What We Can Learn from President Obama: Public Speaking and The State of the Union

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the elections coming up, there’s a lot of focus on the speaking styles of the presidential candidates.  Earlier in the year, I analyzed the President’s State of the Union Speech from a presentation perspective.

(Need a reminder?  Check out the speech on YouTube.)

No matter your political persuasion, the State of the Union address was a study in great public speaking.  Not only did the president have a commanding presence.  He captivated as he delivered his vision for America with a sense of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement. In fact, when asked to rate his speech, I gave it a 90 out of 100

Below, I’ve listed some attributes of his State of the Union speech, from which we can all learn.  But what about that remaining 10 points out of a perfect score of 100?  Not even the president is perfect, so I’ve also listed a couple of cons.  See below for my pro and con observations.

The Good


President Obama acknowledged all sides of the room, alternately facing center and then to one or the other side of the room.

His voice was expressive, as he used a palette of tone, color, dynamics (loud and soft), and rhythm in his delivery.

He paused after sentences so the audience could digest what he had to say.

He conveyed a sense of urgency, not only in his remarks, but in his voice, and stressed important words.

He sounded confident, decisive and authoritative.

The Speech itself

The president used easy-to-understand language that resonates with most people.

He backed up and illustrated his points with specific examples and anecdotal examples of real people benefitting from government programs.

Obama used catchy phrases, such as “We need to turn government from an unemployment system to re-employment system.

  • The speech employed  active verbs, talking about specific actions the president  is taking
  • The presentation itself was well crafted, and segued smoothly from one subject to the next


  • Too long
    • Dwelt too long in a couple of places
    • Slightly repetitive

Why doesn’t everyone like me?

Watching President Obama get grilled at a town hall meeting recently reminded me about audiences and the desire each of us has to be liked.  Just as with the president or any public figure for that matter, we all want our audiences to like us.

The problem is that listening is subjective.  Each person in your audience brings with them their own background and perspective. and in so doing, sees and hears with their own eyes and ears .   And for this reason, it’s hard to please everyone all of the time.

People can be quirky.  Perhaps someone doesn’t like the way your hair looks, or the way you’re dressed, or even your style.  Or one person hears something you say and another interprets it in another way.

Be confident in your content and your delivery, do the best job you can.  Then know that most everyone in your audience will respond positively.  And for those who don’t, it could be more about them than about you.

For more insights into speaking and communicating effectively, visit www.publicspeaking4u.com.