Today, January 20, 2016, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Hillary Is in Big Trouble.” The article boldly displayed the line, “Clinton increasingly seems stuck in the past, dogged by wilting poll numbers and heavy baggage.” Conservative author, Fred Barnes, clearly not a fan of Hillary, or the Democratic Party, predictably, offered a laundry list of Hillary’s challenges (Benghazi, her husband’s abuse of women, sending top secret e-mails via her unsecured server, lying, etc.,etc.) as being the reason she is struggling against Bernie Sanders, AKA, “the ‘socialist’ from Vermont.” I disagree with Mr. Barnes. I contend that, it is not so much her perceived flaws, as outlined in the article, that are threating her ability to rally her supporters, but more so (weighted less heavily in the article) her inability to rally audiences; that is, her failure as a public speaker. It is Hillary’s inability to move her audiences that is most compromising her success thus far in her bid for the Whitehouse!
From 1991-1995, I had the privilege of competing in college forensics (speech and debate) as a competitive speaker. From 1996-2015, I had the honor of coaching college forensics. Regardless of the event, be it public speaking, impromptu speaking, debate, or even performance of literature, there are really two universal standards judges desire, and the competitive students celebrate: first, make us say “Wow!” because what you are saying is cool and interesting; and second, teach us something! Tell us something we don’t already know! Speech and debate judges and coaches have heard everything! They spend their lives listening to speeches. So, when we observe a stellar performance, and learn something new, not only do we enjoy the experience, but we are most likely going to vote for said speaker. In my Communication 101 courses, I tell the students that, “If you want to impress me, make me say two things: ‘Wow!’ That was so cool.” And, “I did not know that!”
Something else that is celebrated in college forensics is brevity! Audiences love brevity! Less is more! If you can say something in ten minutes there is no reason to use twenty. When Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, he was a little known politician at the time. Before he spoke, a much more popular politician at the time (his name is not important) spoke for two hours and fifty minutes. After Mr. Popular finished his two hour and fifty minute presentation, Abraham Lincoln delivered his speech, The Gettysburg Address. Mr. Lincoln spoke for three minutes and twenty seconds, and the country and world would be changed forever. Word economy and time management are so important. Audiences desire brevity, which often promotes a crystal clear message as well. In speech competition prepared speeches last ten minutes. When I work with professionals in the real world, I tell them, “If you have any say in the length of your presentation, ten minutes is the perfect time. It’s long enough to be informative, and short enough to respect the audience’s desire for brevity.”
Now back to the Wall Street Journal article, according to the Journal regarding Hillary the speaker, “The members of her traveling press corps look like they’d rather be anywhere else. So do some of the attendees, who shift in their seats starting around ‘minute ten.’ Even the campaign staffers pace the back of the room or tap inattentively on their iPhones as Clinton drones on.” The emphasis on “minute ten” is added by me. Someone needs to tell Mrs. Clinton, “less is more.” Someone also needs to tell her, that she needs to “tell the audience something they have not heard before.” Also according to the article, “We saw the difference between the two (Hillary and Bernie) in Sunday night’s Democratic Debate. She talked about preserving President Obama’s health-care program and the Dodd-Frank crackdown on Wall Street – in other words, the past. Mr. Sanders spoke of the future.” The article continued, “For months Mr. Sanders has attracted bigger crowds than Mrs. Clinton and stirred more excitement.”
Politics aside, in the Hillary versus Bernie speech contest, Bernie, according to his audiences, appears to be winning. I would argue this is because, 1) He’s using his time wisely, 2) He’s making his audiences say “wow!” and 3) He’s telling the audience things they’ve not already heard!