Watching his performances in later years, it’s easy to forget that former US president Bill Clinton was almost booed off the stage early in his speaking career. At the Democratic Convention of 1988 the relatively unknown Clinton 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…” (see video below)
Bill Clinton learned an important lesson that day. He recognised his need to improve (particular given his political ambition) and he spent the next 10 years focusing with laser intensity on polishing his public speaking skills. Years later, he was reportedly paid €4.6 million for the 22 speeches he delivered in 2015!
Communication Lessons from Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton is regarded today by most people as one of the best speakers of any generation. In this special blog post I reflect on four 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.
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.
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 sure knows what he’s talking about when it comes to public speaking. As you prepare for your next speech consider the importance of anchoring your speech with a key message, making deep eye contact to establish a connection, engaging your audience through real conversation and making 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.
Here is Bill Clinton speaking 24 years after that earlier event, at the 2012 Democratic Convention: