Recently, a Donald Trump speech to Congress has dominated the news as of late. Some Republicans and supporters of Donald Trump’s presidency say that it was the best presidential speech in in recent memory. And while Democrats are quick to express their displeasure, a lot of them are struggling to find anything wrong with this speech. It’s easy to forget that it doesn’t really matter what the politicians thought of Donald’s speech – it’s all about the people of America and their opinion. To that end, two polls done by CBS and CNN suggest that over 75% of Americans thought that Trump gave a good speech, including a whopping 54% of Democrats. If this is true, then how exactly did Trump win over so many people with this speech? As we look at the speech in depth, we see that is has a lot to do with his understanding of psychology.
1. Hand Gestures / Body Language
Body language is key when it comes to giving political speeches, and Trump knows this all too well. Something like 90% of all communication is done non-verbally, and so one of the key ways to get your point across, especially in political speeches, is through hand gestures. This is something the American president knows all too well, and this technique was evident in the most recent Donald Trump speech. Although his hand movements were much more toned down from his more animated displays at his Trump rallies, he still showed that he can communicate his message though other means than just words.
In a recent article by the BBC, a body language expert called Mary Civiello broke down exactly what Trump’s various hand movements all mean, and what emotions they stir up in people watching him. Two of the gestures that Civello identifies are used heavily in the recent Donald Trump speech, and right off the bat you can see that Trump uses a slight open palm while discussing Black history month. Mary Civiello says that this is a warning of sorts and a defensive posture. It’s almost as if the opening of the recent Donald Trump speech is saying “Hey, I know you’re going to try and criticize me here.”
Another of Donald Trump’s favorite hand gestures is the forefinger and thumb together, like a pinch, which then moves apart to form an “L” shape. Mary Civiello says this is an attempt to seem exact, like he knows exactly what he’s talking about. In the recent Donald Trump speech, this gesture is used when he talks about the strength of his political movement. and many other times This communicates and tries to instill in people a sense of confidence in the amount of support he has. He also uses this gesture countless other times throughout the speech, such as when he talks about his new program that will help women involved in business, talking about their access to capital and markets.
Neurolinguistics is a very interesting field of study within the realm of psychology, and it’s something that has been relied on heavily by many presidents, especially in recent years. In Lehman’s terms, Neurolinguistics is the practice of influencing people’s minds and emotions through types communication such as speeches. Ex-president Obama was a heavy believer in the use of Neurolinguistics, and this is part of what made him such an effective speaker. In the most recent Donald Trump speech, the current president shows signs of using those same skills.
The field of Neurolinguistics is vast and encompasses a wide range of linguistic techniques, but it’s possible to focus in on a few speech patterns that the current president utilizes heavily. One technique has to do with buzz words that Trump repeats again and again, words that he has identified as having power and an emotional effect on people. The obvious one to mention would be “Make America great again,” which was used in the recent Donald Trump speech, albeit only one or twice. He also uses something called the “Belief Fixation,” something introduced by Charles Sanders Pierce. An example of this would be his continued association of the word “inner city” with crime and violence. He’s repeated this idea so many times that now people associate the word “inner city” with negative connotations, even when the word is used in a positive light. He spoke of inner city once again in his most recent speech. These are just two examples of how Trump used Neurolinguistics in his speeches.
The craziest thing about all of this is that every single trained psychologist who has ever analyzed Trump’s speech patterns has come to the same conclusion: He has no formal speaking training. That means everything he does is on an instinctual level, and he is actually utilizing these Neurolinguistic techniques without even realizing it on a conscious level.
3. Vast Underestimation / The Contrast Effect
One of the key strengths of Donald Trump is his ability to make people underestimate him. We saw it throughout the entire presidential campaign – political candidates and news pundits saying again and again that Trump had no chance of winning. One media source even maintained that Trump had only a 2% percent chance of winning right before the election started. I think it’s safe to say that everyone vastly underestimated him. And this can be an enormous strength. If you allow people to form the opinion that you are incompetent, you then have the ability to surprise everyone when you reveal your true skill.
