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?

A speech can never be better than the idea it promotes.

You can dress up a stupid, lame, or vile idea in spiffy visual aids. You can present it with verbal and nonverbal pyrotechnics. And as a result, you may wow your audience.

But wowing an audience doesn’t mean a speech is any good.

The most captivating speaker of the 20th century was undoubtedly Adolph Hitler. He mesmerized audiences, and yet look at what his ideas led to.

Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will showcases one of Hitler’s speeches and shows its effect on the audience. It’s a remarkable – and chilling – piece of propaganda.

The proof of a speech’s merit is in the idea it implants in the audience’s hearts and minds and in the idea’s power to bring about some good.

A speech has to be built around one – and only one – idea. But that idea has to be big in scope or in impact, and big in the moral imagination.

Some ideas are big in scope. They cover a lot of intellectual ground. They insinuate themselves into different fields, altering or integrating seemingly diverse concepts. They change the way people think. Consider Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Some ideas are big in impact. They affect people’s emotions – their hopes and fears, their desires, their aspirations — so profoundly that they change the way they act. Consider the movement for women’s equality.

A speech needs one or the other – an idea big in scope or one big in impact — because a speech is meant to change the way people think and feel and act.

That idea, mind you, doesn’t have to be as big in scope or impact as the theory of evolution or the equality of women. But it can’t be trifling.

A great speech changes the way people think and feel and act…for the good.

That’s where the moral imagination comes in.

Loosely speaking, the moral imagination is the ability to distinguish right from wrong for ourselves, for other people, and for the world as a whole.

An idea that’s big in scope and impact, but that’s lacking in moral imagination, may be effective, but it won’t be good.

When you combine all three – scope, impact, and moral imagination – you get a truly, remarkably, great speech. It’s something to be aspired to.

To counter the image of Hitler giving an effective speech, here’s President Lyndon Johnson giving a great speech.

 

 

In 1940 when the most Americans were trying to stay out of the war raging in Europe, Charlie Chaplain made a film — The Great Dictator — ridiculing Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.

It’s an amazing movie: prescient, bold, and (if you can imagine) funny.

Chaplain plays both the dictator (Adenoid Hynkel) and a Jewish barber who looks exactly like him. Through a complicated series of events the barber, mistaken for the dictator, is forced to give a speech before a huge crowd.

Chaplain drops all pretense of humor and gives a stirring speech.

His speech is heartfelt, earnest, and totally without irony.

I like the speech both for its message (an appeal for universal brotherhood) and for its flat-out, unflinching sincerity.

This speech came to mind, I suppose, as a salve for my soul wearied by the recent spate of speeches by Presidential candidates. (The election is still 15 months from now!)

With few exceptions, the candidates’ speeches promote divisiveness and posturing.

Chaplain’s speech may be a bit over the top when it comes to earnestness, but I find it refreshing.

What about you? Do you have any speeches of the uncynical sort to recommend?

Fox debateTonight ten men hoping to be the Republican candidate for President will face each other in a televised debate.

Of course, they won’t really be debating each other.

A formal debate requires 1) a clear understanding of and willingness to adhere to reasonable rules, 2) a skillful moderator who poses questions and enforces the rules, and 3) enough time for all participants to have their fair say.

A debate also addresses a specific question or orderly series of questions, expecting each participant to stay on topic and explain, justify, and champion his or her position.

None of that will happen tonight.

The rules of tonight’s debate — and the contentious nature of political discourse these days — will make it hard for candidates to explain their positions thoughtfully or completely (if they were so inclined):

  • The debate is limited to two hours.
  • There will be three moderators.
  • Participants will have one minute to respond to each question and 30 seconds for rebuttal if their name is mentioned.
  • They will not make opening statements, but they will get 30 seconds to make a closing statement, if time permits.

Those rules seem designed to heighten the entertainment value of the debate, not to allow for the thoughtful discussion of policies and positions.

Following the debate media analysts will focus primarily on designating the winner and losers.

