What Is a Demagogue?

Christopher Witt —  November 24, 2015 — Leave a comment

What is a demagogue?In ancient Greece a demagogue was a leader who championed the rights of the common people.

Today we think of a demagogue as a speaker who whips up people’s fears and anger, plays to their prejudices, and makes false claims and promises.

(Unfortunately, we have too many examples of demagogues both here in the U.S. and in Europe.)

In times of crisis and turmoil demagogues play an important, although not necessarily salutary, role.

  1. Demagogues define “us,” our identity, values, and basic beliefs.

They affirm who and what “we” are, primarily by distinguishing us from “them.” Demagogues do not fault us in any way, except perhaps for doubting ourselves and our unique destiny. We are the good people, common folk who are just trying to live our lives decently and in peace. But we and our way of life are under attack.

  1. Demagogues identify “them,” the cause of all our troubles.

“They” are, first of all, not us. They don’t look like us. They don’t act like us. They don’t believe like us. They are women; ethnic, racial, or religious minorities; immigrants; and gays. They say they want equality, but what they really want is what we have—our rights, prerogatives, and privileged status—and they are taking them from us. They are evil.

  1. Demagogues personify and praise strength.

We are, they say, at war. It may be a war of ideas and values or an armed conflict. But it a war nonetheless. They started it, but we will finish it, using any means necessary. Because of our overwhelming strength and the rightness of our cause, we will be victorious as long as we remain resolute. Weakness, hesitation, uncertainty on our part play into their hands, the hands of the enemy. What we need now more than ever is a strong leader. Better to be strong and wrong than weak and right.

  1. Demagogues advocate violence.

    Their speeches are verbally violent: laced with insults and put-downs, ethnic and racial slurs, and demeaning stereotypes. They spew lies and half-truths. They shout down opponents. They assure us that it fitting and proper—sometimes even sanctioned by God—to attack those who threaten us and our way of life.
  2. Demagogues pander to their audiences.

Demagogues look and sound strong. They get credit for saying what others are too timid or “politically correct” to say. But their message lacks substance. It offers no new insights, nothing that can stand up to logic or reason. They merely voice the worst fears, the sense of loss, and the rage felt by a certain segment of society. They repeat, reinforce, and amplify people’s established prejudices. They tell their audiences only what they want to hear.

We ignore demagogues at our own peril. Although they ultimately flame out, they can cause a great deal of damage before doing so.

And we would be wise to pay attention to their followers, to listen to their sense of alienation and loss and rage. It would be too easy, otherwise, to make them the new “them,” the cause of all society’s ills.

Donald Trump Public SpeakingYou can learn a lot of dos and don’ts about public speaking from observing Donald Trump in action. Not all of it is good, mind you, or worth imitating.

But it’s easy to pick up public speaking dos and don’ts from Trump because he is overblown in all that he does, even — or especially — in his public speaking.

I’ve grouped these public speaking dos and don’ts under three skills that Donald Trump exemplifies, sometimes to the extreme.

1. Donald Trump embodies his message.

You can’t separate who Trump is — a billionaire businessman with anger issues — from what he stands for and what he says. And that’s a good thing: what you see is what you get.

DO member that you are the message.

Everything that you are — your personality, reputation, experience, values, appearance, voice — shapes how people hear and whether they believe what you say. Don’t hide off in the semi-darkness, ceding center stage to your PowerPoint slides. Let everyone see you, front and center. Look them in the eye. And expect them to look back at you.

DON’T make make yourself the center of the speech.

The speech isn’t — or shouldn’t be — about you. It’s about the audience and how your idea can help them in some way if they adopt, support, or implement it.

DON’T be boring.

The only sin worse than boring an audience is confusing them.

If you’re not boring in real life but you are boring when giving a speech, you’re probably nervous. Don’t try to be exciting. You’ll probably only make yourself more nervous. Work, instead, on being confident. (Check out How to Develop Confidence Speaking.)

If you’re not excited about your message and about sharing it with your audience, don’t speak.

2. Donald Trump realizes the power of emotions.

Trump has mastered the rhetoric of rage. He is,himself, always in a rage or on the verge of flying off into a rage. And he gives his audiences permission to feel their rage, their anger over what they believe has been taken from them.

DO tap into your audience’s emotions.

You can convince people, by evidence and logic, of the rightness of what you’re proposing. But when you want to move them to take action, you have to engage their emotions. (There’s a reason why “motion” is 85% of “emotion.”)

DON’T rely on a single emotion, especially a negative one.

Rage will always get people’s attention. It will fire some of them up, but it will turn others away. And rage won’t sustain lasting action. Winston Churchill recommended appealing to pride, hope love, and — occasionally — fear.

