Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Improvisation with Bill

Bill Clinton’s nomination speech  was brilliant political theatre. Like him or not, he’s  the ‘charisma king’ for a reason. This is a man who can work a crowd. What’s  fascinating is to discover how much of  his speech was improvised. The former President’s oration deviated substantially from the prepared notes that were delivered to journalists.

This article from The Atlantic compares what Bill Clinton wrote to what Bill Clinton said.  You can see  at a glance (thanks to their colour coding) that he made a lot of off-the-cuff , on-the-go adjustments.

Clinton’s alterations are not the usual limping, accidental detours from the prepared word. No, his departures  from script are  marked improvements.  His language is  impeccable: fluent and  conversational. His chatty insertions are commanding,   they make the speech more accessible, more natural, and more musical and rhythmically pleasant to listen to. His repetitions reinforce important  points,  and he adds ‘now’ to the start  of his  paragraphs,  adding emphasis and creating the sense of urgency that all political orators need.

Sometimes he just changes the order of things:  ‘were created and saved’ becomes ‘he saved or created’; in other cases he’s more strategic, saying “must re-elect” instead of “ought to re-elect”. Sometimes whole  paragraphs pop up unexpectedly, which must have driven the autocue operators nuts.

Consider  this (Clinton’s alterations  are in italics, strikethoughs for what he left out) :

Now, folks, In Tampa a few days ago, we heard a lot of talk all about how the president and the Democrats don’t really believe in free enterprise and individual initiative, how we want everyone to be dependent on the government, how bad we are for the economy.

Or this:

And so here’s what I want to say to you, and here’s what I want the people at home to think about. When times are tough, and people are frustrated and angry and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good politics but in the real world, cooperation works betterBut what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation.

Note that he doesn’t change the sentiment, just the expression of it. The big lesson from Clinton is that if you know what you’re going to say very well, you’ll be free to adjust on the fly, to  respond to the  audience,to  say something that will flow better  and improve the moment.

For instance, in one telling change, he sobers the audience up so their laughter doesn’t carry over into a moment of seriousness:

Now, folks, this is serious, But because it gets worse. And you won’t be laughing when I finish telling you this. 

It’s worth taking the time to look at the mark up while you listen to President Clinton deliver his speech.  You’ll see how, if you know your material thoroughly, you’re freer to talk directly, to react to  whatever happens on the spot, and by doing that to create a dynamic and immediate relationship with your audience. It transforms a  prepared speech into a communication that really zings.

Watch the speech here.

Dinner time discussion

Dinner is a great opportunity for families to talk about issues.  Good conversation nourishes the brain,  as good food nourishes the body!

  • Conversation cues
  • Do you think politicians who say things well do better than those who don’t? Is this fair?
  • In the US voting is not compulsory.  Speeches like Clinton’s are partly intended  to make people want to vote.  Do you think it’s better to have a system like ours where voting is compulsory?
  • Michelle Obama was a huge success when she gave her campaign speech. Do politician’s wives and husbands have any legitimate role in the electoral process?

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This entry was posted on 10/09/2012 by in Audience connection, Political speeches, Presenting a speech.

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