In my 30 years in politics, I have heard a lot of speeches. Frankly, most are terrible.
Candidates speak too long, and they talk far too much about themselves. A poorly constructed speech is nothing more than a missed opportunity to engage and energize your audience.
Now, if you’re running for office at the state or local level, you don’t necessarily need to employ a speechwriter to avoid this fate. Over the course of a months-long campaign, you simply need to create consistency is your speeches the same way you would in your ads and other message vehicles. One of the most effective ways to do this is with a well-crafted introduction and stump speech. They will allow the campaign to maintain a uniform message over time, but still allow it enough flexibility to engage with different audiences.
Envision a jazz ensemble. They probably won’t just show up at the venue and launch into a 45-minute improvisational odyssey. The group will have gotten together in advance to form and practice a set list of songs that will give them room to improvise to get the crowd going. Your introduction and stump speech serve as your songs, which will provide a foundation around which you can tailor your remarks to the audience of the day.
Here are seven tips to help you keep your speeches consistent, yet memorable:
1. Hone your message with research
If you have a speech in front of a specific organization on your campaign schedule, make sure you do the proper research ahead of time. Your words and your message should be tailored, at least in part, to what is relevant to your specific audience.
Winning candidates know a campaign is about the voters; losing candidates think a campaign is about them. The meat of your stump speech will stay the same at each venue, but you should regularly “tweak” the top and bottom each time to make it relevant to the audience. Audiences tend to give little weight to a candidate whose comments are not relevant to their interests and concerns.
2. 40 percent of a good speech is the set up
Be sure your introduction leaves a positive impression. Most of your audience will disregard what you said two hours after the speech is over. After a day or two, 98 percent of what you said is forgotten. What they will remember is how you were introduced and what qualities or experiences you bring to the office you are seeking.
Have a strong, common introduction read at every venue. Don’t leave it up to the person introducing you to weave your strengths through their introduction. They won’t. Spend time creating an introduction that makes you the expert and conveys to the audience you are important. Most importantly, find a way to make sure the person who introduces you actually uses that intro.
3. Keep it short and to the point
People have a short attention span for speeches, especially for political speeches. I have only witnessed two politicians in my lifetime who could hold an audience for a considerable period of time and who told great stories at the same time: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. You are neither.
It takes years and thousands of speeches to be a dynamic presenter. Don’t risk losing an audience by delivering too many thoughts and ideas. My secret is to speak in threes: “Today, I want to make three points—one, two, three.” Make them and then summarize them at the end by restating them. Then stop and thank people for their attention.