Lessons Learned From the Republican Presidential Campaign Speeches

The keynote speakers at the Republican Presidential Convention clearly energized the party base with speeches full of fire and brimstone leading up to Mitt Romney’s highly anticipated acceptance speech.

If you were watching, how do you think they performed? And make no mistake: a presentation is a performance whether you are on the national political stage or presenting at an industry conference.

There were many lessons to be learned from the party flag-bearers who were expected to make the Republican case to American voters.

See if you agree with our non-partisan critique of the key speakers and our closing summary of lessons learned. We start with Ann Romney and end with the candidate himself.

Ann Romney

Pros: The media generally gave Ann Romney high marks and give her a lot of credit. She had to perform on the biggest stage of her life.

Her job was to humanize her husband and portray him as the warm and loving man she married. She appeared to be connecting with the audience and came across as very likeable.

Presenting is about telling stories. She was effective in telling the story of how they lived in a modest apartment, eating pizza, while he completed a joint law and business degree (although she didn’t mention it was at Harvard).

She seemed to be genuinely enjoying herself although much had been written before the convention about her dislike of being in the public spotlight.

Cons: Ann Romney pounded away at the virtues of motherhood and how women are the glue that hold families together. However, she made a thoughtless remark in saying, “deep love for children (is) something only a mother can fathom.”

That stirred up a lot of commentary on blogs from fathers who struck back about her diminishing their role.

We were surprised that she wore a red shirtwaist dress, which was the uniform of “housewives” in the 1950s. (Remember Father Knows Best, the popular TV show from that era.)

This was no doubt a conscious choice as she was trying to appeal to women, and especially moms, to improve her husband’s likeability with this crucial voting block.

However, the dress didn’t have gravitas – it looked too girlish.

During a newscast, we saw footage of Mrs. Romney getting pointers on stage and noticed that all her advisors were men. A woman coach might have given her better advice about what to wear, how to soften her makeup and have a more flattering hairstyle.

Chris Christie

Pros: He was powerful and emphatic, living up to his reputation for directness.

The Governor of New Jersey toned down his usual confrontational style in pounding away at the current administration. Commentators noted that he showed a softer side in telling the story of his hardscrabble childhood.

He stirred up the crowd as he was supposed to, comparing his record in New Jersey – balancing the budget, staring down the teachers’ union – against what he said were the failures of the Obama administration. At the end, he received a standing ovation.

Cons: Possibly his biggest mistake was focusing on himself and not the candidate. As was widely reported, he didn’t mention Gov. Romney until 16 minutes into the speech. He used the word “I” 36 times, and “me” 12 times while mentioning the candidate only six times.

His next mistake was going off official message. While Ann Romney claimed “love” is the most important virtue, Christie claimed it was “respect” and not love. He repeated it several times.

You want to like him, but it isn’t easy. Christie has spoken about his challenges with his weight. Sadly, his size diminishes his charisma.

Condoleezza Rice

Pros: Many commentators felt the former Secretary of State was the most polished presenter. She was very eloquent and dignified — very grounded, yet approachable. You believed that she knew what she was talking about. While seeming unflappable and decisive, she was also warm.

Cons: While this might seem like nit-picking, the lipstick on her teeth was distracting. Someone offstage could have given her a pre-arranged non-verbal signal letting her know it was there so she could have removed it. If you’re going to present, take one last look in the mirror before speaking. Wipe the lipstick off your teeth and be sure the salad you just ate isn’t visible.  Run your tongue over your teeth just before you step onto the stage.

Paul Ryan

Pros: The Representative from Wisconsin, who is the Party’s vice presidential nominee, was the most effective speaker in using the teleprompter. Many speakers are fearful of losing their place on the prompter and move their heads back and forth between the right and left prompter. Think of a metronome which helps musicians play rhythm accurately – it has just one movement which is back and forth over and over.

When Ryan paused, he didn’t turn to either prompter, but looked straight ahead with his baby blues, which were accentuated by his light blue shirt and tie. Making eye contact really engaged everyone in the convention center and in the TV audience.

By looking directly at the audience, it was clear that he had rehearsed a lot and was confident enough to not be wedded to either prompter. He was centered and you felt he was talking just to you. He clearly had internalized his remarks.

Cons: He told some real whoppers, much bigger than little white lies. The media jumped all over him the next day with the real facts.

Fudging the truth gave ammunition to the Democrats for future negative advertising. Sally Cohn, a contributor for Fox News, the conservative network, used three words to describe Ryan’s speech “dazzling, deceiving and distracting.”

