How to Connect with Voters

Hint – it happens long before the campaign begins.

Watch C-SPAN on any given evening and watch members of Congress and the Senate read speeches into the public record. Very rarely exciting or moving.

Comments are usually read verbatim from a text, not too much emotion, and often confusing. All too often, this is the case in legislative bodies throughout the country as well.

This is how it should be done:

Click here, scroll to 2:36:18 (I apologize for the technology), and watch…

The setting: Vote on New Jersey State Budget by NJ State Senate, late June, 2009.

Why New Jersey State Senator Kevin O’Toole’s performance works so well:

  1. Use of Story – His speech begins with a personal story about his first political mentor, and immediately made it relevant to the topic he was addressing. Throughout the remainder of the speech, the Senator utilized mini-stories, making the content easy to identify with.
  2. Passion – If there is such thing as too much passion, this would be the case (I do not believe there is such thing). You can agree or disagree with Senator O’Toole’s comments, but you certainly can not question his passion or his belief in what he is saying. This is relayed both verbally and non-verbally.
  3. Eye Contact – While the Senator has prepared notes in front of him, he does not read them. His eyes are constantly focused on his colleagues, and he utilized his notes as a reminder rather than as a prepared text.
  4. Body Language/Movement – Not the easiest thing in a legislative chamber. The Senator is able to utilize movement without intense rocking or weight shifting – he literally moves. His hands are constantly moving (sometimes too much) however in this situation, completely appropriate – illustrates passion.
  5. Use of Language The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar wordsHippocrates. This rule is all too often ignored by elected officials when communicating – the key is to be understood, and unfamiliar words, complex language and confusing acronyms all detract from it. Senator O’Toole follows this rule to a tee – his language was easy to understand, there were no voluminous words, and no never-ending thoughts.
  6. Vocal Variety – Very effective use of both pausing (when utilized) and vocal variety to build up to a crescendo (One of my only issues with the Senator’s speech was the quickness and lack of regular pausing).
  7. Rhetorical Questions – This is a little trickier to pull off, however O’Toole did this masterfully. Rhetorical questions are a great way to reinforce message and re-focus an audience.
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