The art of the teleprompter
Your moment of (slideument) Zen

Dick Cavett on improving your speeches

Talkshow_days 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).



Bitte schau Dir mal die Rede on Mr. Obama an.

lawrence berezin

Interesting and enjoyable post. Thanks for reminding me about how much I enjoy Dick Cavett. I have to look up at least one word when I read his commnents ("capering").

"Presentation Zen" changed the way I viewed and prepared presentations. My slides will be worthless without me.

Your blog is great. You introduced me to some talented people, with valuable things to say. For example, My wife and I enjoyed Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk. I benefited from Guy Kawasaki's audio on what to present to Investors, and used some of his advice.

I have 3 questions:
1. Which Clinton is the better speechifier?
2. What 3 speechifying tips would you give to each Clinton?
3. what would you recommend to John McCain to improve his talks?



As a Navy veteran I am forever grateful of Dick Cavett's skillful moderation of the 1971 "Dick Cavett Show" debate between John O'Neill and John Kerry. C-SPAN had a video of the debate available for viewing during the 2004 Campaign season. Watching the debate between O'Neill and Kerry was informative and entertaining. Fortunately, Kerry lacked the skills Cavett describes.

Greg Marquez

Well… referring to the President as a "capering loon" is certainly a good way of offending part of your audience for no reason related to any point you are trying to make. And this from a prissy, effete, faux intellectual.

Terry Gault

Your article raises some interesting points. One thing I would like to link with the Obama speech you have here is to bring up how audiences rate a speakers effectiveness and authenticity.

As a public speaking coach / trainer, I present frequently and coach others on their presentations. Hence, I am constantly observing the interplay between presenters and audiences.

I find that most audiences form accurate general impressions of a speaker, though they may not be able to articulate the behaviors and techniques that led them to form that impression. After all, we've all spent a good portion of our lives gaging the truthfulness of the people with whom we interact.

In his book,"Strangers to Ourselves," Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia notes that the brain can absorb about 11 million pieces of information a second, of which it can process about 40 consciously. The unconscious brain handles the rest.

Our unconscious brains are gathering up thousands of subtle signals from the speakers that we observe regularly and forming general impressions such as, "He's lying." or "She's arrogant."

This then comes to the question about whether speaking skills are important in our politicians.

I have to believe that they are. In this election in particular, the President's ability to inspire the American people is critical. Our economy is weakened, our federal debt is growing, and our national infrastructure (schools, roads **** is falling apart). The Iraq war is sapping our federal and state programs with it's huge costs. Health care costs are soaring and beginning to cripple middle class Americans and small businesses. Climate change threatens the delicate balance of the ecosystem and our national dependence on oil has made us vulnerable to terrorist attack while funding the very nations that host the terrorists. Meanwhile, the good will we enjoyed after Sept. 11 has been completely squandered and our foreign polity is universally criticized or detested abroad.

The current president never asked Americans to sacrifice anything to pay for the war in Iraq. Now, we are beginning to pay the price because other programs have been neglected while the war has sucked up trillions of dollars.

Can one person solve all these problems and manufacture the political will to get things done? No. No president alone can do this. They need the support and participation of the entire nation, just as FDR needed the support of the American people throughout the Depression and WWII.

Who is the appropriate candidate to lead us forward? One who can inspire the American people to take part in the recovery of our nation. As JFK said:
"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
"This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. "
MLK Jr. said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

These were all just "words" ... but what powerful words!

Our next president needs to speak the truth, tell us we need to participate, and inspire us with hope.

Who does that sound like?

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