01.16.18 Speaking of candidate tips . . .

Left-Hand View occasionally runs pieces by guest bloggers. This piece, by Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell, is a perfect companion to the candidate communications tips I posted a couple of days ago.

Some people are naturals at public speaking, but others are terrified. If you’re in the latter category, you have little choice but to get over it. Our suggestion is practice, practice, practice. Give your stump speech to a loved one or a good friend who is willing to offer constructive feedback. Give it in front of a mirror or video it so you can review it later. Do whatever you must to increase your comfort.

As you practice, observe yourself carefully to see if you use “verbal gestures,” such as: like, y’know, ummm. Nearly everyone uses these in daily speech, but public speakers are well advised to eliminate them. Also, don’t use the word “literally” unless you literally mean “literally!”

Work especially hard on your opening and closing. Have a good ending, such as (loudly and clearly!), “I would appreciate your vote for me. My name is xxxxx and I’m running for xxxxx.” That’s what you want them to remember. (Your audience will probably only remember about 10% of what you say, but will certainly remember the feeling you gave them and what you said last.)

Have about two or three major points to raise, no more. If you forget a point (it can happen to anyone), don’t call attention to it. Instead, try to quickly remember another point and go right to it.

If you are at a candidates’ forum or debate, anticipate the questions in advance or ask others what questions they think will be asked. Before the forum or debate, work on answers to these anticipated questions.

Don’t focus on your resume. Voters are more interested in what you will do, not what you have done. Only mention your resume as it applies to issues or as it demonstrates your prior commitment to the community.

Avoid speaking in a monotone. Vary your tone and tempo, and put extra “oomph” on the main points. Use your hands for emphasis.

Never say, “I don’t need a mic.” The audience will yell that you do and you’ll be starting off on the wrong foot. Check the microphone before the start of the meeting, to see if you might have to adjust it.

Always keep the microphone in front of your mouth. (You’d be surprised how many don’t do this.) And always face the audience, even If you are referring to something beside or behind you.

Speak loudly, even if you have a microphone, and remember to keep speaking loudly – don’t taper off into a whisper. If you speak loudly and clearly, people will think you know what you’re talking about, even if you don’t.


Pick people in the audience to speak to directly, but look at others as you proceed. (If it’s uncomfortable for you to make eye contact, look them in the forehead ­­– they can’t tell the difference.) If someone is nodding in agreement, feel free to acknowledge them – they’ll love it.

If it’s a candidate forum or debate, never attack anyone personally, just their policies. Even then, say something nice about that person before you stick the knife in. (At a debate, we once declared Robin Ficker** was not a racist – as some alleged – but then said he was completely wrong on the matter at hand. He responded by saying something nice about me. That’s your goal.)

It’s better never to mention other candidates’ names, no matter what. You want your audience to remember your name, not anyone else’s.

If there is a time limit, try to finish just a little early and don’t waste time commenting on the time limit.* Glance at a clock in the room. It’s better than looking at your watch. (That really hurt George H. W. Bush in 1992.)

Dress nicely. Some politicians can get away with the rumpled look, but not many. Wear something that will be visible to the audience so you stand out, such as something red or bright blue.

Get there early and walk among the audience introducing yourself, smiling all the time. No need to get into wonkish details at that moment, just “I’m xxx and I’m running for xxx. Feel free to contact me later if you have questions.” Make sure you have an adequate supply of business cards with you and offer them to everyone before they ask you. Make sure your email is on your card so people can contact you.

Work the room again after the event. Ask each person with whom you speak if they liked what you said. If yes, great. If no, ask, “Tell me more about what didn’t work for you.” Don’t make them uncomfortable. Not everyone will like you or want to talk at all.

Wear a name tag with your first name as large as possible, your surname smaller, and what office you’re running for. Put it on the right side of your chest so people can see it when they shake your hand. Bring extras for when (not if) it drops off your clothing.

If someone starts to argue with you, figure a way out. If need be, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree” works nicely. (We did that when Joe Arpaio*** once tried to pick a fight with us.)

Don’t assume no one is looking at you when you’re not speaking. Keep smiling and looking at people in the audience, not other candidates. Don’t look or act bored; keep moving your head and eyes. Never look down. Never put your hands on your face, especially by your mouth. Never have private conversations with others on a panel, or the audience will feel left out and resent you.

Remember that you are not only speaking to the people in the audience. You are communicating to all the people they will speak with. Those who attend candidate functions are activists. They are bound to speak to many others and state their preferences. Do all you can to close the deal then and there.

*Keith Berner adds: Also, don’t waste time thanking the facility, its employees, the host organization, the guy who mowed the lawn, your parents for raising you, etc. And: use humor (unless you truly don’t have a sense of humor, in which case it will sound as forced as it feels.)

**Robin Ficker is MoCo’s own obnoxious GOP gadfly.

***Joe Arpaio is the racist, law-breaking Arizona sheriff whom Trump recently pardoned.

Paul M. Bessel is a retired lawyer and Barbara Braswell is a retired federal employee.  Both are political and community activists and accomplished public speakers. Bessel has made a name for himself in part by becoming the source for constantly updated lists of who is running for what and political events in Montgomery County. Your blogger refers to these lists nearly every day.

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One Comment on “01.16.18 Speaking of candidate tips . . .”

  1. Alan Henney Says:

    Excellent points!

    Here are some of my over-used and abused favorites:

    to be honest with you
    get this
    check this out
    here’s what you need to do…
    Let me tell you something …
    at the end of the day
    the bottom line
    the fact of the matter
    here’s the deal
    it is what it is (if it isn’t what it is, what is it?)
    game changer
    same page
    hey (as in hay Gwen or hay Sue when throwing it to the weather girl)
    moving forward
    systemic or systematic

    Liked by 1 person

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