The blog of Burness Institute

Reading betwen the Ad-Libs

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One of our pieces of parting advice as we close out training workshops is for participants to become “students of the media.”  Read the news and take note of what quotations or messages resonate.  Ask yourself why something breaks through and sticks with you.

In the same vein, you can learn a lot from watching gifted speakers and trying to pick up their best practices.  It’s not easy, but it’s valuable. 

Former President Bill Clinton – however you feel about his policies or politics – is one of those speakers who can command an audience.  Throughout his speech at the Democratic National Convention, journalists on Twitter noted that he was “off-prompter” – that is, he was ad-libbing or riffing off of his prepared remarks.  Some of his most effective and memorable lines were not in his prepared remarks.

That’s why I was fascinated when The Atlantic published Clinton’s prepared remarks combined with his speech as delivered.  Here you can see both the big changes and the little tweaks that come from decades of practice and experience.  Delivery is Clinton’s most effective tool, but the words he chooses and his sentence structure are as important in keeping an audience’s attention.

Why do these text changes improve his speech?  Is it more conversational, less passive and more powerful?  

Now, Mr. Mayor, fellow Democrats, We're here to nominate a president, and I've got one in mind.

I want to nominate a man whose own life has known its fair share of adversity and uncertainty. I want to nominate A man who ran for president to change the course of an already weak economy and then just six weeks before the election, saw it suffer the biggest collapse since the Great Depression. A man who stopped the slide into depression and put us on the long road to recovery, knowing all the while that no matter how many jobs were created and saved he saved or created, there were still millions more waiting, trying to feed their children and worried about feeding their own kids, trying to keep their hopes alive. 

I want to nominate a man cool on the outside but burning who burns for America on the inside. I want A man who believes with no doubt that we can build a new American Dream economy driven by innovation and creativity, but [sic] education and — yes — by cooperation.

And by the way, after last night, I want A man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama…

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