It’s been a long time since 2004, but some of us might still remember Howard Dean’s scream.
At the time, Dean was one of the Democratic candidates for president. He was trying to communicate passion – but, speaking at an otherwise anonymous event, he tried too hard, and turned his audience off with an over-the-top bellow. His campaign never recovered.
Public speaking is often about the art of balance. As a speaker, you need to show passion, but not too much; you need to exhibit confidence, but not seem arrogant. When speaking in public, you’re in some ways walking a tightrope.
Take one of Howard Dean’s opponents in 2004, John Kerry. Kerry eventually won the Democratic nomination, but ran a national campaign widely seen as bloodless and cool – and lost to the Republican, George W Bush. Dean showed too much passion; Kerry showed too little.
You might think that public speakers can’t win, but of course they can. The trick is to learn not from Howard Dean’s scream, but the three bears’ porridge. Bear with me.
Imagine your audience as Goldilocks, the little girl who sampled the porridge bowls of each of the three bears, and wanted it ‘just right’. For speakers the lesson is obvious: make sure your porridge is at the right temperature.
Think about it: if you’re trying to persuade a friend, you don’t lay it on too thick, but nor do you give up too easily. The trick is to be persistent but respectful, firm but not forceful. Speaking in public is exactly the same.
Try to imagine how you would respond to your pitch if you were in the audience’s position. You may think you have a great case, but this is useless if you turn them off before they hear it. Don’t try too hard to convince them … but don’t let them off the hook, either.
In other words, think like a bear, and make your speech ‘just right’.