Would You Rather Speak like Palin or Obama?


 In the car recently, my kids played a game called “Would you rather?” They’d ask silly, yet oddly compelling, questions like, “Would you rather have a pencil sharpener built into your nose or a ketchup dispenser built into your belly button?”  I went with the ketchup dispenser.


So here’s one. Let’s say that you’re about to hear a presentation from one of your partners on a proposal to grow your law practice. Would you rather he speak in a style resembling Sen. Barack Obama or Gov. Sarah Palin?


I have to go with Palin. We can learn much from both candidates about the power of speaking and how to connect with audiences. But Palin has a more user-friendly style. Her “chatting over beers” approach builds relationships and wins business.


Palin and Obama Both Show the Power of Speaking


The most fundamental lesson we can learn from both Palin and Obama is that speeches produce leaders. Obama burst onto the national scene with a speech to the 2004 Democratic convention. Palin did almost the same thing.  I was in Goldberg’s Deli when CNN announced that McCain had selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a running mate.


“Who is Sarah Palin?” I said. A couple days later, Gov. Palin gave her speech at the Republican Convention. Now everyone either hates her or loves her.


Want to be a leader? Take a lesson from Palin and Obama. Give a great speech.


Both Speakers Rely on Personal Stories


Obama and Palin rely on speaking fundamentals that we all should apply. For example, they take positions. One of my pet peeves is business presenters that won’t take a stand. Don’t be a wimp by just laying out the facts and letting me decide.


Obama and Palin also make deft use of personal stories. Obama often discusses being the son of mixed-race parents. And Palin, in her speech, told her own story as a “hockey mom” who prays as her 19-year-old son Track, an Army infantryman, leaves for Iraq.


The best speakers in politics and business personalize issues and tell stories. I worked with the hiring partner of a law firm who told new associates about his first day as a lawyer. Personal stories are the highlight of any speech.


The biggest difference is in style


A key difference between Obama and Palin is style of delivery.  Both speak with passion we should all imitate. But Obama is the eloquent law professor while Palin is the chatty friend you meet for beers at the local tavern.


Obama’s baritone voice could make the contents of a bottle of Nyquil sound interesting.  And he has mastered the classic rhetorical flourish of repeating a catchphrase. Martin Luther King Jr. used the same device in his “I have a dream” speech.


But while Obama’s oratory can be inspiring, personally he can seem distant. One comedian quipped that he sounds like he’s running for a spot on Mount Rushmore.  His style would sound overblown in a corporate conference room.


In business, the goal is to connect with audiences in a personal way and build relationships. Highfalutin rhetoric doesn’t win clients.


By contrast, Palin, in her speech, relied on a style that we could all model. She was chatty and plainspoken. Her most quoted line was, “The difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?  Lipstick.”  You just know that she’s used that one with friends in casual conversation.


We tell our clients to speak like they’re having an animated dinner conversation with a friend. That “chatting over beers” style helps you connect in a personal way and build the relationships that build businesses.


Both Palin and Obama are wonderful speakers. But if you’re looking for a style to help you connect with audiences and grow your business, Palin’s the one.

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