The video below has been spreading like wildfire on the Internet. It is a short speech by Phil Davison, a Republican candidate for the position of Treasurer in Stark County, Ohio.
Davison’s speech, which was given to about 100 people, is, to say the least, memorable. In his blog, my friend Max Atkinson states that in over 30 years of collecting tapes of speeches, he has never seen anything quite like it.
News agencies and YouTubers are, perhaps not surprisingly, having a field day with the story. Now, I know nothing about Davison or the burning political issues in Stark County, Ohio. But I would like to take a different tack and try to analyze the speech to see what lessons we can learn from it from the public speaking perspective.
First, the speech. If you haven’t seen it, fasten your seatbelt.
OK, what can we learn? First off, two main lessons:
- Lesson No. 1: Speakers must control their emotions. Speaking with passion is one of the most important things a speaker can do. But the passion must be harnessed and channeled in a constructive manner. Otherwise the speech becomes a runaway freight train. Do not let your emotions get the better of you.
- Lesson No. 2: If you must refer to extensive notes, you are probably better off staying behind the lectern. If you step away, only to have to hasten back, it is very distracting. A speaker should move with purpose and confidence and not pace back and forth.
Apart from these lessons, here are some other observations:
- 0:00 – 0:30 During his opening, Davison referred to his notes at least ten times in 30 seconds. It is OK to use notes if you need them, but at the very least you should have your opening memorized as it is the first impression that you make on the audience. Note the mistake about the date of the election. Not a major gaffe, but not something you want to have happen right of the bat.
- 0:35 Here, Davison explains a bit of his background, noting that he has served on his home county’s council for 13 years. Somewhat oddly, though, he tries to indicate the number 13 by holding up a combination of his fingers. Gestures should be meaningful; the gesture here was not needed.
- 0:43 – 1:00 Davison sets out his educational background and, for the most part, he does a good job. He makes good eye contact and his voice is strong but measured – at least until he mentions his degree in communications.
- 1:00 – 1:22 The finger-pointing and the tone are not likely to generate much sympathy. As for “I will not apologize for my tone tonight”, it would have helped if Davison had said exactly why he was so visibly upset. If the incumbent had done something to merit this degree of consternation, it would have helped to say so, if for no other reason than to assure people that this was heartfelt indignation rather than just ranting.
- 1:22 – 1:35 “Republican in times good and bad.” Well, OK, he is a loyal Republican and he is speaking to members of his political party, but the statement is hackneyed, without any concrete examples and he screams it.
- 1:35 – 2:05 This was a key part of the speech. Davison had a very powerful quote from Albert Einstein, but his emotion got the best of him and he botched the line. Unfortunate.
- 2:05 – 2:35 He began by talking about the situation in the Treasurer’s office and how there was a need for structure and guidance. I was hoping to hear something substantive, a concrete example of what was needed. But there was only shouting, vague talk about “aggressive” campaigning and mixed metaphors (“hit the ground running and come out swinging”).
- 2:35 – 3:00 He tried to engage the audience by asking what drastic times require, and this was good. But I would like to have seen the look on the face of the person who gave the answer (“drastic measures”) when Davison thanked him. His thank you was … beyond exuberant.
- 3:00 – 3:40 I liked how Davison appeared to speak extemporaneously by referring to something his friend had just said. But the bit about “infestation” and politics being “winner take all” was incongruous and incomprehensible.
- 3:40 – 4:40 I thought that this was, relatively, one of the best parts of the speech. Davison was calm and measured.
- 4:40 – 5:52 But it didn’t last long as the “let’s use this knowledge … as a weapon” and the “both barrels guns loaded” was just grandstanding. The rest of the speech was relatively calm, but by this time the impression had been made.
Ultimately, Davison did not get the nomination. In this article, he expresses his disappointment and his desire for feedback. Well, if he ever reads this blog, I hope that this post helps. Going forward, I would offer Davison the following ideas to consider:
- Have someone proofread the speech to cut out excessive posturing and ensure that the content is substantive enough.
- Practice the speech often, including moving with purpose.
- Get comfortable without notes or with just the main points as an aide mémoire.
- Breathe deeply.
- Find a quiet place to warm-up right before speaking by swinging the arms, clapping the hands, stretching, etc. to release some of that nervous energy.
- Stay well hydrated. Avoid caffeine.
And finally, let’s not forget one thing. It might not have been the greatest speech, but at least Davison had the courage of his convictions to stand up in front of 100 people and have a kick at the can. And that’s what public speaking is all about. It’s easy to criticize from the “cheap seats” but it’s another matter when you’re the one on stage.