Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Clinton Global Initiative

Not running for president or in training to be a world leader? That’s okay, but you probably still need to know how to create a speech and deliver it. 

Early in my career I was hired by a company to train its employees on making effective presentations. When that assignment was completed, I was enlisted to help the company’s CEO flush out ideas for a major speech he was giving to senior staff in the international offices and to coach him on his delivery skills. 

I worked to help him accomplish what I refer to as a “brain dump,” which is the first step in creating a speech. He didn’t want to use a speech writer, as he preferred writing it himself but needed help getting started isolating and expanding his ideas. He knew the presentation message had to be relevant to his audience and he had to deliver it with impact.

I guarantee you will sometime in your career face a similar challenge: to influence and inspire people. Given that strong possibility, I suggest you listen up because now are some of the best opportunities, until 2016, to see the Democrats and Republicans delivering speeches non-stop. 

The best speeches happen when the deliverer gets involved, so I was not surprised when I read that Bill Clinton was making changes to his nominating speech right up until a day before delivery time.

Clinton clearly knew what he wanted to accomplish, and the text changes needed to complete the task were developing on a daily basis. His unstated goal was to change the way the undecided in the audience thought about Barack Obama and to act on it – cast a vote for Barack Obama for president. 

I have nicknamed Bill Clinton’s speech to the Democratic National Convention the “Now Listen to Me”speech. He was teacher, parent and philosopher as he implored the audience in the hall and those watching at home to hang on while he made his points.

Why was the speech successful and so well received? Clinton became a storyteller harkening back to the Greek slave Aesop, who would tell a story and then suggest what should be done. Clinton cleverly accomplished the same kind of storytelling through the use of dialogue: us vs. them themes; repetition/stickiness through “Listen to me, now”; and folksy rhetoric like “I’m fixing to tell you why” or personal appeals such as “You all got to listen carefully to this; this is really important” and “Folks, this is really serious.”

Clinton time and again implored us to personally engage with him: to hang on while he made his points. As I listened, fully aware of the techniques he was using, I found myself getting engaged with him and eager to hear more. His rhetoric, facial expressions and overall impish body language and real schtick like “I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside” seduced me. 

Clinton’s message was compelling and his delivery was masterful. And yes, he went on too long, as he is famous for doing. But he got my attention; he just worked it a little too long.

Founded by Bill Clinton in 2005, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting serves many purposes:  this year it coincides with the UN General Assembly meetings so many world leaders, business leaders and politicians will be attending. A few of an impressive list of speakers and panelists expected are Secretary of State Hilary Clinton; Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank; Mitt Romney, Republican Presidential Candidate; President Barack Obama; CEO of  IDEOTim Brown; and Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke. 

The focus is definitely not political, so it will be interesting to read the speeches that will focus on major world issues like poverty, healthcare, philanthropy and female empowerment. The CGI theme this year is “Designing for Impact.”

Already Hillary Clinton has weighed in on this year’s theme by advancing an argument that the rich must pay more, and she has cleverly framed a worldview by expanding on an internal debate in the US: “There are rich people around the world, but they do not contribute to the growth of their own country.” Expect all the speeches and panels to contribute to or develop the “Making an Impact” theme at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Debates: Coaching, Rehearsing and Practice


As the presidential candidates prepare for their three October debates, I am returning to the subjects of coaching, rehearsing and practice. In the past few weeks the debate preparation has been front and center on Mitt Romney’s agenda, and the White House has reported that President Obama has been using his time on Air Force One for debate coaching in between campaign stops.


Although the vice presidential candidates debate only once, the preparation is equally intensive. Last week in Oregon, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan stepped off the campaign trail for rehearsing with attorney Ted Olson (who is impersonating Joe Biden). 

Olson, a skilled litigator and former solicitor general for President George W. Bush, has formidable presentation skills—making him the perfect person to represent Joe Biden who, although prone to gaffes, is a practiced debater and skilled politician, having been in politics for over 40 years.

Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen will be coaching Joe Biden on debating Paul Ryan. Van Hollen’s narrow qualifications are interesting; he sits next to Paul Ryan on the House Budget Committee and as a result has a unique understanding of how Ryan likes to frame his arguments.

Perhaps the coach who has received the most news coverage is a former front-runner for Romney’s vice presidential slot: Ohio Senator Rob Portman. His coaching and acting skills were first described back in 2000 when Rick Lazio hired Portman to prepare him to debate Hillary Clinton. Lazio calls Portman "the quintessential debate prep expert."

Portman was supremely good at the job, Lazio says, primarily because he took it so seriously: "He will spend countless hours listening and watching tapes of the person he is supposed to be playing. He is an incredibly dedicated preparer.”

