Why Trump’s communication style has traction

9 November 2019  |  Rich M

This is NOT about Political views. It is about the skill of communication. And put simply, some people are better than others. There are five reasons why I think Trump’s communication style is effective – especially in populist times.

  1. Delivery – His speech patterns mimic some of the best orators of the 20th Century
  2. Simplicity – He uses plain English that anyone can understand
  3. Emotional – His rhetoric is full of visceral vigour, not cerebral drudge
  4. Authenticity – He is himself and I’ve not met anyone yet who contests this
  5. Repetition – He repeats his messages so they stick with people – like them or not
Delivery – Who’s who?

One of the key indicators of good delivery is the amount of speech versus the amount of silence: think Obama or Bill Clinton. Good delivery is about balancing speaking with pausing.

Trump breaks up his content into small, manageable chunks. When he pauses in between each idea, his audience digests what he said. They have lots of small opportunities to reflect on how they feel: how his ideas relate to them. This aids memorability of his key messages. If you don’t get a chance to think about what’s been said, it stops the idea being committed to memory.

When Trump’s language is compared to great speakers of the 20th century (Churchill, MLK, Bill Clinton et al) there is similarity in the speech-to-silence ratios.

Simplicity – Come again…

Plain English is easy to understand. Conversely, complexity obscures key messages. Trump is a master at using what I call ‘Bricklayer’s English’ (no slight on Brickies – actually a compliment). He doesn’t use long words when short ones will do. We compared Trump to his peers using a well-established measure of readability (how digestible a passage of text is). Trump’s content is more accessible than that of his peers.

We compared the content of Trump speeches to that of Hillary Clinton and George Osborne. Trump’s language is simpler. This means that his messages will reach more people. By comparison George Osborne talks a lot about GDP and productivity statistics: topics most people find confusing to make actual sense of.

Emotional – Hearts and minds…

There is a reason that the above phrase is that way around: hearts then minds. Likewise: art, then science. In a drowning world of numbers, quantitatives and ‘facts’, emotions still rule. As Professor of Politics from St Mary’s University said, “voters, like all people, are driven by emotions…they’re tribal”. Trump is effective because his speeches are laced with simple, emotive words, not lengthy economic blurbs about GDP or productivity statistics. Trump rouses visceral instincts in people.

Lyin’ Ted…Crooked Hillary…Let’s drain the swamp…Make America great again…Stealing our jobs…It’s going to be beautiful to watch…We are gonna start winning again, winning big”.

The challenge is this: no spreadsheet or economic data can override emotions. For people wanting to influence, stop focusing on hard facts, because the ‘facts’, regarding what influences people, are against you.

Authenticity – Not my cup of tea

Be yourself, everyone else is taken”, said Oscar Wilde. Part of the appeal (for some) of Trump is that he knows his own mind and doesn’t give a damn. People like him, Corbyn, Boris, Sanders, Le Pen and Farage are bombastic and outspoken. They DO NOT want – or try – to appeal to everyone. They want to be hyper-relevant to some; not kind of relevant to all.

People buy into someone when they see authenticity. Not when they see carefully stage-managed performances – think Hillary Clinton.

Repetition – Repetition, repetition

Simple messages, said repeatedly, stick. Most of you reading this would be able to repeat some of Trump’s key phrases. Could you repeat Hillary’s? It doesn’t take a leap of logic to be convinced by this final explanation. The more you hear something, the more the message subliminally soaks into your conscious.

In conclusion, persuasive communicators use simple language that is well paced and has an emotional kick to it.

In conclusion, persuasive communicators use simple language that is well paced and has an emotional kick to it.

Oh, and they repeat themselves.