I didn’t see Bill Clinton’s DNC speech this week — I didn’t have a full hour to spare that night — but I did read it. It comes off as an impressive lecture delivered without condescension by someone who obviously knows good policy and the work required to make it happen. Full of concrete points and reasoned arguments, it made sense rationally as well as emotionally.
But then I saw this Atlantic article, comparing his speech as prepared to the speech he delivered. They strike out what he dropped from the text, and highlight what he added in, accounting for whole lines and sometimes paragraphs that weren’t there on the prompter. Now I’m a whole different kind of impressed. To be able to rewrite a speech, of that length, on the fly, and improve it by an order of magnitude? That may be the best demonstration of public speaking skill I’ve ever seen.
Maybe the man just has a rhetorical gift none of us can ever hope to approach personally or professionally, but that can’t account for it entirely. The only way I can even imagine getting to this point is to seriously know my shit. How does one prepare for a moment like this? I envision reading and re-reading briefing documents with all these facts and figures so they become burned into memory, like a student cramming for a test. Practicing in front of a mirror for weeks leading up to the moment. Achieving some zen state, like a stage actor, where the words are second nature and the delivery comes so naturally that the mind is free to focus on performance flourishes.
That zen state of calm, collected confidence is something that sets people apart from corporations. No company is so sure of itself, or so naturally intelligent, that it can act and speak in the moment and have it land with such impact. They may do their homework, but don’t internalize what they learn to the point where they’re comfortable improvising along the way without over-thinking and freezing up. Only individuals with sharp, well-prepared minds can do that. Businesses need those minds, need to help them prepare, but then they need to trust them.