I think it would be more profitable to sift through all the racket, quips, and comebacks — all that gets said and unsaid — to ferret out where each candidate stands on three basic issues.

Three Questions to Ask Following the Republican Debate

1. The first question is of identity.

Who are we as Americans? What makes us different from others? Who belongs? Who doesn’t belong? Who are we: our heroes, role models? Who are they: our enemies, pariahs? Who deserves our praise and emulation? Who deserves our contempt?

2. The second question is of values.

What do we value? And why? What actions, policies, and goals deserve our attention, respect, energy?

3. The third question is of vision or direction.

Where are we headed as a nation, a society, a people? Where should we be headed? What are we about? What is the task that lies before us? What will our legacy be? What kind of world do we want to create and sustain and hand on to those who follow.

These three issues — of identity, values, and vision — are the same issues that every leader should be expected to address. Why not the candidates?

Whether you love Donald Trump or hate him, you can learn a lot about public speaking from watching him. Especially about gaining an audience’s attention.

I, personally, find nothing appealing or attractive about Donald Trump. His appearance, reputation, ideas, lifestyle, and style of speaking annoy, even antagonize me.

And yet I find him fascinating.

He commands people’s attention. Whether you applaud his every utterance or shudder in revulsion, it’s hard to take your eyes off him.

That’s what it means to fascinate: to transfix and hold spellbound by an irresistible power; to command the interest of.

Donald Trump’s #1 Public Speaking Lesson: Get Attention!

If you’re not able to gain and hold your audience’s attention, you may as well stop speaking because your audience has stopped listening.

And Donald Trump has mastered the art of gaining an audience’s attention.

Lessons from Trump about Commanding Attention

  1. Be Yourself.
    No one’s going to mistake Donald Trump for anyone else. And that’s the way it should be. The first principle of public speaking is you are the message. Who you are as a person — your character and reputation, experience, values, likes and dislikes — shapes how people hear and interpret what you say. Don’t stand off to the side in darkness, ceding center stage to a screen. Don’t be objective or impersonal. Be yourself.
  2. Take a Strand.
    Do you have any doubt where Trump stands on any issue he addresses? Of course not. He’s taken Churchill’s advice to heart: “When you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time — a tremendous whack.” Don’t dilute your message. Don’t make people guess at what you mean or want them to do.Tell them.
  3. Don’t Be Boring. 
    Trump is — depending on your preferences — refreshing, blunt, arrogant, willing to buck the system, self-serving, or dead-wrong. But boring, he isn’t. And you shouldn’t be either. Not if you want to keep an audience’s attention. You don’t have to be an entertainer to be interesting. You just have to be interested in (maybe even passionate about) your topic and your audience.

Of course, it isn’t enough to command an audience’s attention

Getting an audience’s attention is the beginning point, not the goal of speaking.

The goal of speaking is to bring about a change in your audience. A change in the way people think and feel and act. A change for the better, not the worse.

“The wise speak because they have something to say,” Plato said. “Fools because they have to say something.”

Storytelling and SpeechesThere are two easy ways to introduce a story when giving a speech: 1) Don’t introduce it — just jump right in; or 2) Say, “Imagine…”

When beginning a speech with a story — one of my favorite techniques — it’s not necessary, helpful, or wise to say anything about it. Just begin telling it.

(As a rule: the less you have to explain a story, the better.)

When seguing into a story somewhere later in your speech, you may need to alert your audience that you’re shifting from cognitive content (exposition, explanations, evidence) to an imaginative element.

The easiest way to do so is by using one word: “Imagine.”

Say, “Imagine.” Pause. Then, without further elaboration, tell your story.

Check out How to Tell a Story in a Speech.

What is an accent?When giving a speech or a presentation, having an accent that makes audiences work too hard to understand what you’re saying is a problem.

Strong accents are even more of a problem when you’re making a virtual presentation—in a conference call or a webinar—and your audience can’t see you.

That’s when accent reduction coaching can be helpful.

