Former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s speech yesterday to the Democratic convention, in support of wife Hillary’s bid to take the top job, was the verbal equivalent of flicking through his family photo albums, with its numerous personal stories and anecdotes.
For a man who garnered many a headline for his personal life during his tenure of the White House, this was a risky strategy, but there are still some very positive lessons here for anyone making either a major presentation or giving a media interview.
Most big speeches or interviews have one aim: to persuade. In Bill’s case, put simply, it was to convince voters his wife is the best person to be the next President.
To do that he needed to prove to them she has the skills and qualities the electorate are looking for. Through vignettes of how he wooed and won over law student Hillary Rodham decades ago, the subtext was clear: whatever negative stuff you might have heard and might think about her, trust my depiction, as the person who knows her best; she is the real deal.
Indeed, the personal detail was there from the first line:
“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl. The first time I saw her, we were, appropriately enough, in a class on political and civil rights. She had a big blond hair, big glasses, wore no makeup, and she exuded this sense of strength and self possession that I found magnetic.”
It was powerful, personal stuff.
So for anyone wanting to convey a broad message in a presentation or interview – trust me/buy from us/partner with our business/invest in us – the smart technique, as seen here, is counter-intuitive: drill down to the detail, the first-hand experience.
Conversely, when you want the focus to move away from something negative that is happening to you or your business at the “macro” level, it pays to zoom out and make it a broad message. For example, if your company has to make many staff redundant because of lost orders, then it might be better to say, “Our industry is undergoing major change at this time, largely because of the dramatic fall in the value of sterling…”
But back to Bill…still talking about sweetheart Hilary. We were listening to a love story, not a dull shopping list of what she might do if she secures the White House:
“I saw the girl again, standing at the opposite end of that long room. Finally, she was staring back at me. So, I watch her. She closed her book, put it down, and started walking toward me. She walked the whole length of the library, came up to me, and said, ‘Look. If you’re gonna keep staring at me, and now I’m staring back, we at least ought to know each others’ names. I’m Hillary Rodham. Who are you?’.”
The anecdotes just kept coming, not as mere entertainment, but to illustrate key aspects of why Hillary deserves the nation’s votes – civil rights, protecting children, social justice. Why? Because when there are weighty matters to convey, there is no better way to do it than through stories and real-life examples that say, “judge us by what we do, not just what we say”.
And although he was trying to persuade an entire nation – or at least the Trump fans and intransigent Bernie Sanders supporters – he used that trick of great orators, he talked to one person, to YOU:
“And so I say to you…If you were sitting where I’m sitting and you heard what I have heard at every dinner conversation, every lunch conversation, on every long walk…if you believe…I say to you, if you love this country, you’re working hard, you’re paying taxes, you’re obeying the law, and you’d like to become a citizen, you should choose immigration reform over somebody that wants to send you back…”
This was a road trip through home-spun Hill-Billy country, destination Oval Office.
We’ll have to wait to see it if worked, but there were many useful signposts on Bill’s map of motivational speaking for anyone wanting to go places.