Take A Page From President Lincoln

It’s been a busy conference season. I just finished attending numerous mortgage industry trade shows, and one of the things that amazed me as I attended the various shows is how ill-prepared some of the speakers were. When I say ill prepared I am talking about the quality of their presentations and more importantly, their ability to connect with the audience. Specifically, a number of the speeches were about features and functions from the speaker’s individual business, without clearly explaining how that applies to the audience. As a result, these talks came off as commercials and they didn’t give the people in attendance a reason why they should listen.

I understand that when you are faced with public speaking responsibilities, you want to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject. But if you go too far you end up cramming a lot of information into the presentation and it loses focus. That’s why this article entitled “The Difference Between a Stirring Speech and a Snooze-Fest” by the John Maxwell Company grabbed my attention. Let’s face it, there are a lot of bright people that give a boring presentation.

If you want people to take something away from your speech, your presentation needs to touch their heart. The presentation has to be about the audience and helping them, instead of spitting out facts and figures or trying to sell your solution. That just doesn’t work.

The article I referenced puts it this way: “How often have you walked away from a lecture, speech, or sermon thinking, “I sure wish she had spoken longer; that was just too short!” Nine times out of ten, or maybe even 99 out of 100, communication outlasts connection. Leaders either fail to engage the audience in the first place, or they continue talking long after having lost connection.”

Interestingly, the article draws from a famous moment in United States history to prove its point. As we all remember from history class, Edward Everett delivered the keynote address to commemorate the soldiers slain at the Battle of Gettysburg. His sweeping speech of more than 13,000 words stretched over two hours in length. After he finished, President Abraham Lincoln made brief remarks lasting just two minutes. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has gone down in history as a rhetorical masterpiece, inspiring generations of Americans. Meanwhile, Everett’s oration has faded into oblivion. What made Lincoln’s speech memorable and Everett’s monotonous?

For example, Everett overestimated the importance of the intellectual content of his message. His speech was historically informed, crafted with the utmost care, and teeming with intelligent insights. Judged according to its scholarly quality, Everett’s address was outstanding. However, he relied too heavily on the intellectual appeal of his speech. In attempting to convince the audience of the significance of the battle through reasoned arguments, Everett did not successfully touch their hearts.

President Lincoln, on the other hand, understood that people did not need to be intellectually persuaded of Gettysburg’s pivotal role in the war. Rather, he emphasized the worth of what the Union soldiers had fought to preserve—a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln knew the soldiers’ sacrifice was far more compelling than anything he could say. Whereas Everett placed too much importance on content, Lincoln discounted the value of his words. By evoking the ideas of political freedom and equality at the heart of American democracy, the ideals the Northern soldiers had died to defend, Lincoln forged an emotional connection with the audience.

Second, Everett failed to get to the point, or rather he made too many points. Meanwhile, President Lincoln appears to have asked himself two basic questions that are essential for a leader looking to get through to people. What do I want them to know? And what do I want them to do?

You get the point, enough with the history lesson. The article outlines five principles that can help your speeches spur people to action, rather than putting them to sleep.

>> Talk to people, not above them.

>> Get to the point.

>> Repeat the main point over and over and over again.

>> State the main point clearly.

>> Say less so that people retain more.

What I want people in the mortgage lending space to take away from this is that people in our business should strive to say less, so people retain more. Talk to people, not above them.


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