THE ART AND BUSINESS OF SPEAKING

How to Speak to a Crowd as Tough as Congress

Tough-Crowd

Before President Barack Obama stepped onto stage during the 2014 State of the Union Address, he already knew he was facing a tough crowd: the least productive and most polarized Congress in more than six decades. President Obama’s speech brings up an interesting question: What should a speaker do in the face of a tough crowd?

As a speaker, your goal is to spread your message, but a “my way or the highway” approach to a tough crowd could land you in the same boat as Congress — and we all know those dismal approval ratings won’t get you booked!

Luckily, rhetoric isn’t a two-party system. There’s a sweet spot that allows you to deliver your message authentically, while still appealing to all the opinions in your audience: The human element. Here’s how the President used this strategy, to drive home the bigger message, in his State of the Union Address:

Hook ’em with your opening

The State of the Union quote:

“Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest levels in more than three decades.”

The strategy:

The President used his opening reframe political issues as human ones. Many people disagree with the President’s education policy, but it’s hard not to feel supportive of a teacher who works hard to help her students succeed. From that point on, the audience had his theme — “progress in the face of adversity” — in the forefront of their minds.

The next time you’re facing an unreceptive crowd, think of a story that reflects the values behind your message, and open with that anecdote.

Bridge the gap between you and your audience

The State of the Union quote:

“Our success should depend not on accident of birth but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. … It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker, how the son of a barkeeper is speaker of the House, how the son of a single mom can be president of the greatest nation on Earth.”

The strategy:

The President uses his upbringing to help his audience relate to him as a human, not a lofty public office holder. This statement also draws a parallel between the President and his critic John Boehner, who just happens to be the son of that barkeeper.

Give your crowd a personal story they can relate with, and you’ll be on your way to gaining their trust and the all-important authenticity factor.

The Sgt. Cory Remsburg Effect

The State of the Union quote:

“My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. … But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress.”

The strategy:

The President’s anecdote about Sgt. Cory Remsburg appealed to values that unite all Americans: a respect for veterans and a desire to overcome adversity. The heartfelt story about this wounded, recovering veteran not only reinforced the President’s theme; it also earned him the only standing ovation of the night.

When the details are losing your crowd, appeal to common ground that unites your audience and your bigger message.

The takeaway

Whether you’re a politician or a professional speaker, use the human element authentically to drive home your message and connect with your audience more effectively than ever before.

Emily Hubbell

Emily Hubbell

Professional Writer, Editor-in-Chief at Em Writes
Emily Hubbell is a professional writer, editor-in-chief of Em Writes, and chief marketing officer for Pro Speaker Content, a boutique marketing agency for thought leaders and gurus.
Emily Hubbell
Emily Hubbell
Emily Hubbell
Emily Hubbell

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