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Jindal speech stumble – is he now recovering

Posted on: July 29th, 2012

Presentations: Jindal speech stumble – is he now recoveringSpeaking skills

Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has regained enormous credibility for his seemingly unstoppable efforts on behalf of the BP oil spill victims.  Good for him.  It may very well replace his communications debacle of early 2009 that is still a good object lesson for all of us.  Here’s what I wrote back then…

Perception counts in presentations.  You can bet that was seared into Governor Jindal.  This 37-year old Rhodes Scholar and rising political star caught a hail of verbal fire for his televised official GOP response to President Obama’s address to Congress the other night.  Some described his style as amateurish, singsongy, overly folksy, and comparable to a character on TV’s “30 Rock.”  Fox commentator Juan Williams said Gov. Jindal was “very simplistic and almost childish.”

This dust-up around the likable Gov. Jindal is instructive to all who want to address groups with regularity and success.

My usual advice for most business presenters is to be authentic and provide valuable content.  Going further takes great care.  You strive to make a significant difference in the client without pushing so hard that you distort previously unselfconscious individuals into automatons who gesture and talk inauthentically.  So, I generally try to err toward less guidance.  I just want useful information delivered credibly and comfortably.  Gov. Jindal’s performance, however, dramatizes the need for the occasional serious coaching.

When I saw the governor appear shortly after President Obama I recoiled.  Gov. Jindal walked up to the camera like every President does en route to East Room press conferences.  I found it self-conscious, overly dramatic, and creepy.  When he spoke he reminded me, with respect, of a high school presenter.  It was startling.

I took another, closer look at the video later.   Aside from the walk-up, Gov. Jindal without Obama as a lead-in was not quite as disturbing.  Not surprising.  Following the orally-gifted Obama is like taking the stage as a new comic after Robin Williams.

I next watched Gov. Jindal on Meet the Press.  With the exception of occasional exaggerated smiles, he had almost none of the awkwardness of his nationwide speech.  He was endearing, quick, smart, message-focused, and rather impressive.  In that context, you could see why some consider him a future Republican star.

Then came the stunner. I reviewed Gov. Jindal’s election acceptance speech to see him without the pressure of Teleprompters, Obama, and a huge national audience.  Supporters surrounded him and he spoke with few notes.  Surprisingly, he was almost the same as when he spoke for the GOP.  In other words, his natural speaking style is to over-accentuate some words, speak in a repeating rhythm, and to use a curious, not-quite condescending tone reminiscent of a teacher trying to explain calculus to math-deficient students.  That’s really him!  So, on the one hand, Gov. Jindal is being himself.  On the other, he has acquired a pedantic, somewhat stilted speaking style.  His situation reminds me of Hillary Clinton who used to give shouting kinds of speeches until constant campaigning forced her into the much more natural delivery she has today.

For different stylistic reasons, Gov. Jindal is in the same fix as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.  Geithner awkwardly tried to explain his bank bail-out plan while looking like a deer in the headlights.  That performance combined with non-specific content unnerved the markets and he has still not recovered.  Jindal is charismatic and more extroverted than Geithner and so improved public speaking will be easier for him to achieve.  However, to play on the big stage and be taken seriously both men have got to get some significant presentation coaching.  Until then, they will not get the respect they deserve.

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