There is a reason why so many of you were enthralled by former President Clinton the other night. It's the same reason why Barack Obama had a tough act to follow last night at his own convention. The art of speechwriting and speech-giving -- and it is an art, no doubt -- is also, in many ways, a science. A good speech flows sort of like a backward scientific method; it starts with a preconceived idea, and is supported by evidence reinforcing the idea. And politics aside, there may be no one better at doing this than William Jefferson Clinton.
The best speeches, political or otherwise, follow a set of five basic guidelines, says Greta Stahl, content developer (read: speechwriter) at Duarte, a communications firm that advises TED talkers, CEOs and companies from Cisco to Twitter. "Most great speeches really start with a message, and choose strategically which evidence to cite. It's sort of the opposite of how you form an opinion," she said.
Understand your audience and target your words appropriately.
This is actually pretty hard in a political convention, because you're playing to two separate audiences: The cheering one on the convention floor who will already vote for you, and the one at home, watching on TV, minds maybe or maybe not made up.
"If you think about Mitt Romney, people didn't really see him as very personable or relatable, so you could see a pattern in all the speeches at the convention that would go out of their way to address that," Stahl said. "I think why a lot of people think Bill Clinton succeeded was he addressed what people wanted to hear — am I better off than I was four years ago? He sort of started with that question. What do voters think, and what do I need to do to convince them?"
Nancy Duarte, CEO of the eponymous firm, has charted the mechanics of great speeches, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. In the video below, the ebb and flow of ideas — the negative "what is" and the positive "what could be" — are starkly obvious, if they're not already just by listening to it. There's a specific structure here, and it's that structure, Duarte and Stahl believe, that can make spoken words so effective. And yes, Clinton's speech from Wednesday night followed this structure. More on that in a moment.
Build the speech around a big idea.
Before you can think about structure, you have to have the message, which Duarte and her company call the Big Idea. Everything in the speech is built around that. "For Ann Romney, the message was, 'Here is this guy who I love and trust, and because of that you should love and trust him too,'" Stahl said. "For Bill Clinton, it was 'Barack Obama is the better choice for the middle class.'"
Balance emotion and fact.
Once you've nailed that down, step three is the balance between emotion and fact. This, Stahl points out, can get complicated. It's important to balance anecdotes and personal stories, which can make someone sound more interesting, with some data that puts their story in greater context — but you'd better be honest.
"[GOP vice presidential nominee] Paul Ryan talks about a plant that closed in his hometown, and balances that out with statistics about jobs lost in America. So that works, because it gives you a sense of scale, and it's personal. Now there's been some controversy in the press over whether that story was actually true," Stahl said. "But as a tactic, I think it works."
Make it your own.
This is where Clinton really soars, Stahl said. The Washington Post notes that the transcript of his prepared speech rang in at 3,136 words, but the former president spoke for 48 minutes and 5,895 words. So that means he made up almost half of it on the fly.
"You have to be a really awesome, comfortable public speaker to do that, and add remarks. It can go really awry if you do it without thinking about it," Stahl said, noting Clint Eastwood's mind-boggling RNC speech. "Clinton also has this amazing ability to feed on a crowd — he really benefits from being in a room with 20,000 people. He feeds on that energy and it feels like he's really talking to them. He's pretty unique."
Back to that structure. The this-or-that contrast that finds its model in King's speech can be found in plenty of political oratory, including Clinton's talk the other night. It can be very effective as a comparative technique, as Clinton used it over and over. While Obama's speech last night was notably lacking in the King-like oration that made him so famous, he, too, painted a broad characterization of choice. You can choose, he said, to reduce the deficit without raising taxes on the middle class; to export more products; to improve early childhood education; and so on.
Stahl said speeches that work share this basic form, and she, Duarte and others have found it throughout some of the best-known public talks throughout modern history. The key is to end on the high note, which they call the "new bliss" -- show the contrast, and end on "what could be." Stahl said there is some research to back up the fact that this really works, including psychological studies of storytelling, but she added that sometimes you just know.