Marco Rubio

Pros: The Florida Senator was fabulous in his introduction of Mitt Romney. His baby face conveyed an appealing innocence and he exemplified his story of a Cuban-American who grew up to achieve the American dream. He used well-placed pauses that gave us time to connect with him. He appeared very relaxed and approachable. (He’s the kind of guy that any parent would be thrilled with if their daughter brought him home.)

Cons: Not much to dislike. Rubio is clearly an up and comer in the GOP.

Mitt Romney

This New York Times video shows how the stage was constructed in order to make Mr. Romney seem more warm and approachable.

Pros: We saw a different side of Mitt. He was poised, warm and in the moment. He was emotionally present and talked to us and not at us. He seemed to be enjoying himself. He was more animated and put his body into what he was saying. This was a very different performance as he wasn’t his usual still stiff mechanical self.

He told stories that humanized him, such as the one about his father bringing his mother a rose every day. She knew her husband had died the morning she didn’t find a rose by her bedside.

Romney talked about all the women he had helped, which was sure to appeal to women voters.

About his mother, he said, “I wish she could have been here at the convention and heard leaders like Gov. Mary Fallen, Gov. Nikki Haley, Gov. Susana Martinez, Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. As governor of Massachusetts, I chose a woman lieutenant governor, a woman chief of staff, half of my cabinet and senior officials were women, and, in business, I mentored and supported great women leaders who went on to run great companies.”  This was a very powerful statement.

Cons: During pauses for applause, he wore a goofy smile. Many of his applause lines were flat and didn’t get a strong reaction.

He could have worn a lighter-colored suit instead of the black one he chose that looked funereal. A medium or charcoal grey suit would have been more flattering.

His voice did not have much inflection until his closing lines when he really let go.

Lessons Learned

The key speakers at the Convention provided many lessons about giving an effective speech and what to avoid.

  • Never lie. You can’t get away with it. The Internet is the door to every piece of information you’ll ever need. The truth will come out not sooner than later – but instantly.
  • Focus on the speaker. When you are called on to introduce the main speaker, make it about him or her and not yourself. Because Governor Christie ignored this lesson, most of the coverage of his remarks was negative.
  • Stay on message. Know the key messages that you want to communicate. Wandering away from them can be damaging, as Gov. Christie learned when he said respect is the most important virtue, not love, as Mrs. Romney stated.
  • Dress appropriately. Ann Romney isn’t a young housewife. She’s the wife of the candidate for President. A shirtwaist dress is fine for a dinner with friends in the neighborhood but not in front of 20 million viewers. Leverage your good looks, as Paul Ryan did, in his choice of a blue shirt and tie which played up his blue eyes and provided a contrast to his dark hair.
  • Practice using the teleprompter. It takes practice to use the teleprompter properly. Mitt Romney kept looking left and right at his lines. You didn’t feel like he was addressing you directly. Paul Ryan looked straight at you and didn’t use the teleprompters as a crutch.
  • Use storytelling. Storytelling touches the heart when you want to show how you overcame all odds to succeed. Be sure your story has a strong take-away which you need to articulate to the audience. Don’t assume that everyone will “get your point.”
  • You are always on. This may be the most important lesson learned. The camera is always on you, recording your every gesture. Stay in the moment at all times. Mitt Romney looked sphinxlike when the camera panned to him in the audience. He didn’t smile during the speeches. While his wife declared their relationship as a partnership, Gov. Romney clearly held her arm down so she couldn’t stand to applaud Gov. Christie. The camera caught him; this was a controlling gesture and did not say “partnership”.

Do Your Own Critique

If you want to do your own critique of the Democratic convention that starts today in Charlotte, NC., then open the PDF Individual Profile in this post for a checklist of what to watch for.

We’ll be back with our critique of how the Democratic speakers performed.

3 comments to Lessons Learned From the Republican Presidential Campaign Speeches

  • Vi Nelson

    As insightful as always, Joyce. Thanks. I just posted this to my Facebook page for all the beauty folks to see.

  • Carlos Valenzuela

    Very educational insights, Ms Newman. I follow Vi’s lead always and am happy it brought me to you. I have subscribed to everything you share. Thanks.

  • Hi Vi and Carlos-
    Thank you for taking the time to comment. So pleased you found our “Lessons Learned” blog insightful. Carlos, I’m a big fan of Vi’s and agree that following her lead is a smart move!

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