Speak Like Obama
You may not be able to speak like Obama. You may not even want to speak like Obama. (After all, the surest way to sound fake or phony is to imitate someone else, even someone whose speaking you admire.) But you can learn from the way Obama speaks in order to influence and inspire your audiences.
1. Be yourself— your best self.
The way Obama speaks is very much like the way he presents himself in interviews and unscripted conversations. That’s because there’s no way to separate who he is from what he communicates. Obama comes across as measured, thoughtful, and articulate. Which is fine for him. But not for you, unless you are naturally measured, thoughtful, and articulate. The trick is not to imitate Obama’s style, but to inject your own character, values, personality, experience, and style into every speech you give.
2. Speak for one — or maybe all — of three reasons.
In most of his speeches, Obama refrains from going into a great deal of details. That’s because he knows that his role as leader isn’t primarily to communicate information. His role as leader — and yours, if you are leader or aspire to be one is to:
A) IDENTIFY the audience: Tell or remind the audience who they are, what unites them to each other and sets them apart from others, what values and history they share),
B) INFLUENCE the audience: Shape the way your audience thinks and feels about the big issues they face.
C) INSPIRE the audience. Don’t imitate motivational speakers or cheer leaders, people who act unnaturally positive in order to make their audiences feel the same way. Instead, tap into your audience’s deeply-held values and desires to move them to action.
3. Develop your BIG IDEA — one idea per speech.
Obama builds his speeches around big ideas, not around applause lines or media moments. The ides are sometimes multi-layered and complex. (See his speech on race.) But they are always clearly explained. Make sure your BIG IDEA is something something strong and clear enough to stand on its own two feet without having to be propped up by an over reliance on jargon, buzzwords, and corporate-speak.
4. Say it again.
Like every other political, Obama repeats himself a lot. When he was on the campaign trail, he would develop a stump speech, which he gave and perfected time and again in front of each new audience. (Of course, he also created and delivered certain speeches — called policy speeches — for single occasions.) If you’re a leader or if you aspire to be one, you should have a few stump speeches of your own. You should, for example, have a speech that talks about your organization, its mission, and the challenges it faces. As long as you’re speaking to a new audience your speech, even if it is word for word the same, is new. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth repeating.
5. Use memorable rhetorical devices.
Obama uses simple rhetorical devices to make his speeches easier to listen to and remember. These devises don’t call attention to themselves. They don’t make him sound old fashioned or highfalutin. They make him sound strong. Try incorporating some of these devices in your speeches and see what happens:
Tricolon: Link together three words, phrases, or clauses of equal length and increasing power. “Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy….”
Repetition: Use the same word or word pattern in quick succession. “It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools…. It’s the answer spoken by young and old…. It’s the answer…”
Alliteration: Repeat the same consonants at the beginning of two or more words. “…a place [America] where destiny was not a destination, but a journey to be shared and shaped….”
Antithesis: Juxtapose contrasting words or ideas. “Budget reform is not an option. It’s a necessity.”
Imagery: Use descriptive, concrete language to evoke sensory experience. “It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs, the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores, the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta, the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds, the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too..”
Obama doesn’t try to sound like other leaders he admires, even though he frequently quotes them or alludes to their messages. (He’s got a particular fondness for Lincoln.) So it would be a mistake for you to try to sound like Obama when he speaks. Instead learn from how he does it. And make it your own.