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How to Communicate Like Bill Clinton

Watching his performance at the Democratic Convention of 1988 it’s easy to forget that this Bill Clinton was almost booed off the stage early in his speaking career. 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…”

Clinton learned an important lesson on that day. He saw his failure and focused with laser intensity on polishing his speaking abilities. The former president was paid €4.6 million for the 22 speeches he delivered in 2015.

Communication Lessons from Bill Clinton

The former US president is regarded today by most people as one of the best speakers of any generation. This post outlines 4 lessons you can learn from Bill Clinton.

1) Anchor Your Speech With a Key Message

Bill Clinton always appears to have full knowledge of the core points he wants to make. Pretty much every speech he makes is grounded by a focus on a specific, key message. And typically this is then tied into just a few essential questions or choices he wants his audience to consider.

When setting out to prepare for a speech the first thing to ask yourself is what is it that I really want to say? What is the key message I want to get across here? This will give you an anchor and keep you focused during the speech.

Check out some of the guidelines in the speech preparation guide here.

Bill Clinton

2) Make Deep Eye Contact to Establish A Connection

When he is speaking Bill Clinton’s eyes lock onto someone in the audience and they don’t leave until the interaction is complete. It’s a simple, effective way to establish rapport.

In terms of communicating a message, after your voice, your eyes are the most powerful tool. Simply by looking at people, you can have an influence on their attentiveness and concentration. You have the opportunity to make your presentation direct, personal, and conversational. Learn more about effective eye contact here.

3) Engage Your Audience Through Real Conversation

One of the by products of Clinton’s style of delivering a key message is his consistently in terms of being able to truly engage an audience. Such is his confidence with the content, he can be more relaxed as he tells stories and converses with the crowd.

People who’ve met Bill Clinton often say he has a way of making you feel as though you’re the only one in the room. He gives you his full and undivided attention. And he seems genuinely interested and eager to hear your story.

Humans love to give their opinions on things. On those rare occasions when we are actually asked our thoughts on something — and we are listened to — it makes us feel important. Clinton knows this and so he always asks the audience for their views.

Bill Clinton

4) Make Your Gestures Sync With Your Words

Bill Clinton is a master at the craft of gesturing. His best visual aids are undoubtably 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]…”

A gesture’s timing is hugely important. The gesture must occur on the correct word – not before or after it. Clinton aways manages to sync his gestures to his words.

Check out some of the important rules to follow when gesturing here.

Bill Clinton

In Summary

Bill Clinton sure knows what he’s talking about when it comes to public speaking. As you prepare for your next speech or presentation keep these four important lessons in mind:

  1. Anchor your speech with a key message
  2. Make deep eye contact to establish a connection
  3. Engage your audience through real conversation
  4. Make your gestures sync with your words

If you take a leaf from Bill Clinton’s book, you too can give an engaging, memorable and meaningful speech.

To end here is Bill Clinton speaking 24 years after that earlier incident, at the 2012 Democratic Convention.