In my work as a presentation consultant, I always tell my clients is that they must consider the wants and needs of their audience. No matter what the goal of the presentation—whether it’s to sell, persuade, inspire or teach—it’s important that we tailor our speeches for each audience so that they understand and are motivated by what we’re saying. Ideally, we speak to the audience’s shared experiences and concerns. President Donald Trump’s speech on July 24 to the 25,000 youth and 15,000 adults at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree departed sharply from this principle.
Since the first National Jamboree in 1937, the Boy Scouts of America has invited the standing President to make a speech. These speeches have traditionally been motivational and relevant to the Scouting experience. President Trump’s speech differed from those of his predecessors in that it included a lot of divisive political talk and off-topic tangents. Regardless of whether or not you support President Trump or what your political affiliation might be, I think we can all agree that there’s a time and a place for a political rally-type speech. The Boy Scouts, Venture Scouts and Explorer Scouts who made up the bulk of the audience are for the most part too young to vote and therefore don’t gain much from a political speech.
Many motivational speeches share the same messages: “Follow your dreams,” “Believe in yourself,” “Make the world a better place,” “Do your part,” “Lead by example.” Inspirational advice like this is applicable to just about any topic, and a good motivational speaker tailors these tropes to make his or her message resonate with each particular audience. In reading the transcript of President Trump’s speech, it seems that he had a script that touched upon these topics and was written in a way that Scouts in the audience as young as 11 years old could understand. But by going off-script, President Trump missed an opportunity to send a clear, positive message to the Scouts. Instead, he addressed the audience of mostly underage, nonvoting minors as if they were adults.
As a Scout Leader and the parent of a Boy Scout who attended the speech at the Jamboree, I’m very disappointed that the President could not see that he had a golden opportunity to present a clear message of inspiration, civic duty, and patriotism to the youth. The speech would have been more beneficial to the audience if President Trump had just stuck to the script and delivered an undiluted, optimistic message in support of Scouting. Instead, his words had a polarizing effect both on the audience and the world at large. By turning the focus away from the Scouting experience, he became a lightning rod for criticism.
President Trump’s speech was indeed motivational. Unfortunately, instead of inspiring Scouts and adult leaders to work together to uphold and perpetuate the values of the Scout Oath and Law the speech motivated people to take sides either for or against the President.
On July 27, Michael Surbaugh, Chief Scout Executive for the Boy Scouts of America, responded to the reaction to the President’s speech in a post, “Our Perspective on the Presidential Visit.”