In that election and the one following four years later, the country saw a George W. Bush who stayed true to that sentiment. His opponents, Al Gore and John Kerry, though both far more articulate speakers, were never able to match Bush’s level of authenticity and genuineness, either at their conventions or on the debate stage. And so the least capable communicator by far was able to close the deal with the American voter largely because he stayed true to himself as a speaker.
Romney appears to share both the sentiment and the discipline to try and accomplish a similar feat in his acceptance speech. For all the talk about how he has to let his hair down, he should resist any attempt to become the Alpha Male he isn’t, the performer more concerned with effect than the truth of the performance.
Romney’s Vocal Challenges
In talking to America, Romney must invest himself in his material in a way that he appears to find difficult. The logical and well organized arguments he makes often have a whiff of managerial decision-making about them. The blood in their veins flows green rather than red; they appear to have been organized around a board table rather than the kitchen table. In the end, of course, it is emotion not argument that moves voters and tells them that their hearts and a candidate’s are in synch.
Given his upbringing, Romney may have learned early in life that passion should not be displayed too openly. Now, however, he must appear more open. If he can remind himself of how deeply he feels about America’s problems and his ability to solve them, his voice and demeanor will reflect that passion, and we will see and feel it.
He has to keep the energy level up, and especially, to watch his falling inflections. In English, the most important words or phrases usually come at the end of a sentence: “To be or not to be, that is the QUESTION.” Speakers, however, often work against their own best interest by adopting a sing-song quality that drops the crucial end-of-sentence word instead of emphasizing it. Romney does this. If he can concern himself more with his message and the need to get it across than his own performance, he should be able to make the words come alive.
Romney has a deep and resonant voice, which has a tendency to calm and reassure. He is conversational, a key speaking skill for leaders, who must give the impression that they’re talking to the individual audience member rather than to a crowd. For months now he has been finding a balance between his naturally reserved style and the enthusiasm and sheer likeability he needs to display to motivate and inspire. His convention speech will be the supreme test of whether he can blend conversationality and competence with such personal attraction, while reaching the rhetorical heights necessary in a convention acceptance speech.
Can he tell the story of his quest for the presidency and his desire to lead America back to greatness? Will he speak movingly of his faith and the ways it has shaped his life and his concern for others? Will he use humor that will allow us to peek past the curtain to the man inside? As Americans, will we hear a human being we’re willing to invite into our living rooms for the next four years?
Gary Genard is founder and president of Public Speaking International, a political speech training company located in Boston.