Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Memo to Barack Obama

Gestures are good, Mr. Obama, but use them judiciously
With only days left before your inauguration, I thought it might be helpful if I summarized the keys to effective speechmaking.

Nervousness. Don't look at me that way. I know you've presented at heated community meetings, spoken on the floor of the Senate and made innumerable appearances during the longest election campaign in history. But as President of the United States you can have an immediate impact on world events with everything you say. You're bound to be keyed up -- God, I hope you'll be keyed up -- so turn that tension into energy.

Delivery. Your predecessor never varied his approach: He would deliver a sentence, pause for exactly 3 seconds, deliver another sentence in exactly the same tone, pause again, and so on. He or his handlers may have thought it presidential. In broadcasting they call it dead air. You can do better. Change your pace, your tone of voice and your body language to emphasize the key points in your message.

Preparation. Whether you or your speechwriters draft it, read every statement several times aloud, including your own edits. This will help ensure your speech is written for the ear. Besides, you're not riding in coach anymore so there's no one to bother.

See other helpful hints in my speechwriting primer at left. And good luck.

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