Public Speaking Tip: Don't Emulate Obama

Last Updated Sep 29, 2008 5:32 PM EDT

If Barack Obama is indeed elected President, he will turn out to be one of the most articulate Presidents ever. I've been listening to Obama read his two books (Dreams From My Father and Audacity of Hope) on CD and he is a joy to listen to. As a writer and public speaker, I am in awe of his skills in both departments. And if I'm smart, I will never try to emulate them, at least not his speaking style.

Obama appears to be blessed with an equanimity that is not shared by most people. He seems secure in his personality and willing to see things through the other person's eyes. And he's more than willing to share credit.

Since he's so articulate, he can get away with things other speakers can't, and shouldn't try. The first is his use of the phrase, "John's right about this..." in the debate Friday night. As a speaker with the objective of building one's own case, it's not helpful to repeatedly praise the other party -- let them and their supporters take care of that. A better way to phrase it would be "We agree on some points, but Sen. McCain and I differ on key aspects..."

Of more concern is his continued repeating of negative sentiments about himself, as when he used the word "naive" about half way through the debate. After he said that, McCain repeated it several times, feasting on a word that played right into his strategy of portraying Obama as inexperienced.

The only cure for "repeating a negative" is practicing not to. Obama, with his strong oratorical skills, can get away with it. The rest of us shouldn't try.

  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.