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Public Speaking - Masters of the Pause Part II

Jul 31, 2008
An Inconvenient Speaker

We have made the claim many times that Bill Clinton is the Master of the Pause. In fact, we have said that it is exactly this mastery that causes more people in polls to name the former president as the greatest living public speaker hands down.

If you doubt Bill Clinton's ability to embrace the pause might have been responsible for his being elected, it might be useful to look at the other side. A great example of somebody who didn't until recently have a clue about the pause is Al Gore. Do you think of Al Gore as being a great speaker? Do you think there might be a relationship between his speaking ability and the fact that couldn't maintain the Clinton dynasty even four more years?

Now before we are accused of being anti-Gore, understand that one of the worst places to go seeking great speakers is your local, state, or federal government. Most politicians' egos are greater than their intellectual capacity, and many simply won't take anybody's advice, period. So we end up having to endure the insincere-sounding shrill of a Hilary Clinton or the mind-numbing drone of a John Kerry.

But back to Gore: When Al Gore delivered his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination at the 2000 Democratic convention, he had a 30 point Program for America that he thought was very important to get out. He had 30 points and 45 minutes in which to deliver them.

What happened was that during the first 20 minutes of his speech, people in the audience would hear things that they liked and, quite naturally, applaud. At least they tried to applaud. But instead of pausing and bathing in the glow for a moment or two, Al would hold up his hands to silence them and just kept on speaking. This went on for 25 minutes - although they would applaud, he wouldn't stop speaking.

After a while, the audience started to become uncomfortable, because they were applauding over him. The applause then became more sporadic, and eventually stopped altogether. And so for the last 20 minutes of the speech, he continued to speak, and nobody applauded at all. He just spoke for 20 minutes straight. Not a single break.

We think if you were to have given a pop quiz to the audience and ask them how many of those 30 points for America they could remember, it probably would be no more than three, if any. Al thought it was all about the content, without consideration for the audience's ability to take it all in.

Years later, prior to filming An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore sought and received professional presentation skills training, and he has a somewhat better grasp on the process that when he ran for president in 2000. In fact, in a May 2007 article in The New York Times Magazine, Gore was asked if he had any regrets about how he ran the campaign.

The reporter was hoping to get him to say something related to the legal process, but instead Gore replied, "If I had had the presentation skills I've since learned, I think I'd be in my second term as president".
About the Author
J. Douglas Jefferys is a principal at PublicSpeakingSkills.com, an international consulting firm specializing in training businesses of all sizes to communicate for maximum efficiency. The firm spreads its unique knowledge through on-site classes, public seminars, and high-impact videos, and can be reached through the Internet or at 888-663-7711.
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