I will admit, since becoming an adult, I have not made it a priority to listen to the President’s State of the Union address. Let’s be honest, most of the time these speeches, no matter who’s giving them, are about as exciting as watching a roll of paper towels.
And then President Obama came along and everything changed. I tried to never miss any of his addresses. Not only did I not miss them, I would actually get into my PJs, make snacks, and curl up on the sofa listening rapturously. You’d think I was watching a favorite movie.
As someone who makes a living through communication (don’t we all?), I was always blown away by President Obama’s powerful delivery skills. And if there is one person that needs to be able to communicate, it’s one of the most important leaders in the free world. I mean, it’s pretty important for political leaders to connect emotionally, inspire and persuade others, wouldn’t you say?
Here’s why President Obama was such a great speaker and how you can be, too.
Use Engaging Language
“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.”
Sometimes in order for a point to really land with your audience, you need to dress it up a bit to make it memorable. President Obama (or at least his speech writer) knew this was the case, as is evidenced by his above quotes.
Once you know the main information you want to share with your audience, go back through your outline and determine how you want your audience to feel when they listen to you. Then, get creative and play with language to see if you can make your most important points memorable.
Repetition to Drive the Message Home
Sometimes people need to hear something more than once before it sticks. This is why repetition is so important in public speaking and Obama was so good at it.
“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…”
When you really want to slam a message home, try to restate your idea (three times generally works well).
President Obama was known for sharing his own personal stories. He spoke of his Kenyan father traveling to America to study, about his Kansas mother being from a military family, and even that he was going to get a new puppy for his daughters when they moved into the White House.
Each time he shared a personal story, he stopped being the president and became human in our eyes. He wasn’t a powerful politician up there making a speech, he was just a regular guy talking to us, and we hung on his every word.
Your audience wants you to be human. Yes, you may be an expert in your field and yes, the listener can learn a lot from you. But to really connect with people, share your personal stories.
Make Them Wait for It
To really get… the attention of your audience… you should always use… pauses effectively. President Obama was ridiculously good at pausing while speaking. He made you sit on the edge of your seat, listening with full attention.
Most of us take pauses in between our thoughts, but most of us use filler words like “um” or “well” or “I guess.” Fillers don’t make you sound like an authority figure. Pausing makes you seem incredibly confident and inspires the audience to listen even more intently.
Okay, so maybe you’re not as good a singer as President Obama, but you can still have fun while up on that stage. Find ways to inject some humor and lightness into your speech and you’re sure to be a memorable speaker who gets invited back year after year.
No matter your political views, you can’t deny President Obama was an absolutely thrilling and engaging speaker. If you follow his lead, you may not become the next president of the United States, but you’ll certainly become a better speaker.
Take a moment to reflect and think about how you can raise the bar on your speaking skills and how YOU can become an in-demand, highly paid speaker.