When I wrote the post below I swear I had not read this New York Times piece (Candidate, Improve Your Appearance!), but something must be in the air. A kind PZ reader tipped me off to this wonderful New York Times article by one of my favorite television presenters, Dick Cavett. Cavett's article is fantastic with some good concrete advice from someone who knows what he's talking about. I recommend the article — and if you have time — the 200 comments have some real nuggets in there as well. Good stuff. In case you are too busy, here are some bullet points (notes and quotes) I gleaned from Dick Cavett's article:
• Teleprompters, says Cavett, "are supposed to create the illusion that you are not reading. And they do, when skillfully used." (If you can't use them skillfully, might reading from notes be better, more honest?).
• John McCain is fine speaking off-the-cuff, but has real problems reading a speech. Obama is good at both (and Clinton is good too). But all three are better than the current US president, says Cavvett:
"...everybody does it better than the capering loon who does soft-shoe in the White House.... His speechifying has a strong odor of remedial reading about it, combined with an apparent fear that there might be some hard words ahead."
• Ronald Reagan had the art of the speech down.
• "Politicians, if smart, would hire not just a comedy writer but an acting coach."
• Tip #1 "Change all 'I wills' and 'I shalls' to “I’ll’; Also, 'I haves' and 'I ams' to 'I’ve' and 'I’m,' etc." (That is, speak in a human voice, conversational, natural.)
• Tip #2 "Pretend you are speaking to one person. One single person. Because that’s what everybody is." (Again, conversational, natural, real.)
• Tip #3 "Grab a bunch of words off the prompter and, instead of staring straight ahead, glance down and to one side as you do — in real life — when thinking just what to say next. Then look back and deliver those snatched-up words to the camera." (This tip makes you seem more natural and connected to the audience.)
Go read the entire article.
Keeping it real in Q&A
While reading the comments section, I found a few people who suggested Obama was indeed good at reading speeches, but that his off-the-cuff speeches and his Q&A discussions with large audiences lack clarity and substance and are simply filled with platitudes. I have not found that to be the case. Recently another PZ reader sent me this link which shows Obama in Oregon doing a good job live when asked to explain "in a nut shell" the difference between himself and Clinton. At five minutes it is not a short answer, but it seemed clear to me. What I liked is that he did not put his opponent down and admitted on some issues there was not a big difference between them, but then he showed where the difference are. You decide for yourself how lucid his answer was (Watch it).