President Trump accomplished a major reset of his presidency with his speech before a joint session of Congress. And he did it in an age-old way: his presentation skills. He knows either by accident or design, presentation is everything.
The first thing I look for during presidential addresses is whether the president “showed” leadership. In other words, was the president’s presentation consistent with his words? Was what he said supported by how he said it? In the speech before a joint session of Congress, my assessment is he failed more than he succeeded, but he succeeded just enough to change people’s minds.
For example, since by now we all know he rarely sticks to a script, doing so this time was a win.
First, the president dressed for the occasion. His clothing fit well and the colors were elegant. Good style, dress, and adornment make the both the wearer and the observer feel confident.
The speech itself was more poetic. It used a number of rhetorical devices that in the hands of a Reagan or Obama, would have sent that thing soaring, yet he did not deliver it in a way that did it justice. There was little passion evident in his delivery. He bridles at using the teleprompter. Still, this was better delivered than former teleprompter speeches.
His speaking voice, which is not a high quality male speaking voice to begin with, was flat or singsong in its intonation through most of the speech. It came alive only during the Harley-Davidson story because he clearly enjoyed telling it and he even exhibited some humor.
Regarding humor, it would behoove him to use more, particularly of the self-directed variety. This would make him more likeable and relatable.
The president exhibited more generosity and grace than in the past, reflecting the grandeur and majesty of a formal address delivered to a joint session of Congress.
Here is a cardinal rule of communication that many smart people eschew: If the way you look and sound contradicts what you say, people will believe the way you look and sound instead of what you say.
Both Ronald Reagan, affectionately remembered as “the great communicator,” and Barack Obama, who moved arenas of people with soaring rhetoric, understood this rule very well. They knew they were in a unique position to heal the country’s divisions. Even the president’s biggest fans expect him to give voice to the anxieties of all Americans, to lift us all up so we can begin to unite.
The ability to deliver a powerful speech is the essence of leadership.
President Trump got much closer with this one, single speech.