Politics, and American/democracy politics in particular, is the perfect time to remind everyone that how you present an idea is often as important, maybe even more important, than the idea itself. I am not diminishing the importance of the idea itself but I am maximizing the importance of the presentation. If you have ever doubted this thought I suggest you watch the American republican & democratic conventions (I watched both).
Apparently the Romney crew disagrees with me … in watching the Democratic convention <although Mitt says he is not watching> they say things like “the speeches are nice, and well & good, but they are just speeches.”
In fact … oh my. I have said it before <about business> and I will say it again <this time on politics & policy> … I have seen more great ideas die because they were poorly presented then I have seen … well … let’s just say I have seen shitload.
Great presentation of a thought, even a mediocre thought, will beat a poorly presented great thought.
That just happens.
Romney team silliness aside … here is my point on this american election and the presentations.
Ideologically <or platform wise> Americans may have a clearer choice than they have ever had before between the candidates/party lines … and yet … it may come down to how it is presented.
Republican convention was plodding. Maybe it was because they focused n details? I don’t know.
Mitt Romney is an uninspiring big room speaker <which makes people struggle to see how he plays on a global stage even if he may have the answers to a domestic problem>.
Mrs. Romney was delightful & charming … and not used to the national stage <she is quite like Mrs. Obama 4 years ago>.
Ryan is engaging when on a comfortable topic and shows signs of being an engaging speaker but needs seasoning on this large a stage. Although. Ryan. I will note that at some point in this election some Republicans will be wishing Ryan was the presidential candidate and Romney the VP because the boy is gonna deliver in town hall after town hall.
Good solid presenters but not American dream type presenters.
They had a murderers row of killer presenters.
The Ohio governor was a pistol.
They gave him the hard edged stuff to deliver and he did.
Mayor of San Antonio, an American Latino, was Ryan like. A little stilted in the overwhelming spotlight but you saw the foundation for what ‘could be.’
The Mayor of Newark is the rising star … Booker I think is his name. Wow. Great communicator.
The vice president <Biden>? Well. He could be a Republican presenter … his lips move and it is like a Peanuts cartoon <bla .. bla … bla is what comes out>. But. I imagine all his bla, bla, blas lead to a lot of old white folk voting for democrats.
And then there was the president’s wife. Michelle Obama has become a speaker juggernaut. People call her a political juggernaut but I would argue with that. I would simply say she has entered the spotlight and learned to embrace it. She is a better presenter than many of the politicians surrounding her.
She was outstanding. An excellent presenter of ideas.
And this is before we even get to Bill Clinton who may be the greatest orator of our generation. People may call him slick … but the man can command an audience … an audience of millions. Many people can create a connection one on one. A smaller, but still large group, of presenters can create a connection with a larger audience <say 100 to 1000>.
But there are very very few who know how to speak to a group of 20000+ and make 90% of that humongous group feel like they are being talked to one-on-one … and by one-on-one I mean that the speaker has done the trapeze-like balancing act of hope & reality.
The ability to teeter between “what could, and can, be” and “what is” in such a way that you feel like you can not only see a light at the end of the tunnel but you are willing to get up out of the chair and do something about getting to the end of the tunnel.
Billy-boy can do that. Like him or dislike him the man can speak. His speech?
Methodical yet personal. Substantive yet likeable. Long yet engaging. There is no one on the Republican side who can match Bill. Heck. There are a handful of people globally who may be able to match Bill.
And then the Obama presentation. Not overwhelming. Solid. But, frankly, I am not sure what else he could do. People argued he should detail what has to be done. Nope. He has shown a plan … why waste time sharing it again. He couldn’t defend his record because people cannot do that for themselves (and be believable or non arrogant). Clinton and Biden did that.
What he was left with were 2 things. Here is the type of leader I am and here is the choice you need to make if you want me. Carville (I think) said he and Biden were “muscular.” Yeah. I buy that. Anyway. Detail or no detail on a plan he was presidential. Good tone if that was goal.
There was a teaching moment with his speech. And it wasn’t during the speech but just before it. Great presenters enter an important presentation in a variety of ways. For example I found it interesting to hear Hilary talk about how Bill sent her a variety of drafts for her thoughts. And for Barack while I envision there were a lot of discussions over words in Obama’s speech I guess there was no debate on one thing – I bet the first lady stepped up and said “no one else but me is going to be at that podium to introduce Barack.”
They are a delightful partnership and she was not going to leave that stage until she knew he was ready. And I believe he knew it was the best thing for him.
Why do I say this? I pay attention to little shit with presentations. There was the charming little moment right after she introduced him and they hugged when she leaned back a little, like a protective proud mom, and straightened his tie for him because their hug messed it up. And then, well, I am not a lip reader but she has her hands on his shoulders and looks him right in the eye and says “you ready?” I personally believe she wouldn’t have stepped away until she saw what she needed to see.
