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Politically Speaking

1 Nov

I’ll admit it — I enjoy politcal speeches. If you’re going to convince thousands or millions of people to cast a vote for you and your cause, you’re likely a pretty effective persuader. You know how to hold the attention of a crowd.  You’ve had those special moments when you’ve got a crowd hanging on your every word. You’ve moved people.  So politicians have a few things they can teach the corporate executive about making effective speeches and presentations. 

After playing tourist at a couple local political rallies, a few obervations and takeaways on public speaking:


  1. It’s your speech – own it.  One of my more painful moments as a writer was watching a chief executive give a keynote speech that I had written.  As the CEO spoke, he’d stop and say things like, “That’s right – that’s very true.”  I realized that this may well have been the first or second time he’d read the speech.  He was reacting to words he’d spoken as if someone else had spoken them.  Good politicians don’t read speeches – they simply speak, from the mind and from the heart. They tell stories.
  2. You’re not giving them a speech.  They’re giving you a chance to be heard. What do want your audience to remember? Clinton flags his key points over and over – saying, in effect, “here’s what I want you to know”; “this is important…and here’s why.”  Your words need to pass that old smell test:  “Why does this matter…not to me, but to them.”
  3. If you’re prepared, it’s change the script.  This was the second week I’d heard Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar speak.  They were doing stump speeches – much of it was repeated from the week before… and yet, much of it sounded fresh and new.  Klobuchar told new stories, and peppered her speech with stories from the campaign trail.  Franken urged volunteers to talk to 5 friends and then 5 more about the election … then he stopped and said something like, “And I know some of you just need to get new friends,” utterly cracking up President Clinton behind him (you probably had to be there). 

And finally… I enjoyed many of these speeches… and, amazingly, they didn’t use a single PowerPoint slide. Does anyone remember a great speech that included a slide show?





Thank You Note to a Journalist-Blogger: Eric Black

7 Aug

If you can be a fan of a daily newspaper reporter, I’ve been a fan of Eric Black’s for almost 20 years.  At some point, the StarTribune here in the Twin Cities was publishing long feature stories that actually offered in-depth historical context for national and world events:  The first Iraq War, the Israeli-Arab conflict, the Balkans, Bosnia, the fall of the Soviet Union, not to mention various and sundry politicians — you name it.

And it seemed whenever I’d sink my teeth into one of these big juicy history stories — stories that cut through the daily rhetoric to hone in on the something closer to a complicated truth — the byline read “Eric Black”.  So I’d look for the byline, at times swearing at stories where background was scant and context lacking and grumble, “Where the hell’s the Eric Black story on this?”

It’s pretty clear these days that this sort of journalism isn’t making it into my daily paper any more … and neither is Eric Black.  Over the past few years, he’s plied his trade in local blogs.  Most recently, that’s MinnPost, a non-profit venture promoting the idea that professional journalists have a great deal to offer when given the freedom to explore the news and offer an opinion or two.

I write this after spending a half-hour or so learning as much (or more) than you ever wanted to know about the stance of two Minnesota senate candidates on the Iraq war.  It’s a story you’ll never read in a newspaper, built from in-depth research, nearly hour-long interviews with the candidates themselves and fact checking that is both independent and allowed the candidate’s PR staff to offer assist (incidentally peeling back the veil of how reporters work with a PR staff to facilitate a story). Further, if you’re worried that Black has misinterpreted your favorite candidate, he offers audio downloads of the interviews themselves.

In other words, anyone who wants to spend the time with this story gets:

  • a comprehensive view of the candidates’ positions — both now and how they have evolved (or not) over time.
  • the chance to hear the candidates’ responses to sharp, informed questions in their own voices.
  • a deeper understanding of how reporters do their jobs, warts and all — and how a good one takes nothing for granted on what his interviewee claims he said or didn’t say.
  • a deeper understanding of how campaign staffs work and how PR facilitates a reporter’s work.

As I said, you don’t see this kind of depth often out of daily newspapers — no doubt, there’s no time, no staff and no appetite for it.  And maybe this much depth isn’t necessary.  But in a time when it feels like everyone is spinning, nothing is genuine, no one knows the truth, Black the journalist-blogger is offering transparency, rigor, insight … and the whole complicated, messy truth.

So…thank you.

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