Speech Coaching Tips to Presidential Candidates from Dick Cavett

April 15, 2008

Dick Cavett, the pioneering former Dick_Cavett.jpgtalk show host with a conversational-style, gave free speech coaching advice to our presidential candidates in a March 28 New York Times article titled: Candidate, Improve Your Appearance! Since it’s a lengthy article, here are some golden nuggets.

He noted the value of hiring a comedy writer or acting coach. This very idea did wonders for Dwight D. Eisenhower, when he hired gifted film actor Robert Montgomery to help soften the president’s stiff appearance.

First, [Montgomery] hauled the president out from behind the massive presidential desk from which it was hard not to appear ponderous and had him stand in front of it. Shirtsleeves; no jacket. To cure the rigid, military upright look of a general, he had his illustrious client lean back slightly against the desk (without sitting on it) and cross his arms casually. The actor in Montgomery knew how important stance is to the way you talk.

The success of these seemingly minor adjustments was instant. Suddenly, turgid old President Eisenhower became “Ike.” A genial, avuncular fellow you might like to have over.

Further down in the article, Cavett listed three speech coaching tips to our Presidential candidates:

Tip #1. Change all “I wills” and “I shalls” from the speech to “I’ll’; Also, “I haves” and “I ams” to “I’ve” and “I’m,” etc. You’d be surprised how much this cuts down on the oratory tone.

Tip #2. Pretend you are speaking to one person. One single person. Because that’s what everybody is. No one watching or sitting in the audience is an “all of you” or an “everyone” or a “those of you” or a “Hi, everybody,” and no one is a “ladies and gentlemen.” You, out there, are a “you.” So, speaker, think of yourself as being viewed by only two eyes. (Presumably on the same person.) The most magical word you can use, short of a person’s name, is “you.”

Tip #3. I feel almost silly when I do this one, but it works. Grab a bunch of words off the prompter and, instead of staring straight ahead, glance down and to one side as you do — in real life — when thinking just what to say next. Then look back and deliver those snatched-up words to the camera. It works like a charm. (As a beloved childhood magic catalogue of mine used to say — with unintended ambiguity — “We cannot recommend this trick too highly.”)

If I were [John] McCain’s adviser I would shock everyone by having him come out carrying his script, and saying — not “ladies and gentlemen,” as we just learned, but launch right into, “You know, I don’t use these teleprompters very well. I guess I’m just not one of those people who can fool you into thinking I’m making it up as I go along . . . which these things are supposed to do. I don’t even fool myself. I cringe when I watch myself trying to bring off that ‘electronic deception,’ you might call it . . . Anyway, here’s my speech [shows it] and I’m going to read the damn thing to you. Surely I can’t make even that look phony. [slight pause] Can I?” [laughter]



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