Eliot Spitzer’s Ideas for Improving the State of the Union Speech

I have to admit, I’m still a little resistant to the idea of taking advice from former New York governor Eliot Spitzer. And President Obama obviously didn’t decide to throw out the speech he’d written in favor of the ten minute version Spitzer created for Slate. The State of the Union is a particularly difficult speech to reform because people have very specific expectations for it; it’s going to be a long list of policy proposals that will never happen (missions to Mars, hydrogen fuel stations on every corner) and it’s going to be upbeat, no matter how grim the real state of the Union.

But Spitzer’s article for Slate contains some great ideas for simplifying and clarifying any talk. Cut the length way down. Limit yourself to a few ideas that people can easily remember. Back up what you have to say with clear visuals like the sample slides he provides (and I’ve attached at the top of this post).

Try these strategies with your next talk and I’ll bet you’ll be pleased with the results. There’s no reason that presentations have to be the length of TV shows or movies. Unless they’re paying to see you, people are almost always happy when you manage to get to the point and cut your meetings short.

Save the State of the Union

Rick Perry’s Brain Lock: When You Can’t Quite Remember That Word

People have been calling Rick Perry’s inability to remember that he wants to close down the Department of Energy a “brain freeze.” To me a brain freeze is what you get when you drink your slurpee to fast. What happened to Perry is more like a brain lock– when you just can’t locate what you want to say– and they can happen to anyone. I find that I even have trouble with certain words. “Wisteria” is one of them, even though it’s one of my favorite plants. Sometimes the word just isn’t there.

So even though I’m hardly a Perry supporter I think he’s getting a raw deal on this one. We all have these kinds of moments under pressure. There’s even a scientific explanation for it in the story here. The key is to try to get past the moment without stumbling on it for to long or letting it fluster you. Which is easier to do if you’re not participating in a televised debate.

Going on David Letterman and making fun of himself seems like just the right strategy to me, too. His apparent ease and his timing with the jokes surprised me– it’s a much better performance than his role in the debates would lead you to expect. But that’s probably why everyone seems to have piled on this one incident. It seems like Perry has had to explain his mistakes and endure a starring role on Saturday Night Live after each of his debates and speeches. At this point it seems more like he’s doing a routine rather than running a campaign for president.


Bill Clinton at the Flight 93 Memorial: Shanksville PA, 9/10/11

It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job with this speech. The stories of sacrifice are almost overwhelming to begin with, but the way Clinton speaks slowly and uses the hoarse and raspy quality of his aging voice adds even more emotion to the heroism of the people who died on Flight 93. Listen how his tone changes when he starts to talk about fundraising at the end of the clip.

Whatever you may think of Clinton personally, it’s hard to deny that the man is a skilled and talented speaker.