Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Speech “Aha” Moment


I predicted some really good speeches, and last week’s Republican National Convention didn’t disappoint; in fact, it delivered in content and style something for everyone – and yes, inexplicably, for fans of Clint Eastwood! 

Almost every speech contained memorable lines, and a home run on the American dream was delivered by Marco Rubio:

“A few years ago during a speech I noticed a bartender behind a portable bar in the back of the ballroom. I remembered my father who had worked for many years as a banquet bartender. He was grateful for the work he had, but that’s not what he wanted for his children.

“You see, he stood behind the bar all those years so that one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room.” 

Marco Rubio’s recollection made me think of my father’s parents, who were immigrants from Sweden. They were young and ambitious. Leaving Sweden on separate ships, they met and married in Chicago, starting their married life working in the kitchen of the Swedish Club of Chicago.

From there they went on to own saloons that they ran together: bartending, cooking and serving. They reared three sons, built other businesses, and were fortunate to have achieved significant success within their lifetime.

My college educated father grew up helping his parents manage saloons and apartment buildings. The work was hard and left a lasting impression, as I discovered as a teenager in high school looking for part-time work. The one position he refused to allow me to do was waitressing. He never explained and I couldn’t ask, but now I understand. Memorable speeches achieve these poignant recalls or answer questions; and if the writing and delivery are very good, they produce an “aha” moment of clarity.

The speech by Condoleezza Rice spoke to me intellectually and emotionally. There is a serenity about her that comes through whether she’s walking beside a world leader, sitting quietly while being interviewed, or striding purposefully to a podium or a piano. The origin of her calmness is a mystery to me, but I suspect it’s rooted in her deep religious faith.

While writing about Rice, I returned to my viewing notes and found my hastily scribbled question: “Is she using a teleprompter?” Later fact checking revealed she was not, and I suspect the same answer will be given to whether or not she had the assistance of a speech writer. I’m betting her speech was all her own: purposeful and addressing forcefully what her audience needed, which that night was a broader worldview.

Rice’s delivery was riveting. She took her time to occasionally check her notes but would then return with a laser focus on her audience. The speech was tightly constructed to layout the present, what lies ahead, and why the Romney-Ryan team is the right one to lead the United States.  Her “aha” moment came when she paused and got personal:

“And on a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham—the most segregated big city in America. Her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant, but they made her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she can be President of the United States. And she becomes the Secretary of State”

In those minutes Rice connected personally with everyone in the convention hall and most likely with millions watching around the world.

An unexpected and excellent speaker was a newcomer to the stage: Mayor Mia Love of Saratoga Springs, Utah. Love wasn’t given much time, but she managed it well and delivered a short and impactful presentation.

If the Republican Party has been chasticized for not including people of color, Love was there to boldly refute that message. The daughter of Haitian Americans, she was born in New York and reared in Connecticut.

Love is strikingly attractive and a forceful speaker who clearly enjoys the media spotlight. She spoke of the American dream and presented her thoughts with a brevity and clarity of purpose that few of the seasoned speakers achieved:

“President Obama's version of America is a divided one — pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender, and social status. His policies have failed! We are not better off than we were 4 years ago, and no rhetoric, bumper sticker, or campaign ad can change that.

“Mr. President, I am here to tell you we are not buying what you are selling in 2012.”

I was truly surprised at the candor of her “aha” moment and the rhetorical might with which she delivered her message!

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