Recently, half of Quicken Loans Arena emptied shortly after Melania’s speech, midway into the Republic national convention. I felt that her speech wasn’t as captivating as Michelle Obama’s was in 2012.
I went on social media to see who else shared my sentiments. It didn’t take long to find one. A Facebook friend, Mr. H, put up a post about how Melania’s speech paled in comparison to Michelle’s. I replied that it could be that lawyers, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, make eloquent speakers because of their profession. Mr. H responded that lawyers are only trained in the act of advocacy, not oratory. Later, in a private moment, I googled oxford dictionaries–To advocate: to publicly recommend or support. Just what Melania tried to do Monday night.
What makes one speech better than another? Instead of using her 2012 speech which I already knew was good, I looked online for Michelle’s 2008 Convention speech, her first as an aspiring first lady. I compared the first nine paragraphs of the speech with Melania’s. What I found confirmed what I’ve always known: that techniques for effective advocacy can be learned. While I am not an expert on the subject, here are five tips I believe will help you whenever you want to make a case:
1. Start with a Story, a Quote or a Proposition
Your audience decides if you are worth listening to within few minutes of your speech. Captivate them with stories, quotes or propositions before you lose them. If you look back to memorable sermons from your childhood, you will find that you remember a particular sermon because of a story, a quote or something new you learned. Each of these makes a promise of something more to come thus making an audience eager to hear more.
Quotes are memorable because they capture in few words an idea that can take pages to convey. For example, a cousin lost her husband recently. I have been struggling with that loss for weeks. Yesterday, someone posted a picture of the widow and her children in mourning clothes and captioned it: “What cannot be avoided has to be endured.” That quote is one I’m not likely to forget.
A proposition states a theory to be analyzed. So if you start a speech by saying, for instance.” Diabetes is now an epidemic,” you are likely to engage an audience eager to find out what statistics, studies, etc. you rely on to make that assertion.
Stories are my favorites. Here are the first three paragraphs from Michelle’s and Melania’s speeches.
“As you might imagine, for Barack, running for president is nothing compared to that first game of basketball with my brother, Craig.
I can’t tell you how much it means to have Craig and my mom here tonight. Like Craig, I can feel my dad looking down on us, just as I’ve felt his presence in every grace-filled moment of my life.
At 6-foot-6, I’ve often felt like Craig was looking down on me too … literally. But the truth is, both when we were kids and today, he wasn’t looking down on me. He was watching over me.”
“It’s a very nice welcome and we’re excited to be with you at this historic convention.
I am so proud of your choice for President of the United States, my husband, Donald J. Trump.
And I can assure you, he is moved by this great honor.”
You can tell which of the two is more compelling.
2. Show Don’t Tell
Creative writers know that showing and telling is the difference between a good read and an uninteresting one. If you are writing a tribute to a parent, for example, telling us that he was the “best father and husband anybody could have prayed for” is telling us nothing. Every grieving child says that. Instead, tell us how when you were six, your mother went into labor to give birth to your (now) youngest sibling and your father took your mother to the hospital, came home, fed and tucked you and your younger siblings in bed, all the while fingering his rosary, praying for your mother whom he couldn’t be with because your parents couldn’t afford a babysitter at the time.
While Melania generally talked about Trump’s love for America without telling us why she came to that conclusion, Michelle, in her 2008 speech gave concrete examples of Obama’s love for America thus:
“It’s what he did all those years ago, on the streets of Chicago, setting up job training to get people back to work and after-school programs to keep kids safe — working block by block to help people lift up their families.
It’s what he did in the Illinois Senate, moving people from welfare to jobs, passing tax cuts for hard-working families, and making sure women get equal pay for equal work.
It’s what he’s done in the United States Senate, fighting to ensure the men and women who serve this country are welcomed home not just with medals and parades but with good jobs and benefits and health care — including mental health care.”
Details, or absence thereof, could make or mar a speech.
3. Concede Some of Your Opponent’s Arguments
This point isn’t relevant to the convention speeches but is one I find important nonetheless. An audience can tell when one is making an objective argument and when arguments are based on sentiments. When you want to make a case, being objective and presenting arguments in favor of the other side shows you have done your research. It shows yes, you get the other position, but having considered it, you feel your position is a better one.
Let’s take Nigerian elections, for example. During the campaigns, Buhari’s supporters who argued that Jonathan may be a decent man but that he was too gentle for Nigeria. etc. scored more points in my book than people who simply dismissed Jonathan as corrupt. With his personality, anybody can buy the first argument about the former president but not necessarily the latter argument.
4. Don’t Call Names
Again, both aspiring first ladies scored some points on this tip. Similar to the previous argument, making condescending arguments against your opponent reflects poorly on you than it does on them. I learned in law school never to commit Fallacy Ad Hominem, i.e, attacking one’s opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.
When one takes such cheap shots, the arbiter may conclude that the maker has no better argument to make or punish them for being contemptuous. Rather than call Buhari a dictator, for example, give examples of policies he has made without consulting the national assembly, etc. Anybody can call names. People are convinced more when you back up your arguments with facts.
5. Get a Law Degree
To advocate means to speak, plead, or argue in favor of. That is what you do each time you try to sell an idea. Lawyers spend six years in law school learning to be advocates. That may be why they make better speakers at conventions. 25 of the 44 U.S. presidents have been attorneys.
Need I say more?