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Public Speaking – what we can learn from the DNC speeches


People around the world heard and watched the speeches from the National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, USA.

The four-day event, that informed, motivated and inspired to action, shows that a great speech requires much more than great words.

10 useful techniques for public speaking

Whatever your political affiliation is – here are 10 useful techniques that CEOs can learn about public speaking from the Democratic National Convention speeches.

  1. First impressions are everything: How you walk on stage shows your energy and drive. Try to appear confident without looking stiff, and relaxed without looking careless. Next time you walk on stage , try a youthful stride or a few quick steps of running like Joe Biden did when he entered the stage. His run made this 73 year old look half his age. Watch at 00.20:
  2. How you start your speech sets the energy and tone. If you are lucky to have a crowd roaring, screaming your name and excited to see you – how you manage their energy can be critical for how people respond to what you have to say. Obama combined quick thankyous while also pausing and taking in the ambiance. In an attempt to calm the crowd he increased the frequency of his “thankyous” and when the room was nearly silent somebody from the audience screamed “love you.” Obama played off the crowd and replied “I love you too” leading the crowd to roar once more. Watch at 00.52
  3. Think and speak in soundbites, headlines and tweets. It increases the likelihood for people to share them or for journalists to pick them up. Obama said: “It’s precisely this contest of ideas that pushes our country forward”.
  4. Inspire the crowd to act. Obama spoke of “The Donald” and the audience booed. Prepared for this, Obama quickly replied: “Don’t boo – vote” calling for the viewers, regardless of party, to use their citizen rights. With this short sentence he both maintained integrity and inspired to action.
  5. Talk to the audience as if you are speaking one-on-one with each person in the room. Obama started one of his main points with: “look”. In a speech you can use sentences that start with “and” and “but” because people can easier follow a conversational narrative than a formal and structured one. He is also an avid user of pointing, making individuals in the crowd feel seen.
  6. Keep it simple. Using language that the average person uses on a daily basis allows people to relate to you. Joe Biden used “folks” when addressing the crowd and “buddy” when referring to his friend on stage.
  7. Tell personal and authentic stories. Yes, personal. Joe Biden spoke heartfelt about his deceased son, like any father would, resonating with the public. Openness and honesty build relations. Watch at 03.25
  8. Build rapport with the audience. Joe Biden talked about “ordinary people like us” making him part of the American public and audience, rather than a politician. Obama said: “She (Hillary Clinton) knows she’s made mistakes, just like I have; just like we all do.” It is okay to talk about the ups and downs that life throws at us. It is okay to be human; so is your audience.
  9. Use juxtaposition to get your point across: When speaking of the healthcare system, Obama said: “Health care is not a privilege for a few, it is a right for everybody.” Juxtapositions are an effective tool to highlight differences, and a great linguistic technique to create catchy phrases.
  10. Repeat words that you want to emphasize: Joe Biden repeated, contrasted and used alliterations: “We never bow. We never bend. We never break when confronted with crisis. No, we endure. We overcome. And we always, always, always move forward. That’s why.” In advertising, the rule of seven explains that consumers need to see an ad at least seven times before they remember it. Although the rule of seven might be a bit extensive for a speech, repetition and alliterations increase the likelihood that people will remember your words.

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Ingrid Helsingen Warner

Senior Advisor, International Communications, based in Oslo

Ingrid is currently on maternity leave. At Leidar she supports internationally-minded leaders and companies with their positioning and thought leadership activities.

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