"There is some analytical element to it, but there is an element that is emotional, too. It's something you can see in the audience. When you're getting a reaction, you can evaluate the speech in terms of, 'What is happening in that moment, and what made that work?'"
This contrast between the despair of now and the hope of tomorrow, the heart of what makes a speech so effective, has also become the centerpiece of the election. You can vote for them, and get this; or you can vote for us, and get something different. Both parties say it, and it's true — the candidates have dramatically different ideas, and the parties have different ideas, for how to run this country. Acknowledging those differences is more than just a tactic for a political speech.
The following article is titled "A Monkey Moves a Robot Hand with its Mind" <attach snide internet political joke here>.
Clinton gives a good speach due to nostolgia (and our ability to forget the bad and remember the good that goes with it).
There is also the fact that he is a political non-entity. He is not, nor can, run for the Office again, removing the percieved sense of political ambition (the 7 figure paycheck he gets for speaking engagements being a more reasonable and safe amibition we don't mind).
He is personable, has good speech writers, and plenty of practice. I'm not sure where this becomes "science" instead of "rhetoric," however. Measurement and pattern alone do not make something science - science does not have an Apple grade patten on analysis.
The answer is obvious.
Bill Clinton is an Alpha.
(For those of you who watch the show, +1)
You dismiss the article above, but it describes techniques while you only deal with underlying causes (speech writers, practice).
Do science and rhetoric have to be mutually exclusive? Rhetoric is, after all, just applied psychology.
Did you read the article? Giving a speech is an art, true. Appealing to people is a science. Do you think ad agencies just continually get lucky that their commercials work? The mind is a machine that can be manipulated if the right amount of pressure is applied. If all he did was talk about good things, your brain wouldn't accept it (like how Republicans felt about Obama's first campaign). If it is all doom and gloom, your brain won't accept it (why Karl Rove probably won't ever be able to run for president). There is a method to triggering the right amount of each to get people on your side. It may seem simple because it may come somewhat naturally in everyday life. However, when writing a speech, it is important to be conscious of the amount of each that you sprinkle in.
Beat me too it. And much more succinctly, I must add.
"Do science and rhetoric have to be mutually exclusive? Rhetoric is, after all, just applied psychology."
and psycology is hardly science.
The Golden Ratio has been known, written, and talked about for hundreds of years. That is like saying I am doing science when I measure the dimensions of my desk and say it is a rectangle.
You could take the exact same principle and apply it to the ratio of scary moments in a slasher flick (ratio of adreniline to non-adreniline inducing moments), the octave and sestet of a sonnet, the verses and chorus of a song, the position of a nose on a beautiful face, etc etc etc.
If it was hard science, then every commercial would be effective and every speech a room-roarer. Many have the ratios outlined here and still flop, due to those "underlying causes."
Science demands consistant results from experimentation. Ratio is only a small feature of effective rhetoric.
Given the ratio of Stahl's questioning of Mr. Paul (praising his ratio, and then questioning the validity of the information - fine for Mr. Stahl, but an unnecessary includsion if the "science" is the point) and effluvial praise of Mr. Clinton (he is "unique" "amazing" "this guy I love and trust (good thing you are not married to him)").
This was a political article from the start, science was a thin veil, and while I will admit that my political views might make me more sensitive to it, I am sure that there are many here that might lean to the left who are wondering why this made a science page.
That, or do I get to call myself a scientist because I teach rhetoric and speechgiving in my communications class? Can't wait to throw that down the hall the next time I hear "liberal arts" used dispairingly.
PopSci has a tendency to veil politically slanted articles with a dusting pf science... They generally lean left of course (and they apparently believe all their readers do as well judging by the lead in to this article). Quite honestly, I'd prefer to see none of it; left or right.
Honestly, I didnt watch the video, but the snippets in the article make this look to be more an opinion piece by a speechwriter...
