Friday, September 5, 2008

Noonan to speakers: Make 'em laugh

One of the most eloquent women--and writers--in our time is Peggy Noonan, now an author and columnist, but known as one of the best presidential speechwriters. In her column yesterday, opining on what John McCain should do in his acceptance speech at the convention, Noonan offered an eloquent piece of advice that women speakers can take advantage of: Make your audience laugh:
A voter laughing is half yours, and just received a line he can repeat next weekend over a beer at the barbecue or online at Starbucks. Here is a fact of American politics: If you make us laugh we spread your line for free.
I do not understand the absence of humor, that powerful weapon, that rhetorical cannon, in this year's campaign. There are a lot of things to say here but let me tell you the first I think of. America is a huge and lonely country. We are vast, stretch coast to coast, live in self-sufficient pods; modern culture tends us toward the atomic, the fractured and broken up. When two people meet, as they come to know each other as neighbors or colleagues, one of the great easers, one of the great ways of making a simple small human connection is: shared laughter. We are a political nation. We talk politics. So fill that area with humor: sly humor, teasing humor, humor that speaks a great truth or makes a sharp point.
It's advice that women speakers are well-equipped to try, as Noonan suggests the intimate connection that can be made with an audience member by making them laugh, or bringing a smile forward. It's a wonderful way to make a tense audience loosen up--think of Ronald Reagan's "there you go again" line when he was attacked in debates, which made everyone smile at its non-anxious humor. And it bespeaks confidence on the speaker's part. Try some eloquent humor in your next speech and let me know how it goes.

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