Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

FAQ: How Should I End My Speech?

FAQTo paraphrase Lee Iacocca, the object of every speech is to motivate, which makes the last words your audience hears from you critically important.

Here are some ways to end with a bang, not a whimper. (You’ll find more in my book, Words that Mean Success.)

Bookend. One of the classic and most effective ways to end a speech is to circle back to the beginning of the presentation at the end. President Obama does this a lot.

Do Something out of the Ordinary. Look for an unusual quote (I found one from daredevil Evel Knievel), a little known event in history, a case of strange bed fellows, etc. Use anything that makes the audience sit up and take notice. One warning: be very careful about using humor. (You’ve heard this from me before.) In particular, it is very risky to end with a joke.

T.A.P. (Talk About People). Try to end your speech by humanizing the larger point you’re making. Find an evocative story or vignette that involves an actual human being doing something. The more specific you can be (“Engineer John Smith is on the front line of the data security revolution…”) the better.

A Lesson From Obama’s Jerusalem Speech: How to Make a Personal Connection

israel_people-2President Obama’s recent “speech to the Israeli people” in Jerusalem has rightly been lauded as a masterful blend of rhetoric and policy. Every executive who gives speeches can learn a lot from it. One important lesson is how to creatively establish a personal connection with your audience.

Before I read it, I wondered how the President, an African American, a non-Jew who grew up in Hawaii, would establish a personal bond with Israelis, especially during the Passover season. In particular, I wondered if he and his speechwriters could pull it off without sounding phony or patronizing.

Did they ever!

First, he connected his family to the traditional Passover meal: After enjoying Seders with family and friends in Chicago and on the campaign trail, I’m proud that I’ve now brought this tradition into the White House. I did so because I wanted my daughters to experience the Haggadah, and the story at the center of Passover that makes this time of year so powerful.

Then he established a strong link between his childhood and the Passover story: To African Americans, the story of the Exodus was perhaps the central story, the most powerful image about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity — a tale that was carried from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement into today….For me, personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, the story spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home.

Nicely done….

What We Really Learned from the Three Debates: Words Matter


Trying to draw lessons from the way politicians use words and apply them to business people can be risky. But I do think executives can gain important insights from the three Presidential debates.

First and foremost: how you use the spoken word really does make a difference. The substance of what President Obama said really didn’t vary much from debate number one to debate number two. And the same for Governor Romney.  Yet every analyst agrees that the President lost the first debate (badly) and won the second one (narrowly).

The difference was the way Obama framed his arguments and how he delivered them. He definitely had a better script in debate number two. His answers and attacks were sharper and crisper. And he delivered his lines like he believed in them and they really mattered.

His poor performance the first time he shared the mic with Romney may well cost him the election. Whatever the outcome on November 6, executives should learn from the President’s mistake. When you’re giving an important speech getting the substance right is just the start. Your script and delivery have to be terrific too or you won’t engage your audience. You might even lose them.

Telling Stories the Obama Way

tell-me-a-story-social-media-strategy-and-roiOne of the key messages I try to convey in all my presentations on helping good executives give good speeches is “tell stories.” Or more completely “tell stories, don’t recite statistics.” Here’s a video of then-Senator Obama giving his speech accepting the nomination for president in 2008.  In it he addresses a whole range of issues. But note that  instead of reciting his policy solutions, he tells one brief story after another, some of them personal.

Here are a couple examples:

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great, a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight. Because, in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton’s army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the G.I. Bill. In the face of that young student, who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree, who once turned to food stamps, but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships….

We can argue about his performance in office, but there is not doubt his performance at the podium that night was terrific.

Hearing Romney in Person: One Speechwriter’s Review

This morning (February 10), I joined 849 other members of the Northern Virginia Technology Council in a Washington, D.C. suburb to hear Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney.  To be honest, speaking purely as a speechwriter and close observer of executive speeches, I wasn’t expecting much. The conventional wisdom among pundits is that Romney is an uninspiring (read “boring”) speaker. And he has stumbled in some of his interviews and off-the-cuff remarks.

Well, he surprised me. He started with a couple of good, self deprecating anecdotes (one about then-California governor Schwarzenegger trying to steal Massachusetts jobs). He stumbled over words a little at first, but got smoother as he went on. He spoke without notes, in a very conversational tone. He also wove his arguments carefully, pulling in history, some recent books he’d read and other sources to make the case for his policy positions. Also, he illustrated many of his key points with stories — either events from his life as a governor and business leader, or from anecdotes from other experts.

He wasn’t a laugh a minute, but he brought in some gentle humor that served him well, too.

And he concluded with a call to arms — a rousing appeal to renewing the country, strengthening innovation, etc.

Overall, he did a great job creating the impression that he was a logical, thoughtful guy with some much, needed common-sense solutions.

To be sure, he had a huge audience that was primed to hear his message. Nevertheless, I’ve seen other presidential candidates (i.e., John McCain) come to similar events and not do nearly as well.

I’m a lousy political prognosticator, but after this morning I think Governor Romney could be a much tougher opponent for President Obama than many people think.