What Clinton’s on-the-fly speech revisions teach us

If you saw President Bill Clinton’s rousing speech during the Democratic National Convention last week, you know you were witnessing a skilled communicator at work.

What was less obvious is how much the speech he delivered was different from the prepared text that was presumably being displayed on his teleprompter — and how much stronger his impromptu version was than the prepared text.

You can see both displayed together at the Atlantic Wire: What Bill Clinton Wrote vs. What Bill Clinton Said.

Clinton made his speech clearer, more colloquial, and more forceful with many small (and a few large) changes.

Look at the last sentence of the speech to get an idea of how he made it better:

What his teleprompter said:


If that’s what you believe, if that’s what you want, we have to re-elect President Barack Obama.

What he said:


My fellow Americans, if that is what you want, if that is what you believe, you must vote and you must re-elect President Barack Obama.

The printed version is okay, but a bit flat. Lacking force, not a real thundering end. He transformed it into a powerful new thing, while not really changing the meaning at all:


  • He changed if that’s to if that is. Most of the time it’s better to go with the contraction if you want to sound colloquial. Clinton saw something better: By taking out the contraction and saying is, he got greater emphasis and stronger rhythm.
  • He reversed want and believe, putting believe in the second spot, which gives it more emphasis.
  • He changed we to you.

Fundraising writers: Study these changes. That’s professional work.


Comments

4 responses to “What Clinton’s on-the-fly speech revisions teach us”

  1. Thanks for the mini-rhetorical analysis. Diction and rhythm matter!

  2. Thanks for the mini-rhetorical analysis. Diction and rhythm matter!

  3. Great analysis. It is always important to relate to your audience, and knowing how they speak is the first part in achieving this.

  4. Great analysis. It is always important to relate to your audience, and knowing how they speak is the first part in achieving this.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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