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‹ View all articles 13th January 2016

Why Barack Obama will be remembered as one of the greatest speakers of all time

How to Inspire

After listening to President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU), I am once again reminded of how powerful his delivery skills can be. We can debate whether style trumps substance or vice versa all we want. The truth is that leaders—political and business—who are able to connect emotionally with their stakeholders will win hearts and minds and those who don’t, won’t.  Here are three reasons why President Obama will be remembered as on the of the greatest speakers of all time (and how you can learn to speak like him). 

  • By using creative language, Barack Obama takes the audience to another place.  The best speeches have one clear purpose and Obama does that with ease. He knows exactly what to say to make his audience trust him by creating contrasts between a problem (or difficulty or ‘evil’) and a solution (or ‘good’). He has the ability to use words that cut to the quick in a way that every person feels deeply. His artful use of metaphors speaks for itself...

"the grit . . . of ordinary people."

"ripples of hope that come out when you throw a stone in a lake."

"And every once in a while, a pitch is going to come right over home plate that you can knock out for a home run. But you don’t swing at every pitch."

  • President Obama is a master of the technique the Rule of Three. Threes are deeply embedded in our culture as easy ways to remember things. Most people share the feeling that if they have one piece of information, they can probably slot in another piece of information on either side to make three in total. The outline of an effective speech will have three sections: an introduction, body and conclusion. The repetition is powerful because it can make your message more persuasive, memorable, and entertaining.

"We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America."

"Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over."

"Thank you for believing all the way, through every hill, through every valley."

  • In public speaking repetition is your friend.  By using the rhetorical technique Anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses, he slams home his message. Repetition, or restatement of an idea, promotes clarity and encourages the acceptance of an idea.

“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…”

  • Rigorous, disciplined, and confident speakers use hand gestures more than average. The gestures reflect the clarity of their thinking and actually give us—the audience—confidence in his leadership. President Obama, like many brilliant presenters, uses gestures to punctuate almost every sentence. Obama also uses his voice brilliantly. He slows it down, lowers his volume, and pauses for impact. At other times he speeds up his pace and raises the volume of his voice to underscore a key sentence. He has also mastered parallel constructions. ‘It’s not because of this, it’s not because of that.' The following Obama quote has FIVE parallel constructions in just 43 words.

"This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign: to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America."

Obama is a fantastic speaker. He demonstrates many, many qualities of what a talented, persuasive, and motivational speaker should be. His eloquence stands out, his articulation is near perfect, and his flow is excellent. This is all topped off by his voice, which is itself, strong and clear. He is a master of even the tiniest little gestures, such as when to pause, and what tone to take. Like him or loathe him as a politician, he will (without a doubt) be remembered as one of the most amazing speakers of our time.

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