What’s your most recent Google search?

I’ll tell you mine: “Does Donald Trump have a public speaking coach?”. (I can’t find any evidence of one. This may or may not surprise you).

This week, he gave his first Coronavirus briefing since March, when he famously suggested the cure we’ve all been waiting for is intravenous disinfectant. And someone obviously got through to him that, for this briefing,  he needed to stick to the script – that things go wrong when he goes off piste.


So, based on yesterday’s briefing (which you can watch here: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/21/watch-live-trump-holds-a-coronavirus-briefing-for-the-first-time-in-months.html), if I were Trump’s speaking coach, what would I advise him to do? And what can you learn from watching Mr President?


  1. If you absolutely must have a script (and, God knows, this man absolutely must have a script), you must familiarise yourself with it.


    Read it, practise it, aloud, over and over again. This is especially true is someone else has written it for you. You may want to re-write elements of it using your own words/phrasing so that is is more natural. Why?

    Because reading does not come across as genuine. There are times in this briefing where we get the impression Trump is learning information as he reads – this is clearly not coming from him. Frankly, he sounds like a puppet.

    If he had taken the time to become really familiar with his speech, he would have owned those words and been able to convey them much more authentically. Authenticity = trust, and Trump’s success in November depends on it.

    Being more familiar with his speech would also have enabled him to look up from his lectern. It is surprising that these briefings never utilise an autocue (although it is just important not to be “reading” from an autocue) as this would allow the speaker to make eye contact and assume a more natural pose: non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal, and if your body language doesn’t match your words in the authenticity stakes, you’re undoing all your hard work.

    By practising your presentation through out loud, you’re also less likely to make mistakes, and more likely to spot the typos. Then you won’t make errors like “a spice in virus cases” instead of “a spike” (I wondered if cinnamon was a potential new cure being declared by the President).


  3. Pitch, pace and pause.


    Donald Trump speaks like a robot: he has a monotonous pitch, and an onward-marching pace which remains consistent thoughout the entirety of his speech. The phrase, “We mourn every precious life that’s been lost” is delivered with the same intonation as “ we are working to advance the next economic relief package”.Where is the feeling? If you want people to care, you have to show that you care.

    Later in the briefing, Trump’s calls to action (wear a mask; wash your hands; avoid packed bars) are lost in the tirade of defensive statements and criticisms of other countries.


    You need to get inside your words: own them, make them your own. Take time to go through your speech and use a coloured pen to highlight the phrases you want to stand out and then work out how you will verbally highlight them. Will you pause before you say a particular sentence? Raise your volume? Lower your pitch? Or perhaps you’ll slow right down to emphasise that point. You need to interrupt your own flow by adding colour if you want people to remain interested.


  5. Know your audience.


    Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the media. But he must accept that his words will be reported to the American population (otherwise known as, “electorate”) and these live briefings are an opportunity for him to speak directly to his people without his words being “taken out of context”, which is so often claims to be the case. 

    So, he needs to make sure he pitches it right.


    Talking about his “success” in bringing the death rate down when 140,000 American people have lost their lives will not earn him support. Using language like “achieved” “we’re doing very well”, and “the China virus” does not endear him to large groups of the population. Rather, it creates barriers and hostility. Trump must work harder to achieve the empathy he needs if he’s to build trust and connection with his people.


  7. What’s the point?


    What is the purpose of your presentation?

    This is a briefing, but let’s not forget that Trump is going to the polls in four months. This briefing was designed to gain people’s trust by demonstrating that he has a plan, that the virus is coming under control and the economy is in safe hands. The purpose of every communication from Trump’s office is to get people to vote for him in November, and the way to do that would have been to show that Trump shares the hopes and fears of his audience – he could’ve used personal stories (his or someone else’s) to demonstrate this.

    His stats and data mean nothing if they’re not framed in a story.


    Trump’s style is defensive: he refers continually to things his administration has done; to how much “better” the US is doing than the rest of the world in beating this virus.  He compares his administration to his predecessor’s: “we inherited very empty cupboards”, he says of the medical equipment he has commissioned.  He wastes time criticising others instead of explaining the current situation, his hopes for the final outcome and the steps he will take to get there.


  9. Learn to breathe.


    The Q&A session at the end of the briefing gives us back the nonscripted-Trump we are used to seeing. He’s vague, he flounders and, most of all, he doesn’t take time to consider his answers before he jumps straight in. In fact, he often cuts journalists off before they’ve finished asking their question, so desperate is he to defend his position. 

    I’m sure, had he taken the time to breathe and think, he would not have responded to the question about Ghislaine Maxwell with, “I wish her well”. (I can almost see his team simultaneously face-palming as he uttered those words. And I would love to know if he welcomes constructive feedback after a briefing like this. I suspect not).


    It’s obvious, at other points in the Q&A, that Trump is playing for time: he repeats words and phrases; he waffles; he generally tries to fill the space. And with every vague utterance, the distance between him and his authenticity grows wider.

    If you receive questions at the end of your presentation, or as part of your interview, don’t be afraid to pause, take a breath and consider your answer. It feels like a lifetime to you but, in reality, those few seconds are really not a big deal. In fact, I always respect anyone who has the courage to pause and consider how they feel before they jump straight in.


I could go on, but these are five takeaways that will help when it comes to preparing your next presentation. Get in touch if you’re ready to take your public speaking to the next level.