Let me begin by saying, I am a Clint Eastwood fan. In movies. As a director. And likely, he’s the kind of guy I’d like to have a drink with. As a speaker, however, I have a problem. Let’s break it down. (If you haven’t yet seen it, you’ll find a video of the speech from YouTube, below.) I am technically an Independent voter, and am not here to discuss the “merits” of his points, rather the problem with “celebrity speakers”.
On August 30, 2012, on the final night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, Clint Eastwood took to the stage as a much ballyhooed, “mystery speaker” who had been pumped up by the media for the entire convention. He hit the stage with an image of a gun-wielding cowboy – perhaps from “Fist Full of Dollars” or perhaps “The Outlaw Josey Wales”…it doesn’t matter. We all know him, and as I said before, his body of work is iconic as the classic bad-ass — he even usurps Chuck Norris.
Some celebrity speakers use their fame to advance a cause. George Clooney has raised international awareness of the issues in Darfur. Lance Armstrong (yes, I remain a fan of his, too) has raised hundreds of millions for cancer research through the Lance Armstrong Foundation /Livestrong. Charlton Heston, another actor, was very involved in political activism, including his role of President of the National Rifle Association. Others, however, use their “celebrity” as a money grab (Seriously, people PAID to have Snooki show up at their event?). Eastwood was somewhere in-between. I’m certain his endorsement of Mitt Romney as the Republican GOP’s candidate for President of the United States (POTUS) is sincere, but the speech…well, let’s get to that.
Clint Eastwood, from a speaker’s point of view:
- Never take your “imaginary friend” on stage with you – Sure, it sounds good in a conference room, or at the bottom of a great glass of scotch, but portraying the sitting POTUS as an imaginary guest in a disrespectful bit where you imply he is using profanity and spouting rhetoric the speaker himself would not dare say out loud is gimmicky, cheap, and disrespectful to the office.
- If you do use an imaginary friend, have a script.- Having originally missed seeing or listening to the speech live, I read a copy of a transcript of it, and was unable to decipher what, exactly, was going on. I honestly thought he may have suffered a stroke from the platform. The video confirmed it was…well…on purpose.
- Comedy is based in Tragedy- In a political speech, no doubt, a little bit of comedy can go a long way to “humanize” a speaker. Eastwood’s use of a comedic (and I use that word loosely) sketch comedy bit was…well, simply tragic.
- Make sure you have something to say- Early in my career as a speaking professional, my own father spoke those words of wisdom to me about my aspirations. He quickly followed with, “I’ve heard many-a-speaker talk for hours and hours about absolutely nothing.” Dad, I’m not certain Mr. Eastwood would have passed your test with his performance.
- Never upstage the headliner- I recently attended a session at the National Speakers Association national conference about how to add “spectacle” to your speech and make your event memorable. Okay, sir. If the tweets immediately following and subsequent media chatter about your speech are any indication, you did just that. Then again, Mitt Romney seems to lack that X-factor from behind the podium I look for in any speaker.
- Suggesting the student loan debt in the United States is a throw-away issue might work against the votes your party needs to win the upcoming election. Student loan debt is the next big economic issue we must address as a country. At over $1 Trillion, there are more student loans than unsecured consumer debt or total dollars spend to bailout Wall Street investment banks during this past Presidential term. (See also this article from the New York Times) As a member of Generation X married to a Generation Y spouse and having dealt with that issue in our household, I don’t think your suggestion that President Obama’s addressing that topic on college campuses was a worthless exercise was appropriate.
Finally, there was the Freebird moment, when a random conventioneer yelled out for Clint Eastwood to recite his famous line, he quite successfully used the “Call and Response” technique by uttering “Go ahead…” to which the audience said, “Make. My. Day.” before erupting with thunderous applause as he concluded his speech.
Was the Clint Eastwood at RNC 2012 memorable, yes. Entertaining, of course. Serious, not really. Did it do any favors for those of us who take speaking seriously as a profession…not at all.