We’re in the middle of the primary season for the 2012 election and as of now the two main vote getters are Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. This article isn’t about who is right or who would make a better President. Instead, I want to give you a little bit of insight into Romney’s speaking style. More specifically, I have a theory as to why Romney has had a tough time in the debates and a difficult time “whipping up” crowds.
Before I go any further, let me state up front that I don’t have much of an opinion as to which candidate I think is better (I think that remains to be seen). Nor am I a professional speaker, although I do have years of experience in both speaking and teaching. Lastly, I have been an active Mormon for most of my life, serving two years as a missionary and spending more than two decades in various lay-teaching positions within the church.
One of the differences between Romney and Gingrich, aside from political issues, is their speaking styles. Gingrich gives pointed and directed lectures, with a message that he brings home with facts and narrative. Gingrich’s speeches (not all written by him, of course) have the goal of providing a logical pathway to agreement and endorsement by the listener by the laying out of relevant information and leading to one or more conclusions. He is authoritative and speaks from the standpoint of, “I’m right and you can intellectually agree with me.”
Romney, on the other hand, speaks less directly, making points through examples, metaphors, and similes in addition to facts. His speeches (again, not all written by him) have the goal of providing an intuitive pathway to agreement and endorsement by the listener by relating to their experience and leading to new personal conclusions or reinforcement of pre-existing personal conclusions. Romney is persuasive and speaks from the standpoint of, “I’m right and you can feel that you agree with me.”
Gingrich’s history as a speaker is well known. He honed his speaking skills as a lecturing college professor, following by years in congress, where campaigning, debates, and public speaking are essential.
Romney’s history as a speaker is less well known but worth noting. He developed his speaking skills at a young age in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (we da Mormons). Every Sunday, Sacrament Meeting is held, a meeting where members partake of a sacrament, sing hymns, and hear sermons given by selected members of the congregation, including the long-standing tradition of one or more youth speakers. It’s not uncommon for kids from age 12 to 18 give a number of sermons before they become adults. Although being a youth speaker is unnerving, kids are given informal training and often simply read from a prepared text. No doubt, Romney’s first experiences with public speaking were like this.
Also, Mormon sacrament meetings (and our meetings in general) tend to be quiet affairs with the congregations listening to the sermon without interruption or commenting. It’s definitely not a Pentecostal-style of worship and the speaker isn’t expected to rouse the crowd to their feet. In fact, in most meetings I’ve been to, to do so would be considered bad form. Not to say they’re not spiritual, just in a way that some folks might call bland.
Romney also spent two years as a missionary for the LDS church in France starting when he was 19 and concluding at the age of 21. As a missionary he was trained (as I was) to give sermons in the native language, but here is where the different speaking style comes in. LDS Missionaries are taught to give lessons or sermons with the intent to convert the listener, but they are also taught that when the Word of God is spoken, the Holy Spirit will attest to the truth of it via an emotion or sensation that the listener feels. This emotion or sensation is the true source of belief and is believed to be different for each individual, varying from “a still, small voice” to a “burning in the bosom”. In short, the speaker does not persuade the listener to believe, but acts as a tool bringing about belief from within.
Of course, Romney has more experience than just speaking in church. He was a governor and has extensive experience as a lawyer and businessman, during which I’m sure he gave thousands of speeches, presentations, proposals, etc., and these have all made an impact on the man and his speaking style. However, it’s pretty clear to me that he hasn’t strayed far from his roots when it comes to making public statements and addresses. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Romney simply isn’t going to give soaring and charismatic speeches like Obama, nor is he going to be out to set a fire in anyone’s soul for a particular idea. It just isn’t his way.