Election Communication

With Australian Politics in Federal Election mode, I thought that it would be a good time to look at the communication style of our leaders John Howard and Kevin Rudd.

Firstly, I would like to say that I am not endorsing either side on this blog.  Rather, the entries here are to help voters see past the Politician to the message.  Further, these observations are made from my rare opportunities to see the leaders on the TV, or to hear the sound bites  on radio.

John Howard 

For the international readers, John Howard is our current Prime Minister, and has been in power for 11 years.

By all measures, John Howard is a great orator.  He has the ability to stand behind a lectern and deliver his message in a clear and concise way.  He rarely uses notes.  He is a confident speaker.  He has the ability to control his delivery in such a way as to engage us to listen.  He uses his rate of speaking, tone, and emotion in his voice to take control and keep control of a room.  He commands an awesome presence when speaking that tells us that we should listen and obey.  These skills have ensured that he has remained in control with no official threat to his position as the leader for 11 years.  Even during a recent party room challenge for his leadership, he was able to stare down any challengers.  He is a man who truly commands the lectern.

However, recently, there have been some chinks appearing in his armour.  During the “Great Debate” he seemed to become flustered when pressed on certain issues.  When Rudd put to him the points about Nuclear reactors, his speech became confused and he appeared to lose his train of thought.  He even went on to announce his own “education revolution” in his closing remarks – a point missed by the media! Today, when asked on radio, “Did Mr Turnbull ask you to sign up [to the Kyoto Protocol], Prime Minister?”, his response was, “We are not willing to be, look, I’m not talking about discussions inside the government. Forget it, you’re wasting your time asking me about that.”  This type of response is most out of character for Howard.

Kevin Rudd 

For the international readers, Kevin Rudd is the leader of the opposition party, and has been in the position just short of 12 months.

Rudd does not have the same commanding presence at the lectern as Howard.  However, this does not mean that he does not have the ability to match it with Howard.

Rudd is very controlled in his speech.  He does not lose his temper and is able to stick to his carefully developed responses as per the script. 

Rudd controls his presentations by speaking in a calm and constant manner that shows confidence and control.  When he is put on the spot, he bears his soul, and seems to say, “Well, what we have currently is not working.  Our plan is….”  This method of being open and honest (or at least appearing to be) is a strong way of building a connection with the audience.  He does not come across as the slick politician that has all the answers.  He espouses his vision and dream, and asks us to join him.  He does not have the same grumpy speech pattern that Beazley had, the arrogance of Latham nor the perpetual whingeing that Crean had.  This may be a factor as to why the electorate has taken to him so warmly!

As the election progresses, keep an eye on how their speaking styles change and give a glimpse into the pressures that both of the men are facing.

I’d be interested to get your thoughts on this. 


Darren Fleming

Posted in Politics and speaking, public speaking, Understanding your audience

Written by

  • Jennifer Tosolini

    Hello Darren,
    Thank you for the analysis of our competing politicians’ speech patterns. I will pay closer attention the next time I hear them speaking although I was already aware that for the first time in his career as Prime Minister, Howard is demonstrating through his speech patterns that he is frustrated and under pressure.

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