Like many people, I’ve seen Bill Gates and Bill Clinton speak individually at various events over the years.
I saw BillG at Microsoft a bit of course, and I’ve seen many of his more notable public appearances (TED talk on energy, the great interview with Steve Jobs at ATD, etc.). I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed his thoughts most when he’s not talking about the computer industry: when he talks about energy, education, immigration or health policy, it doesn’t feel like he’s constrained in his remarks nearly as much. He’s essentially apolitical, very fact-based, and he doesn’t get overly emotional about any given issue. He seems to genuinely enjoy the fact that big problems are complex, that he has money and many degrees of freedom to attack them, and that we all should be able to handle it.
Bill Clinton is one of the most impressive people around, and it has zero to do with the fact that he was a two term President. I’ve seen him somewhat up close twice: once in Seattle at a sold-out McCaw Hall, and just last October at Nuance’s sales force summit. In both cases, he had a few short opening remarks, but spent the majority of the time speaking extemporaneously, taking questions he hadn’t seen before, etc. Again, like BillG, he’s expansive and just incredibly impressive on a wide range of topics (energy, monetary policy, etc., etc.). And like BillG, I like the President the most when he’s speaking outside of the profession where he made his name. Yes, he’s still may be the most gifted man in politics, but you really only get to see him at his full intellectual capability outside of it.
The Bills were interviewed together recently, and while it doesn’t have quite the interpersonal chemistry that Walt and Kara’s interview of BillG and Steve J had, it’s worth a watch if for no other reason than the compare and contrast styles. Gates I think feels little need to tell a story, and I don’t think he’s worried about whether the listener is parsing what he says correctly. President Clinton I think is ALWAYS trying to find the right balance of content and simplicity, and loves (loves) telling a story and creating great images (“…it’ll make this sequester look like a Sunday afternoon walk in the park.”).
I think that if you’d told people 20 years ago that these two guys would be spending their time and resources literally trying to save the world, most would have been skeptical.