Love him or loathe him, you have to admit Donald Trump is brilliant at capturing attention, creating enthusiasm and generating solid, unwavering support from a big chunk of the American electorate.
He vanquished a boatload of primary opponents and he’s held his own against Hillary Clinton. In spite of editorials blasting him, commercials calling him names, and well-reasoned critiques from Republicans who by rights should be on his side.
What gives? The guy may have never read a briefing paper. He makes egregious errors every time he touches on actual issues. He routinely says stuff that’s blatantly false.
And, he is brilliant when it comes to communication.
Turns out it’s all in the brain. Not Trump’s brain–the voter’s brain. It has to do with what the experts call “high attentional engagement.”
Salon.com reported on a study that monitored brain activity while participants watched 40 minutes of political ads and debate clips from the presidential candidates.
“Donald Trump is unique in his ability to keep the brain engaged. While Hillary Clinton could only hold attention for so long, Trump kept both attention and emotional arousal high throughout the viewing session.”
In this brainwave study, Trump’s ability to hold voters’ attention measured a 7 on a 10-point scale. That’s better than even the most popular TV commercials. His references to the Islamic State and overseas trade wars stirred up fear, the most intense emotion humans experience.
As for Hillary Clinton, she averaged a 4 out of 10. Voters were bored with her rattling on about her résumé as she often does.
The guy knows how to generate emotion. People may say they disagree with him. In fact, in this study many people said they opposed his plan to ban Muslims from the US. And yet, the brain scans showed that kind of talk had a positive effect on his supporters.
They stayed engaged with him because “his showmanship and simple messages clearly resonate at a visceral level.”
So what can we do with this insight when it comes to talking about our business?
Ditch the data-dump
Sometimes we get confused and think if we just give them more information they’ll buy. Or buy into our idea.
In fact, persuasion is rarely about more information. Business speakers usually need fewer facts and more oomph. (Oomph—that’s a technical term. Stay with me for some ways to get it.)
Use plain English
As opposed to utilizing unembellished global lingua franca.
They don’t give speakers extra points for spewing more syllables. Occasionally a longer word is much more descriptive or specific than a shorter one; it can be useful to have a wide vocabulary.
But in general, when you’re speaking, shorter words and simple sentences are stronger. Donald Trump’s language is somewhere around the fourth or fifth grade level and it’s working very well for him, buh-leeve me.
Keep it conversational
Trump’s departure from the teleprompter gets a lot of attention, much of it unfavorable. But here’s where it serves him well.
He often uses phrases like “Believe me…” “And you know what…” and “By the way…”
I call those idioms conversational lubricant because they keep things flowing. Chances are good you use that kind of phrase frequently when you’re just talking to a friend. Most of us, when we’re speaking to a bigger audience, or in a more formal setting, strip out those phrases.
Please, put them back into every talk. You’ll sound much more natural and connect better with your audience.
Of course connecting with your audience depends on more than the words you say. We’ll talk more about the impact of non-verbal (and non-conscious) communication. Meantime, let us know what you’re learning from the way the candidates speak in the comments below.
Image of Donald Trump – By Marc Nozell (https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcn/24622320840/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
“Showmanship is the key word. Sarah Palin had it too. *shudder*
Yes, she did, Kelly. I didn’t know anything about her before the Republican convention where she was “unveiled” as the nominee. I remember watching her, thinking how impressive she was. Loose, engaging, appealing.
The next day, I heard a story on the radio that included audio from Sarah Palin’s speech and I was stunned. She sounded a lot sharper when I was looking at her! It’s a great example of how appearance and body language shift our perceptions of people. When she didn’ have that going for her — when we only had voice and language to go on, she didn’t come off well.