Ah, another happy holiday that allows my six kids to stay home from school, this time in honor of our first President, George Washington. Of course, it's widely known as President's Day, and in many minds honors Abraham Lincoln as well. For full background on the origins of the day, head here.
One of the most important roles of our President's is speaking to the country as a whole. That has transformed over the years. President Washington wasn't able to broadcast an HD video of himself throughout the world, but he seemed to manage. Abraham Lincoln had, at least, the opportunity to take the train to various stumping opportunities, and had a strong press corps to spread his message. Still, I challenge you to find a recording of him delivering the Gettysburg Address.
Radio, Television, and the Internet have clearly changed the methods of communication for our leaders. It could be argued that the opportunity for effective communication is greater than at any other time in history. Yet, effective communication is, in my opinion, at an all time low.
Yes, we can hear what our presidents are saying, but are their words having a real impact on the direction of our nation?
Communication is only effective when matched by action.
Great speeches past have always partnered with strong action. Lincoln's presidency was credited with significant changes in our country's makeup and value system (though historian's will argue this point). President Franklin D. Roosevelt's speeches were also matched with sweeping changes, be it the New Deal or the United States' entry into World War II. President John F. Kennedy successfully ushered in the Space Age in his 1962 speech for the ages.
Even President Ronald Reagan's speech challenging Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear Down This Wall" was given relatively little attention until the wall came down 29 months later, after the end of his presidency. Once called a 'war-mongering' piece of rhetoric, it is now considered a classic bit of oratory.
Today it feels as if our leaders hands are tied by Congress, and their power neutered by the press and the easy access to and manipulation of public opinion.
President Barack Obama was widely considered to be one of the strongest speakers our country had seen in years in the political arena, until he was elected. While he has enacted legislation on health care as he promised, overall his ability to enact change has been limited. Even the health care bill was seen as conciliatory in its final version, and many feel it will not survive the next few years.
His speeches are viewed with increasing cynicism with each passing month. Despite having all the talent and tools at his disposal, his communication is simply not as effective 'in the moment' as it was during election season. Only history will tell us if any of his speeches will pass the test of time - if actions will follow to bring the power back to his rhetoric.
How does this affect us? As speakers, we must walk the walk. If you're teaching people how to be successful, you better be successful. Teaching people how to invest their money? How has your portfolio done lately? Does your weight prove your weight loss program?
Of course, none of can be perfect, and processes can transcend personal results. The gospel must still be preached by sinners. Conversely, you can't preach 'Do not kill' when you walk around with a bloody knife.
If you want to Speak & Deliver, compare what you are speaking about to your real-life results. Find the victories in your life. Maybe your personal life isn't great, but you can sell like no one else. Guess which one you should speak about? Maybe you're broke, but you can help other people look their best on any budget, and your proof is what you're wearing every day. Speak about what you know, and you likely won't stay broke for long. Then you can switch to speaking about "making a fortune speaking about what you love" and be credible.
We're all good at something, often many things. If you are determined to speak, find your strengths - those topics which are paired with effective actions in your life. And be grateful that for now you don't have to worry about the media, gallup polls, or the glare of history's judgment on every speech!