The grand tradition of the national political conventions provides an opportunity for all of us to see some great moments in mass communication — and to learn from others mistakes!
In my years as a reporter I covered many of these spectacles. I recall a small state governor who did so poorly with his big keynote speech in 1988 he received his biggest ovation when he said, “And in conclusion…” The crowd went wild at the idea he was finally finishing!
That governor went on, four years later, to be the nominee of his party AND President for the next eight years. In 2000 a big state governor stayed on script better than almost any candidate in history, promising to be “compassionate conservative” and finding a way to connect with people. He also went on to serve as President for eight years without delivering very many, if any, memorable speeches.
In those cases as well as many others the national political convention provides the ONLY time we, as a country, look in on the political process of each political party. It is, even in these times, an amazing platform for current and future political stars. Barack Obama set the groundwork for this Presidential run by delivering a stirring speech four years ago. John McCain has been a fixture at the conventions since 1992.
How does it translate for the rest of us? Well, watch just the three big speeches for each party and you’ll see how the words and images are set out for the viewing audience, as well as the cheering crowd in the hall. I guarantee you will pick up two or three things you can translate into the next presentation you or one of your team members makes. Not everything you hear or see will be best-in-class, but there are often at least a few key moments. A lot of it has to do with what happens “in the moment.” Al Gore told the story of his young son being hit by a car in 1992 and you could hear a pin drop. That same year Ronald Reagan made his last convention appearance and urged his party to “win one more for the Gipper.” There was hardly a dry eye in the place.
Sure the conventions can seem like a throwback to days gone by, but it also is a unique stage where the power of words can be on rare display. Watch for what you can learn from those who are in that white hot spotlight. Some will wilt in the light while others may take their first step as national figures. Just as any major presentation you might make has a lot riding on it, these people will be doing everything they can to stand out from the crowd.
Next month: How to correctly aim your message at the audience — and why the most commonly offered advice is WRONG!