Why is that an important detail? Great presenters find a ‘place’ before they present. Its hard to describe. Its the itty bitty calm place you go to before bringing it on. The lesson here? Obama is a great speaker. This was a big big moment. Standing in front of hundreds (which I know) you can feel very small in that pre-calm moment before it all clears away. But you have to clear the clutter and get into your space no matter what <or you are screwed>. I cannot even imagine when it is millions in front of you. So what? You do what you need to do to insure success. You do not have to do it alone. Do I know what Michelle would have done if she hadn’t seen what she needed to see? Nope. I imagine she would have hugged one more time and said whatever a great partner says to put the right frame of mind in place, the zone as it were, for Barack. But my guess is if I saw it right “you ready” placed Barack right into the “yes I am” cleared clutter space.
The real point.
There is no presentation formula. And I tell kids that all the time. And I do it just because I see speech situations like this. You gotta figure out what is best for each presentation situation. I appreciate Obama was smart enough to recognize that and envy the fact he had someone who recognized the moment.
But. That’s me.
The bottom line <on presenting and words>? People, especially young people, should watch these things to see how ideas and thoughts are presented. The good and the bad. The derived passion versus the natural passion. The forced schtick versus the relevant schtick. The trite story versus just good ole fashion story telling. Great presenters have a little natural gift of gab, tempered by a boatload of practice/rehearsal and honed by experience. And even with all of that … you just may not be a good presenter … and you will certainly have bad days with the good days. Conventions are a cornucopia of lessons to be learned.
Romney. Bet he is brilliant in a boardroom or management meeting. Appears to have that innate ability to listen, assimilate and provide concise strong direction. Short communication. Ryan. You can only sit back and be dazzled by his comfort in a small town hall environment. Walking around holding a mike in his hand.
This is conversational communication at its best. Clinton (and sometimes Obama). Masters of millions. Innate ability to make individual listeners feel the heartbeat of millions. That’s aspirational communication. Each is a different ability … and strength. And as with everything in life … you can’t be good at everything. And it is good for young people to learn those lessons. And watch others.
I also love watching the governors speak. Some are obviously perfect for their state constituents and not fully translatable nationally. Some are obviously just gifted communicators. In fact I sometimes believe governors represent an inordinately high percentage of great speakers.
It seems I am tending to use democrats as speaker examples because they seemed to have more variety and took more risks. Mary J Blige is inspiring but she shouldn’t be speaking on the specifics of “why.” Dave Grohl used Foo Fighter music to scare the shit out of the old delegates and then you realize you want him speaking out more often than singing – the scraggly haired scruffy screamer singer is delightfully articulate. Scarlett Johansson reminds us that no matter what you do in your career … speaking to a 25000 audience and millions on tv is very difficult for a young person. Great message (of which I will write more about in a different post) and charming but giving a speech to that size audience was significantly more difficult for her than giving a strong movie monologue. And yet Eva Longoria, surely stunningly attractive, was stunningly articulate and charming – in one on one interviews and the big stage.
All I am saying is young people should watch these events even if they don’t want to listen to politics. You can learn a lot just by watching how people speak and present their ideas and thoughts.
What I believe is good? I use Clinton’s 2008 convention speech as part of presentation training examples. It is one of the best presentations I have ever seen & heard. Now? I will add in his 2012 convention speech for a completely different reason. This speech was a great example of how to communicate details in an engaging way. Oh. And I will also be using Michelle Obama’s presentation.
Outstanding in its pacing, content and delivery.
And, well, here is my election prediction based on this whole presentation diatribe <and I am only absolutely clear on two things at the moment … I will not vote for Romney and I do not want to vote for Obama … boy … that seems different than the “vote for anyone but Obama” which seems to be the media darling thought these days> the democrats will win because they have better presenters of ideas.
I think Romney will lose simply because the Republicans just cannot inspire people. And you know what? That’s okay. We are living in some pragmatic times where we all need to take some really tough pragmatic steps … but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t forget aspirations & hope & American dreams and all that stuff. We shouldn’t have to trade one for another.
Regardless. I wanted to end this post on some things about all these words and thoughts being tossed around and use some quotes I have been aching to use for awhile.
In a world, and an election, where everyone is shouting at the top of their lungs telling everyone what is wrong with the world and offering <what a friend of mine and I call> sound bite “there is no other right way to do this” solutions I was reminded of two literary thoughts:
– 1. Caution when hearing the solution prophets:
Do not fear ashes, do not fear curses,
Do not fear brimstone and fire.
But fear like the plague the man with the rage
To tell you, “I know what is required!”
Who tells you, “fall in and follow me
If heaven on earth’s your desire.”
– <an unsourced Russian ballad>
I know. I know.
We have all seen and heard thoughts like this and I believe we all know in our heart of hearts that we agree <although we may not discriminate as well as we could & should>. But I liked this because it had a slightly different twist.
The twist? Do not fear passion. I liked it because … well … there are a bunch of smart people out there who know that something is wrong … and may not be the person who can offer the solution. With brimstone, fire and curses they make people take note of the issue. And that is their role in the situation.
It is those who speak with the rage of solution certainty we should fear.
