Melania, Michelle And The Fine Art Of Public Speaking

27/07/2016 2:53 PM IST | Updated 29/07/2016 8:54 AM IST
Mike Segar / Reuters

Over the past many months, the American elections have provided much fodder for the media. Recently, Melania Trump's speech became a focus of much attention, spawning a multitude of jokes and memes. And as a nonpartisan observer (Heck! I am not even American) I too was really intrigued by the speeches. More specifically, the speeches made by Melania Trump and Michelle Obama at their respective party conventions.

As a presidential candidate's wife, Melania was clearly well prepared. After the relentless campaigning that she and her husband have been through over the last couple of months, one can safely assume that she has had some experience of facing a crowd and rousing a response. And to be fair to her, she was almost pitch perfect -- flawlessly pausing, nodding and smiling as she spoke. But there were very few times during her speech that one felt like she was really speaking for herself (and it later came out that her speechwriter had "inadvertently" included passages inspired by Michelle Obama's speeches). One did see glimpses of authenticity when spoke of her family life in Slovenia, and especially when she recalled the day that she became a citizen of the USA, which she called the greatest privilege on planet Earth.

Melania was almost pitch perfect -- flawlessly pausing, nodding and smiling as she spoke. But there were very few times that one felt like she was really speaking for herself...

Michelle, on the other hand, carries with her the quiet confidence of a woman with experience -- eight years of which have been spent as first lady. She speaks easily, in a conversational style, her delivery peppered with anecdotes. She laughs, sighs and shrugs her shoulders when she talks of bringing up her children in a difficult and challenging situation. When she speaks, her hands move, her expressions change; her voice quivers when she talks about waking up in a house that was built by slaves.

Two powerful women -- two very different speeches. One clearly has a lot to lose and a lot to win. It was a very important speech for Melania. Technically, Michelle didn't have anything to lose. And she has had spadefuls of experience doing this sort of thing. As a very tentative speaker myself, I was honestly more interested in seeing how Melania handled her speaking job. These are some of the things that I took away from watching and re-watching the two Ms speak:

Jim Young / Reuters

Believe those words

Even if they've been said before. Many parts of Michelle's speech invoked déjà vu. She's been talking about the same things for a while now -- be it about seeing her kids pull out for the first time in a bulletproof car or watching them play in the White House lawns. However, every time she says it, there is conviction and emotion in her voice. Even if one has heard the story before, there is a connect there, mostly because of the way she recounts the incidents.

Dress the part

This clearly is the "duh! of course" part. Solid colours and neat lines (ballooning out sleeves notwithstanding) clearly are de rigueur whilst addressing an audience of some heft. After all, making a speech is not a performance art that needs a lot of visual effect. It literally boils down to what you spout from your mouth.

Full points to Melania Trump for sticking to her accent. That was indeed the most authentic part of her speech for me...

Standing and speaking for upwards of 15 minutes also calls for comfortable footwear. However, looking at Melania's towering heels one may think otherwise. But she's been a model, and for her it may well have been the most comfortable pair of Louboutins! Michelle stuck to low heels albeit in a glam silver tone.

Pause, move, emote

This is the performance art bit. Breathing life into a written speech takes some amount of theatrics -- honestly felt or otherwise. I did feel that Melania's speech came across as not being truly her, though not for lack of trying. I was deeply appreciative of the pauses and controlled smiles. She had clearly practiced her delivery a couple of score times before coming up on stage.

And then we have Michelle Obama -- a towering, confident figure who knows how to express through her entire being. She makes it look easy, but I wonder how many of us could sail through a wonder woman pose for the duration of a long commendation address. Of course, that is what one must aspire to: to look confident, believable and approachable -- all at the same time.

Embrace that accent

And finally, full points to Melania Trump for sticking to her accent. That was indeed the most authentic part of her speech for me, especially given that we all know that the Trumps could've easily afforded to get a voice and accent trainer!

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