Dr. David Dillman helps out at Democratic National Convention

Posted August 29, 2012

As professor of political science and director of the Jack Pope Fellows Program, Dr. David Dillman has a demanding day job. Once every four years, he steps away from campus for about a week to immerse himself in a different world.

Dr. David Dillman helps out at Democratic National Convention

Dillman's work at the Democratic National Convention allows him to interact directly with many of the politicians whose decisions he studies and analyzes with his students. Dillman will participate in this year's DNC, which begins Sept. 4 at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.

Dillman's work with the podium operations group at the event is multifaceted. He serves as a "speaker tracker," which means he meets speakers and directs them to the right places before and as they go onstage. He arrives on the scene one week prior to become oriented with the arena and the event schedule, to make contact with the speakers he has been assigned and to begin helping them get to rehearsals. During the convention, Dillman escorts his assigned speakers to the professionals who coach them on proper stage presence and speech execution. On the nights of their speeches, Dillman directs speakers to the makeup room and the green room, then ensures smooth transitions for each speaker from the crowds in the arena to a successful speech onstage. He's ready at a moment's notice to help politicians recover from mid-speech emergencies – if, for instance, their teleprompters go out.

“Even for seasoned politicians, some of this can be daunting because they’re out of their element, so they’re dependent on people like me who have walked through the process," says Dillman. "I can help them feel confident in their ability to give the best speech possible – to make sure they’re calm, cool and ready to go.”

Dillman has worked at the convention since 1988. (He helped with security at the 1980 convention, but was unable to attend in 1984.) The convention has allowed him to work with an impressive list of politicians, including Senators John Kerry, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Boxer, Kent Conrad, Mary Landrieu, John Glenn and Bob Kerrey; former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt; former House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and former big-city mayors Maynard Jackson and Ed Rendell.

Dillman's mission is to help each politician present the best possible image to the country during the three-day televised event. The speakers he guides, meantime, are there to rally supporters on site, get their message out to the television audience and raise funds, all simultaneously.

The convention is "99% theater," he explains, where the set backdrops are made for TV. The event involves media outlets from around the nation and world, and his position allows him to be at the center of the action. 

Dillman says his convention experience allows him to bring valuable insight back to the classroom. “The Democratic National Convention is a good way to connect what I see on the ground and what I teach students from their textbooks. I'm right there in the mix of the action."