Friday, January 21, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Hillary Clinton's concession speech

It wasn't the speech she wanted to give and it wasn't the speech her followers wanted to hear. So Hillary Clinton ended her candidacy for the U.S. presidency and opened her concession speech with "Well, this isn't exactly the party I'd planned, but I sure like the company."

This speech had competing goals that would be tough under any circumstances. It needed to thank volunteers and supporters and acknowledge their hard work. It had to reflect the disappointment, but move the crowd to support for Barack Obama, who would become the Democratic nominee. And it needed to reflect the historic nature of her candidacy, coming so close as it did to bringing the U.S. its first woman president. In this speech, she changed her standard answer about being a woman candidate:
....when I was asked what it means to be a woman running for President, I always gave the same answer: that I was proud to be running as a woman but I was running because I thought I'd be the best President. But I am a woman, and like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious. I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us. I ran as a daughter who benefited from opportunities my mother never dreamed of. I ran as a mother who worries about my daughter's future and a mother who wants to lead all children to brighter tomorrows....You can be so proud that, from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the President of the United States. And that is truly remarkable.
Here's what worked so well about this speech:
  • She shortened the distance between herself and her audience:  Clinton closed the gap in two ways, physically and with her words. In a hall with soaring ceilings, she chose the shortest possible podium and stood at a lectern elevated only slightly higher than the supporters on the floor.  And knowing that the women supporting her saw something of themselves in her, she spoke to them as a friend, saying, "To those who are disappointed that we couldn't go all the way - especially the young people who put so much into this campaign - it would break my heart if, in falling short of my goal, I in any way discouraged any of you from pursuing yours."
  • She let the audience participate, despite the size of the crowd:  With a crowd this big, applause and cheers are the audience's ways to play along. Clinton let them express themselves. In paragraph three, she begins, "Young people....," and the young people break into a prolonged cheer. She smiles and gestures widely as if to say, "See, there they are."
  • She was generous and positive:  Concession speeches usually run the gamut from dry to less than effusive, and some candidates skip them altogether.  Clinton was more than just diplomatic. She used the speech to make clear her support for Obama and to ask her supporters to do the same, and told them why they should. Even when describing her (and her supporters') disappointments, she kept the tone positive. It's why the speech works--not just for the audience, but in positioning her for her next steps.
  • She drew a picture of the future and made a strong call to action to refocus the crowd: Refocusing the crowd was the order of the day. Clinton reminded them of the common cause they had with the rest of the party, and urged them to put their considerable energy into making that happen. No one left that day without an idea of what she'd asked.
Watch the video of the speech below.
(Photo from EvinDC's Flickrstream)