Well if that is science, I'd sure like to submit to PopSci my dissertation on why Cheese makes food delicious. My expert opinion as a Mech. Eng. is that the following steps are crucial:
Understand your Dish [Tailor your cheese!]: Savory dishes need different cheeses than sweet dishes. That is why tiramisu tastes so good; they used mascarpone. It tastes bad if you use feta.
Build your cheese into a good dish: Cheese isnt THAT magical... a bad dish cant always be brought back from the grave with cheese. Its best to start off with a solid dish and enhance it with cheese.
Balance [cheese in the dish]: The ratio of cheese to the meal is important, and should be considered! Some meals are more sensitive. Nachos can never have too much cheese. Same with macaroni and cheese. Meatballs need to be handled with more precision, as does salad.
Make your own: Dont do that. Just buy it from someone who knows what they are doing.
Exploit contrast[ing flavors]: Consider using a salty cheese paired with a sweet dish. The salt will enhance the flavor of the dish. Try a bit of sharp cheddar preceding a bite of pancakes and maple syrup (DELICIOUS).
Good lairs always seem to be good at speaking.
Bill Clinto is a fantastic lair so naturally he is a fantastic public speaker.
Popsci ought to stick to science instead of this.
You've opened a whole can of worms. I will not debate whether psychology is a science or not, as that debate has been raging for decades and won't be solved in a PopSci forum post. Psychology is vast, with some very traditionally scientific subfields (cognitive psychology, for example) and others that are decidedly less so (personality psychology, for example). That ambiguity alone earns psychology a place in PopSci's pages. I stand by my original comment.
While your critique of the political slant of this article is quite valid, the question of why it's on this site in the first place seems misplaced. This is Popular Science, after all. Popular. For decades, this magazine has tried to expose the link between our daily lives and science. Sometimes that link is strong, and sometimes it's weak, but a trip down to the PopSci archives will show you that PopSci's history is full of articles related to politics and I don't see why they should stop now.
Clever. Don't you ever watch a TED talk, though? I mean, most of those speeches are extreme popularisations of scientific topics. Their sole purpose is to be accessible to (and incite reflection amongst) the general public. TED speakers might be respected researchers in their fields, but often the content of their speeches wouldn't be out of place in the pages of a major daily newspaper. I don't see this article as being any different.
Bill Clinton is a bad example to examine.
Bill Clinton is cool. Everyone pays attention to cool.
Is there a scientific definition of coolness?
Bill has a grandpa face and speaks to the public like a grandpa. He laughs at himself and situations around himself. If something indicates badly toward him, he goes into denial mode, ignores the situation, gives a confusing response or just laughs it off. I always found Bill to be a hypocrite speaker.
Our current leaders and or want a be leaders speak vaguely, negatively about their opponents as a platform and none of them speak with a clear plan for the future.
simple fact, he is one of the greatest speakers alive today. politically he's no worse than bush and no worse than obama. actually id rather have him in office than the other 2 just to see what crazy stunt he'd pull next. politics is a farce, atleast he was fun.
Obama is no Bill Clinton. Obama isn't a Hillary Clinton. Obama isn't even a Jimmy Carter. Obama is a mixture of the worst parts of all. The blind socialism of FDR, the racism of Wilson and Johnson combined, the weakness of Carter the dishonesty of Bill Clinton, the blind idealogy of a religious zealot without the religion.
I liked Bill Clinton, but I didn't know so much of the bad going on, nothing to do with lewinsky things like the "fairness doctrine" I never knew about until much later.
The basic problem isn't even the politicans, they will take advantage it's their nature, it's the media. They are so dishonest and biased they are fellow conspirators rather than honest appraisers. And the funny thing is most of them wouldn't be so biased if they hadn't been lied to by the media themselves and grew into a mirror of what they were taught like a child abuse victim growing up to commit the same. Media bias is learned behavior, it doesn't have to be this way. It can be unlearned. To the betterment of all of us regardless of political affiliation. An honest media honestly reporting regardless of party, a man can dream.
