President Bill Clinton took primetime stage at the Democratic National Convention last night and once again mesmerized, tantalized, and energized his audience.
Watching his performance, it’s easy to forget this is the same guy who was almost booed off the stage at another Democratic Convention 24 years ago while introducing candidate Michael Dukasis.
The relatively unknown Clinton of those days was scheduled to speak for 15 minutes, but droned on for over a half-hour. His biggest applause line came at 32 minutes, when he said, “and in conclusion…”
But always the Comeback Kid, Clinton saw his failure and focused with laser intensity on polishing his speaking abilities. And most folks today, regardless of political leanings, recognize him as one of the best speakers of any generation.
The basic speaking techniques Clinton embraces, front and center last night in Charlotte, when he impressively ad libbed about 15% of his speech, to great effect, can be used by you to boost your presentation skills.
Here are three of his most powerful tools:
1. He knows when to stop and go.
Clinton uses hard-stop pacing to add emphasis to lines like: “We’re going to keep President Obama on. the. job.” and “President Obama started with a much. worse. economy.” In those moments, he squeezes every word for maximum impact.
And Clinton has no fear of dead air, using frequent pauses to garner attention and gain drama: "Listen to me now. [pause] No president, [pause] not me, [pause] not any of my predecessors, [pause] no one could have fully repaired all the damage…"
2. His gestures sync with his words.
Clinton’s best visual aids are his hands. His arm movements are open and wide, relaying an image of accessibility and authenticity.
To guide the audience’s emotion and attention, he often extends his hands with palms facing up or out: “Let me ask you something [palms up]…” or “Folks, this is serious [palms out]…”
He’ll also overlap hands in front of chest to reinforce intimate statements such as, “This is personal to me…”
As in earlier years, his index fingers serve as tireless pointers, but he uses less of the short, jabbing motion familiar in the past. He now lets his index finger flow through the air, with an element of inclusion, as he says things like: “And I hope you and every American remembers…” Or he’ll bring one index finger downward as a long, slow declarative action when saying “…and far more important, it passes the value test.”
3. It's how he says it, as much as what he says.
If you subscribe to Mehrabian’s formula of communications as 7% verbal, 38% vocal and 55% visual, then you’ll appreciate how Clinton uses facial expressions to put his words on display.
He offers a small, knowing smile when saying, “and that brings me to health care…”
He raises his chin in defiance when saying, “let’s take a look at what’s actually happened so far…”
Clinton bites his bottom lip with frustration after stating, “and they refused to compromise…”
And he squints his eyes with determination when delivering lines like, “democracy does not have to be a blood sport…”
Use Clinton’s techniques to up your speaking game.
Am I suggesting you try duplicating Bill Clinton’s delivery? Absolutely not. A speaker must be true to herself or himself. But the advice I offer to my presentation-skills workshop participants is this: When giving a presentation, be yourself—but be the best version of yourself. Your audiences expect and deserve your very best when you’re before them.
As you prepare for your next presentation, review Clinton’s Wednesday-night speech. Then practice using pauses, pacing, gestures and facial expressions to help your talk rise to a higher level of likability and effectiveness.
What tricks do you use to help make your speeches memorable? Tell us about it in the comments below.
—Author Sam Harrison is a speaker and workshop leader on creativity-related topics and presentation skills. He is the author of IdeaSelling: Successfully Pitch Your Creative Ideas to Bosses, Clients and Other Decision Makers; IdeaSpotting: How To Find Your Next Great Idea; and Zing: Five Steps and 101 Tips for Creativity on Command. He can be found at zingzone.com.
[Image: Flickr user NewsHour]