Talking Politics: The role of communication and presentation skills in political public speaking 

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Do communication and presentation skills make us trust a politician enough to get out the vote? Could it simply be a matter of speaking?

Today was the New York primary election. Did you vote? While voter turnout in New York City improved slightly in 2017 to a whopping 21.5%, its been in sharp decline for nearly two decades. We won’t know until tomorrow what the turnout was this year. It doesn’t help that today’s election happened on a Thursday, in a state used to voting on a Tuesday.

Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal when communicating emotions. Did you know that? And it’s impossible to disentangle emotions from politics. We vote with our hearts. There’s no mailer that can compete with the feelings we get in response to hearing someone speak with clarity, passion and confidence. If they can do that, we’re all ears. If they can’t, we’re suspicious. 

And what’s that about? Why do we respond to hearing someone speak, to their voice? And why do we not trust people who don’t speak as much or as authentically?

This election season is all about first timers. Most lack any political experience. That seems to make them more attractive (although we won’t know by how much until tomorrow). We don’t want politics as usual. I have a friend who is nearly 10 months pregnant and running for Kings County committee right now. That’s commitment. Cynthia Nixon challenged Andrew Cuomo. Zephyr Teachout could have been in and the IDC could be out.

So what is it that moves us to enthusiastically fill in a tiny little oval, and rush from work to the polls to get a little sticker and say “I voted”?

I’ve been watching the women. There are a bunch of strong, New York women running for office for the first time. Many women of color. Many Latinx. Many young. All left and some even winning. Causing “upsets”. Why is it so upsetting?

We’ve responded to how they’ve responded to us. They are speaking directly to us. They don’t need a political party to do that for them. I watch Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Instagram telling me about what she did today and the importance of healthcare as a right not a privilege. I hear Cynthia Nixon talk about reproductive rights. Zephyr Teachout is having a baby and no one’s even making a big deal about that. And outside of New York, Ayanna Pressley took the 7th Congressional District in Boston and Stacey Abrams is getting national attention as a challenger for Governor in Georgia.

They’re direct, authentic and connected. They’re speaking from a centered, rooted place. They’re present and have presence. They are speaking to us, not through us. And we are hearing them. And trusting them.

Good luck to all the first-timers today. It’s never easy to be new at something. But I have a feeling you’ll figure it out.