November 5, 2008

Two speeches

Yesterday, Barack Obama was a senator from Illinois. Today, he's our president-elect. A historic moment for our country, capped off by a historic speech.

Throughout his campaign, Obama's presidential demeanor was impressive. Sometimes I wished he could have let a little more humor and lightheartedness shine through in his appearances, but at the same time I understand the pressure he must have felt as an African-American candidate to appear more presidential and more serious than the other candidates. It's hard to be perfect and human at the same time.

Last night, Obama gave a powerful and presidential speech that had many of the elements we look for in a successful and engaging presentation.

He opened strong, saving his thank yous for later and not wasting any time getting to his core message:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

He made it about the audience:

"But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you." And later, "This is your victory."

He told stories of his own experiences and those of Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106-year-old woman who turned 18 the year women were given the right to vote:

"She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can...

... And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Yes we can."

He used Cooper's story as a vehicle to repeat his mantra and rallying cry "Yes we can!" and this was where his speech really took off and found its emotional core.

He even used a little humor in referring to the new puppy his daughters will take to the White House.

His positive and uplifting words were memorable and quotable:

"To those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope."

And he gave a call to action:

"But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand...

...It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other."

This is the kind of speech that will be memorized in classrooms: powerful, positive, honest, direct, persuasive and emotionally engaging.

And a brief note about John McCain's concession speech. It was gracious, it was heartfelt, it was sincere. He came across as natural, comfortable and authentic. This moving speech, sadly for McCain, was possibly his best of the campaign. More of this style of communication might have helped him.

What a night.

(Full transcript of Obama's speech is here.)

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1 comments. Please add yours! :

Unknown said...

Good analysis Lisa.

Here's my YouTube video illustrating the rhetorical brilliance of Obama's speech:

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