3. Donald Trump uses lessons learned from reality TV.

Trump has hosted The Apprentice for 14 seasons. He approaches his speaking engagements — his appearances — the way he stages his TV show in three ways. First, he orchestrates the event, carefully selecting the venue and the audience. Second, he stirs up conflict. And finally, he speaks from a rehearsed “soft script,” from talking points, not from a written speech, which gives him the appearance of telling it like he sees it.

DO pay attention to the event.

Good speakers know their audiences — who they are, what matters to them, what they know and need to know, what they want and what they dislike, what problems they face. And they know the event — the reason people are gathering, where the meeting is held, how the room is set up. Exceptional speakers take part in shaping the event.

DON’T shy away from conflict.

Good speeches are, in part, about conflict. They propose one idea or advocate one course of action in opposition to another. Instead of downplaying the differences between your idea and another, between your product or service and that of a competitor, highlight it. Conflict is never boring.

DO prepare.

If you stand in front of an audience without being prepared and simply say whatever comes to mind, you will certainly be perceived as unscripted and, perhaps, as sincere. But you’ll also make a fool of yourself. You may not need a fully written script, but you do need a fully developed outline. And you need to practice it out loud a few times. (Check out The Benefits of Rehearsing a Speech or Presentation.)

Have I missed something? What do you think can be learned about public speaking dos and don’ts from Donald Trump?

How to prepare an oral proposalAn oral proposal for large contracts — government and commercial — goes by many names: a pitch, a sales presentation, an interview, or an orals.

Because a lot of money — millions, sometimes billions of dollars — is at stake, an oral proposal is one step — one of the final steps — in a long process. They are typically preceded by several conversations and exchanges of information and, of course, by a formal written proposal.

Your goal, when preparing and presenting an oral proposal is to win the contract.

You do so by showing the customer how your people, processes, tools and technology will provide better value than the competition: how you will give them more of what they want (features and benefits) and less of what they don’t want (costs, delays, risks, etc.)

Preparing a winning oral proposal is a complex process. It involves many players and considerations.

The Most Important Issues to Address when Preparing an Oral Proposal

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Business presentationsTechnical presentations, especially in a business meeting, are difficult to pull off.

On the one hand, a technical presentation addresses an issue or topic of some complexity, in a field that has its unique knowledge base, processes, methodologies, and jargon.

On the other hand, a business meeting isn’t a technical or scientific conference. The attendees are from different fields. They have different backgrounds, educations, and responsibilities. And they do not necessarily share your knowledge or speak your language.

You might be called upon, for example, to speak about a highly technical issue to people in upper management, marketing and sales, regulatory, finance, and operations. You don’t want to simplify your content to the extent that it’s no longer technically valid or meaningful. But you have to avoid confusing them by presuming too much knowledge or presenting too much detail.

So what can you do?

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/598664939/in/photolist-UUjei-UUUPL-WTTo6-UV6Fz-USmdi-WZB5N-VroME-UVrxv-WTTqF-WzRRe-WWSkK-VroKu-UUkJW-WBkYA-WXqiJ-WYahs-UVrAR-X2Aod-USmaX-WCgxm-WBkWq-WXv2n-WBkVq-WWSt2-UUjaK-VqWyT-WZB2G-WYu9o-VqWxM-UUj7a-UzMsZ-Wyfov-VqWAx-X2ABw-WBkZQ-UXABW-UA3V9-UA3Wm-UA415-UyZwa-UyZuc-UVruR-USm6r-UzjxB-X2Am3-UV6ER-UVAa7-bMQJmx-Uz1CA-7wwoPBTo know how to write a eulogy, you first have to know what a eulogy is and, more importantly, what its purpose is.

A eulogy is a short speech delivered in a memorial service in memory of someone who has recently died.

How to Write a Eulogy: Principles

Principle 1: A eulogy is a short speech.

In general, short speeches are better than long ones: more engaging, more focused, less apt to lose the audience’s attention. There’s so much going on in a memorial service (see below) and people are already coping with a mix of feelings. You owe it to them to keep your eulogy brief and to the point.

Principle 2: A eulogy is part of a larger event: a memorial service.

In addition to the eulogy, there may be scriptural or other inspirational readings, poems, prayers, music and songs, flowers, and in some cases elaborate ritual elements.

A eulogy serves a specific and limited purpose within the service. (More about that later.) A eulogy doesn’t do all the work.

Principle 3: A eulogy is a remembrance of someone who has died.

