Lessons from Obama: First Steps in Developing Excellent Speaking Skills

As we see in my recently published book, