Political Leaders Face the Nation With Their Fight Faces On
By: Luke Capizzo
Putting on the public speaking game face — Is your audience hearing what you want them to hear?
Debates over raising the debt ceiling have consumed communications channels for weeks. With the August 2 deadline quickly approaching for a decision to be made, President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner took their battle to the prime time public Monday night.
The next stalemate to face this administration’s congress, the President used his 15 minutes to urge “shared sacrifice” in defining a strategy to tackle our nation’s debt that focuses on deep federal spending cuts and higher taxes for the wealthy and large corporations. He referenced what Boehner has been proposing—including deeper cuts and a vote on the issue next year—with the comment, “We know what we have to do to reduce our deficits; there’s no point in putting the economy at risk by kicking the can further down the road.” With this was also a push for citizens to contact lawmakers and request “a balanced approach.”
In Boehner’s address immediately following the President’s, he was quick to counter with his pass of the uncompromising blame. “The President has often said we need a ‘balanced’ approach — which in Washington means: We spend more, you pay more,” he said.
I can’t help thinking these addresses to the country may have sent the wrong message to everyday consumers. As with any public communication, there are a few steps to evaluating its effectiveness. If we take the President and Speaker Boehner as clients, for example, what would be the message to Americans?
“With the national debt at its highest point in 50 years compared with the size of the U.S. economy, the debate about the ceiling has become entwined in the larger issue about slashing the budget.” (Washington Post)
As eloquent a speaker/speech writer combination the Obama Administration has, if I were on the hill to counsel on how to clearly communicate important messages, there are a few things I would look at:
Big picture takeaways—What’s your message?
If a speech was given and an audience member was asked to immediately share what he/she got out of it in 60 seconds or less, what would you hope they would say? What was their first reaction? This is the basis for preparing a clear message. I personally walked away from watching the addresses overwhelmed by the tones of a heated legislative showdown. But, I think it would have been difficult for many to take away anything from the two sides other than the fact that this is such a divided and fierce Congress.
Knowing your audience
At the end of the day, would every average citizen understand the complexities of the plans for the debt ceiling decision? Probably not. Should the call for compromise really come all the way down to the citizens, or would confidence in our government to make those decisions be more beneficial? The emotion conveyed to an audience is crucial to convince it on what you feel is right.
Strong speech structure
It’s always important for speech writers to structure each speech to effectively deliver a message. Keeping in mind those strategies for relating to the audience (example: President Obama often uses personal stories of his family and citizen situation examples) without veering too far from the point. The plan, the point and the delivery should be consistent and fit into the big picture.
What are your thoughts on the two different addresses to the nation? Were you able to easily grasp what the President and Speaker Boehner were trying to communicate?