An election speech is a very valuable, important and powerful communication tool. All other things being equal, a stirring election speech has the power to shift a large section of the electorate in favor of the candidate. Alternatively, if the candidate botches up the speech, the opposition can gain ground without delivering their speech. The speech is valuable because it gives the candidate the opportunity to talk to a large number of voters about herself, her plans for the office and the manifesto (promises/plans).
Why do you need an election speech?
The truth is you do not need a speech. There are a number of other ways in which you as an election candidate can reach out to the voters. Press releases, posters, word of mouth, in-person meetings with voters, informal meetings with small groups and sharing plans on facebook are some examples in which you can reach out to the potential voter community.
The election speech is one of the various channels to reach your electorate. It is a communication tool by which you market your candidature (product) to the voting community (customer).
The speech, by itself, is not sufficient enough to “close the deal”, i.e. get the votes. But it can enhance the candidate’s visibility and help build trust and expectation in the voters’ minds.
The GOAL of the election speech is to create a buzz about you, the candidate, as a serious contender for the post. Done right, the speech should serve to enhance your chances of winning the election and if possible widen the chasm between you and the next following candidate.
Most importantly, the speech should keep the interest of the voter in you, the candidate, alive until election-day. Therefore the timing of the speech should be carefully scheduled. Too much ahead of the elections, and the voters would forget your capabilities (another candidate’s more recent speech would stay in their memory).
Evolution of an election speech
Contrary to belief, you never write an election speech. You BUILD one. And it evolves and improves, till it FEELS right. The speech should evolve and improve as you go through four phases (listed below). For each phase, there are certain things to be considered. Read on.
1. Preparation & ground-work
This activity is done in the weeks leading to the election day. For a middle school election or for election to your home-owners’ association, you may want to give yourself 10-12 weeks, for a small club it could be shorter say 3-4 weeks and for election to a township or city/state office, it could be more than 4-6 months. A good way to think about this period is to estimate the number of voters. The larger the number the more time you need. For really large numbers, you will need multiple speeches (since you cannot talk to them all in one session).
You should also decide on the date when you want to deliver the speech.
Build a team of advisors. This “core team” would comprise of your close friends, allies and well-wishes (obviously they must vote for you and believe in your capabilities to deliver).
While building your team, it is good to assess your own personality, specifically your strengths and weaknesses. Ensure that for any major weakness, you have at least one team member that will fill that gap.
Build your election manifesto – i.e. your promises to the electorate. Your manifesto should address the following:
- a. What are the pain-points faced by the voter community (pains)
- b. What is working well, that should continue to be maintained
- c. What is broken, that you will fix (breakages)
- d. Why should you be re-elected (list out your past achievements)
- e. Why should the existing body be replaced (list out what was not delivered, better still, what was promised and not delivered)
- f. What changes have other similar institutions (schools, clubs) undertaken successfully that you can emulate (changes)
Don’t try to answer all these questions by yourself. In most cases you will end up with assumptions or hypotheses. These are great starting points, but you need to test your hypotheses by talking to your voters. Split up the questions amongst your core team and try to talk to as many of the potential voters as possible.
Slowly you will build interest and a following amongst your voter community, they will become aware that you are a serious contender and their responses will help you tighten up your election campaign.
Answers to the above questions should help you write your speech. List out bullets in the beginning and slowly refine them as you get “intelligence” from your electorate.
You should be able to narrow down 3 or 5 (whatever is an appropriate number) initiatives that you promise to initiate, pursue or deliver (depending on your level of control). While doing this, try to come up with a catch tag line or a campaign slogan. This line should be short, impactful and convey your whole promise. If you are not convinced of the power of a campaign slogan, read this post.
As part of preparatory work, you should also list out some points as to why the voters should vote for YOU, as a person. This is where you talk about your own personality and your team, which will deliver on the promises.
Contents of the speech
- 1. Introduction – briefly, your name, office for which you are contesting
- 2. Context, situation – Talk about pains, breakages and changes
- 3. If you are seeking re-election then talk about accomplishments, changes and plans for continuity
- 4. If you have the ability to control and deliver on the “promises” then say so (this is the most important part of the speech. So perfect the delivery in this section, with loud, clear voice and deliberate pauses)
- 5. For school and club offices, you can use terms such as pursue, follow-up, take up, initiate, represent, create awareness, etc. Wherever possible include specifics such as time in which the voters can expect results and quantification of results. Make sure that your promises are realistic and achievable.
