I’m not one for “spin”; in fact I find it quite troubling how many people seem enamoured more by powerful oratory than by substance, hard facts and tested results – I have alluded to this in a number of my previous posts, e.g. “Narrative Fallacies Galore“, “Book Review – The Believing Brain“, “Book Review – Redirect“, etc.
Having said that, one does occasionally have to speak in public and it helps to maximise the impact of what one has to say. The author does a very thorough job of analysing Obama’s speeches in detail, giving very structured and well written explanations of each of the techniques used, with clear examples of how these techniques have been applied. Having been a member of Toastmasters International for almost 5 years, most of the techniques described in the book are quite familiar to me – voice and intonation, powerful imagery, anecdotes, repeating or using similar sounding words (anaphora, epiphora, alliterations, triads etc.), gestures and pauses at the right times.
My purpose of reading this book was to see if there was anything additional I could glean on this subject of public speaking, as practised by President Obama. There certainly were a few new ideas.
The first is on breaking down barriers – acknowledging the “elephant in the room”, such as his race or different name and achieving trancsendence by finding common ground and talking about shared dreams and visions. Tackling the “elephant in the room” head on at the beginning then makes for a more comfortable atmosphere with the audience during the rest of the time the speech is being delivered.
The second is on conveying admirable ethics (e.g. being gracious, even after being insulted or made to feel awkward by a previous speaker), in order to earn trust and confidence. This point may be more about leadership. By building a good ethical reputation, if and when controversy arises or accusations come forth, these attacks tend to bounce off rather than stick.
The third is on overcoming obstacles and weathering controversies or accepting responsibility for errors. (Again, this may have more to do with leadership.) These should be tackled at the beginning, with humility rather than defiance. After addressing this (and with the audience then in a more forgiving and receptive state), Obama would then go on to reiterate his beliefs and deliver tough messages.
For anyone interested in the subjects of public speaking and leadership, this book does offer a few good tips.