Communication Skills

How To Speak And Influence People Like Barack Obama

People skills | Public speaking

A reporter writes about the Obama in the year 2000:

I never heard him launch into the preacher-man voice he now employs during speeches. He sounded vanilla, and activists in his mostly black district often chided him for it.


The point is, yes, you too can become a great Orator like Barack Obama.


Obama worked on being a great speaker.


Here is a short list of ingredients in the Barack Obama public speaking toolbox, using which he moves and influences people:


[The quotes are excerpts from Obama’ speeches]


1. Create a catchy slogan

'Yes we can, yes we can!'


2. Create catchy phrases

They do not necessarily have to be meaningful, just more ad-like:

We are the hope of the future. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.


3. Repeat words

You have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do. You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days. You have done what America can do in this new year.


4. Repeat slogan or key phrase at end of sentences

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can. It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can. It was sung by immigrants as they struck out for distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.


5. Join words that start with similar sounds

This is also known as alliteration.


'We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics'

Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?


An example of alliteration from Wikipedia: 'Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Pepper'.


The Wikipedia entry also says that 'books aimed at young readers often use alliteration, as it consistently captures children’s interest.'


No wonder Obama is so popular among young Americans.


6. Bring hope and other powerful images into your words

In his speech after his surprise defeat in the New Hampshire primaries, Obama sounded so hopeful that you would have thought you were listening to a winner’s speech:


We know the battle ahead will be long. But always remember, no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change… We have been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.


7. Solid and Vibrant body language

- Eye contact: When he answers questions, Obama maintains strong eye contact, even if the questions are tough.

- Keep still and do not fidget or shake your head: Obama is unflappable even during the toughest of debates.

- Lean forward when you are sitting: it is a more engaging pose to display.

- Walk the talk: if you are good with words, back that up with a dynamic and strong outward personality.


8. Follow the best practices in speech making


- Change the pitch and tone of your words.


- Change the speed at which you are speaking: sometimes fast, and then slowing down, often within the same sentence or paragraph - Obama often pauses at important moments to relay punch it in.


- Change the volume at which you speak: You can use it create the crescendo effect, Example from Obama:

'We are one nation. We are one people. And our time for change has come.'


- Emphasize on key words: Apart from Barack Obama, actor Christopher Walken is perhaps the best example of how people put emphasis on certain words


9. Learn from the best

Obama was not a great speaker, not even a good speaker before he got into politics.


He started by learning from the preachers and many have noticed Obama’s preacher-like lofty sermons.


Obama has made no secret of him being an admirer of Martin Luther King Jr., a great Orator and motivator of people, famous for his 'I have a dream' speech.


Thank you for reading.
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