Donald Trump Targets Audience’s Emotions

(Writer’s note: As part of a fellow Toastmasters’ advanced manual project, I was asked to be one of three panelists discussing Donald Trump’s effectiveness as a speaker and leader. I spoke last. This is essentially what I delivered.)

Well, those were wimpy presentations from my fellow co-presenters!

Madam moderator, fellow Toastmasters, and distinguished guests:

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Credit:
Gage Skidmore)

Is Donald Trump succeeding because he embraces Toastmasters’ guidelines or because he violates them?

The short answer is: Yes.

Let’s look at how he violates Toastmasters rules or culture:

  • He doesn’t listen.
  • He interrupts.
  • He bullies.
  • He thrives on being politically incorrect. He uses terms like “anchor babies” and “illegal immigrants.”
  • No matter how many times he claims he is not, The Donald is crass.
  • He’s bombastic.
  • His speeches are not polished.
  • He has very poor transitions between segments of his speech.
  • He starts his speeches by saying how nice it is to be here.

And how does he embrace Toastmaster rules and culture?

  • He closes his speeches by revisiting his main points.
  • He uses stories—To illustrate his position on trade with China, he tells a story about a business friend who can’t get his manufactured products into China without paying a 35 percent tariff.
  • He uses analogies—To illustrate his view on the U.S. negotiating weaknesses, he compares China negotiating with the U.S. to the New England Patriots playing your high school football team.
  • He has good vocal variety.
  • He uses pauses effectively.
  • He uses gestures effectively.

But mostly, Donald Trump succeeds because he taps into how real people think and talk. Ever watch a TED talk? Most of them are not polished, Toastmaster-like speeches either. But they work because the message touches a piece of our psyche or soul.

More than 332,000 Toastmasters think and breathe in the world. But they make up a small portion of the more than 7 billion people who walk this planet. In fact, fewer than 5 percent of people in the world are Toastmasters or think like Toastmasters.

As Toastmasters, we’re a supportive people. We try not to be politically incorrect. We watch our language.

We’re so freaking polite that we don’t even use the word “criticize.”

The other 95 percent of the world’s population don’t think like that. Most people who are politically connected this early in the game think like Trump. That’s why the talking heads on Fox are so popular with conservatives, and the talking heads on MSNBC are so popular with liberals. They don’t listen to anyone but themselves. They interrupt. They bully. They are just like the majority of opinionated people in the world. But most importantly, their message resonates with their target audience in their language and at their emotional level.

You can be the most polished speaker in the world. But if you can’t connect to your target audience by speaking their language and energizing their emotions, you’ll flop. Trump uses stories, analogies, and other good speaking tools. But most importantly, he has the language and emotional appeal down pat. His message is clear: The current president and all the other presidential candidates are too meek to solve illegal immigration and take on ISIS, al Qaeda, and China. His strong language makes it clear that The Donald is anything but meek. He knows his audience – which, of course, is another Toastmasters teaching.

Will that take Donald Trump to electoral victory in 2016?

I’ve been in politics one way or another my entire adult life. One of the lessons I have learned in 40-plus years is it’s too early to predict what may happen more than a year from now.

All I can say is: I hope not.

Madam moderator.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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