I have a piece at Time.com comparing the speechmaking of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
I use the three criteria for a good speech based on my review of the greatest speeches in history in my book, Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga. The most memorable and effective speeches make use of:
- Short words
- Key figures of speech, especially metaphor
As I note in the article and my book, a 2005 study examined the use of metaphors in inaugural addresses of three dozen presidents who had been independently rated for charisma. The conclusion: “Charismatic presidents used nearly twice as many metaphors (adjusted for speech length) than non-charismatic presidents.” When students were asked to read a random group of addresses and highlight passages they viewed as most inspiring, “even those presidents who did not appear to be charismatic were still perceived to be more inspiring when they used metaphors.”
You’d need Superman’s ears to hear either Obama or Romney use an inspirational metaphor, let alone repeat it. This may be the single biggest failing in Obama’s campaign. His recent slogans, “winning the future” and “forward” are blandly literal and literally bland. Romney is no better.
The bottom line:
Obama may be credited as being a great speechmaker, but for most of his first term, he apparently left much of his speech-writing to people who aren’t very good at it. Fortunately for Obama, presidential elections are graded on a curve, and he just needs to have superior language intelligence to Romney, who could use a serious lesson in language arts.
You can read the whole thing here.