Presentation Tips for Political Candidates

Are you running for election? Congratulations to you on your initiative.

As a candidate for political office you need to do your homework and prepare. Learn the issues, take a position and build a network. One more thing – learn how to present your message well. And do it better than the competition.

The mayoral candidates spoke at a community meeting. Four of the five candidates attended. They were each allowed an opening and closing statement. In between they were asked to answer several written questions from the audience. The candidates were allowed up to 90 seconds for each answer.

As a professional speaker and executive speech coach I was under impressed by the candidates. But I was not surprised by the lack of presentation prowess. It would be so easy for political candidates to improve their presentations skills. Why do they neglect such a powerful tool of persuasion and success?

Let’s be clear. The purpose of these community meetings is to demonstrate that the candidates understand the key issues of the audience and that they can do something about it.

Here are my presentation tips for these mayoral candidates in particular and all political hopefuls in general.

Learn How to Use Microphones
The first speaker tested his microphone by blowing on it before he spoke. That is both annoying and unprofessional. The best way to test a microphone is to speak. Don’t say “TEST, TEST” or “Is this thing on?” Just speak normally.

First be Human
Only one speaker (the incumbent) thanked the organizers and complimented the other candidates in the room. That’s a sign of experience, confidence and compassion.

Talk to the Audience, Not your Notes
One speaker seemed to read everything he said – his opening and closing and even the answers to questions. In between he was busily scribbling notes while the other speakers spoke. He clearly was not in the room. He might be a good back room researcher and thinker but not a leader.

Don’t Look Angry
One candidate displayed his anger a few times. He also complained that current council had been divisive. He promised to correct that by forcing them to be more efficient. How? By getting angry at them?

Focus on What’s Relevant
This same angry candidate included a rant about federal politics – on a totally unrelated issue. He went so far as to encourage the audience to contact a local MP about his pet federal issue. What does that have to do with this municipal election? Do you want to be mayor or do you just want to rant?

Ninety seconds might sound like a short time to speak but successful politicians need to speak in sound bytes which can be 5 to 30 seconds. For this program they received signals from the timer at 60, 30 and 10 seconds – yet they missed the opportunity to conclude. Most of the time the speakers trailed off and sometimes they ended so meekly that we wondered if they were done speaking. Conclude every mini speech and end strong.

A smile indicates confidence, warmth and trust. Why didn’t these candidates smile more? Every mini speech should have ended with a smile and steady gaze at the audience. Instead they frowned, looked down and glanced sideways at the MC. No one looked happy with their message. The sound in the room was bad. Just imagine that no one understood the words spoken and saw only the speaker. If you looked up at the speaker at the end of their mini speech you would have felt like it was another disappointing answer.

Make me Laugh
The surest way to connect with anyone is to make them laugh. So why didn’t you make us laugh? There were a couple of weak attempts from two of the candidates during the 90-minute torture session. We don’t expect you to be Seinfeld. However, a chuckle goes a long way.

Repeat or Reframe the Question
By the time we heard from the third speaker the audience might have forgotten the original question. Some questions were long and multipart and some of the speakers went off on tangents. Repeating or reframing the question will remind the audience of the question and help you stay on track.

Be Prepared
Some of the candidates seemed to be winging it at times. It looked as if they had never thought about or considered the questions before. Yet, none of the questions were surprises.

Yes, I know that substance counts as well as style. But when there seems to be little difference in substance we gravitate to style. Unfortunately we don’t ask our political candidates to write an exam. So we need to judge them on style because that’s all we can see.