Talk With Us Like a Human, Mr. President

Just watched President Obama give a short talk about the tragedy in Japan.

He was awful. Flat. Dull. Unbelievable. As interesting and engaging and compassionate as a piece of typed paper.

Because he read his talk. Looking down every few seconds.

He said we’re all heartbroken about the tragedy. Reading “heartbroken” off his script. He said it reminds us we all share a common humanity, reading “common humanity” off the script.

This from a man who is one of the most riveting, compelling, commanding speakers in our recent history. It’s sad to see him tamed and broken like a wild stallion– whether by his advisors or his own sense of the weight of each word a president speaks. He’s not dancing with the one who brung him to the White House — himself, Barack Obama.

I tell my speech-coaching clients to speak at least the first few sentences of a talk without looking at any notes or slides or prompters. Know what you want to say at the beginning well enough that you can look at the audience and talk straight to them and — just talk. You engage an audience — or not — in the first few seconds of a speech. If you’re looking down — you’ve lost connection, you’ve lost the audience.

I’ve said before on this blog — lose the TelePrompTer, Mr. President. And lose the speechwriters. Now I add — lose the script. Sure, bring notes to the lectern, and nothing wrong with looking down now and then. But if you’re going to say your heart goes out to the victims in Japan, no heart is moved when you’re reading that flat statement off a script. If you’re trying to reassure us that nuclear power is safe, look us in the eyes and tell us that — don’t read it off a script.

Talk like a human, Mr. President. That’s how you lead. Words themselves are mostly flat. It’s the lift your face and voice and passion give them that lets them soar, that connects with us. Scripts and prompters and slides stifle the passion, drain the personality, kill the humanity. Leaders don’t read scripts, Mr. President, especially not in times of crisis and disaster.

Come on, you know this. What’s happened?

–Bruce Benidt

Rosa Parks, and America, Meet Michelle Obama — You’re Gonna Like Her

Michelle Obama gave a master class on public speaking tonight at the Democratic National Convention. Although she worked from a script, she seemed to be talking, telling a story that mattered to her. She was reading from a prompter that allowed her to look straight into the camera — but she was doing more than reading. She’d made the speech hers. She reportedly wrote much of it, and she had practiced until she knew it and liked it, but hadn’t memorized it. So it still came from her heart.

A huge key to moving, inspirational comunication is to talk about things that matter to you, that you care about. Passionately. Skip the other crap. Talk about what matters. Show us who you are.

I do a lot of speech coaching, and I’ll have people looking at this one. Not only does Hillary Clinton have a high standard to match in Denver, with Michelle’s speech — so does Michelle’s husband.

Tom Brokaw said it would be awfully hard for Hillary supporters to turn their back on Michelle Obama after this speech, which talked about the courage of pioneers and the courage of everyday parents.

It’s been a long time coming, a black woman captivating millions of Americans with the simple grace of what she believes in. Fanny Lou Hamer would be proud. Rosa Parks would be proud. Here was a black woman talking about the values America is built on, standing up and saying her parents and she and her husband have been trying to do things the right way — and that we shouldn’t give up dreaming that things can be better.

America got a little better tonight.

— Bruce Benidt investment options fine