And if Portman is successful in duplicating Obama’s speaking style and policy positions, Romney will feel he is actually debating Obama rather than in a dress rehearsal and thus will not be surprised or thrown off guard during the actual debates.

Knowing your opponent’s delivery style and anticipating his response is one part of the preparation three-legged stool. Equally important in becoming an effective debater is listening and interpreting in order to think and articulate quickly on your feet.

A good part of achieving that confidence is anticipating the questions, crafting short and concise answers, and lots of practice. Content delivery is all important! A quick, forceful, respectful response that may smack down an opponent is always music to the ears of an audience.

Without this type of debate training, answers tend to be overly long, uninspiring, and sometimes embarrassing!

Those who have worked with me know my mantra: You can’t make an effective presentation if you don’t know what you’re going to say. Constructing on the fly usually doesn’t work well, no matter how experienced a speaker may be. And, should the candidates run out of topics to rehearse, there is always the Huffington Post piece that came out Sept. 15 with a personalized checklist of areas the presidential and vice presidential candidates should work on!

Tune into at least one of the debates and watch with a critical eye. Topics will cover foreign and domestic policy; and given the current state of the Middle East and the US economy, the discussion should be lively!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Speech “Aha” Moment


I predicted some really good speeches, and last week’s Republican National Convention didn’t disappoint; in fact, it delivered in content and style something for everyone – and yes, inexplicably, for fans of Clint Eastwood! 

Almost every speech contained memorable lines, and a home run on the American dream was delivered by Marco Rubio:

“A few years ago during a speech I noticed a bartender behind a portable bar in the back of the ballroom. I remembered my father who had worked for many years as a banquet bartender. He was grateful for the work he had, but that’s not what he wanted for his children.

“You see, he stood behind the bar all those years so that one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room.” 

Marco Rubio’s recollection made me think of my father’s parents, who were immigrants from Sweden. They were young and ambitious. Leaving Sweden on separate ships, they met and married in Chicago, starting their married life working in the kitchen of the Swedish Club of Chicago.

From there they went on to own saloons that they ran together: bartending, cooking and serving. They reared three sons, built other businesses, and were fortunate to have achieved significant success within their lifetime.

My college educated father grew up helping his parents manage saloons and apartment buildings. The work was hard and left a lasting impression, as I discovered as a teenager in high school looking for part-time work. The one position he refused to allow me to do was waitressing. He never explained and I couldn’t ask, but now I understand. Memorable speeches achieve these poignant recalls or answer questions; and if the writing and delivery are very good, they produce an “aha” moment of clarity.

The speech by Condoleezza Rice spoke to me intellectually and emotionally. There is a serenity about her that comes through whether she’s walking beside a world leader, sitting quietly while being interviewed, or striding purposefully to a podium or a piano. The origin of her calmness is a mystery to me, but I suspect it’s rooted in her deep religious faith.

While writing about Rice, I returned to my viewing notes and found my hastily scribbled question: “Is she using a teleprompter?” Later fact checking revealed she was not, and I suspect the same answer will be given to whether or not she had the assistance of a speech writer. I’m betting her speech was all her own: purposeful and addressing forcefully what her audience needed, which that night was a broader worldview.

Rice’s delivery was riveting. She took her time to occasionally check her notes but would then return with a laser focus on her audience. The speech was tightly constructed to layout the present, what lies ahead, and why the Romney-Ryan team is the right one to lead the United States.  Her “aha” moment came when she paused and got personal:

“And on a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham—the most segregated big city in America. Her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant, but they made her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she can be President of the United States. And she becomes the Secretary of State”

In those minutes Rice connected personally with everyone in the convention hall and most likely with millions watching around the world.

An unexpected and excellent speaker was a newcomer to the stage: Mayor Mia Love of Saratoga Springs, Utah. Love wasn’t given much time, but she managed it well and delivered a short and impactful presentation.

If the Republican Party has been chasticized for not including people of color, Love was there to boldly refute that message. The daughter of Haitian Americans, she was born in New York and reared in Connecticut.

Love is strikingly attractive and a forceful speaker who clearly enjoys the media spotlight. She spoke of the American dream and presented her thoughts with a brevity and clarity of purpose that few of the seasoned speakers achieved:

“President Obama's version of America is a divided one — pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender, and social status. His policies have failed! We are not better off than we were 4 years ago, and no rhetoric, bumper sticker, or campaign ad can change that.

“Mr. President, I am here to tell you we are not buying what you are selling in 2012.”

I was truly surprised at the candor of her “aha” moment and the rhetorical might with which she delivered her message!