Style and Substance: What makes a good vs. a great speech

Posted by on September 14th, 2012

I recently had the incredible good fortune to see Bill Clinton’s keynote address at the C3 Summit in New York. I have never had the opportunity to see him speak and I have been a devoted fan (I mean supporter) since I voted for him in 1996 in the first presidential election I was eligible to vote in.

While I listened to his speech with unwavering attention (which is the not the norm for the typical A.D.D. PR professional), I realized I wasn’t sure what his point was. I mean he loosely tried to tie his comments in to investing in Arab countries – the focus of the conference. But he talked about everything from the U.S. and European economies to education, renewable resources, China, Vietnam, Nelson Mandela and then back to something about investing and trade with Arab nations.  That said, I was totally riveted.

It occurred to me that a good speech has either great style or great substance.  It doesn’t necessarily have to have both. At C3, President Clinton gave a good speech. He showed up with tremendous style and left the audience completely satisfied, but there wasn’t a whole of substance to his remarks.  This was a contrast to his appearance at the Democratic National Convention where he delivered a great speech. What made it so epic? It was Clinton’s unflappable style and charm paired with substance and purpose. That combination is what makes Bill Clinton one of the best speakers of this generation. His speeches have, time and time again, united a party and a country and made people want to fight for a better way of life.

As always I remain devoted fan — I mean, supporter.