He's a con artist. People have been told for years he's a great speaker and they believe it. He's not. He's just the slimy carny barker hawking some worthless item. In his case, himself.
i said he was a great speaker, he is. ive spoken with him and george w bush as well. clinton is a much better speaker hands down. i said he was fun, not a great leader. a choice between those 2 or obama and id pick clinton but if i had my way we'd have gary johnson for the next president with ron paul as VP.
“Great speaker”’, like in great convincing liar, with distracting un-answers to questions from Congress with his bizarre distracting nonsense rhetoric, yea, sure, I see your point, NOT!
Once upon a time he had the potential to go down in history as a good president, but by his own actions, he became a disgrace to himself and our country he promise to serve.
name a president in the last 20 years that hasnt done the same. which one hasnt lied to the american people constantly? which one hasnt blown the debt to insane levels?
i didnt say he was a good president, i said a good speaker. the fact that he was able to do all the mentioned things and still have a high approval rating just proves the point.
Perhaps in the box you live, he is popular, sure why not.
I just have memories of being in the NAVY and all the service being force to go through sexual harassment training daily for 6 months, because of an incident from tail hook of a few individuals Pres. Clinton implemented. And yet as commander and chief he does not hold such training on himself as he sexually took advantage of subordinates working for him; as well as lying about it to congress. Very factually, he has a large group of citizens that his NOT on the approval rating.
He is a hypocrite and in his retirement, he lives in denial hoping to change history, perhaps in his own imagination to say the least.
And for the last 20 years and I say longer, both parties let the US people down by abusing, using the social security fund for 'other purposes', with the current administration in denial and blaming it on the baby generation. The fact is in the original social security system and reserve fund; there was enough money, until it got siphoned off by greedy politicians. Yup, I agree with you, I am not happy with the bunch of them, robbing the pockets of old folk. SHAME ON THEM! ASS HOLES!
Now the social security system IS bankrupt and medicare will be too; the FICA fund has been exhausted for the banks, so if a bank failure happens, the US people are 100% screwed! This presidential race has NO solutions from any party and the only thing they offer to the public is SLANDER of their opponents. I suggest to you and others, put money in your mattress for the HARD RAINY DAY\HURRICANE that is coming for the USA economy.
You are entitled to your opinion. I hope the box you live in is nice. Take care. ;)
@Mycellium--not quite sure what you're getting at. The Fairness Doctrine was the FCC's rule that you had to report honest and fair news in media. It was an old buddy of Reagan's who got rid of it. The Democratic Congress tried to pass a law preventing it from being repealed, but Reagan vetoed it. Just about every five years Democrats try to pass a new fairness doctrine, but the Republicans shoot it down every time. You're absolutely right that we need honesty and fairness in media, but it had nothing to do with Clinton, or Dems in general for that matter. We want the Fairness Doctrine back!!! Maybe you've been watching too much of the biggest problem, Fox News. Fox would have you believe that EVERY media outlet but them are "biased", but look how many times they've been cited for lying compared to all other news outlets combined!
Now worries for the future for me. I have been practing for the hunger games!!!!
As a speechwriter, I've always thought of speeches as an art form. I'm intrigued by the notion that they are also a science. I appreciate the even-handed approach you took in analyzing the various convention speeches. The focus on public speaking and the quality - or lack thereof - of the speeches is about the only reason I enjoy election season.
My question is "Where was George W Bush at the Republican Convention?" Gee I think they realized his presidency and his 8 years in office were a abject failure and they didn't want him any where in sight.
Oakspar, you said, "effluvial praise of Mr. Clinton (he is "unique" "amazing" "this guy I love and trust (good thing you are not married to him)")."
I'm sorry, but I believe that Stahl was talking about Mitt Romney when he said “For Ann Romney, the message was, ‘Here is this guy who I love and trust, and because of that you should love and trust him too,’” or at least (for Gov Romney's sake!) I <i>hope</i> she was talking abut her husband....
PopSci - Interesting Article. Thank you.
