Legal Business Development: Speaking Lessons from Bill Clinton

by Paula Black

No matter what your politics are... there is little argument when it comes to recognizing that as a public speaker Bill Clinton is as good as it gets. He has the ability to make you feel like you are the only person in the room.... even if you are surrounded by 10s of thousands. It wasn't always that way. When he introduced Michael Dukasis in 1988 he was booed off the stage. What are the skills he has honed over the years that we can learn from? Fast Company ran an article by speaker and the best-selling author Sam Harrison... 3 Techniques Bill Clinton Uses to Wow An Audience. Every presenter of information could learn a thing or two.

"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…'

Harrison points out that he's not telling us to try to be Clinton, but rather to take the techniques and see how you can mold them into what would be appropriate for YOUR style. As we all know... there is only one person you can be and that is YOURSELF!


Written by:

Paula Black

Paula Black & Associates on:

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