Howard might have lost, but he is still the better speaker

For the international readers, on Saturday night, Australia had a change of government.  While John Howard and his party leave office, we have lost  one of Australia’s greatest Orators.  I believe that his skills at the lectern are what kept him in power for so long.

So what was so good about Howard’s public speaking style?  Well have a look at his last public speech where he concedes defeat in the 2007 election.  Here are some points:

  1. Spoke without notes.  You gain enormous amounts of credibility when you can speak without notes.  Even in such an emotionally charged atmosphere as being kicked out of public office, Howard was able to speak off the top of his head.
  2. Great pace.  When Howard came to announce that he had spoken to Rudd, he spoke with great clarity and confidence.
  3. Projection.  Even though he was using microphones, Howard projected his voice to the whole room.  He has always used this technique to ensure that his voice fills the room.  This gives him power and power to his message.
  4. Audience interaction.  There were plenty of Howard support willing to express their undying love for him and kept interrupting his speech.  Howard was able to control them and quieten them down and not talk over the – though I think he wanted to.  This shows that he was in control of his stage and could handle what he was encountering.
  5. Showed a small amount of emotion.  While Howard would not like that he showed emotion on the night, when he announced that he would probably lose his seat, you could see the emotions build up.  While he kept the emotions under control, they were present enough for us to feel sympathy for him.  This small amount of sympathy helps us accept him and listen to his message.
  6. Did not care that he forgot something.  Did he forget?  Who knows, but there is a good chance that he did; after all, he had been PM for 11 years.  He was bound to forget something.  However, when he finished his message, he finished his message.  He did not come back for a second bite at the cherry.  This showed that he was in control of his message.  This added strength to what he had to say.
  7. Finally, he was gracious in Defeat.  Unlike Keating, Howard went out accepting the decision of the Australian people

How did Rudd fare?  Unfortunately not as well.  However he has not been at this for as  long as Howard was.  Where can Rudd improve?

  1. Body language:  Rudd seems to have very stiff body language and staged movements.  (The two hands opening out for the “new pages in Australian History”, and the hand over the shoulder for the fair go going out the back door). These have the affect of weakening his strength as a speaker and leader.
  2. Dull text.  Rudd has a great message, and that is partly why he was voted in.  However, it does not matter how good your message is if you cannot deliver it in a way that does not engage your audience to its fullest.  He should work on a more punchier sentence structure that will allow his message to be more easily integrated.
  3. Keep the rule of 3.  Keep examples to only 3 points.  There is something about only citing 3 examples to make your point.  Making 4 points is too many, and only 2 is not enough.  On occasions Rudd gave 4 and 5 examples and this slowed the flow of his speech.
  4. Add emphasis:  Rudd had a great line of, “Today many people voted Labor for the first time.  Today many people voted Labor for the first time in a long time.”  However, he was not able to emphasis that he has won back many of the swinging voters that have voted for Howard recently.  If he had added a pause for “……Today many people have voted labor for the first time………in a long time”, the Pause would have driven home the point that he has won back the disaffected voters.  When you pause you add emphasis!

However, there was one shinning light in is speech.  He positioned himself very well to achieve what he has plans to achieve.  He appealed to all interested parties, from wider the Australian community, Liberal voters, International Allies, trade unions and the State Govts.  By including these entities in his first speech, he brought the different factions and interest groups together, and after all, isn’t this what a leader has to do?

While Howard is certinally the better speaker, I look forward seeing Rudd improve and potetnially surpass Howard during his time in office!

Here is a link  to a BBC article that showcases both Rudd and Howard.

Til next time,


Darren Fleming

Australian Public Speaking Courses

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