Author: Shel Leanne

Publisher: McGraw-Hill, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0071615891, 224 pages

President Barack Obama’s considerable ability to capture people’s attention and move them to action is closely tied to his exceptional oratorical skills. But how exactly does he do it? Shel Leanne, president of a leadership development firm, dissects Obama’s powerful speaking style and shows how it is integral to his entire leadership package. Using examples from Obama’s speeches, she explains how you can improve your own communication and leadership capabilities. The book is practical and readable, although repetitive, and it would have been even more useful had the designer set off the speech excerpts more clearly from the rest of the text. Still, getAbstract considers this work essential for any aspiring speaker’s library. Even if you never become president of the United States, you will probably find yourself in front of a group of colleagues, employees or students whom you need to impress.

Words that resonate

Separating Barack Obama’s leadership skills from his talent as one of the most accomplished speakers of the current era is difficult. Observers have compared Obama’s oratorical skills to those of Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. His speaking style is charismatic, magnetic and energizing, and it enabled him to attract a wide following after his exceptional address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and to leap to the front of the 2008 Democratic presidential race.

Many qualities make Obama a particularly compelling orator. His messages are uplifting. He has great control over his baritone voice and uses different tones to express optimism, determination or anger. He understands symbols and rhetorical structures. In short, he has married his vision and goals to mastery of his delivery style, thereby connecting with millions of people.

Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention

When then-Senator Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, he faced the largest audience of his career to that point. After his friend, Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, introduced him, Obama used body language to create a strong impression. At different moments, he made a fist to mimic knocking on a door, held his palm up to indicate a stop sign and placed his hand over his heart to show his sincerity. His rising and falling voice emphasized his points or showed disapproval, giving the vivid speech an “emotional texture.” In his conclusion, he brought the audience to its feet by issuing a loud call to take action and elect Senator John Kerry president.

Since Obama has mixed racial parentage and grew up with a single mother, he needed to bridge the gap between himself and more mainstream Americans. He accomplished this by showing how his family’s roles during World War II and the successful rebuilding of the U.S. afterward exemplified the American Dream. Although he has an African name, Obama assured the audience that he shared their goals and feelings by characterizing his country as “generous,” and as “a beacon of freedom and opportunity.”

Rhetorically, his speech relied heavily on repetition to drive home its themes. Referring to the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, he said “John Kerry believes” five times. He compared and contrasted ideas. He included enough detail to buttress his ideas, yet not so much that it detracted from his main goal of motivating his audience…

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