In the midst of a General Election campaign here in the UK, we’re hearing much about the “stump speech.” But what is one, and why are they used?
“Stump speech” is a phrase used to describe a set of stock remarks which a politician seeking office will deliver wherever they appear. Election campaigns being essentially one long tour particularly for politicians with a national profile, the stump speech becomes their “go to” address – a one size fits all presentation they can deliver to each of their many audiences.
As a practical solution to the busy schedule of the professional politician, the stump speech makes sense. As an approach to public speaking, however, they’re quite poor. You can see this in their effect: stump speeches are rarely reported in the media (except perhaps local newspapers) because they are so bland and repetitive.
This is the opposite of what a good speech should be. Public speakers should rather aim to engage with their audience, delivering content devised precisely for the specific event at which it will be delivered.
Likewise, a really successful presentation will be fresh and innovative, with unique hooks to surprise and engage the audience. If they’ve heard it all before – or feel like they have – then they simply won’t give their full attention. The best political speakers can ad lib a little local colour to their stump speech – but never enough for the usual purposes of the “ordinary” speaker.
In other words, your goal should be to craft the opposite of a stump speech. Where stump speeches can seem robotic, you should appear authentic. Where they have minimal if any immediate currency for the audience in question, your speech should play very clearly to the people you’re seeking to persuade, inform or entertain.
There’s no doubt that the stump speech is an art in itself, and as you listen to UK politicians over the next few weeks you might think a little about how and why they stay on message with such regularity and predictability.
For most of us, however, speechwriting can be – and should be – a more creative affair. The presentation you’re giving will likely be a one-off, or at the very least not something you need to deliver to three different audiences every day for months. That gives you the opportunity to give a little more of yourself – and put a little more of audience into it.
You’re not standing for election. So don’t speak like it.