For weeks now I have been asked to analyze the presentation skills of Tina Fey and Sarah Palin and comment on who is a better speaker. I have never seen either of these VP candidates speak in person so my data might be less than 100% accurate. But I have been clicking on YouTube and observing these women with a trained eye so I’ll focus on two of the more important techniques of political speechmaking: pausing and touching.
Good speakers know the power of the pause and some even know that pauses come in three distinct types. I like to describe pauses with both a word, and, for visual emphasis, a symbol: The strategic pause ( ), the dramatic pause ( ) ( ) and the over- the- top (OTT) pause ( ) ( ) ( ).
There are a lot of places you can go to learn to use these three pausing techniques but one of the best places, hands down, is Beauty Queen School. As a distinguished graduate of Beauty Queen School, Sarah Palin, ( ) presents ( ) pauses ( ) perfectly. Governor Palin has a uniquely conservative approach to pausing. That means she relies heavily on the strategic (sometimes called the strategery) pause ( ) with an occasional sprinkling of the dramatic ( ) ( ) but, the Governor never goes OTT ( ) ( ) ( ). For example, let’s look at the following sentence familiar to all of us because she has used it in every speech she has given in the last three weeks: “And on that bridge to nowhere? ( ) I said ( ) thanks, ( ) but no, thanks.” Judicious. This sentence was so well delivered that everyone who heard it thought it was actually true. But as some of us know pauses have no real bearing one way or the other on reality. Pauses are intended instead to make the speaker sound convincing and the message sound “just like ( ) the truth.” Beauty Queen School graduates know this about pauses. They also know that using OTT pauses ( ) ( ) ( ) can make you sound insipid, ( ) ( ) ( ) dim, ( ) ( ) ( ) trite, ( ) ( ) ( ) superficial, ( ) ( ) ( ) or ( ) at the very least ( ) ( ) ( ) inept. They avoid them like the plague. There is a lot to be learned about public speaking in Beauty Queen School.
On the other hand, it does not appear to me that Tina Fey has ever been anywhere near Beauty Queen School. She lives in the world of OTT. Fey uses elongated, ( ) ( ) ( ) exaggerated ( ) ( ) ( ) pauses ( ) ( ) ( ) with absolutely no regard for pause regulation of any kind. It is obvious that Tina did not spend much time practicing her pausing technique and she seems to have absolutely no idea of the negative impact this has on her audience. My bet is she probably thinks that someone else (like the free market) will step in and take care of things. That’s ( ) naïve ( ) at best.
The second area critical to success in political public speaking has to do with touching others on the stage. Beauty Queen School graduates are well trained in this area. Tina Fey is not. I was shocked to see the way Tina manhandled Her Royal Highness, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Watching a mere Governor treat a distinguished Senator like that: Appalling! When it comes to platform touching there is only one rule. Don’t do it. You would never see Sarah Palin pawing her podium partner. Like her pauses, Sarah’s touching is perfect—brief hug, air kiss, pat, pat, pat. In Beauty Queen School there is an entire week-long module devoted to this exact touching technique. So, Tina, ( ) ( ) if you want ( ) to win this election, ( ) no ( ) touching ( ) ( ) ( ) ever.
Who is the better speaker? There is no winner yet, but stay tuned for the next installment. Meanwhile, here are my recommendations for each VP candidate: Sarah, I want to make sure you understand that those perfect pauses and airy kisses won’t help you execute on foreign policy, education, climate change or our now perilous economy but they will help us think you know what you’re doing. So keep using them. And Tina, a few weeks at Beauty Queen School would not be a waste of your time.
By the way, you can watch Tina Fey’s Spoof on Sarah Palin / Hillary Clinton: