John Tsarpalas: You are about to hear a presentation I gave for American Majority at CPAC 2016. I think you are going to find some very useful information. If you are an activist or you are a candidate, you need to be public speaking and using that forum to promote yourself as a candidate or to promote ideas.
Today, Commonwealthy #52, Using Public Speaking to Win Support.
Matt Batzel: So a key part of that is being able to speak well and communicate well with individuals. So our next speaker, John Tsarpalas, is going to talk about how to win the room and public speaking success. He’s got a podcast, Commonwealthy.com.
After a career in finance, John jumped into politics in 1996, getting involved with managing campaigns and Get Out the Vote plans. He joined a team to help candidates for public office with their public speaking, helping them to communicate better.
After a series of election victories in 2000 and 2002 and 2004, John was offered the opportunity to be executive director for Illinois Republican Party. While traveling around the state, he spoke to hundreds of groups about his passion- grassroots organizing. So please join me in welcoming John Tsarpalas.
John Tsarpalas: Why public speaking? Because we want to persuade. We want to win elections. We want to change hearts and minds on principles and policies. And I think public speaking is the ideal way to do that.
Changing the world, that’s why I am here. I want to change the world. I got bit by the political bug back in the 1980’s and it has haunted me ever since. But I am here to leverage myself by teaching other because I need each one of you to go out there in that world and make a difference. And it is so important right now. We are all here and we are all worried.
So how do we do it? The first part of the speech is going to be the how- how you can be a better public speaker. But one of the biggest problem we all have is this one: people are afraid of public speaking. Seventy-three percent of Americans are scared to death of public speaking. They would rather be the corpse in a coffin than the one giving the eulogy.
So let’s take a little poll. How many of you are afraid of public speaking? Well, we aren’t at seventy-three percent. Less than half, that’s pretty good. Have all of you done presentations, public speaking, before? Great.
Well, I used to be scared to death of public speaking. I think the problem was high school. English class sophomore year, the teacher comes in and says, “We are going to have public speaking for the next two weeks. So write a speech, memorize it, and give it to the class.”
Alright, she said three things I don’t want to do. Number one, I don’t like to write. I’m not a strong writer. Number two, memorize it. I flunked out of French because I couldn’t remember any verbs. And number three, getting up in front of a class. I’m fifteen. No, no, I don’t want to do this. But you get stuck. I’m there.
She’s says, “Get up. Give your speech.” And of course who is sitting right in front but Debbie, the girl I have a crush on. And of course Debbie doesn’t know I exist. She’s a cheerleader. She’s out of my league. I’m nobody. She sitting there, twirling her hair, chewing her gum.
And in the back are my two buddies, Bob and Greg. They are back there making faces at me and pointing at me and smirking. And I’m standing there and the sweat starts running down my face. I just freeze after the first paragraph. I go blank. I can’t remember what I memorized!
Luckily I had stuck the speech in my pocket. So I pull up the paper. And literally it is making noise because my hands are shaking so bad. And I read the darn thing. I sit down and I say, “I’m never doing this again!” And for twenty years, I never public spoke again.
I had a midlife crisis. I’m in a men’s support group. The next thing you know, I am jumping up and I am talking in that group. The next thing you know, I am leading the group. And by the way, during that midlife crisis, I realized my passion was politics, not construction, and here I am.
But I also wondered, why could I give a speech there? Why didn’t it bother me? Well, first of all, I didn’t write it! And I would like to suggest to every one of you that writes their speech to start practicing not writing it. Get up. I literally stand up and start talking it through.
Why? Because a speech should sound like you. It shouldn’t sound like your written self. It should sound like your verbal self. And I literally have a pad of paper and I make some notes. I write down a note about Debbie so I’ll remember that story. And then I go on to the next little thing and make a note. And I practice it out loud.
And then I kind of rearrange my notes and try to get a better order. And then I rehearse in front of a mirror. Why a mirror? Because I want my face and my gestures to match my delivery, to match what I am talking about.
I coached a guy about a month ago. He was talking about his sister’s death. During the whole speech he was smiling, smiling while he was talking about all this sadness. It has to be in sync. A speech is about all of you, not just the words.
The other thing that is great about not writing is I don’t have to remember anything. If you’ve got a PowerPoint or a presentation this Prezi, there’s my notes. But I don’t want to have notes. And if I rehearse this enough and practice it enough, I’ve internalized it. I don’t need this. I’ve done this speech ten times publicly and I’ve rehearsed it I don’t know how many times, including four times in the last two days.
It just flows. It is never going to come out exactly the same, but so what? The ideas are there and I am getting to most of my points. And if I forget a point, again so what? Who is going to know? Only you, unless they have been in the audience before and that doesn’t happen very often.
So take that pressure off of yourself. Don’t memorize it. And then practice. As I said, I get up and I start walking it through, talking it through. But then I practice in front of others. I practice in front of family. I practice in front of friends.
I joined Toastmasters three years ago. Why? Because I used to umm and ahh a lot. My speeches were fine, but I had all of these fillers. And how did I know it? I video taped myself and I realized, “My gosh, he says umm every five seconds.”
By the way, if I say umm or ahh at any point, please raise your hand and I will give you the tip. Not yet. I’ll give you the tip on how to get rid of it.
But I went to Toastmasters. Go to toastmasters.org. There’s a club everywhere. There’s 33,000 clubs in the world. Put in your zip code and it will find you a local club. It’s a great place to rehearse. Their manual is excellent. It can walk you through all types of different parts of a speech.
As I get into the more advanced techniques, the secret to it is give your speech, rehearse one of these advanced techniques until you have perfected it, and then give the speech again and do the next step in an advanced technique. Just keep adding. It’s hard to add everything all at once.
I also want to point out that American Majority has an excellent, excellent brochure on their website, AmericanMajority.org. Download this pdf. It’s really good. Just about everything I have to talk about is in here. Please use that. It’s a great manual.
AmericanMajority.org, this group American Majority that is presenting this workshop.
Speech basics: Every speech has an opening, a body, and a closing. Your opening should be bold. It should be strong. Rhetorical questions are a great way to start off because the audience automatically starts answering them in their head. You want to have energy and excitement. You want it to sort of capture them and bring them in.
And then you move on to the body. And the body is a story. The story I told about Debbie. You want to paint a picture with a story. You want to have some feelings in the story and adjectives.
That’s something that Republicans, conservatives, Libertarians, or whatever you want to call yourself don’t do. We get up with a lot of with a lot of facts and figures because we understand we math. We are rational people. The people that we aren’t convincing are the ones over there that are all about the feelings.
We need to get more feelings and more descriptive in our public speaking. That takes practice for us. And it’s done with good stories.
You want to have one, two, or three points in your speech. If you are running for office- And how many here are thinking you are going to run for office in the next five years? Great. Okay, your basic stump speech is three to five minutes. Have one good story in it.
I helped a fellow back in 1999. He ran for Congress for the first time in 2000. He won. His stump speech was about how he rescued a kid who was drowning in Lake Michigan when he was sixteen years old and how he wanted to be of service. It was a great story.
People barely remembered his name; they remembered his story. Stories stick with people, especially the left and liberals. They are more about the story. They want to hear about helping people and service.
The closing – it has to be strong. It has to be a call to action. If you’re in politics, you are asking for a vote. You are asking for them to donate to you. You’re asking for them to volunteer. If you are there for an issue, you are looking for an email sign up. You are asking them to go to your website. You are asking them to write to their congressman.
You are asking for something. Every closing has a call to action in politics. Do not skip it. And make sure when you get there that you make it bigger. Make it bolder. Make it more important so they remember. Because you want them to go out the door remembering it and then doing something.
This is kind of a how-to part, the more advanced part. First of all, where are you going to be public speaking at? What’s the setting? Who is the audience? Everything you are saying needs to be something that they want to know, that they want to hear. Why did they come?
If they are coming to hear you as a candidate, they probably want to know more about you and if they should support you or not. What are you going to do for them? How do your policies impact their lives? How are you going to make their lives better?
Is it a big room or a little room? Is it a room with this one with the projector in the middle? I can’t go to that side of the room. I am sort of trapped over here. Are you on a stage?
The more you know in advance, the better off you can plan your speech. I have been here for three days. I’ve been trying to work at it. Most people have been giving their speeches over there. I wanted to be over here because the lighting is better.
I wanted to be different. I wanted to stand out. That’s why I choose this spot to start. I am trying to figure out if there was a blackout button on this thing. I am going to push it and see what happens. It doesn’t work. So I could get to the other side. So now I am trapped.
But you’ve got to work that into what your setting is. Know your setting. If you can, find out as much as possible in advance. Get there early. Talk to the tech guy. Find out what you need to know. Are you going to be holding a mike? Do you have a pointer? Well, you’ve got two hands now; you’ve got a pointer and a mike. How do you do any gestures?
Think about all of this in advance. You can do most of this in phone calls in advance and then showing up early.
Introductions. Well, Matt came up here and read a little bit of my bio. You do not want to start your speech with your bio. It’s boring! Have somebody else do the boring stuff so you look exciting.
You want that introduction to have your bio and reasons why you are the expert, why you are the person that they are going to turn to, or why they are going to vote for you. All of that happens in that bio, in that introduction. You aren’t doing it.
You are writing it in advance. You are emailing it to the person that is probably doing the introductions. And then you are bringing an extra copy with because they always forget it. Have it ready to hand to that person.
Connecting with the audience: there’s a lot of ways to do that. The first one is right in the beginning. Come up, pause a minute, and stand there. Let them look at you and you look at them. While you are standing there and you’ve got your feet firmly planted, they are thinking hopefully that you are an expert, that you are confident, and that you are projecting to them that same thing, that you are confident and you are here.
You don’t want to come up and rock. You don’t want to do the TED talk walk where they stroll to one side and then they stroll to the other. When you move on a stage, it should be for a purpose. It should be to emphasize something.
Movement can do something that you can’t do with just words. You can set up the stage in different areas. You are talking about one topic in one area and when you talk about another topic, you move to another area.
You want to start in the middle of the stage and center of the speaking area. Then towards the end of the talk, you want to end up back in the middle, but closer to the audience because you’ve bonded with them.
Words, they are only worth seventeen percent. I don’t know who figured this out. They’ve done all kinds of calculations. I’ve read studies. Eighty-three percent is how you say it. But the words are still important.
The great speeches- the Gettysburg Address, the Dr. Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” speech- seventy percent of the words are one syllable. You do not want to use multiple syllabic words. I shouldn’t have just used that word; it’s too big.
You want to keep it at fifth or sixth grade level. That’s where the average person connects with the words. Start talking above it and you are missing some people. This is for political speeches. If you are a professor and you are talking to other professors, that’s a whole other story.
Keep it simple. And this is why I think I am good public speaker; I am basically simple. I can’t go there. But this is my crowd. I am good at fifth and sixth graders. So keep it simple.
Body language: well, there are gestures. One of the things I literally do before I come to every speech is I stand and I close my eyes and I picture the audience and I do this. (John is pretending to hug the audience.) I am trying to embrace you all and bring you in. I want you all to connect with me. At the same time, I am trying to project myself not only in my words, but from my heart and emotions. I am trying to engulf that whole audience and bring them in.
The bigger the room, the bigger your gestures have to be. So think about them. I mean, simple ones: you are doing a list, one, two, three. (John is holding up one, two and three fingers.) Do that. In a few moments I am going to talk about eye contact and I am going to be doing this. (John is using two fingers pointing at his eyes and then an audience members eyes.)
Think about what you can do to work your gestures in. And do they match the emotion you are projecting? Later on I am going to get a little angry in my closing and I am going to start doing this. (John is making a fist.)
And if I get sad, I actually want to look sad. I actually want to feel sad. At times, I’ve even cried on stage. At Mercer Republican County, I had two hundred Republicans crying. And then I turned it into hope and change, our kind of hope and change, not theirs. It worked. It really worked.
So there are lots of tools as a speaker that you can use that are way beyond sort of the basics.
Energy and emotion: well, I am an energetic speaker and I think that that’s key to keeping the audience engaged. So what are you going to do to pump yourself up? Some people listen to music just before they go on. Some people listen to comedians because they want to be funny.
I am not very funny, so I don’t go there. If you are funny, great. If you are not funny, don’t try it. Listen to your kids. “Dad, you are not funny.” You know what? They are usually right. Don’t go there if you are not funny because the audience is going to be turned off. It is just going to die right there.
Something else you can do for your emotions and energy is I picture hugging the group. I also do just like athletes do. They do imaging in their mind. They close their eye. They think about the perfect swing or the perfect pitch. I think about what it is that I am trying to emit from here that I want you to feel? What is it that you need?
And if you noticed, it brings me right into voice. I brought my voice down. You can emphasize things by whispering. Or you can get really loud and wake the crowd up. I don’t know if anyone knows Congressman Joe Walsh from Chicago area of Illinois. Right in the middle of every speech, he claps and yells and he wakes everybody up. It works!
Vocal variety it’s called. Use it. And don’t forget the pause. The pause is key in emphasizing something. And it’s one of the keys in not going ahh and umm because you are trying to fill that space. I still haven’t gotten to that tip. I haven’t ahh or umm yet, huh? Okay.
So why? Why are you here? What brought you to CPAC? Everyone of us has got some issue inside of us or big issue inside of us. We have to win elections to get that to happen. That’s why you are in this boot camp I would assume.
For me, I see America in trouble. I see the American dream dying. I am worried about my children. I am worried about possible grandkids. I am worried that so many young people believe in socialism. Is that crazy?
Don’t they that know that I am in this multi-million dollar facility? I am the grandson of impoverished Greek immigrants who came across steerage class. And my father went to bed in the Depression hungry at night. And I have so much. What brought me that? Free enterprise, capitalism. We know that! But they don’t know it. So are we going to go out there and tell them? Well, we better get to it.
American Majority is about running for local office. So here’s my call to action: it’s time for citizen legislatures. I am tired of the professional politician. I know you are, too, right?
So are you going to step up and speak up? Well, it starts with rehearsing. It starts with practicing. It starts with joining Toastmasters. But we need to go and run for offices. And we need to persuade. And we need to get rid of the ruling class.
There are so many issues happening locally. I am from Chicago. Guess what’s in Chicago? All of the suburban school districts are controlled by the unions because the unions recruit candidates for school board, give them money for their campaigns, and run their campaigns.
How in the world are we ever going to negotiate a teacher’s contract that is fair to the tax payers? How are we ever going to change curriculums so that they actually teach them economics and civics in these classes when the unions control it all? How? Well, I am recruiting people for school board and I am teaching them how to run. That’s how.
And then in Chicago, the pension systems are all broken. They’ve over promised our municipal workers and they haven’t funded it. And those fights are coming. If you live in an area where there is Right to Work and the unions haven’t infiltrated yet, still get on that school board and keep them out! Because you are going to have nothing but problems later.
And it is happening in all of our major cities and rural areas. What’s in the curriculum there? I don’t know. But I know in my kids’ high school, there’s nine kids in the Republican club. There’s thirty kids in the Democrat club. And there’s sixty-seven kids in the Communist club. The Communist club! And these are all well-to-do, suburban kids. They think it’s cool.
We’ve lost the popular culture war. We’ve lost the media. And we’ve lost the schools. Well, we can fight to get the schools back. It’s up to each and every one of us to do that. So take a look at those school curriculums and see what is going on. And if you are not running for office, at least become a thorn in their side and be a watchdog.
We need to speak up. We need to use positives. Ronald Reagan always spoke in positive terms. We are going to explain why civics is good for kids and why economics is good. We want our children to understand how the system works so they can be better voters. Who can fault that? Simple, straightforward, and positive.
We want more money to get right to the classroom and not get tied up in the bureaucracy and all of the garbage. Who can refute that? Give it to them in positive terms.
And then always tell them what’s in it for them. Well, we are going to have better educated kids. They are going to get better jobs. It’s pretty simple. It’s pretty straightforward.
The best way to find out about these issues is go talk to voters one-on-one. They’ll give you what is going on in the community right away. And then refine it and think about how to do it positive.
And if you’ve got a problem refining it, go to your state think tank. Your local state think tank can give you some ideas on policy that will work locally. Just go to spn.org and you can find your state think tank.
I started off with fear, fear of public speaking. How about the fear of political correctness? I live with that one. I walk into my neighbor’s house when there is a party going on. We are invited because we are neighbors. They all clam up when I walk in because they know I am a conservative and I am Republican. And they are all liberal Democrats and they hate me because of what they think I am. They have no idea what I am; they don’t talk to me.
Well, I am not letting that stop me. I am still going to speak up. And I am going to speak up publicly where I can, as all of you should. And so what I am trying to get you to understand is you got to practice public speaking, not only for public speaking purposes, but also for that moment when you are talking to somebody one-on-one.
Have that stump speech down, that little elevator pitch about your special issue. Be ready to talk to them. Rehearse. It’s not hard. It just takes a little bit of practice. There’s so many opportunities for us to speak up.
George Washington, the founding fathers, and the signers of the Declarations of Independence, they all put their lives on the line. They literally would have been hung by the British. And I am afraid my neighbors aren’t talking to me? There is something wrong with that.
They had so much to risk. I have a lot less at risk. But I am still nervous, but I am pushing through my fear just like my fear of public speaking. I get nervous before every time. I was nervous this morning sitting back there. But I just say, “No, this is important. You are going to do something important. You are going to help change the world right now. You are going to help people win elections.”
So push through the fear. Use it as energy. Use it as excitement. I am so wound up. What is it? It’s all my nerves! I am using it; it’s a tool. It was given to you for a reason, a great reason.
We need to win elections and we need to win support. We want to change the world. I want to change the world. If you want to change one little part of the world… I tell you what, if you change one school district, who knows where that goes? It’s up to you.
But when you leave here, think about the condition our country is in and how worried you are about it. Can you really just sit around and not do something? Do it. You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to do it for America. You’ve got to it for the kids. You’ve got to do it for yourself. Do it because it’s the right thing to do!
