A colleague of mine, Thomas Murrell at 8mmedia has just emailed me with his observations on Obama’s oratory skills. This post is not meant to be political, but Tom’s review of the way President Obama speaks provides a good insight into how great speakers do the job. Tom coaches people on how to present (amongst other things that he does). I’ve included Tom’s observations here unaltered….
History has been made. There is a new leader of the most powerful country on earth. Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain to become the first African-American president of the United States. Obama gave a victory speech before a crowd of 125,000 ecstatic supporters gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park.
He’s young, lacks experience but is a superb speaker. So what can we learn from Obama’s oratory skills that you can implement for your next speech?
Here are my insights into his outstanding speech making and speech giving skills.
1. A Warm Welcome
“Hello Chicago”. These were the first words he said in his speech.
Simple, direct, warm and authentic. The audience loved it.
2. Start With A Rhetorical Question
After the welcome, Obama opened with a question.
This is a powerful way to engage an audience straight away.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
3. Visual Metaphors Linked To Active Words
These always inspire people and make the intangible, tangible.
“It’s the answer that led those who’ve been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve, to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”
I love the concept of bending an arc towards a better future.
4. Linking Words Together That Sound The Same
“And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.”
Highlighted are those words that sound magnificent when said together out loud.
This is writing for the ear not the eye.
5. Show Vulnerability
“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America.”
“I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington. It began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston. It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give $5 and $10 and $20 to the cause.”
6. Acknowledge Your Key Stakeholders
“It grew strength from the young people, who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy, who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep.”
7. Opposites In The Same Sentence
This technique increases the “stickiness” of your message by creating cognitive dissonance.
Here’s what I mean with the first two of many opposites highlighted.
“It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.”
8. Put A Time Context To Your Message
“What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night.”
9. Personal Stories
This technique always connects with people at an emotional level.
In his speech, Barack Obama told the story of a 106-year-old woman who knew Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a child.
“This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old. She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin. And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.
At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.
When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.
When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.
She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.
A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.”
10. A Great Call To Action
Every speech must end with a strong call to action.
“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you: We as a people will get there.”
“America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves – if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?
This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.”