More words have been written and spoken about the making of the 45th President of the United States than one would have thought anyone could ever wish to read or hear. Yet as the current Channel 4 documentary (not unironically entitled Trump: The American Dream) shows, we still have an insatiable desire to understand from this side of the pond how a man with his history can have beaten a woman who served in some of the highest public offices for most of her adult life.
Trump’s public speaking mannerisms are now so often ridiculed, he almost seems like a parody of himself when you watch him “for real”. His limited hand gestures, restricted vocabulary and easily mimicked facial expressions do not require any specialist knowledge for people to understand that his presentation skills could do with some development. So how did he succeed to convince so many millions of supporters to vote for him rather than Clinton in a campaign which was dominated by TV/video footage and personal appearances? Funnily, I think it is because of something that he does very very well when he is speaking in public – and something that his opponent failed to do.
I was lucky enough to be in the States during the election campaign and watched Clinton’s acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention live on TV. She spoke fluently, used a wide variety of suitable hand gestures, smiled at the right time and paused just when any speech writer would have wanted her to do. She had clearly been trained within an inch of her life for the most important speech of her life to date. Yet watching her then was when I felt the first real pang of concern that The American Dream may not have been hers to grasp. It seemed to me that Hillary had been so well grilled in “how to deliver a speech” that she had forgotten the most important thing – to be convincing, she had to be herself. Audiences are instinctively skilled at picking up on a subconscious level that a speaker is not being truly them – and thus their message will be almost instinctively rejected.
In contrast, whatever one might say about Donald Trump, when he talks few can doubt that you are hearing “the real deal” – that he means what he says (even if the audience can’t quite believe it themselves). While so many people would like to “train” Donald to speak better, they would be well advised not to kill that golden goose that has worked so well for him to date.
For me, the key for anyone speaking in public is to be as true to who they are in private as is possible. Of course, there are tricks and tools and tips that can be shared that will help anyone to speak more confidently, more clearly and more engagingly. But the joy of doing this kind of training is to see how unique everyone is and (to coin the 44th president) that yes, they can! (and indeed, they must) convince others that the message they believe in is one that their audience can trust. If you put your heart in your mouth, then who knows what you can achieve.