The President's Speech

Last Updated May 2, 2011 4:01 PM EDT

President Obama's announcement last night that Osama bin Laden was dead was what speechwriters might call a "wicked witch of the west is dead" speech. A scourge of terrorism is no more and the world should rejoice.

Yet what struck me about the President's speech was its powerful narrative. After announcing bin Laden's demise, the President put it into context by referencing the images of horror on 9/11, bin Laden's moment of triumph. Obama made those images more poignant by noting the losses of people who were no longer with us, as he noted, "The empty seat at the dinner table. Children forced to grow up without mother or father."

The President took great pains to note the gallant service of the intelligence and military forces that tracked bin Laden and finally made a move in his fortified compound. The good news was evident. Bin Laden was killed and no Americans were hurt.

The President put a human face on the sacrifices our intelligence and military people make.


"The American people do not see, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and their pursuit of justice."

President Obama was careful to note that bin Laden's death is not the end of militant terrorism. He warned that we could expect that more attacks be planned against us. Vigilance is vital.

The speech made careful pains, and all the more so in light of NATO support for Libyan rebels, that the U.S. "is not â€" and will never be â€" at war with Islam." By referencing bin Laden as a "mass murderer" he marginalized a man who headed an organization that also killed many Muslims.

Why the speech delivered

The right hook of the speech, leadership wise, came in reference to Pakistan. "I've repeatedly made clear that we would take action in Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was." That lays it on the line that the U.S. views bin Laden as an enemy of the state who will be dealt with. There was no bluster in such words, chiefly because Obama did take action and secondly, because he noted that the U.S. has been working with the Pakistanis in counterterrorism activities.

A nod to our values

In closing Obama echoed the poignancy of his opening by speaking directly to the families of those who died on 9/11. "We have never forgotten your loss."

Then, as presidents must do, Obama followed this statement with strong resolve that reminded me of Franklin Roosevelt's wartime speeches. "We are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to," Obama said. "That is the story of our history."

This can do spirit is not about military might, Obama cautions, but rather it is our legacy "to stand up for our values abroad and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place."

As effective as this speech is, it can also serve as a lesson for other leaders who are called upon to make a big announcement. For example,


1. Deliver the headline first. Obama announced bin Laden's death at the top of the speech. This is the hook that captures our attention.

2. Put the news in context. Obama placed bin Laden's fate in context why it was important to American to get bin Laden. His continued existence was an affront to our values and our people.

3.Tell a story. A theme of this presentation is remembrance: the sacrifice of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 and the diligence of those who brought bin Laden to justice.

4. And one more thing: Get to the point. Brevity rules. This presentation was less than ten minutes.

Taken as a whole, this speech resonates with strength of a president who can make tough decisions but it says more about our nation, resilient in catastrophe, tough in resolve, and grateful for men and women in service who labor to keep us safe.


Here's his speech: Watch it again and tell me what you think.


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John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2011 Leadership Gurus International ranked John no. 11 on its list of the world's top leadership experts. John is the author of nine books on leadership including his Lead By Example: 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results and Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up. Follow him on Twitter.