Less is More

“A speech should be as long as a piece of string – long enough to wrap up the package.”

– Anonymous

Read Patrick Healy’s NY Times article, “For Clinton the Speaker, the Smaller the Better” (Click here) for insight into how the venue (where a speech is given) determines the effectiveness of both the speaker and their message.

There are books titled “It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It, and “It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” But in his article, Healy draws a sharp contrast to Sen. Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings when she speaks in front of large audiences and her remarkable success in connecting with her audience in more intimate settings. Consider:

“Big rallies are clearly not her strength,” said one senior adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for a blunt assessment of his candidate. “She’s far better at town-hall meetings, round tables, smaller venues. The challenge for her is to connect with and inspire large audiences more than she does now.”


Yet in intimate settings, like her visit on Monday to the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, Mrs. Clinton comes across far more personably, listening and empathizing and on occasion showing her emotional side. Indeed, at the Yale center, where she volunteered in the early 1970s, she became teary as her old boss praised “the incomparable Hillary.”

I remember Senator Clinton’s “Listening Tour” of New York state when she first ran for Senator in 2000 – and it was a great success. Sen. Clinton is a very good listener – she shows empathy and people really feel that she cares about them and that they have been heard.

And to her credit, she has shown great improvement as a speaker in venues both big and small. However, in my opinion, she needs to improve two things:

1) Her vocal quality – when she raises her voice, she sounds shrill and this is grating on the ear – we tend to tune her out

2) Her (almost obsessive) need to give detailed explanations of her policy positions on every topic and in every setting – large and small – whether the audience wants them or not.

Senator Clinton would benefit from taking President Franklin Roosevelt’s advice about giving a speech: “Be Sincere, be brief, be seated.” Less is definitely more!

The Clinton campaign has mastered the art of “lowering expectations” when they realize that they will not prevail against an opponent (they expect to lose a primary, raise less money, or come up short in oratorical brilliance.) Sen. Clinton goes to great length to draw the difference between Sen. Obama’s talent for rousing an audience (his poetry) and her expertise at policy (her prose.) She realizes her shortcoming when it comes to inspiring large audiences and I suspect that she envies Sen. Obama’s ability to mobilize a brand new bloc of engaged voters during this election cycle.

The truth is a President needs to command respect for their competence to lead the nation. But we also have a strong desire to be a part of something much bigger that ourselves.

In closing, here is a vignette from another fierce Democratic party primary – in 1960:

It’s said that when Adlai Stevenson was complimented on speeches, he once pointed out that people often said what nice speeches he made – but that after John F. Kennedy’s speeches they said, “Let’s march!”

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