And Then There Was Bill

It is hard to imagine a speaker alive today who moves an audience as easily as Bill Clinton. When I saw him on TV tonight at the Democratic National Convention, I felt as though he had a “crowd control” button under the podium. At will he could hit that button and send the crowd afloat swooning toward the stage, reaching right across that platform and eating out of his large, smart hands. It was fascinating to watch.

Bill Clinton’s speech was exemplary. It was the kind of speech where every short sentence could be quoted because every single word was perfect. His message had “snap,” not only because he has snap but also because he used every technique in the book: concise sentences—never more than 13 words; crisp phrases using just 4 or 5 words. His pauses were powerful, strategic, and dramatic, sometimes occurring after every single word. More information was transferred in those frequent, extended pauses than paragraphs of wordy text could have ever conveyed.

Bill Clinton understands that those pauses were a gift to us—they gave us time to get involved in his message and to trust, to reflect, and to adore. When he smiled, he lifted his eyebrows to his hairline. When he nodded at us, we felt like we were in his living room. Those gestures—his big sweeping arms moving far away from his torso and then closer to his chest—were sharp, active, forceful, and always on message. And best of all was hearing his incredible vocal resonance. He used an easy melodious pitch range reaching all eight notes on the musical scale from high to low and back again.

All this looks so natural and easy for him, but Bill Clinton is a technique machine. Every breath, every pause, every raised eyebrow, every inflected word, every pitch change is well thought out and carefully rehearsed. And while he may well be “unconsciously competent” and have muscle memory as strong as an Olympic athlete, he did not come out of the womb with these skills. He has worked for decades to refine and polish his speech delivery. We have a model in our training program that teaches people to Create Performance Combustion. Bill Clinton did it tonight by using every skill in the book with perfection.