Dr. Bob: “Putting people to sleep!”

Dear Dr. Bob,

My campaign is underway but when I’m giving a speech it’s like I’m putting people to sleep. My speech is attached. What do I do?

Sedative in Seattle


Dear Sedative,

Whoa. Read your speech last night and dropped off to sleep in a flash. I see what you mean.

But you are not alone, my friend. Almost every candidate I work with has the same problem: talking too much and not really saying anything.

And saying the same thing everyone says. To your audience its like watching a re-run of a bad TV show.

So try this prescription daily through the election:


1. Try to be specific as a way of setting you apart from your opponent. Everybody wants a stronger economy, better schools and safe neighborhoods. Give folks a few specifics about how you want to do that. In other words, translate the policy talk into concrete actions you want to take.

Want better education? Pay teachers more to attract and keep the best and brightest. Want a stronger economy, help local businesses create new jobs instead of always chasing after out of state corporations that come here, take our tax money and then leave. Want safer neighborhoods? Target the 20% of criminals responsible for 80% of the crimes no matter who they are. Attack the sources of crime: high unemployment rates in the district, little or no support for neighborhood friendly small businesses.

2. Limit the number of “slogan” type phrases. Even though you may be speaking to a group, act as if you are just speaking to just one person. That makes you more personable and let’s people see that you are genuine. So use your slogans and catch phrases sparingly.

You wouldn’t look across the dinner table and tell a friend, “I’m running for ____ because its time for hope and change.” That way when you do use them they’ll have a much bigger impact. And make sure you only use one slogan, not a dozen. Slogans are shorthand that communicate a message, but shorthand for another 3 pages of your speech. Consider this: Martin Luther King said “I have a dream” several times during his most famous speech. But it was the same slogan, used strategically over and over again.

And if that doesn’t make sense to you, just think about Coke’s slogan that hasn’t changed…ever.

3. You have a great personal story to tell. Link it to the specifics you want to accomplish and don’t hesitate to direct yourself to your audience.

Your parents wanted a great education for you and you want that for young people too. But that’s not going to happen in overcrowded classrooms. Or with teachers who have to spend so much of their income on buying supplies for their students.  They wanted you to have a career and you want that for today’s young people. But that’s not going to happen when they can’t even get an entry level job, if they can find a job at all.

Get the idea? What puts people to sleep is hearing the same stuff coming out of different mouths all the time. Be different. Wake them up by telling something they need to hear: exactly what you have in mind to solve problems, not just a selection of one-liners and slogans.

Best of luck!


About Bob Grossfeld

Bob is a longtime political & public affairs strategist. Based in Phoenix, AZ he spends a great deal of his time doing guerrilla therapy for his fellow Arizonans before they succumb to the state's lunacy. The media calls on him frequently to help explain Arizona politics with a straight face.
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