People sometimes ask me, knowing that I’m a speech coach, if I can help them reduce their accents. I can’t. But I can refer them to an accent reduction coach whom I trust: Laura Darius. (She’s based in San Diego, but she works with clients internationally.)

Because I have a lot of questions myself about accent reduction—what it is, why it matters, who can benefit from it—I interviewed Laura. Here’s what we talked about…


CW: It seems that everyone has an accent of some sort. How do you define an accent?

LD: Having an accent means you’re using the sounds and rhythm of your native language to speak another language.

For example, a French person can speak English with a French accent and an American person can speak French with an American accent.

People who are not born in the U.S. and learn English after the age of 9 will speak English using the native sounds and rhythm of their own language. Since their native sounds don’t match the sounds or rhythm of American English, there will be some lack of clarity when speaking English.

CW: Is there anything wrong with having an accent?

LD: An accent is only a problem if people misunderstand you or can’t understand you at all.

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Take a StandYears ago I provided consulting and speech writing for a local politician. At one point he asked me how he should address an issue that was sure to be raised during an upcoming event.

The issue was a hot topic in his district. It was on everyone’s mind. It had been discussed and dissected in depth. It was also controversial.

“Tell me where you stand on the issue,” I said, “and I’ll help you fashion a position statement.”

Without pausing, the politician turned to his chief adviser and asked, “Where do I stand on it?”

That was our final meeting.

Where do you stand?

When giving a speech there is no neutral ground, no objective position, no noncommittal perspective.

Speakers worth listening to take a stand. They don’t just state the facts as objectively as possible and let listeners make up their own mind. They stake out a position and advocate it passionately.

There are three basic ways of taking a stand during a speech.

  1. We can stand with.
    We can align ourselves with people or with a particular group of people — with their concerns, values, welfare. When President Kennedy spoke to the people of Berlin during the height of the Cold War, he declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” staking out his solidarity with the citizens of the divided city.
  2. We can stand for.
    We can speak in favor or in defense of an issue, cause, policy,initiative or program. President Lyndon Johnson, a son of the segregated South, addressed Congress in 1965 and urged it to strike down laws that kept blacks from voting. “I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy,” he said.
  3. We can stand against.
    We can oppose something — a policy, an accepted attitude, a way of doing business — refusing to tolerate what we consider wrongheaded or abhorrent. In President Obama’s eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, he stood with the grieving congregation, for racial justice, and against bigotry and its accompanying violence.

We stand on our principles, on our deep and abiding beliefs, on our gut-level predispositions.

Our audiences should never have to guess where we stand. And we should never have to turn to anyone else and ask, “Where do I stand?”

you are the messageThe most important element of a speech is you, the person creating and delivering the speech.

Of course your content is important. The central idea of your speech. The evidence, stories, and images that explain, substantiate, and illustrate that idea. And the words and phrases that bring it to life.

And so is your delivery. The way you present that content with your voice (your volume, tone and pitch, pacing) and your body (your movement and gestures, your facial expressions, your stillness and silence).

The audience is equally important. Who they are and why they’re gathering. What they know and feel about the idea you’re addressing. How they hear and interpret what you’re saying.

But the vital element of any speech is first and foremost the person who has crafted it and is presenting it: you.

That’s not to say that your needs trump everything else. Or that a speech is all about you, you, you.

It does mean that who you are — your insights and wisdom, values, beliefs, fundamental outlook — are the sine qua non of a speech: the element without which a speech can never be.

One of the best ways to give better speeches is to become a better person: more thoughtful, wise, and compassionate.

How do you do that? It’s up to you, but here are my suggestions:

  • Read more. Don’t just skim and scan.
  • Have in-depth conversations with people who matter to you.
  • Take long walks untethered to a mobile device.
  • Be still and quiet at least once a day.
  • Do something kind for others without expecting anything in return.
  • Know when and how to forgive.
  • Ask yourself, often, “Does this matter? Why?”

Being a better person won’t necessarily make you a better speaker. But your speeches can never be better than you are.

Agree or disagree? Any additions to my suggestions?

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