I watched with great anticipation the inauguration speech of the 44th President of the United States – Barack Obama. Not from a political standpoint, but as that of a speech coach anxious to hear how Mr. Obama would deliver. Out of the “steak and sizzle” of political speeches, we have seen much sizzle from Mr. Obama. I wanted to see what was left on the grill. Here are my observations…
• Obama entered the event looking a little grim. Not sure if he was trying to look presidential or if the moment was actually finally hitting him. He did seem to finally start warming up as his time got closer.
• Unlike Joe Biden, his oath was botched. From reports it sounds like Justice Roberts was the culprit. Regardless, this is like shooting a free throw. You know what is coming and can practice it for 2 ½ months. How do you screw it up on the big stage?
• A powerful technique the new President has mastered is the “PAUSE.” Like all great orators, he used the pause to build curiosity, allow for thought, and create momentum to his speech. Extemporaneously, he tends to sue many fillers. In his prepared speech, he was flawless.
• He laid the foundation of his message by recounting the challenges we’ve faced and the ones still facing us. It was effective for a speech of this kind.
• He used strong vocal variety and repetition with the phrase, “They will be met…”
• Hits a strong transition with the phrase, “On this day…”
• Loved that he wasn’t scared to include God and Scriptures in his text. I was concerned he might be too politically correct. Kudos.
• Strong use of repetition vocally and emotionally – example “For us…”
• One distraction, he has is the Bill Clinton “clench.” I prefer an open hand. In addition, he tends to use his right hand significantly more than his left. Minor, yes. But distractions can take away from your message.
• His closing was strong, using the George Washington story to draw some historical perspective. I wouldn’t have minded seeing one more story mixed in to his speech.
• Rising voice to conclusion with softer final words. Poignant effect.
• His strengths – powerful voice, vocal variety, language, eye contact, inspirational delivery, rhythm. The poet reading after him could have learned from him!
Final thoughts – his use of vivid imagery in the language of the speech were fantastic…
• “Bitter swill of civil war”
• “Willing to unclench your fist”
• “Fallen in Arlington whisper through the ages”
If Mr. Obama proves one thing, it’s this – You can inspire, motivate, and persuade with exemplary speaking skills. He used his to rise from near obscurity 4 years ago to the first African-American President of the United States. What can you do in your career doing the same?