Six percent of all Americans who are eligible to vote in the November presidential election aren’t aligned with a political party. This undecided group will make all the difference. What do the voters who are still on the fence need to hear, or see, to make their choice among the candidates? Here are the communication choices candidates make that will determine who is the next president, and vice president, of the United States:
1. Word Selection. The successful candidate will choose specific words that conjure up emotional images. For example, Paul Ryan walks onstage with his mom, Betty, and promises to end this raid on Medicare. He assures his listeners that the board will not mess with “your” mom’s or “my” mom’s healthcare. Ryan chooses the words “your” and “my” to build a rapport with his audience, and words like “raid,” “promise,” and “piggybank” are designed to motivate seniors to run into the voting booth, as fast as they can get there, to protect themselves from an encroachment upon their Medicare benefits and a threat against their healthcare. Point made!
2. Vocal Variety. Along with choosing the right words, candidates have to work on their inflection, volume, and pace. Before the dawning of YouTube and other broadcast media outlets – when the print media reigned – all that mattered was the content of the candidates’ messages. Today, we’re going to hear the ways in which the candidates deliver their messages. This is the time for President Obama to tap into his much-remarked-upon vocal talents. A man who can channel Al Green has no excuse, ever, to slip into a boring monotone and let his listeners (and his potential supporters) slip away!
3. Distilling the message. Candidates need the ability to be concise in their verbal and written communication. Voters are looking for concise, easy-to-understand strategies. Usually, less is more. Sentences that are very short – 8 to 13 words, no more – are the most persuasive. Even the best politicians derail themselves when their sentences are too long. Listeners tune out. Even the best language in a long sentence loses a listener. Mitt Romney has mastered the art of editing the highlights of his strategies and plans into concise sound bites that his listeners can easily digest. A candidate who does the best job editing does the best job selling him- or herself to those undecided voters.
4. Smile, smile, smile. While some of the undecided six percent of voters are aural, and will make their choices based on what they hear, others are more attuned to visual – that is, nonverbal — persuasion. They’ll rely on a candidate’s facial expression for their cues about whom to trust, and a smile will go a long way toward making that decision. The ability to smile naturally when speaking to a group, even if your topic isn’t humorous, is a way to demonstrate warmth and build a rapport. Joe Biden has mastered the art of smiling to present himself as approachable. He keeps that smile on his face frequently and naturally – and, in November, he may just find those undecided voters smiling back at him.
5. Using Your Aristotle. So much of what we know about public speaking today derives from what Aristotle taught us, and the successful candidates will tap into this ancient wisdom. They’ll use ethos, pathos, and logos appropriately. Ethos relies on the speaker’s credibility. How easy should it be for an incumbent president – or, for that matter, for a corporate executive – that he has an extensive background in leadership? Pathos moves past speakers’ credibility to their ability to connect emotionally with their listeners. Remember Paul Ryan’s mother, Betty? She was (along with being a mother) a wonderful rhetorical prop, and Joe Biden uses his own pathos when, for instance, he recalls losing his wife and daughter in a car crash. As for logos, the use of logic to make your argument? Mitt Romney’s five-point-plan for achieving energy independence can appeal to voters who want to hear substantive ideas. President Obama’s has – it’s a bit more complicated, but it still appeals to voters’ intellect – a twenty-five point plan to reform IT management. Ethos, pathos, and logos … the best use of those old pillars of communication will help someone win the Oval Office in November. When an election is as close as the November election is shaping up to be, communication matters. The candidates who win the votes are the ones who can build trust and rapport with the undecided six percent of the voters through the content, and style, of their speech and through their visual presentation. All of the candidates this time around seem to have the tools necessary for success. The pair of candidates who use those tools most wisely, and most consistently, will be our next U.S. president and vice president. Good luck, and good communication, to all of the candidates!
Monica Murphy is a Senior Coaching Partner with Brookline, Massachusetts-based The Speech Improvement Company. Visit her online at http://www.speechimprovement.com/.