December 2, 2009

Political Speechmaking 101

How do they do it, those masters of political theatre?  How do they stir the blood, inspire votes, and espouse tenuous political positions all the while offsetting scorn and reproach?  Quite simple: the speech.  A good speech will correct a multitude of political and personal woes, as well as secure that fat cheque and cushy seat (along with all of the sweet perks of legislative and executive life that are so deserved; clearly read between the lines of the Constitution if you're smart enough to have gone to a progressive college).

I will here elucidate the art of the speech.  When you're done reading this, you too can perform a monologue that will briefly inspire and minimally offend the voting masses.  No need to thank me; my reward is the feeling I get knowing I, in some small way, helped another (that's a political speech tactic, by the way: praising yourself while looking selfless).  You'll learn how to find a message, deliver your point, and, most importantly, how to lie.  Let's begin!

The Message

In order to craft the perfect speech, you first have to know what the speech is for.  Now, while this may seem elementary, it's not as cut-and-dried (in politics) as you might think.  What you need to do is expunge your "traditional" idea of what a message is and embrace a higher definition.

A message, traditionally, has been though of as an idea, thought, or order transferred from one person to another or a group of others.  This, as we shall see, is not strictly true in politics.  Politically, a message is the information received by a person from another.  Though the difference appears semantical, it is not.  Let's say that you wish to relay information to a friend that a loved one of theirs has died.  While you think of it as sharing information, your friend will think of it as imparting grief.  Thus, the given message is one of information about the earthly demise of a loved one, but the received information is that you are a bringer of grief.

In politics, there is only one message that you ever want to portray: you are the best thing that could ever happen to whatever situation you are speaking about (unless you are speaking on behalf of a candidate, in which case your message is that your candidate is the best thing).  Let's take an example: Environmentalism.

Now, you might start a speech aimed at getting people to drive less with the idea that you're relaying information about how to save the planet.  Wrong, wrong, WRONG, WRONG!  What will people think?  How will they perceive you?  Probably as someone infringing on their right to travel about freely; in short, as an intruder at best and a tyrant at worst.  That won't do at all.  What you need is a gimmick!

A gimmick will get round all of those pesky notions that liberties are being threatened, you are a callous and/or heartless person, you've lost touch with the common man, blah blah blah.  Instead of, for the above example, focussing on how car exhaust damages the environment and, thus, we ought to drive less; focus on the actual or proposed damage and its effects.  Focus on the devastating flood that will be caused by global warming, or throw out some shots of a cuddly, baby polar bear drowning.  Play on fear and shame; two of our strongest emotions.

Viola!  Just like that, your message has gone from one of you being a tyrant and all around meany-mean (by relaying information only) to one of you being a nice and decent fellow who only wants what's best for everyone (by playing on emotion and possibly skirting the issue in favour of trumped-up rhetoric).  With that squared away, on to . . .

The Delivery

It has been claimed that it's not what you say, it's how you say it.  In politics, it is neither what you say nor how you say it; it's how it's reported.  And how are things reported in today's era of thirty-second-or-less attention spans?  Sound bites.

No useful media outlet will ever replay or quote an entire speech.  Those that do cater to the fringe elements that you can't persuade with a speech, anyway (pesky ideologues who form their opinions and political leanings on such transitive things as "facts" and "morality;" not the sort we're after).  Knowing this, you must cater your speech to brief, witty quotes that stand out enough to make an enterprising reporter think, "Hey, that's well written.  If I quote that, I won't have to do any writing myself!"

Take care, though, as this is a two-edged sword.  If you make a point that is antithetical to your message (the message that you are awesome) with too much wit or brevity, it is in danger of taking centre stage as the kingpin of your speech; at least, as it's reported.  To avoid this, and to ensure the "correct" message is sent out, a bit of artfulness is required.

First, the bites you want heard.  These are the quotes and sound bites that will portray you as a saviour, doctor, smart next-door neighbor; whatever effect it is you wish to promote for your current agenda.  Plan these carefully to come at the beginning or end of your talking points (paragraphs in print), and preferably save the juiciest ones for the beginning and end of the speech itself.  It's so easy to get lost in the mix, so don't make some poor reporter have to dig for the gems!

In the same way, you'll also want to bury undesirable items.  Avoid them or ignore them if you can, but every now and again you will have to say something that could possibly make people perceive you as less than the incredible person that you are (at least, that you want them to believe you are).  Bury these points in the middle of the speech, and in the middle of the paragraphs.  Further, make sure they are buried in the middle of a sentence; and make sure the sentence is as dull and drab as you can make it.  Force any reporter with an axe to grind to appear to be "fishing" by ensuring any negative sound bites will be surrounded by ellipses (you know, the ". . .").  That way, the dry, uninteresting tidbit they picked out of your otherwise stellar speech will appear to be missing vital context that, in light of the glowing sound bites reported elsewhere, must exonerate you from any shadow of perceived malfeasance.

Speaking of malfeasance . . .

The Lie

This is far more simple and more elegant than the first two portions.  In fact, it can readily be used to promote either a good image of you, a great sound bite, or both!

If you're going to lie (which will be most of the time), always start off with a variant of the word "clearly."  Since you're introducing what you're saying with the word "clearly," anyone who doubts your authenticity can now be called an idiot as your statement was, definitively, quite clear.

Let's go with our Environmentalist example.  Your goal is to decrease people's use of vehicle technology, but you don't want anyone to think that.  There are several ways to handle this, all with the use of the wonderful "clearly."  The easiest is to simply state the opposite of your intentions, such as: Clearly, I have no ambition to limit the use of modern vehicle technology.  Now, if anyone wants to challenge you on this, they'll have to boldly come forward and call you a liar.  That would be rude, so they probably won't do it.  QED.

But what if a more artful approach is necessary?  The more complex the lie, the more complex the use of the word "clearly."  Another form of the word may be in order; a more forceful one, even.  Let's say that you're in favour of a policy that would inevitably lead to a rise in taxes.  You could explain how the policy is necessary, and the American people will understand and accept the sacrifice, it will save children, etc.; but who's going to listen to all that?  Besides, it still leaves the impression that you're for a tax hike, which, even though you are, is never popular.  Instead, simply say: Let me be clear: my proposal will in no way add a single penny to anyone's taxes.  Much easier and clearer than some long, drawn out explanation that no one will listen to in any case.  Remember: sound bites.

Contrarily, you could claim that the negative of your premise is "clearly" incorrect.  Using the above example, you could say: Clearly, there is no evidence to support the ridiculous notion that this proposal will lead to a tax hike.  Not a bad sound bite, but best to bury it anyway as it contains a potential negative.  Follow up with something like: In fact, this plan will most likely lead to a tax savings.  Though you didn't use "clearly" in the second sentence, it was linked to the first which did contain a "clearly."  If you want to be extra sure, combine the two sentences with a semicolon; no one reads anything long enough to contain a semicolon.  To bring it home, "sum it all up" with a sound bite quip that can't be passed up, like: Our consciences will not bear the possibility of disaster because we failed to act.

And there you have it.  Lather, rinse, repeat and you've got yourself a political speech guaranteed to get you or keep you in office!  (1,000 political jobs were created or saved with this blog post.)

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