Tallahassee, FL – In 1845, William Dunn Mosely became the first governor of the new state of Florida. He gave his inaugural speech on the east steps of the Old Capitol Building in Tallahassee. This past Tuesday, that same location was the scene of the inaugural speech by Florida's 45th governor, Rick Scott. Tom Flanigan asked an expert to help determine how the new governor did in his first major public address.
"We gather distinguished guests and my fellow Floridians, we gather today to talk about Florida's future; to assess where we are, to define where we want to go and to plan how to get there."
With those words, Gov. Scott embarked on a twenty-minute-long rhetorical journey. The state's new chief executive, while obviously excited, was also visibly nervous. Karen Moore is a Tallahassee-based communications consultant who has been a speech coach and consultant to dozens of high-powered executives. Scott's discomfort at the podium came as no surprise to her.
"Well, you know, according to the Wall Street Journal, the number-one fear in America is public speaking. Number two is death. Americans are more afraid of public speaking than they are spiders, heights, flying, closed spaces or even terrorists."
Moore says that same article found that many corporate executives, so powerful on their own turf, tend to turn terrified when they're not in complete control.
"It's like a fear of rejection or a fear of being exposed to criticism or making a mistake that has a critical implication. And so when you have that anxiety when you stand at a podium, you naturally are not as comfortable as you would like to be."
That discomfort can cause miscues when reading from a prepared script.
"We'll get rid of the agency we'll get rid of the agencies we'll get rid of the .we'll get rid of the programs that don't work, we'll expand the programs that do. That'll be in the paper." (laughter)
Moore says there are ways to keep those flubs from happening. One way, she says, is to build on what already works.
"Well, Gov. Scott is very engaging. When you sit one-on-one with him, you really feel like you're talking to a good, dear friend. And it's hard to translate that same feeling to a large group. And I think part of that is just practice."
Moore says Gov. Scott's speech was quite effective in one regard.
"For me, job creation is an absolute mission," he said. "Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. You can tell my focus is on jobs, right?"
"Well, the governor was very good at staying on message," said Moore. If you listened to his speech, you heard, jobs, jobs, jobs.' And that is a key feature of a good speech. You need a clear message and you need to articulate it."
Moore suggests it also helps to have a hook upon which to hang that message.
"You know, Kennedy saying, Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.' Or Lincoln saying, Malice towards none, charity towards all.' I think having in your speech a memorable phrase that sort of sets your priorities, encapsulates it, is a good thing."
Were he a paying client, Moore would work with Scott on increasing his on-stage presence and comfort level...something that would also put his audience more at ease and more receptive to whatever he had to say. Also helping him understand that, up on the podium, less can be more.
"Some of the most effective speeches were quite short," said Moore. "So you don't have to move into professor/lecture mode when you're standing at the mic in front of a large audience. What the audience wants to feel is that they're in an intimate environment where you're talking one-on-one with them. You're not lecturing to them; you've having a conversation with them."
Moore says, as important as good communication skills are in the private sector where Scott came from, they're downright critical in the public sector in which he now finds himself. Having worked with so many big-time corporate executives in this department, she believes Florida's new chief executive has what it takes to make that leap.