and enthusiasm to speak with your true “voice.” If you have no emotional contact with your audience, you will have no impact. Think of Al Gore, who sounded like a policy wonk in the 2000 campaign. On the other hand, think of Elizabeth Warren discussing taxes, wages, jobs or education; Obama’s “Together we can!” or Hillary’s “I will always fight for you…”
People know unerringly know when we’re genuine and respond. Rudy Giuliani is a textbook example. Watching his 9/11 press conferences, you see him wearing a Yankees cap, breathing easily and answering that we’ll keep working to rescue people because… “we’re dealing with New Yorkers here.” That day, everyone became a New Yorker, whether they loved Giuliani or hated him.
Be inclusive. Use words like WE instead of ME or YOU. And be aware of how you are using your body. Face the audience fully. Obama is good at inclusion, frequently using “we” and opening his palms as he speaks. Inclusive also means using fifty-cent words instead of $1.50 ones. Reagan and Bill Clinton were masters of this. Whether speaking to commoners or kings, keep the language easy. Simple. Leave no one out.
Learn to read and use these powerful cues. We make instant decisions about people in the first seven seconds we meet. Studies show that 93 percent of the impact of face-to-face communication comes from the tone of our voice and what our bodies say about us. What nonverbal cues are you sending? When Obama showed he was annoyed with Hillary’s answers in those debates, we read that in his head tilt, tone and manner. When McCain walked with his back to the audience, blowing his nose while listening to a voter’s question, we read that too.
Appear credible. Don’t let the way you look divert attention from your message. Wear a great-fitting pants or skirt suit—and leave the distracting chandelier earrings and charm bracelets at home. (TV anchors are good role models for this.) Both Obama and McCain dressed well. Remember those sweater vests worn by one of the candidates? What did they say about him? While Obama has the advantage of a tall, thin build, I saw McCain in person, and—although shorter—he conveyed powerful internal energy. We all have to do our best with what we’ve been given at birth.
Make direct eye contact, the most powerful credibility-builder in the West.
Stand straight, with your weight equally distributed on both feet. Lean slightly toward your audience. Don’t slip a shoe off because your feet hurt. Let your hands rest at your sides or on the podium, then use them for emphasis, making sure your gestures match your words.
All nonverbal behaviors are powerful clues to underlying inner beliefs. Watch the candidates over the coming months, and see what you can detect from their examples. Do their gestures match their words, or are they late or off in other ways? Are their smiles genuine, or are they grimaces? Are their heads cocked, communicating contempt or boredom?
Do your words, tone of voice and gestures match your actions? Dr. Albert Mehrabian, published now famous research on the psychology of human memory proved 93% of the impact of face-to-face communication is the tone of our voice and our movements or what we do with our bodies.
I guarantee that if you use even one of the tips included here, you’ll be perceived as more confident and powerful—whether you’re in the spotlight or outside of it.
That includes all the tiny muscles of the face and eyes, the neck, shoulders, stomach, knees, hands elbows – everything. When you speak, do you gain credibility and trust?
In this new political cycle there will be countless debates, meet and greets, glad-handing, baby kissing, many national television appearances on political shows, film from candidates’s past public appearances and more. There will be many, many words, talking points and opportunities for faux pas. I’d like you to commit to watching the body language and tone that is the nonverbal behavior of the candidates.
Freud said, “The lips conceal, the body reveals. Truth oozes out of every pore.” When someone zips the lips, what happens to their face? When someone is caught in “misspeak,” what happens in their bodies? Their head? Eyes? Do they blink? open wider? Slowly close and open? Lips? Tight, relaxed, smiling? Do their teeth show when they smile? How are their shoulders? Relaxed, strained with tension? Hands? Knees? If you watch carefully you’ll observe significant truths oozing from the candidates’ pores. Compare the energy, tone and gestures, of Hilary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney. Do their words, their energy, their tone of voice and gestures match the words they say? Pay attention!
And, remember, that 93% of your own nonverbal behavior, your words, gestures, and tone reveal much about you every second of every day and that when our words, our tone of voice and our gestures are all in alignment, we build credibility and trust.
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