Speeches are designed to have an impact on the listener. As I listened to the speeches at the recent U.S. conventions, I marveled at the different personal styles of delivery when speaking of change. I can’t help but think in terms of the four traditional elements or temperament characteristics of delivery styles. When you think of the element of Air, it is invisible, abstract, everywhere, yet not visible. The element of Fire is designed to heat things up, kick us into action, and trigger reactions. Water is flowing, shapes itself and adapts itself to the environment and Earth is grounded, solid, and dense.
We can use these elements to represent some basic needs. For example, AIR provides us with the need for a vision, an overview, and an all-seeing purpose. FIRE is about expressing ourselves. WATER is about being accepted and EARTH is about feeling safe. We strive to satisfy these needs and when not satisfied, we feel tension. With tension, we are stimulated to do something. We can link these needs to the elements in order to have a simple method of understanding change makers and how they speak to us. Let’s take a look at each type of speech – which one is the most appealing to you?
CHANGMAKER AIR SPEECH
AIR speeches can be characterized as abstract, future tense and visionary. AIR speaks to possibilities, overviews, and a system that can potentially uplift us if we believe in it. President Obama so eloquently expressed the motivational impulse for all of us to grow together, to learn together, and to fix the system together. After listening to Mr. Obama, I was inspired and uplifted which, in my mind, was the motivational purpose of his change maker speech – to create a new possibility which inspires us to envision a possible, positive future.
CHANGEMAKER FIRE SPEECH
Moving from the abstract to the action-driven motivational energy of a FIRE change maker, we look to Donald Trump for a descriptive call to action style. The FIRE element speaker can be bombastic, bullet-pointed, ego oriented and as Trump stated ‘I’ alone can fix everything. Wanting to ensure that we recognize his uniqueness he says, ‘I’ am your voice. For frustrated listeners who are tired of the old way of doing things in Washington and Wall Street, this voice can touch chords of hope that there is a possibility of creating new pathways for change. FIRE, unlike AIR, is present-tense focused, cuts new pathways, taking a rogue approach by throwing out the past, historical system that is in the way of creating a new way of doing things.
CHANGERMAKER WATER SPEECH
Everyone is included and connected in the WATER-element speech so beautifully delivered by Bill Clinton. Disarming, resourceful, likeable, affiliating everyone to everyone and everything, the WATER element change maker speech pulls us in and keeps us engaged with personal messages of change that includes all of us. Relating organically to time, WATER recalls the past, looks to the future, and deals with the present and flows nicely along timelines with ease. Mr. Clinton made a very personal speech about his wife and related how she, as a change maker, relentlessly fights for social justice. Bringing in the example of Hillary and looking for one more drawer in Chelsea’s dorm room dresser to line with paper, Bill painted a caring mother and a consistent fighter for the underdog. Striving to help us see Hillary as a very caring and empathic person, he related her to the public in ways that she appeared to be incapable of speaking herself. Through Mr. Clinton we can relate to Hillary’s expression for change in terms of personal caretaking.
CHANGEMAKER EARTH SPEECH
Then there is Hillary Clinton – tied to the past, detailed-oriented, driven to support causes with a systematic plan, her change making speech got tiring to listen to – lacking the inspiration of the AIR, the energy of the FIRE, the relational aspects of the WATER, Hillary as an EARTH change maker speaker got lost in her too focused effort to relate to the status quo, to conserving energy, and to her past efforts. EARTH is past tense driven and can benefit from drawing on basic motivational suggestions such as using more personal examples of who she is. She did say that she was taught to serve through her Methodist upbringing and that she should strive to make life better for others. It is something she has done repeatedly over her many years on the political stage. But if she wants to be the next President of the United States, she has to bring a broader range of skills to the change maker speakers’ table.
Commentators hoped that she would be more personable and show more weaknesses in order for people to respond and connect with her. Many said that she failed to do this and if change is what is wanted, she is the past and her speech didn’t manage to hit the high notes for inspiring people to elect her.
CHANGE and CONTEXT
Change leadership is really more about cognitive processes and less about the physical details. Change speech makers need to inspire us to want to change. We need a reason why we should change and why this particular leader should be the one to lead us somewhere towards more safety, more opportunity, more challenges, more security and wealth. Leaders can minimize the stress of change by speaking of the change in positive terms and presenting the benefits of the change. Leaders and change making speeches should engage the audience with personal stories, with good examples, and inform us of how the change can unfold in order to reduce the anxiety inherent in any change process.
Given the complexity of our world problems, change makers must find better solutions by drawing on many and different perspectives. Cognitive diversity can be defined as an understanding of the different perspectives, techniques and methods individuals use to categorize, predict and find solutions to problems. Tapping into the diverse cognitive processes of others can bring increased creativity to change processes. Mrs. Obama discussed children and who, as a President, would be a good example for our children. She drew on the image of her children playing on the White House lawn in a house that was built by slaves. She talked about Hillary as a never-ending fighter for the rights of others, especially women and children. She made us think about who would be a better fit for this position.
DRAWING ON ALL 4 CHANGE MAKER STYLES
Change maker speeches should provide a vision for the future and draw from the element of AIR by showing us possibilities. Change maker speeches need to mobilize us into action by emphasizing present-tense realities and motivating us forward by drawing on the energy of the FIRE element to heat us up and kick us into action. Change maker speeches need to make us feel that we are included in the change process and that the change is not just for the benefit of the few but for the many. Drawing on the element of WATER, change maker speeches should emphasize the importance of diversity and togetherness and not separation and division. And change maker speeches need to show us how the vision of the future will be actualized with a solid detailed plan by drawing on the EARTH element which strives to conserve resources, prepares us for change, draws on the wisdom of the past and creates a detailed plan for getting from the present to the future by inspiring us with creative solutions and possibilities.
WHO IS THE BEST CHANGE MAKER
Speeches are designed to impact us. Out of the 4 personal styles witnessed in the past week, which one impacted you the most and did it sway you into making a decision? If we look at Trump’s change maker speech using the element framework, it is easier to see how he has managed to draw in the numbers: Vision: Make America Great; Power: I am the only one who knows how to fix it. Connecting: we’re rebuilding other economies while weakening our own; and Security: A Trump administration will lead a country that is properly armed and funded beautifully. How? We don’t know but that is what he says. Should we believe Bloomberg who, as a multi-billionaire, stated at the Democratic convention – Trump is a con man and I know a con when I see one.
Who is the best choice for change in the U.S.? What is it that must be done? What is the main problem? Be careful not to let the personal style of the change maker who speaks in such a way that sways us into believing their strategies and purposed outcomes are what we may get. Look beyond the words and the methods of delivery to the importance of change and the impact of methods on self and others.