Saturday, June 07, 2008

Clinton's Speech and What Seinfeld Once Told Me

Earlier today, I listed three things that I hoped Sen. Clinton would deliver in her endorsement speech: 1. Acknowledgement of Obama's victory. 2. Endorsing Obama as the agent to achieve her goals. 3. Making McCain an unacceptable choice for her supporters.

She delivered on the second in full and merely hinted at the other two, but she did something even more important. She tuned her speech brilliantly to the expectations and emotions of her supporters and she moved them towards acceptance and support of Barack Obama.

I want to talk in depth about what she accomplished, but I'm going to start with a long diversion.

One night in the eighties, the Improv in L.A. arranged a showcase for some of the hot San Francisco comics of the day. The house was filled with producers, agents, scouts. A bunch of comics had flown down from the Bay Area to perform. After the last San Francisco comic finished, half the audience left the show room and headed for the bar.

But the show continued, and the next comic up was Jerry Seinfeld. This was in the time after his role in Benson had ended, and a few years before he got his own show on NBC. He was one of the strongest standups working at the time.

But this night, he went onstage to an audience that had just been disrupted by a major exodus. There was a long pause in the show. The remaining crowd was left talking amongst themselves. Then Jerry came up and did his set. He got some laughs, but not too many. It was tough going.

When he came off stage, he told me, "That was one of the best sets I've ever done in my life." I asked him how he could say that. What he told me was one of the most important lessons you can have in communication.

He said he always rates his own sets on the basis of where the audience is when he starts and where they are when he finishes. If you have any comedy chops at all, you can get up before a hot Saturday night date crowd and kill. The audience starts at a 10 and you keep 'em there. Maybe get them to 11. What Jerry was so pleased with this night at the Improve was that he took a non-audience, just a few clusters at tables talking amongst themselves, and brought them from minus -10 to a healthy 5.

Communication is always about moving an audience from point A to point B. You can't start your speech at point B.

I like to talk about what I call "The Parable of the Taxi." If you call a cab to take you to the airport, it doesn't do any good if the driver heads right to the airport. He has to come by and pick you up first.

Which brings us back to Clinton's speech. She did a masterful job of coming by to pick up her audience before heading to the airport.

She wasn't talking to the crowd at an Obama rally. She was talking to her own supporters, people who had invested their time, money, and aspirations in her quest. She needed to connect with them and move them.

That's why it was important for her to spend as much time as she did rehashing her campaign themes and connecting with her voters. Some critics pounced on this as an unwarrented "all about me" indulgence. But that's not the case. It was all about her audience.

As for the three things I had hoped for, she delivered best on endorsing Obama. She listed her goals and made a refrain of "...and that's why we need to help elect Barack Obama our president."

She did acknowledge his victory, but did not explicitly embrace it's legitimacy. She still flirted with claiming a popular vote majority.

As for making McCain an unacceptable choice, she did it only by implication. She didn't name him. She didn't even name President Bush. Instead, Clinton talked about how the past seven years were a set-back and diversion from the goals that she and her supporters are fighting for.

The conclusion of the speech was another master stroke. Where the opening connected with her supporters on the basis of their shared history, the conclusion connected with the emotional state of their dissappointment. If Clinton is to succeed in bringing her supporters to Obama, this is, perhaps the most critical area to address. "Always work hard, and when you stumble, keep faith. ... and never listen to anyone who says you can't, or shouldn't go on." I trust that means "go on to get Obama elected."

Mickeleh's Take: This speech wasn't for Obama supporters. It was for Hillary supporters. It didn't do everything I hoped for, it did a few things I wasn't clever enough to hope for. I look forward to joining with Hillary's devoted and passionate supporters in reaching our shared goals.


Anonymous said...

excellent review!

Anonymous said...

Hi - new reader here. Wonderful analysis of HRC's speech - my knee jerk reaction to all things HRC prevented me from seeing the wisdom of her approach.

Thanks - you have reminded me to listen.