Dos and Don’ts of Giving a Speech: 2016 Democratic Presidential Debate Edition

by Brianna Arrighi


At Emerson, effective communication is everything. All undergraduate students are required to complete a public speaking class before earning their degree. While most freshman enter their sophomore year knowing how to properly organize and deliver a speech, it would seem as though some of our top Democratic candidates need some pointers.

I decided to take a closer look at the introduction speeches given by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Jim Webb during the 2016 Democratic debate on October 13th. Moderator Anderson Cooper allotted each candidate two minutes to introduce themselves to their audience. I evaluated both candidates’ speeches on the basis of structure and persuasive modes.

Hillary Clinton opened her speech with the following statement:
“I’m Hillary Clinton and I’ve been proud and privileged to serve as First Lady, Senator from New York, and Secretary of State. I’m the granddaughter of a factory worker and the grandmother of a wonderful one-year old.”

Immediately, her audience already knows her name and her experience in politics. She was also smart to list her positions chronologically, as this reminds people just how long Clinton has been active in the political sphere. By announcing her family ties as a granddaughter and a grandmother, she identifies herself as not only a politician, but a person like any other in the audience. Her ethos appeal gives her the credibility to go on to stress the importance of family in her campaign, as she does later in her speech.

Senator Jim Webb’s opening statement was longer and not as clear. He said:
“People are disgusted with the way that money has corrupted our political process, intimidating incumbents and empowering Wall Street everyday with the term-style government we see and also the power of the financial sector in both parties. We’re looking for a leader who understands how the system works, who hasn’t been corrupted by it, and has a proven record of accomplishing many things.”

There are several errors with the structure of Senator Webb’s address already. He didn’t bother to introduce himself by name, which would lead one to think that he assumes people already know who he is. He began by launching into a rant about Wall Street being corrupt, when the entire point of this two-minute speech was to introduce himself as a candidate. His first sentence was riddled with political jargon and it already presents an opinion about a specific issue. Webb should have established his credibility before delving into his beliefs as Clinton did so that his audience understood why they should listen to him in the first place.


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