Given his reputation within the party, it wasn’t surprising to see Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal selected to give the Republican response to President Obama’s first appearance before a joint session of Congress. What was surprising was Jindal’s delivery which came across as totally disconnected from his content.
Whether he was telling a story or repeating his “Americans can do anything” mantra, Governor Jindal sounded for all the world like Mr. Rogers talking to pre-schoolers on his long-running television program. In trying to project “warm and friendly,” the 38-year-old former Rhodes Scholar managed to come across as merely patronizing.
“He walked out like an earnest dork,” said one Internet pundit, and media critic Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post said “he too often sounded like a guy trying to calm down an aggravated parrot.” While I don’t know just how that might sound, I get the message. Stylistically, it was pretty bad. But, I would maintain, his problem was less style than approach.
Too paraphrase Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, I come not to praise Jindal nor to bury him, but to draw one important lesson from his performance. Although it’s axiomatic in business, government and the professions that the more important the speech the more likely it is to be read, the lesson from Governor Jindal’s performance is that Speaking Isn’t Reading.
Now, to be sure, it’s hard to look good in comparison with any president, let alone one of the most impressive orators to come along since Ronald Reagan. One minute we were watching a grand display of America’s political, judicial and military elite assembled in the historic chamber of the House of Representatives, and the next minute we are watching a solitary person walking toward us.
After watching Jindal’s “response,” I went on line to check out his interview the previous Sunday on Meet the Press and his morning-after interview on the Today Show. In both appearances, Jindal came across as the bright, articulate person he apparently is. As a reader, he was bad. As a talker, he displayed a sense of humor and there wasn’t even a hint of the sing-songy voice he displayed as his party’s spokesman.
When Ronald Reagan read his speeches, he sounded spontaneous and unrehearsed, whether it was from a manuscript or on a Teleprompter. Barack Obama can do the same. Most of the rest of us? Not so much.
So, if your speech or presentation is really important, you need to use a notes and rehearsal technique that will let you speak in an extemporaneous style and not the stilted phrasing of the reader. A lesson from Bobby Jindal.
David Snell is the principal of Snell Communications and the author of the e-books: Big Speeches to Small Audiences and Mike Fright: How to Succeed in Media Interviews When a Mike Wallace Wannabe Comes Calling. His e-books (available at [http://www.snellcom.com]) are based on his rich mix of experience including thirteen years as a correspondent for ABC News, three years as Public Relations Director of a large urban university and more than twenty years as a Communications Consulting helping Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and law firms improve there communications in presentations and media interviews. Snell gives tips on how to succeed in media interviews in his video series ” Media Minutes” seen on YouTube and other video sites.