A radio interviewer asked me yesterday what I thought of Obama’s State of the Union Address. “Was it a success?”
How do you decide if a speech – the president’s or your own — was a success or a flop? A hit or a miss?
Do you judge a speech by the applause? Obama was applauded 61 times during his speech (according to those who count these things) and got a standing ovation at the end. Does that mean it was a success?
Do you judge a speech by people’s comments afterwards? The pundits and talking heads seemed to agree it was a successful speech. (Their assessment varied, mind you, depending on their political leanings). Does that mean it was effective? If people tell you they liked what you said, does that mean your speech was effective?
No one passed out a speech evaluation form when Obama finished speaking, but they sometimes do at the end of a conference or seminar. If you score higher than a 4.0 on a 5.0 scale for speech effectiveness, does that prove anything?
How do you decide how effective Obama’s speech was? And, by extension, how do you know if your own speeches and presentations are effective?
I’d like to propose one criterion. It’s not the only one, but it’s the one that matters most. Did the speech achieve the speaker’s goal? Yes or no? Did it produce the results the speaker wanted? Yes or no. That’s it.
When Demosthenes, the greatest of Greek orators, was asked what the three tests of a great speech were, he answered, “Action. Action. Action.” For leaders today, the answer would be, “Results. Results. Results.”
According to a CBS poll, “Eighty percent of speech watchers approve of President Obama’s plans for dealing with the economic crisis. Before the speech, 63 percent approved.” If Obama’s intention was to gain support for his plan, I’d say he gave a very effective speech.
All the rules, principles, and guidelines of speaking are ways of helping you achieve your goal. Don’t get so fixated on them, that you lose sight of what you want to accomplish. And don’t even think of giving a speech without knowing exactly what you want to accomplish.
What did you think of his speech? Do you agree with my criterion? Would you suggest another?