Originally, a eulogy was meant to praise the dead: to extol their virtues and accomplishments. (The word eulogy comes from the Greek, meaning “good words.”)

Many eulogists still limit themselves to saying only good things about the deceased. But doing so runs the risk of presenting an incomplete and, at times, distorted portrayal of the person.

A eulogy shares memories of the deceased, allowing others to tap into their own memories and, hopefully, to come to terms with them. Those memories may not all be positive or happy, at least not for everyone. What matters is telling the truth as kindly as possible.

How to Write a Eulogy: Tips

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When hiring an executive speech coachAn executive speech coach can benefit leaders in business, education, and nonprofits — CEOs and presidents, executive directors, senior executives, and business owners.

After all, leaders speak all the time, internally and externally. And when they speak, a lot is at stake: their own reputations and their organization’s success.

Leaders can’t settle for being a good enough speaker. They have to be exceptional speakers if they want to earn an audience’s attention and respect, influence how people think and feel, and change how they act.

What Does an Executive Speech Coach Do?

The job of an executive speech coach is to show leaders how to build on the skills they’ve already developed in order to become exceptional speakers:

  • To command an audience’s attention without being egotistical.
  • To create a clear and compelling message.
  • To tell stories that engage an audience’s emotions and imaginations.
  • To win an audience’s trust and respect.
  • To speak off the cuff, when necessary.

Questions to Ask a Prospective Executive Speech Coach

Most of the time, the question isn’t whether you can benefit from working with an executive speech coach. The question is how do you determine which speech coach is right for you.

  1. What’s their experience?
    What’s their experience as a speaker or presenter?
    I don’t know how a coach can help people develop a skill they haven’t first mastered. So you should look for an executive speech coach who has spoken frequently and to a variety of audiences, someone who knows what it’s like to interact with a live audience, someone who has learned from personal experience, not just from books, what works and what doesn’t work.
    What’s their experience as an executive speech coach?
    Just because someone has mastered a skill — and public speaking is a skill — doesn’t mean they’re able to help others perfect that skill. So you should look for someone who has training and experience as a coach, someone who has worked successfully with a number of clients in roles and fields similar to yours.
  2. What’s their theoretical understanding of speeches?
    You’re probably not interested in an academic discourse on the nature and purpose of public speaking. But you should ask about their understanding of what a speech is, what it can and cannot accomplish, what its most important elements are. You need to know whether you can trust this person’s professionalism and expertise.
  3. How are they different from other executive speech coaches?
    Experienced, highly competent executive speech coaches typically have credentials, certifications, and advanced degrees, impressive client lists, publications, and testimonials. They may be good, even exceptional at what they do, but how can you know if they’re right for you.
    I suggest you look for what makes them different from other executive speech coaches. Many coaches have an acting background, so they focus on helping clients develop their delivery skills. One coach I know is experienced in improvisation, so — you guessed it — he helps his clients incorporate aspects of improv into their speaking. I focus primarily on helping my clients 1) think strategically about their overall approach to speaking and 2) develop a powerful, evocative, results-oriented message.

Of course, you’ll want to ask about the coach’s client list and testimonials, about how the two of you would work together, about confidentiality and fees.

Here’s what it boils down to when hiring an executive speech coach: Do you like, trust, and respect the person on a personal and professional basis?

Have you worked with an executive speech coach? What was your experience?

Here’s more information about my experience and approach as an executive speech coach.


Teleprompter, Speech, ScriptDonald Trump has nothing but contempt for politicians who use a teleprompter when making a speech.

He gives every appearance of standing in front of an audience and simply saying whatever comes to his mind. He extemporizes. He does not give prepared speeches.

Trump seems to think that using a teleprompter and, by extension, speaking from a prepared script somehow makes a speaker inauthentic. Insincere. Less authoritative.

Is that the case?

Does relying on a script — one that you’ve written or had written for you — make you a bad speaker? Does it lessen your credibility? Does it dilute your message?

Of course not. On the contrary, preparing a script and speaking from it is the best way to improve your speaking.

Giving a speech is like undertaking any project. You wouldn’t simply show up unprepared and wing it. Not if a lot was at stake. Not if you wanted to succeed.

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Giving a speech or a presentation takes time and effort. And often it isn’t the right thing to do, given the circumstances and the need.

Before agreeing to give a speech or a presentation ask yourself three questions: Me? Here? Now?

Question #1: Me?

Am I the right person to give this presentation? Do I have the right knowledge and experience? Will I be credible to the audience?

Do I have a stake in the topic or in the audience being addressed?

Do I have something worthwhile to share — new information or ideas or a different way of thinking?

Question #2: Here?