It's interesting to score the speeches of Ryan, Eastwood and Clinton on those five points. I wish I could read more out of the description of Eastwood's speech as 'mind-boggling'. I thought it worked well for what he was trying to do, despite obvious poor speech mechanics - no central point, repetitive, no
Apoca-Risk: Finally an appropriate Nazi reference, not just name-calling. Hitler WAS a great (read: effective not praiseworthy) speaker. Interestingly, he didn't balance emotion and facts at all. He was almost all emotion. He clearly believed what he was saying and spoke it forcefully. And he chose to speak about the aspects that were mostly agreed upon by his audience (WWI reparation costs, national patriotism etc) not the Final Solution..
I was like you, I knew only the name fairness and thought that sounds good. But as so much it's renamed to be the opposite of what it is. It was designed to shut down opposing speech, not just biased but biased in only one direction.
It's like this, if it still was in existance today it would be used to shut down your mentioned fox news but would not be used against the at least equally biased perhaps even more huffington post or msnbc for example.
Fairness isn't unfair. Only in these politically correct times can it be defined this way.
I'm guessing either you are too young to remember, or you've forgotten your U.S. history. In 1985 it came out that Reagan was selling weapons to Libyan terrorists, and the news outlets jumped on it. Of course the truth always ultimately hurts the Republicans, so they started screaming that all news was "liberal bias". So less than a year later, the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine. Not by coincidence, Fox News was born that same year, and started out with their lies about all the other "liberal" news outlets. Of course EVERY other news outlet had an opposing view to Reagan, because it was ACTUAL news! I believe you might want to research a bit before you make right-wing claims you've only heard from right-wingers.
Yes, MSNBC is left-biased, but to see the difference in the two channels, watch them side-by-side. Fox News consistently bashes Obama and the Dems with lies, cut quotes, and digital manipulation. This is all public information, you have but to do your own research. MSNBC on the other hand, spends their time laughing about how ridiculous the GOP is, and most of that time is spent refuting lies spread by the GOP (birther issue, gutting welfare, taking work out of welfare, Obama hates America, etc.) and yes, MSNBC would also be curtailed by a new Fairness Doctrine. The issue here is not free speech. There are several instances where free speech is limited, such as threatening the president or inciting a riot, and the Fairness Doctrine simply stated that if you're going to portray yourself as a "news" source, then you had to tell the truth. The internet would be much more difficult to limit with a Fairness Doctrine, but the example you gave with the Huffington goes against your reasoning. Huffington Post CLEARLY states they are "News and OPINION", and when they report a piece that is opinion, they state that it is opinion. That is a far cry different than when Fox News claims they are "fair and balanced", when in fact it is reported (by "liberal" media) that up to 85% of their "news" is actually opinion.
Lol, I swear, do you guys do ANY research before you spout this nonsense?
Oops, with all that's going on I had "Libya" on the brain. Ollie North and Reagan were selling weapons to the Iran contra, not Libya. What's going on now though is a great example of how freedom of speech is horribly abused. Mitt the twit keeps defending the anti-Muslim film and freedom of speech, while not condemning the content. Did the moron who made the film have a right to make it? Yes. Was it smart and moral? Hell no! With the right of freedom of speech, you have a legal and moral obligation to use it responsibly. With no legal precedent, the video falls under the "moral" category. Thanks to that freedom of speech, the lives of all Americans abroad are at risk. I imagine we will eventually have to create laws limiting freedom of speech as it pertains to endangering others, just as we will again have a fairness doctrine someday. Fox News will go out of business, and MSNBC will be curtailed, and they too will eventually go out of business. When all of the news sources are once again required to be truthful and unbiased, then the neo-con Republicans will never win a single thing again, and MSNBC will have no one to make fun of. I tell you what though, if you can cite for me a single lie MSNBC has told, I will cite ten for you that Fox has told.
"Arkancide is the unfortunate habit of potential witnesses to the Clintons' dirty dealings in Arkansas suddenly deciding to shoot themselves twice in the back of the head. Police and Coroners in Arkansas, notably Fahmy Malak who answered to Governor Bill Clinton, automatically described these shootings as "suicides."
I haphazardly found this website last week and was shocked.