In today’s world we seem to be seeking the infamous ‘plan.’ Well … folks … I got news for you. We can certainly have a plan … and I can guarantee you that both parties have a plan <just as both are concerned with debt & unemployment & all the important issues just as equally> but everyone seems to be losing sight of adaptability. Great organizations, businesses, succeed because of vision <which both parties share> and the ability to adapt to the situation as it occurs <because, trust me, if anyone believes solving any country’s issues is a straight line solution than they belong in a loony bin>.
In America everyone today wants ‘the plan.’ Well. Everyone but me I guess.
The current administration has been plugging holes in the dike as they occurred.
Could they have planned for them? No frickin’ way.
Does that mean they don’t have a longer term plan <or vision>? Nope <they do>.
But, when you are plugging holes to keep the dike in place, it’s tough to do everything at once. And it is even tougher to share “the infamous vision” <beyond doing what is best for America> when you aren’t really sure what next month will bring in terms of a crisis that needs to be solved.
The point here is that I want to remind everyone that what I do like <one of the few things> about the Obama administration is that they are not running around saying “I know what is required” … they have shown an ability to adapt to the challenges they have faced.
– 2. Caution with the silence and inaction of the majority <masses>
“The mouse dreams dreams that would terrify a cat.”
“Insurrection is a machine that makes no noise.”
Metaphorically the bulk of a population are the mice. Sorry. I know that doesn’t sound good but you get the point. I hesitate to call it the 99% <because the 99% is not all the same> but suffice it to say the 1 to 5% who lead and guide, and misguide, are the cats.
And they pretty much do look the same because, well, they are cats.
Beyond that silly notion is a non silly thought. We dream of things the cats cannot envision … despite the fact I keep on hearing that they think they do.
These politicians live in La-La land.
They have no frickin’ clue what keeps most of us awake at night every frickin’ night we go to sleep. They have no frickin’ idea what we are thinking as we slog our way through the day. And they are absolutely clueless as to what we feel as we sit at the dinner table opening up our pay stub on one side and all the bills we have to pay on the left side. They say it … and I think they believe it … but …
And that leads me to the second quote from Trotsky.
As the leaders tell everyone what they are dreaming and talking and talking … and well … talking … the possibility of insurrection is occurring with little or no noise. The point is that it is gaining momentum without warning.
I am not using insurrection as Trotsky actually did, and was involved in, but the point is the point.
When people (the mice) get fed up <or fired up>. When they stop being satisfied with simply dreaming dreams <which would terrify the cats> they do something. And that is called ‘insurrection.’
All that scary stuff said … I typed all of that because I don’t think it matters who wins the US election … the mice are pissed at the cats.
Partisan politics may not need to cease but there has to be a compromise. Or in the end there will be some type of insurrection. Because, in the end, that is what democracy is about … people … and what they want. While elections bring out the best, and worst, of the everyday people’s opinions in the end all they really want is something to be done. Ok. Things done that are well crafted and not compromised into ineffectiveness through partisan politicking.
Insurrection is a quiet machine.
We are focused on the vocal/noisy … the ones shouting on sidewalks and streetcorners and talk shows. Silly silly us.
Visit a bar.
The machine of insurrection is churning on bar stools and neighborhood tables and friendly playground discussions as children play.
It is weird to me but we Americans have short memories.
We look at the French or Russians for insurrections/revolutions. And, yet, we are a country built upon revolution/insurrection … and have adapted through ‘revolution-like’ activity <maybe it is because we are too ‘civilized’ or tie it too closely to communism to understand this>.
Labor strikes in the 1800’s, peace demonstrations in the 70’s, civil war, segregation, etc. … we are a community that thrives on some type of insurrection to create cultural shifts. If politicians don’t see this, or even recognize the possibility, then … well … I question whether they really have their eye on the ball <the fact that they are elected to represent the people>.
All those things I just typed, despite all the archival footage of street demonstrations and such, were borne in the neighborhood bar and home.
All that said despite my relative indifference to Obama … he gets re-elected <which I actually believe is the lesser of two evils>.
Hope & what is in place.
Hope wins out over pragmatism <and the reality which a certain % of the American population will realize is that whatever “plan” is presented will be torn up and have to adapt to a changing environment anyway>. What is in place has some solid underpinnings. More needs to be done but things have been done, and have been proposed, which are solid. Plus. I am not thrilled with the thought of someone coming in and ripping out everything and starting all over.
Well. I don’t need to get out of the fucking tunnel in the next 4 years but I sure as hell need to see the light at the end of it.
No. I love hope.
And I love the American dream <and what it is that makes up the gestalt of America> but at some point I think Americans should be happy … and not scared. I actually believe that about every country & population but for now I am talking about the good ole USofA.
I just want the Obama administration to show us the light at the end of the tunnel for god’s sake.
If they do that?
Well. We Americans are tough. I know I am tough when people make promises and say they are going to do a job. And, inevitably, in our ‘toughness’ we will always find fault in anyone … or anything … that is done … but … while this will not matter to Mr. Obama, or even Mrs. Obama, I would fly to wherever the Obamas were <on my dime mind you> and shake their hands and say thank you if they got us out of this hole.
It probably won’t matter to them but I envision I would not be the only one to be there that day.
And while I was there I may ask for a presentation lesson … because by gosh, by golly … those democrats sure can present an idea.