Is this the right place, forum, or event to speak? Will the setting and room set-up, schedule, and agenda do justice to what I have to say and what I want to accomplish?

Are these the right people for me to address?

Question #3: Now?

Is this the right time to speak? Does my topic have relevance to what my audience is concerned about — or should be concerned about — now?

Am I given the time I need to address this topic adequately? Am I scheduled to speak at a time that will assure me of the audience’s attention.

This may sound funny coming from someone who makes his living by giving speeches and by helping others give them, but I’m skeptical about accepting speaking invitations. I want to speak only when I can do some good, when I am given an audience suited to my topic and approach, when the event is planned and managed in a way that gives me the opportunity to succeed.

And I encourage you, when possible, to consider carefully before agreeing to give a speech.

Donald TrumpDonald Trump’s speeches seem unscripted. When he speaks, it looks and sounds as if he simply opens his mouth and lets his uncensored thoughts and feelings pour forth.

He doesn’t parrot someone else’s words. He doesn’t follow a script. He doesn’t depend on a teleprompter.

As a result, many people consider him spontaneous, authentic, trustworthy.

I think Trump learned how to speak the way he does from hosting 14 seasons of The Apprentice, a reality TV show. And I think we can learn something from him.

Reality TV seems real. But it isn’t. It doesn’t show life as it is.

Reality TV…

  • selects compelling participants
  • places them in artificial situations
  • fabricates and escalates conflict
  • scripts an overarching narrative
  • coaches participants’ reactions and dialogue
  • sifts through hundreds of hours of boring video to edit together a final show

In the same way, Donald Trump’s speeches seem unscripted, but they’re not.

Trump’s speeches are soft-scripted. Which isn’t a bad thing. Which is something you might consider emulating.

Speechwriting Tips from Donald Trump

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Rhetoric + RageI’m both fascinated and appalled by Donald Trump’s popularity in the political arena these days.

As a student and practitioner of public speaking, I think his popularity is rooted in his skillful appeal to people’s sense of rage.

He has perfected “the rhetoric of rage.”

What is Rhetoric?

Rhetoric is the artful use of words to persuade.

The goal of rhetoric is not to educate or inform, not to entertain or amuse, not to convince or convert.

The goal of rhetoric is to move people to take action.

To induce people to act, you may have to educate, inform, entertain, amuse, convince, and/or convert them. But the goal of rhetoric is always action, action, action.

Logic and reason don’t move people to act. Emotions do.

What is Rage?

Rage is anger that is so intense it threatens to explode into violent action.

We may seethe with anger, but rage makes us want to lash out at someone.

Rage, like anger, is a reaction to the perception that someone has deprived us of something we value.

There are, therefore, three elements of rage:

  1. Loss: We no longer have something of value that we once possessed or think we had a right to.
  2. Deprivation: We don’t have it, because it was taken from us.
  3. Adversary: “They” took it from us.

By itself the sense of loss does not fuel rage. The appropriate response to loss is grief.

At the root of rage (and of anger) is a sense of injustice. “It’s not right.”

Whereas anger is the impetus to make things right, to restore justice, rage seeks revenge.

Rage isn’t satisfied with reclaiming what was lost. It wants to punish those who stole it in the first place.

Rage requires an adversary, an enemy, a villain, a them. (They are specific people or a specific class of people, not impersonal forces or events.)

The Rhetoric of Rage

Rhetoric and rage are made for each other.

Rhetoric wants to move people to act. Rage makes people want to act.

To use the rhetoric of rage:

1. Remind people of what they’ve lost.

Have they lost their social status and the rights and privileges due to them? Have they lost their jobs or financial security? Have they lost the right to impose their beliefs and values on others? Have they lost their confidence in government, social institutions, and the very future?

Don’t confuse them with facts or logic. They may not have possessed in the first place what they think they’ve lost. Or they may not have had the right to it. That’s not the issue. What matters is that they think – or more importantly – they feel that they’ve lost it.

2. Frame that loss as deprivation.

Losing something of value makes people sad and powerless, which they don’t like. So tell them it was taken from them. It’s not their fault they lost something valuable: it’s someone else’s fault.

3. Identify the adversary.

This is easy. Given the right mind-set, there’s always someone to blame: immigrants, gays, women, terrorists, criminals, the one-percenters.

Make it personal. “We’re losing the cultural war” isn’t as powerful as “Gays are destroying the very definition of marriage.” “We [whites] are becoming the minority” doesn’t move people as much as “Mexicans are streaming across our borders, bringing drugs with them, and taking our jobs.”

What do you think? Am I on to something? What would you add, subtract, or refute?

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