Rhetoric & Homiletics: Seven Lessons From V. P. Joe Biden

The article read . . . . .

Biden 1.jpg

Thanks to the persuasive powers of David Meerman Scott, I decided to take a work day to attend a Vice-President Biden rally in New Hampshire – his first.  One of the advantages of living nearby in Massachusetts is that you can easily get to this political hotspot and back in a day.  David is once again making a marketing study of the strategies and techniques of the various candidates, and he likes to attend many of their personal appearances. He and his wife Yukari Watanabe have been to a dozen so far.

That’s no mean feat, either, as you’ll realize when you understand that in order to have any chance to get inside where the candidate is speaking, you have to show up at least an hour ahead of the published time.  And then the odds are good that the show will be running late.  It was an hour and a half after I arrived that the strains of the Beatles’ “Come Together” wafted through the pizzeria where the event was held, and after introductions by New Hampshire state representatives Tom Loughman and Mike Edgar, Joe finally took the stage.  About an hour of that waiting time was standing outside in the unseasonably cold Spring weather we New Englanders have had so far.

My interest was in the speechmaking, of course, and so let’s cut to the verbal chase.  How did the speakers do?

Tom Loughman is a pretty good speaker.  He partly read his speech, but it was articulate and delivered with some panache.  Mike Edgar was so nervous that he read his speech verbatim from a clipboard, and it was frankly a fairly weak performance.

And Joe?  Sadly, I don’t think V-P Biden is ready – yet – for prime time.

He rambled, got lost in his speech, frequently apologized for going on too long, and used the same stock phrases over and over again.  He had a roomful of supporters and came close to losing his audience.  There were only two applause lines in the entire speech.  He needs to work on becoming much clearer, more vivid, and more concise in his remarks.  He needs to tell better stories.  His best moments were in his answers during the Q and A, and his best answer was when he talked about his father, fighting the abuse of power, and his sponsorship of the Violence Against Women Act.

His body language signaled his lack of focus:  he wandered around the small stage area set aside for him, at random.  Indeed, he turned his back on one woman who had asked a question as he got lost in his answer and rambled over to the other side of the room.  She would have had every reason to feel snubbed.  I don’t think he won her vote with that answer.

Mr. Biden is a transparently decent, kind, and honorable politician.  His heart is obviously in the right place.

But he needs to sharpen his oratory or he won’t be able to go the distance.



The critique was written by a professional communication coach and theorist, Nick Morgan.

Its value to those who spend their lives speaking and preaching — ???  — It’s a clear reminder that effective or ineffective communication determines if the listener considers it worthy or a waste of their time!

Morgan’s evaluation offers some good reminders for those who travel on one of the varied roads called “public address” — whether it be politics, law, or “religion.”


Reminder . . . . .

#1) Effectiveness can be seen with the eyes and ears.
It really does not take a professional to come to the conclusions that Morgan does.  Morgan just knows “the why.”  Others, even to the lower ages of life, may not know why, but they know — “I like this-or-that speaker!”

#2) Public speaking is different than personal appeal or conversational skills.
As Morgan stated, “His best moments were in his answers during the Q and A.”  Putting together a coherent speech which speaks to those listening is different than short, direct blurb-answer to a question.

#3) Freedom from a script matters.  Morgan stated that “his best answer was when he talked about his father, fighting the abuse of power, and his sponsorship of the Violence Against Women Act.”  When we are speaking from the heart and about something we have passion about, we sound more sincere and are far less scripted.

#4) Effectiveness can be taught.
There is a degree of “natural talent” and even “giftedness” in public address — maybe it is just what some have learned from the earliest years about speaking to people and what makes it all work — whatever the source or combination of sources some are naturally good at it.  Nevertheless, there are elements of public address which can be taught, and which Morgan spends his life teaching.

#5) Effectiveness in public speaking varies from speaker to speaker (sounds obvious – huh — but it is not).
That statement may seem obvious, but it is also often mentally excluded by weak-to-terrible public speakers.  Why is it that when a person who spends his/her life in public speaking hears a “good-to-really-great-and-even terrific” speaker, he/she does not realize that they need to improve!  Why is it that when many preachers-teachers who really enjoy listening to someone like Alistair Begg, Tony Evans, Beth Moore, Andy Stanley, Stephen Davey, ____, ___, ___, ___ — that they do not realize that they need to work more at their communication skills and/or learn more about “they why?”

#6) Speakers are not as good as they think they are. 
Ask Vice President Biden if he thinks he did a good job.  What do you think his answer would be?
I imagine from my very limited knowledge of him as a person, and as a speaker, he would humbly say — “I could have done better, but I think I did a good job in getting my message and candidacy across.”  Morgan says — Not really and Biden won’t make the distance if he doesn’t do better than this.

#7) One’s person “ethos” / credibility / likeability plays into attendance and even receptivity.
As Morgan states — “Mr. Biden is a transparently decent, kind, and honorable politician.  His heart is obviously in the right place. ”  That does matter when it comes to an audience even being there, no less listening.  Many people are willing to listen to mediocre-to-even terrible” public speakers because they like the person speaking.

There will be some who come to church week after week and listen to some “weak-to-really-boring-and poorly communicated” messages just because they like the speaker.  Not because the speaker is good at preaching-speaking-teaching!  As it has been stated, some even think that listening in such cases is just what Christians have been given in life as part of their weekly “penance.”



Let’s move on to a new article. It Is Titled:  How Good A Speaker Is __________ ?
(insert a name)



Let me add #8 — which is briefly mentioned by Morgan — “Clarity.”  Clarity matters immensely to an audience.  When you lose clarity, it kind of goes like this with the audience . . . .

•  Where is he going?
•  What is he saying?
•  He lost me on that!
•  What was that about?
•  I’m lost.
•  What was the speech about? — Something like – we should vote for him?
•  Time to check out — nothing really here for me.
•  What time is it?
•  This is a snoozer (Don’t think that is not thought or said by the most favorable of audiences who come because they really did want to hear you.)
•  Maybe he is better when he is not giving a stump speech.
•  I thought he was closing — but he is not — now he is — nope.



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