I was so depressed after watching John McCain read his victory speech badly — very badly — in New Hampshire that I briefly entertained the idea of starting a campaign to muzzle the candidates. Of course, we’d have problems with that pesky free speech thing, but consider the advantages. No more endless mentions of 9/11 from Guiliani. No more shifty-eyed evasions from Romney. No more resume-reciting from Richardson. (Oh, right; he’s gone.) And so on.
But then I pulled up my socks and remembered why it’s still important for candidates to speak, even when they do it badly, and for us to listen.
Speeches are still the best way for us to measure the candidates. Why? Remember when you gave a speech and you felt exposed in front of all those pairs of eyes? Well, you were exposed, and that’s the point. Speechmaking exposes the candidates to their audiences. It’s a little less effective when we watch the speech on TV, but it still works.
It doesn’t matter that someone else writes the speeches — the point is the delivery. Watch a candidate’s speech for the content, but also watch it intuitively. Trust your gut feel for the person. We are all unconscious experts, more or less, in reading body language, and your gut will tell you about that person’s credibility and connection with the things he or she is saying. Do they seem ‘for real’? Do the moments of verbal passion match the non-verbal? Does the speaker connect with the audience or only with himself?
Speechmaking is still the best way in a big country for us to connect with our leaders — in politics but also in business — short of a visit to the Oval Office or the C-suite.