January 20, 2017
Let’s take a few moments to learn from arguably the greatest of all time, Barack Obama…
…Before reading any further, know that this is NOT a political post, but rather an appreciation of our now-former president’s public-speaking skills.
Obama was, and is, an incredibly powerful speaker, and we can all afford to take a few cues from his delivery style to make our own public addresses more impactful, regardless of whether it’s a small-group presentation or a State of the Union.
Pause. Obama is a master of the hesitation move, as recently analyzed by Inc. The habit of pausing, not only an effective alternative to using filler words like “um,” allows your audience to catch up, allows you to gather yourself, and leaves the impression that you choose your words wisely, only after careful consideration. We’re often rushed, but slowing down is okay. Speakers that own a deliberate cadence are more engaging.
Paint a picture. There are endless ways to communicate using the English language. The words that we choose should explicitly reinforce — and help our audiences visualize — the intended message. Take one of Obama’s most analyzed excerpts, a passage from his re-election speech in 2012:
“You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.”
Exactly who, what, when and where matters? Paint that picture!
Repetition. The example above, as cited by Carmine Gallo of Forbes, is also among Obama’s most memorable. Note the repetition:
“You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer…”
“You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer…”
“You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse
Gallo suggests that this technique, called “anaphora,” is part of what makes it so memorable.
Body language. This one almost goes without saying. (Get it?) No one likes hearing the sound of their own voice played back. Now imagine how agonizing that feeling would be if we could see how we communicate as frequently as we’re able to hear it. Well, everyone else does. So practice: Sit up and stand up straight (but not rigidly so), use your hands for emphasis, and project the image of confidence that you admire in others. Sims Wyeth of CBS News points to Obama’s 2007 entrance on the The Ellen Degeneres Show as a shining example. Think that guy didn’t practice that shimmy-shake a couple times?
Establish an enemy. Identifying an enemy is a common practice in the marketing world. It’s led to some of the most memorable and critically acclaimed work of all time. But it also relates to public speaking. What’s the worst case? What’s the end result that we don’t want? Spot it, acknowledge it, and use it to voice your main point — all that can be done differently.
Keep it simple. Intro, body and conclusion. One concise message.
By owning and incorporating these five simple reminders in our day-to-day discourse, we too can talk like one of the greatest. Yes, we can.