I was in Buenos Aires last week and even though I was on holiday, there were many things that reminded me of my work. Porteños (as the residents of the city are called) are well known for their passion and I’ve written here before that passion is essential in public speaking.
Passion, however, should not be confused with volume. I saw Porteños being extremely expressive – with their eyes, their body and their hand gestures – even as they spoke barely above a whisper in a fancy restaurant.
Of course, in my line of work I would be remiss had I not visited the museum devoted to Eva Duarte Peron, perhaps Argentina’s greatest public speaker. The museum features a number of video and audio clips of her which, alone, are worth the admission price. Eva really knew how to tailor her speeches to her audience. She spoke very specifically to the working poor who were known as the Descamisados or “shirtless ones”. They in turn gave her the endearment “Evita” and came out by the tens of thousands to support her. In fact on one occasion two million people gathered along Avenida 9 de Julio to hear her speak!
Her museum has recordings that were made more than 60 years ago but as I listened to her, the emotion came through strong and clear. And, even though, my Spanish is less than basic, I was captivated by the commitment in her voice and the way she was forming a connection with each individual in her vast audience.
As I read the sub-titles and listened to the hope and spirit in that voice, the emotional connection was so strong that I couldn’t stop my eyes from welling up. Everything I am is because of you, she told the crowd, and they roared their passionate response.
I was deeply impressed by her ability to craft her messages so well. Of course, like any good politician, Evita backed up her messages with action. She spent millions of pesos helping poor children and set up a shelter for single mothers in one of the toniest neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires, thumbing her nose at the moneyed elite. The rich were clearly not in her target audience.
Evita’s messaging skills knew no bounds. When the Generals refused to allow her to become vice-president (women had only just been allowed the vote) she told a massive rally that she was turning down the job because of her failing health.
Her health was declining, she was dying of cancer. Even so, she continued to give stunning speeches, propped up by a plaster and wire support hidden under her coat because she was too weak to stand.
Think about that the next time a cold makes you consider cancelling your presentation.