Democratic National Convention, Day Two: Bill Clinton

Democratic National Convention, Day Two: Bill Clinton

If you want to learn to speak effectively, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are powerhouse role models.  Here’s what you can learn from President Clinton:

Pathos: Tell a Vivid Story

Clinton is a master storyteller.  The primary purpose of his speech was to make Hillary Clinton appealing, to get America to fall in love with her as he himself did so many years ago.  So he told story after story about his wife, each vignette painting a picture you could imagine, to drive home the point that Hillary gets things done:

“Hillary opened my eyes to a whole new world of public service by private citizens. In the summer of 1972, she went to Dothan, Alabama, to visit one of those segregated academies that then enrolled over half-a-million white kids in the South. The only way the economics worked is if they claimed federal tax exemptions to which they were not legally entitled. She got sent to prove they weren’t.

So she sauntered into one of these academies all by herself, pretending to be a housewife that had just moved to town and needed to find a school for her son. And they exchanged pleasantries and finally she said, look, let’s just get to the bottom line here, if I enroll my son in this school will he be in a segregated school, yes or know? And the guy said absolutely. She had him!


I’ve seen it a thousand times since.”

Stories capture your attention by making you laugh or cheer—a pathos-driven move.

Logos: Use Evidence to Make an Argument

After offering numerous stories testifying to Hillary’s effectiveness as a leader, Clinton switched to logos to drive home his ultimate point:  Hillary works hard to make the world better.  She has “done more positive change-making before she was 30 than many public officials do in a lifetime in office.”

“[S]he is still the best darn change-maker I have ever known.  You could drop her into any trouble spot, pick one, come back in a month and somehow, some way she will have made it better. That is just who she is.”

Pathos, Logos:  Make the Audience Part of the Story; Empower Listeners to Take Action

Clinton then incorporated the audience as the ultimate hero of the story.  They were able to see through “the things that you heard at the Republican convention” to choose Hillary as their candidate:

“So your only option is to create a cartoon, a cartoon alternative, then run against the cartoon. Cartoons are two- dimensional, they’re easy to absorb. Life in the real world is complicated and real change is hard. And a lot of people even think it’s boring.

Good for you, because earlier today you nominated the real one.”

Ethos: Your Past Actions Can Affect Credibility

It’s a terrific structure and Clinton’s pleasure in speaking to the audience was obvious.  For some listeners, though, Clinton’s speech was marred by what the audience knows about their rocky marriage.  He glossed over his affair with Monica Lewinsky and subsequent impeachment by fast forwarding over that period, and obvious gap to anyone wondering how he would square his behavior with the narrative of the Clinton love story.  It was a reasonable decision to leave this out; talking about those events would have felt inappropriate and would have focused the spotlight on Bill rather than on Hillary.  But the issue illustrated an important point for those who will speak to audiences more than once—what the audience has learned about you in the past may affect how it hears you.

To see what you can learn from President Obama, read our post about his speech here.

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