It’s a rare moment when Obama is upstaged in front of the podium, but that’s exactly what happened at the Democratic Convention earlier this month.
Michelle Obama’s speech on the opening night of the convention sent social media into a spin, but it was that ‘country boy from Arkansas’ who provided a master class in public speaking. Forget the democratic pressure points, politics alone cannot explain the success of Clinton’s speech.
Closer to home, the speech led many to reflect on the role of public speaking in politics and everyday life. Public speaking is an unavoidable task as we progress in our careers. A single speech can make or break a career, establish a positive reputation or leave it in tatters. Every speech is an opportunity to raise a public profile, to connect with a target audience, and to define what it is that you stand for.
So next time you face an audience, here’s a few tips to say it like Bill.
Treat your audience with respect.
Take them for granted at your peril. Clinton refused to dumb-down his audience: a stark contrast to the majority of speeches in Tampa or Charlotte that relied on political ploys and the feigned empathy of recalling childhood struggles. Clinton involved the crowd of 30,000 at every turn of the speech, asking them for approval or judgments of character. He spoke with his audience, not at them.
Make the record your friend. Political speeches in the U.S are so often guilty of what Stephen Colbert has termed ‘truthiness’. That is, the presentation of opinion or instinct as fact. In the main, fact-checkers and journalists across the U.S ruled that Clinton’s facts checked out. The strategic use of statistics in the speech built a relationship of trust with his audience, strengthening the credibility of his argument. When you’re crafting a speech look for what Don Watson calls the killer fact: the foundation and premis of your argument.
Watch your body language.
Body language is essential. A mere shrug or a slouch can undermine the message of your speech. We all know basics; don’t fidget, stand tall, and don’t cover your face. But watch how Clinton gestures to support his argument, from holding his hands over his chest, to pointing, or brandishing the a-ok zero sign.
Be structured, but flexible.
Treat your transcript as a guide, not a verbatim plan. A flurry of commentary has focused on how often Clinton veered from his script but in reality, these detours only reinforced the structure of the speech. By gauging the mood of the audience, Clinton assessed the opportune moment to deliver those all important media grabs. By veering from the script, key points were emphasised with humour, anecdotes and breakaway lines.
Speak with authenticity.
There’s nothing more obvious than a politician using second hand language or repeating party lines. It’s important to make a speech your own by using your own phrases and your own distinct style. Clinton did exactly this. With the support of factual arguments, he gave the impression that he truly believed what he was saying.
Watch the man at work below.