- 6. Conclusion: Re-iterate the top 3 or 5 “promises”
- 7. Close out the speech by making a “firm” call to action, i.e. vote for you, and end with your clogan
Style of delivery:
Here is a tip. Do not pretend, on stage, to be what you are not. If you are inherently a funny person, then that will come out in your speech. Inducing laughter from the audience is a sure way to get them behind you. But this is risky and can easily mess up your campaign, if it is not natural to you.
2. Fine-tuning & rehearsal
Between talking to your “customers” and revising your speech, you should also spend some time in rehearsing the actual speech delivery.
Most computers have a built-in microphone and this is a good way to record your speech and then play it back. Rehearse in front of your core team. Ask them to spot mannerisms, disconcerting movements and “tone” of delivery.
One basic rule of thumb is to speak “loudly, slowly and clearly”.
As you get closer to speech day, see if you can gain access to the actual podium from where you will deliver the real speech. If you can, ask your core team to be seated in different places in the auditorium (front row, back row, and to the sides).
Check out the whole auditorium and imagine that the hall is full.
Then go to the podium and stand in the exact spot from where you will deliver the actual speech.
Imagine yourself delivering the speech. Go through the motions and let the feeling sink in.
If there is time (you can get it only if you ask for it!) read out or recite the full speech. One of your team members can keep track of time. Make sure you do not rush the important parts. But rather, pause and let it sink in.
If it is possible to get access to the real equipment (again, no harm in asking; you may even get it), rehearse with the actual equipment.
3. Speech Day & actual delivery
Two important things to keep in mind are: (a) stay relaxed and (b) have faith in your preparation. Do not make any last minute changes, however important they may seem. Time and again I have seen folks panicking and making last-minute changes, rendering the rehearsals irrelevant. “Freeze” the speech the day before, and stick to it.
Ensure that you are well-rested, appropriately dressed (comfortable) and ready to present your best and most energetic self to your customers.
Get to the auditorium well ahead of time, check out all equipment is available, ready and working. Always have a Plan B in place.
Remember to carry your “flash cards” – bulleted lists of things you need to remind yourself. It is ok to glance at this card every now and then and (mentally) check off each item. You should neither use a pen to check items off as you are speaking, nor should you read out the whole speech from your papers.
If it is your first time speaking in front of a large audience, you will no doubt be nervous. If you have rehearsed enough, you should be able to maintain your “pace”. Some people tend to talk fast when they are nervous and gobble up words.
One of the techniques I use is to speak to one person at a time. Pick a person in the front 2-3 rows and speak a few sentences. Then slowly turn your gaze to someone else further back and to the left. After a few sentences, move over to the right side, and finally to the back of the hall.
This deliberate movement helps control your pace (you won’t speak too fast), and at the same time the audience can sense your confidence. A loud voice and belief in your own abilities will transform into positive energy that will also be “felt” by the listeners.
Since you have already rehearsed multiple times, you will not be in danger of going over the time limit.
The key is to prepare a lot, prepare well and prepare exhaustively. Then on speech day, simply trust your preparation. You will do well.
4. Feedback & fine-tune
So now that your speech has been delivered, it is time to “gather the results” and “measure the outcome”. You and your core team should again approach certain sections of the voter community and find out what they felt.
This feedback is very valuable for your self-development and you should weave that into your next speech. This constant revision and incremental improvement will slowly make you confident and an expert in delivering impactful speeches.
As with most things, the more you do it, the better you will get.
When you complete your speech, I am sure a huge feeling of relief will fill your entire being. More than that, I want you to feel very happy and victorious in this accomplishment. After you are one person who took the initiative to stand in front of a crowd of people and spoke for a while. It is very easy to be a spectator. No effort, no planning and no preparation are required. You on the other hand, took some serious effort, spent time and sacrificed other activities to accomplish this crucial activity. Your confidence should definitely get a boost and you are on your way to becoming a successful leader.
No matter what the feedback, I hope the last paragraph serves to boost your confidence.
Image: (c) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Edwards_Pittsburgh_2007.jpg, author: Mike Murphy.