The speech Trump gave to congress seemed to be a final revelation that he was not as stupid as he seemed, and he took the opportunity to show that he was indeed “presidential” enough to lead the nation. Indeed, many Americans used that exact word; “presidential,” when asked to describe Trump’s most recent speech. This point of view may have been brought about by something called the “contrast effect,” which is a well-known psychological phenomenon. In this context, it means that people saw Trump as being very “presidential” during his speech solely because he came across as so un-presidential in the months leading up to this speech. The contrast between two things, like salt and sugar, makes one thing seem more bitter or more sweet than it actually is, because they are so markedly different. This is the contrast effect, and it’s why the recent Donald Trump speech had such a huge effect on so many Americans.
A key component to Donald Trump’s speech to Congress was the use of misdirection. And this is hardly a new technique in Donald Trump’s repertoire of oratory skills. He often “invents” issues of contention to draw people’s attention away from something that could be an area of vulnerability. He often gets angry and flustered when he’s talking about these things, but is he really angry? Not likely. He’s mainly just trying to distract people away from something else. And it works. How many times has his angry tweets dominated the headlines? Many times, this was probably a conscious effort by Trump to distract people away from something else.
He used this in the speech to congress right off the bat. The first words he uttered were to honor Black History Month. The second thing he talked about was the desecration and vandalization of Jewish cemeteries, whole-heartedly condemning these actions. How was this a case of misdirection? Because he immediately drew attention away from the fact that he had been called racist and in league with Nazis in the past, and right off the bat he was trying to bring Americans together. He was appealing to democrats, saying something that they would undoubtedly agree with to get them on his side right away. This also denied his strongest critics of anything to fault him with, at least for the first few minutes of the speech, putting them on the back foot.
5. Using Examples
For all his brash talk, Trump might be a lot more knowledgeable about human psychology than a lot of people give him credit for. Why else would he use people such as Megan Crowley, Denisha Merriweather, Jamiel Shaw, Susan Oliver, and many others who he placed strategically in the audience of that recent Donald Trump Speech in Congress? He used these people as examples to illustrate his various points. Megan Crowley is a survivor of a rare disease, who only lived because her father founded a private company to help find the cure. Jamiel Shaw’s 17-year-old son was brutally killed by an illegal immigrant. Denisha Merriweather failed third grade three times, and it was only when she started to get help from private educational institutions and programs that she began to succeed. She now has her masters degree in social work. Finally, Susan Oliver’s husband was a law enforcement officer who was gunned down by an illegal immigrant with a lengthy criminal record.
What does this say about Trump’s understanding of psychology? Simple. He knows that if people have a face and a story to connect with an argument, the audience will be much more responsive than if they were faced with cold statistics. Examples confront us with the reality of the situation, they become burned in our memory. Many politicians have made the mistake in the past of relying on statistics to make their points, but for many people numbers are meaningless. They fail to convey any kind of emotion associated with the issue at hand. The recent Donald Trump Speech, he understood that to make his point, he had to show the American people the faces and lives affected by the issues he’s trying to tackle – even if the statistics didn’t actually agree with Trump’s points.
6. Know Your Audience
Time and time again, Trump has shown the power of knowing your audience. It’s important to make clear that Trump was in uncharted territory during that Congress speech. This was not a Trump rally, with a roaring crowd and people chanting, “Lock Her Up.” This was congress, a prim and proper establishment where one’s demeanor is expected to differ from those unbridled “hooligans” at Trump rallies. But it has to be admitted, Trump adapted almost seamlessly to this new environment. He adopted a completely new persona – a “presidential vibe” that shocked people who expected him to be his old brash and unapologetic self. He didn’t try to play to the audience and get a reaction from them. He read from a teleprompter, when he usually improvises. In short, he acted like a president, not a rabble-rouser.
But perhaps the greatest example of Trump “knowing his audience” was his attitude towards women. He knows that one of the biggest criticisms of his campaign was his sexual comments towards women that were recorded 8 years ago. He also knew that A huge percentage of Democrats were wearing white gowns to symbolize women’s suffrage – an obvious jab at Trump. Knowing this, he made sure to make women a big part of his speech, using the aforementioned Denisha Merriweather as an example of a successful woman, and announcing his plan along with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada to start initiatives and programs to enable women to succeed and get equal opportunities when they start their own businesses and become CEOs. Although it might be hard to change some women’s opinion of him, the recent Donald Trump speech was clearly a way for him to reach out to women.