UVA Law Public Speaking Experts Critique Campaign Speeches

Sayler, Shadel

Robert Sayler and Molly Bishop Shadel are analyzing the speeches delivered at last week's Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention underway in Charlotte, N.C.

September 5, 2012

University of Virginia law professors and public speaking experts Molly Bishop Shadel and Robert Sayler have launched a blog analyzing the campaign communication strategies of President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Sayler and Shadel, who recently co-authored the book "Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion," are now focused on speeches delivered at last week's Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention underway now in Charlotte, N.C.

They launched the blog because they wanted to demonstrate how the lessons of their book apply to the real world.

"Political campaigns are a perfect forum for this. You get to see lots of speeches, you get to see lots of debates, and the politicians are trying to persuade you by using rhetoric," Shadel said. "Anyone can watch a convention and decide whether a speech seems good or not. What we're trying to do is explain to you why it's working and how it's working — or not working."

Following Michelle Obama's speech Tuesday night, Shadel authored a post praising the first lady's delivery, writing and use of emotion. "Barack isn't the only Obama who knows how to bring hope to a crowd," she wrote. "His wife is giving him a pretty good run for his money."

In an Aug. 31 post, Shadel and Sayler analyzed Romney's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, concluding that although it had memorable writing and a decent delivery, it was hamstrung by a lack of specifics about the candidate's plans for the country.

"He laid out five goals (energy independence, more trade deals, cutting the deficit to be 'on track to a balanced budget,' provide job-ready skills through education, and help small businesses), but with no prescription for achieving these goals," they wrote. "His most specific promise was to repeal and replace Obamacare, but without any hint of what the replacement would look like. The main thrust of the speech was that Obama has led us wrong, but the speech did not clarify exactly where Romney would take us instead (except for away from Obama)."

Analyzing the candidates' rhetoric can also be useful for anyone interested in becoming more persuasive in political conversations of their own, Shadel said.

"It's about helping you figure out how to do this better yourself," she said. "When you find yourself in a political debate over dinner with your loud-mouth Uncle Herman, you're going to be able to acquit yourself better if you have a sense of how to make an argument out loud. Watching politicians do this is a great way to learn."

Sayler said they are aiming to bring their expertise out of the classroom and into the real world.

"Our classes focus on what the lessons of classical rhetoric and modern psychology teach about what best advances and disserves the cause of oral persuasion," Sayler said. "That perspective is an invaluable way to determine what has so often backfired and occasionally succeeded in 2012."


More About Public Speaking at Virginia Law: http://www.law.virginia.edu/html/academics/practical/publicspeaking.htm


Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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