by Steve Adubato, PhD

Acting Governor Dick Codey’s State of the State speech proved that a powerful and engaging presentation is the product of hard work, honest feedback from colleagues and a messenger who believes in his message. Dick Codey has never been known to be a great public speaker. In television interviews he comes across as down-to-earth, but not dynamic or charismatic. Simply put, Dick Codey is not a “natural” when it comes to public communication.

Yet, Codey’s State of the State was seen by many observers as one of the more effectively delivered by a New Jersey governor in years. How exactly did Codey do it and what can the rest of us learn from it? Consider the following:

  • Dick Codey was actively involved in developing the speech’s main messages. According to the Governor’s Counsel Eric Shuffler, who played a key role in coaching the governor, Codey changed many words and phrases that didn’t feel right for him. Unlike so many high level public and private sector leaders, Codey didn’t just accept the speech handed to him by speech writers.
  • Dick Codey knew this speech cold by the time he had to deliver it. He practiced for many days in front of his communications team who say they were candid about the strengths and weaknesses in Codey’s delivery. Apparently Codey was receptive to this feedback and was willing to keep practicing until he felt comfortable. Too many executives have a communications team that tells the boss what he wants to hear.
  • Codey had never worked off a TelePrompTer, which is no easy task. Without a lot of practice, speakers using this technology often look like they are reading with their eyes moving back and forth. This is very distracting. However, Dick Codey put enough time in using the TelePrompTer so that many watching had no idea he was reading. Further, the governor practiced in the Assembly Chamber where he actually had to give the speech. Smart move.
  • Codey never lost his cool when the TelePrompTer broke down. He was so familiar with the speech that when the equipment malfunctioned, taking away the first few lines of every sentence or so, Codey spoke from memory. Then, while the audience applauded, he calmly turned to one of his aides and asked him to get it right. The point is, it’s not what goes wrong during a speech that matters, but what you do in that moment. That’s what confidence will do for you.
  • Codey’s use of pausing, which was again practiced during these prep sessions, was impressive. No “uhms” or “ahs.” He communicated in a slow, deliberate, conversational style. The pausing allowed him to breathe when necessary, which gets rid of nervous energy. The pausing also allowed Codey to emphasize certain words or phrases and let his message sink in.
  • Codey’s body language was natural and animated. He used his hands and his facial gestures to communicate what he was feeling as he spoke. That comes from believing in your message and feeling truly comfortable about where you are.
  • The governor’s humor was genuine with no joke-telling. He made it clear that he was “not elected—not yet,” a reference to his potential gubernatorial ambitions. The point is, Codey was having fun with a topic he knew his audience was well aware of.
  • Codey’s passion and emotion when he spoke about his wife’s struggle with depression was genuine and powerful. Great communicators allow you to see a side of themselves that is often very personal but is not communicated in a gratuitous fashion.
  • Finally, the governor spoke from his heart. This is the safest place to come from, whether you are the governor, CEO or a professional in any arena.