A 60 Minute Masterclass in Public Speaking: Hillary Clinton


Hillary Clinton concluded the speeches of the 2016 Democratic National Convention with a brilliant masterclass in public speaking in just under an hour.

This is what we can take for her luminous speech:

1. What’s so important?

Your message is the lifeblood of your speech or presentation, it’s the number one thing you want your audience to remember and act on.

The clarity of your message will enable you to ensure that everything you plan to say is relevant, rich and rewarding for your audience.

In a campaign where many think that Donald Trump is dividing a nation and The Economist says “Donald Trump’s nomination in Cleveland will put a thriving country at risk of a great, self-inflicted wound”, Hilary Clinton’s message couldn’t be any clearer:

“Stronger Together”

Masterclass lesson

Before you do anything else make certain that you have a message which is short, potent and of significant value to your audience. It has to answer a very simple question, ‘What’s so important?’

2. Connect early

Earlier this week her husband gave a very emotional speech in the form of an alluring story designed to help the nation see the ‘real’ Hillary.  It was the epitome of storytelling which I wrote about a few days ago, “I met a girl”: The Power of Storytelling in Public Speaking – Bill Clinton

Acknowledging the accolades her husband’s speech received, Hillary opened hers by making the perfect reference to it:

“And Bill, that conversation we started in the law library 45 years ago is still going strong.”

The millions of people who had listened to her husband’s speech would have made an instant connection with that one sentence, I know I did.

Masterclass lesson

Your job is to connect with your audience swiftly and smartly and if you can link that to something they already know it’s even more powerful.

3. Use history to reinforce your message

Referring to a momentous historic event which has relevance and value to your message can pay great dividends when the stakes are high in a public speech.

“My friends, we’ve come to Philadelphia – the birthplace of our nation – because what happened in this city 240 years ago still has something to teach us today.

Masterclass lesson

Creating a parallel between what is happening today and what we have learned from history can add great strength and credibility to your message.

4. Quote a hero

When your opposition’s campaign centres largely on fear and division and yours revolves around unity and hope it pays to quote one of your country’s favourite heroes: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

Masterclass lesson

If you can align your message to the words of someone your audience has enormous respect and admiration for they are likely to pay attention.

5. Contrast is good

Hillary Clinton knows that one of the many controversial features of her opponent’s campaign is that he wants to ‘build a wall’.

The idea seems to resonate with many people but she offers a completely different solution whilst retaining the concept of building.

“We will not build a wall. Instead, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a good paying job can get one.”

Masterclass lesson

Contrast can add another dimension to your speech especially when you take two completely opposite viewpoints yet bring them closer together.

7. Challenge falsehoods

When someone says that “our country is weak” and “I alone can fix it” and some people believe those words, that’s a challenge. You have to have the courage to confront the lunacy of the idea that one man alone is the solution.

“Those were actually Donald Trump’s words in Cleveland. And they should set off alarm bells for all of us. 

Masterclass lesson

Don’t let people get away with saying senseless things that will inevitably do more harm than good. Address it simply, quickly and head on.

7. Give them an example

Your message may be perfectly clear to you and make a great deal of sense in your own mind but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will be the same for your audience. The solution is to give them a clear example of what you mean.

The message is, “Stronger Together.”

Hillary Clinton’s example of that is:

“Look at what happened in Dallas after the assassinations of five brave police officers. Chief David Brown asked the community to support his force, maybe even join them.

And you know how the community responded? Nearly 500 people applied in just 12 days. That’s how Americans answer when the call for help goes out.”

Masterclass lesson

Don’t rely on your audience ‘getting’ your message just because you do. Give them examples, use similes, analogies or metaphors. Help them to see your message and not just hear it.

8. A little humility goes a long way

We all want strong, resilient and visionary leadership whether for it’s our country or workplace but we also like to see a sense of humility too.

“My grandfather worked in the same Scranton lace mill for 50 years. Because he believed that if he gave everything he had, his children would have a better life than he did.”

Masterclass lesson

When it comes to public speaking there is nothing worse than arrogance.

Whether you are the President of the USA or the Prime Minister of the UK, no one is ‘better’ than their fellow human beings and people respect and value that awareness.

9. Credibility counts

When an audience is listening to a speaker for an hour they have a right to know what qualifies that person to take up their valuable time and why they should listen to them.

“Now, sometimes the people at this podium are new to the national stage.

As you know, I’m not one of those people. I’ve been your First Lady. Served 8 years as a Senator from the great State of New York.

Then I represented all of you as Secretary of State.

But my job titles only tell you what I’ve done. They don’t tell you why.”

Masterclass lesson

Let your audience know and understand why you are an authority on the subject you are speaking on, but do so gracefully and without bragging.

10. Tell them about you

You could be the most knowledgeable, credible and experienced speaker in the world on any topic and whilst that’s important there is something far more important. Your audience want to see the real you.

“My mother, Dorothy, was abandoned by her parents as a young girl.  She ended up on her own at 14, working as a house maid.  She was saved by the kindness of others. 