We need to win. We need to start winning elections. Talk is cheap. The only way to get to implement is to win. There are five hundred thousand elected offices in America. Find one. And run for it. And if you lose, run again because I tell you what, I learned more when I lost than when I won. And the first few campaigns I lost. But that changed with time. It changed with practice. I learned.
If I can help you, you can reach me at email@example.com. Please write to me. I am happy to listen to you on Skype if you’ve got a little speech you want to rehearse. I’d love to help. I am here to change the world. How can I help you?
Audience: I live in the commune of Fairfax County, Virginia. There seems to be a willingness of the elected to even have people like us. We speak-
John Tsarpalas: Correct.
Audience: There is no unnecessary conversation, no dialogue. And The League of Woman Voters don’t seem to be able to attract anybody to some of their meetings. I ran there and often times in their meetings, there were more candidates than there were people in the audience. What do you suggest that I do to get out and be able to communicate with people?
John Tsarpalas: Be creative. I speak at Rotary’s, Lions Clubs, Chamber of Commerce’s. I tone it down. Remember your audience. As I said in the beginning, if it is a middle group or a business organization, I talk about business issues. Figure it out. Be creative.
There’s all kinds of groups looking for speakers. There are ones that happen at lunch time. There are ones that happen at breakfast. I actually got invited to a Harvard alumni breakfast group to speak. It was a great group. They asked great questions. We had good policy chats. I don’t know if I convinced them; they all believe that they know best. But that was a whole other issue with Harvard grads.
So be creative. And obviously, Tea Party groups, your local GOP. There’s all kinds of groups out there looking for speakers. I speak easily once a week without doing a lot of work. I’ve sent out some emails to different groups. I follow up with a phone call and I get booked. Often if it is something close by, I say, “I am a last minute fill-in if you need somebody. I am ready to go.” And I am ready to go. I’ve got five different speeches that I know like that. So I just drop in and do it.
And do I convince people? Yes! Last Sunday I gave a speech. I had some guy come up and say to me, “I am running for local office now. You talked me into it. You are so right. I am so worried about the schools. I never thought about it.” Okay, there’s one district I’ve fixed. Let’s work on some more. Yes.
Audience: The three common fill in um, you know, and the new phenomenon like.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, so here’s the tip. You slow down. You do rehearsal speeches. And you annunciate. And if you are annunciating, you will not ahh, and, umm, or whatever, any of those words. And then you do that a few times through. It seems to go away.
I don’t know how that happens. That’s how I cured myself. I just slowed down and annunciated. And I also belong to a group called Midwest Speaking Professionals. They are all professional speakers in there. We rehearse with each other. So I would do the slowed down, annunciated thing with them and it went away.
So try it. Practice. Yes, last question.
Audience: I don’t really have a question, I just want to make a comment.
John Tsarpalas: Go ahead.
Audience: Okay, I snuck in. Well, not snuck in I asked to get in to the White House press conference many years ago. And I got a question asked. It didn’t come out very clear or whatever. But I asked how the President justifies all of his vacations and golf trips.
John Tsarpalas: Well, that was popular!
Audience: Yeah, it didn’t get answered. But it made national news. So anyways, I am just and average guy. And you will be in places where there is a candidate or something. Don’t worry about how it comes out. Just speak up.
John Tsarpalas: Just go for it. It’s not perfect. I mean, I stumbled through some words here today. I am never perfect. So what? I got across the main point I hope. And you know, start somewhere. It’s not about perfection. It’s about doing. And it’s about persuading. And it’s eventually about winning. Let’s go win some elections.
As always, we will have show notes and a transcript of today’s podcast at Commonwealthy.com. If you’ve got questions, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to answer your email questions.
And if you need more help with your campaign, I am a candidate coach. What makes me different than a consultant? Well, I help you to formulate your plans. I can review your plans for you. I can help you with public speaking, fundraising, and Get Out the Vote. I coach you.
And then I hold candidates accountable if they’d like that type of coaching. Many candidates will call me once a week or every other week and report in how many donors they’ve talked to, how many phone calls their volunteers made, and how many doors they knocked. Literally, I hold them accountable. They explain where they are having trouble and difficulty. I help them get through that and I keep them on track to their winning campaign plan, which I can help you formulate.
My first half hour of consultation is free. Often it runs a little longer than that. I don’t mind. I’ll let you know how I can help if you want to use my coaching beyond that point. But it is really helpful to most people to talk to me because I come up with some ideas and get them on track in their first half hour.
So feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com. Please tell your friends about us. Let other activists and candidates know that we exist. Thanks for listening!