Whilst coaching on Personal Impact at one of the major Banks recently, a delegate shared a fantastic anecdote and personal experience about Bill Clinton. In particular about Clinton’s ability to “hold court” with a large audience and to electrifying effect:
Clinton was delivering an after-dinner speech for Board Members and invited guests. A characteristically enigmatic speech was followed by a spontaneous Q&A session. Importantly, none of the questions – and therefore any of the answers that followed – were in any way pre-empted or prepared, which makes what followed even more impressive.
(Clinton’s “preparation” of course, to address that classic addage that we always offer to clients when giving a Presentation, lies in the fact that “There is no substitute for preparation”. Obviously, Clinton has been doing what he does for years. He is truly expert – born out of years of hard work and experience of ‘leading from the front’ – which also leads us rather nicely to that other addage about projecting authority and gravitas that that we offer: “There is no substitute for experience”.)
Clinton stood at the front with a microphone.
As the Q&A session progressed, the questions became more and more challenging. And as they did so, Clinton began to demonstrate a very powerful technique:
As each “good question” was put to Bill, he simply said “Thank you” before deliberately laying his microphone down and off to one side.
He then simply stood there – still and in silence – at one point for up to 45 seconds – as he deliberately took the time to think and carefully consider his next answer. And in every case, as the delegate observed for himself, each answer that followed was truly great – calm, considered, thought-provoking and incisive – and the effect and impact that Bill Clinton had on his assembled audience was electrifying indeed!
So – what can we all take from this?
In Clinton’s case this is “taking the time to think and pause for thought” to a kind of Showman like level!
And what the rest of us ‘mere mortals’ (!) can learn and derive from this – and as we always tell our clients – it is absolutely fine – and indeed wholly appropriate – to take a few beats of time – to pause for thought – to think – and to consider our answers carefully before answering – particuarly when under pressure.
There is no need to ever fall into that behavioral trap so often demonstrated by so many – of filling that strong and oh so powerful silence with filler phrases, redundant speech, discomfort and noise.
And you can take it from us: There is a direct correlation between your ability to take time to pause and think – particularly if you can do it confidently – and your perceived authority and gravitas.
And remember: “There is no subsitute for preparation”.
(“Be prepared!” as the old Boy Scout Motto would have it. And what are the chances? More about Boy Scouts and “Being Prepared” on my colleague Henry Caplan in New York’s Blog Post here).
And finally, here is the great man himself in action: Bill Clinton on Fox News and in challenging form…