Her first grade teacher saw she had nothing to eat at lunch, and brought extra food to share.  The lesson she passed on to me years later stuck with me:  No one gets through life alone. ”

Masterclass lesson

Being prepared to be a little vulnerable and giving your audience a glimpse of who you really are and what makes you ‘tick’ is an extremely endearing quality.

11. Tell them stories

That’s how you build rapport.

It’s how you connect with people and that is how they make sense of things.

Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech was full of relevant stories from start to finish.  Here is one of my favourites:

I remember meeting a young girl in a wheelchair on the small back porch of her house. She told me how badly she wanted to go to school – it just didn’t seem possible. And I couldn’t stop thinking of my mother and what she went through as a child.” 

Masterclass lesson

It doesn’t matter how interesting the information you have to share is, the human brain simply wasn’t built to be bombarded with facts and data. We connect through stories and if you don’t tell them you will lose your audience and they will lose your message.

12. Repetition has power

Notice how Hillary built up the intensity, rhythm and pace of her speech so often by the mindful use of repetition:

“If you believe that companies should share profits, not pad executive bonuses, join us.  If you believe the minimum wage should be a living wage… and no one working full time should have to raise their children in poverty… join us.

If you believe that every man, woman, and child in America has the right to affordable health care…join us. If you believe that we should say “no” to unfair trade deals… that we should stand up to China… that we should support our steelworkers and autoworkers and homegrown manufacturers…join us. 

Masterclass lesson

Using repetition in this way allows each point to build on the one before strengthening the message and increasing the speaker’s passion.

13. Make a promise

What better way is there of getting and keeping your audience’s attention than by making them a promise which is important to them.

“In my first 100 days, we will work with both parties to pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II.”

Masterclass lesson

Whilst she may not have used the word ‘promise’ I believe that’s what people would have heard and an audience welcomes a clear and firm commitment from a speaker.

14. Make your position clear

If you believe that there is any scope whatsoever for doubt, confusion or misunderstanding on anything you say then you have to bring clarity.

“I’m not here to repeal the 2nd Amendment. I’m not here to take away your guns. I just don’t want you to be shot by someone who shouldn’t have a gun in the first place.”

Masterclass lesson

If you leave your audience in any doubt whatsoever about what your real intentions are you will lose them. Make sure you spell it out if you have to.

15. Trust the rhetorical question

Rhetorical questions add variety, impact and interest to a speech. Even though they don’t require your audience to answer it encourages them to think.

“Will we stay true to that motto?

Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief?

How can we just stand by and do nothing?”

Masterclass lesson

Rhetorical questions are extremely powerful and can be hugely helpful in encouraging your audience to agree with you and stimulate them emotionally as well as intellectually.

16. Make them laugh

Politics is serious business I know especially when it comes to deciding on the leadership of one of the largest and most powerful nations on earth. That said, if people are going to invest an hour of their personal time listening to you I believe you owe it to them to make them smile and even laugh occasionally.

“Now, you didn’t hear any of this from Donald Trump at his convention. He spoke for 70-odd minutes – and I do mean odd.”

Masterclass lesson

Never underestimate the therapeutic effects laughter will have on your audience. It’s hard enough listening to someone speak on any topic for 20 minutes let alone an hour so it’s the very least we can do for them.

17. Speak with passion

Personally, I can’t imagine anything worse than a speaker trying to convince me to act, change or think differently if they aren’t totally passionate about their message themselves. We could choose any single quote from Hillary Clinton’s hour long speech and the one thing you can be certain of is that it is said with total passion and conviction.

Masterclass lesson

Passion is the jewel in every speaker’s crown, no exceptions. I don’t believe that anything good ever happens without it.

18. Close with your message

Every element of Hillary Clinton’s speech revolved around her key message of “Stronger Together”. She explained it, animated it and gave us the reason and facts to support it.  She even closed with it:

“Yes, the world is watching what we do. Yes, America’s destiny is ours to choose. So let’s be stronger together, my fellow Americans. Let’s look to the future with courage and confidence. Let’s build a better tomorrow for our beloved children and our beloved country. And when we do, America will be greater than ever.

Masterclass lesson

As well as creating a first impression when you are speaking in public or presenting your audience will also remember the last impression you leave them with. Make sure it is completely congruent with you, your message and what you want them to remember.

These 18 lessons represent extremely valuable insights into high impact public speaking that we can take away from Hillary Clinton’s speech.

Is there more to learn?

Having been speaking publicly for decades I’m certain that she and her husband Bill will tell you there is plenty more to learn. In fact, it’s a never ending journey.

There is however a tremendous amount we can take from these 60 minutes alone and they leave us with a great place to start.

Watch the full speech here:

I really hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please feel free to share it through your preferred social media channels below and subscribe to our mailing list so you won’t miss any future posts.

Image: Courtesy of www.flickr.com


Share this article

Leave a comment

Download our Free Guide

Sign up for our newsletter and download your free guide to authentic public speaking.

When you sign up, you’ll get a link to our free guide, plus helpful public speaking articles posted on our site. You can unsubscribe at any time.