Forget Donald Trump. Forget Hillary Clinton. Forget the other experienced performers who were wheeled out to support the presidential candidates. The star speaking performance at either of the big conventions, Republican or Democrat, was a man few had heard of.
This man had no team of writers. He had no performance coach. He used no teleprompter for his script.
Khizr Khan had no script. But in a fraction over six minutes he held his audience spell-bound.
How did he do it? He did it by following four simple principles, which are central to all Podium presentation skills coaching sessions:
1 – have something to say. Drill down until you find the core of your message. Focus your thoughts. Be brave. Dump everything that is interesting but not essential.
2 – say it simply. Simple words in simple sentences. Impress with the depth of your ideas, not the breadth of your vocabulary. Keep it conversational.
3 – be true to yourself. Be who you are, not who your think you should be. Capture your authentic voice by speaking your words out loud before you write them down.
4 – know when to shut up. If you’ve made your points in six minutes, be happy. Don’t feel the need to keep talking. You’ll only weaken the power of your arguments.
By following these four simple ideas, Khizr Khan showed the practised speakers at both conventions what public speaking is really about. He moved people with his heart-felt eloquence.
Khizr Khan is the father of United States Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in 2004 during the Iraq War. Seeing a car speeding at his men, Captain Khan ordered them to take cover. He took 10 steps toward the vehicle before it exploded. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
With dignity, grace and power his father chastised the divisive views of Donald Trump. “He wants to build walls and ban us from this country… we cannot solve our problems by building walls and sowing division. We are stronger together.”
Hillary Clinton’s team had invited Mr Khan to address the Democratic Convention. They offered him a speechwriter. He accepted the chance to speak, but rejected the speechwriter. He knew what he wanted to say. His speech, he said, was “practiced in my head and spoken from the heart.”
Two other things are work noting about this passionate speech.
Firstly, Mr Khan had a sharply-focused message. “The main purpose of my speech was to bring awareness about the constitutional protections that each citizen of the United States enjoys and to try to prevent the scare that immigrant communities are feeling about the misinformation that one candidate had been pandering,” he told Politico Magazine.
Secondly, he demonstrated the value of an appropriate prop. As he challenged Trump over his knowledge of the rights of liberty and protection of law enshrined in the Constitution, he reached into his jacket pocket. He produced his own copy of the Constitution, and offered to lend it to Trump.
The speech lasted just six minutes and four seconds. Mr Khan didn’t need longer. He’d made his point. His speech was a triumph of pacing, poise and passion. I’d urge anyone interested in public speaking to watch it. You can see it here.
Neil Everton has distilled a lifetime’s experience with some of the world’s top news organizations into his Media Mastery training aids for anyone worried about talking to reporters. The video, books, e-books and workbooks are available in the Podium Coaching online store.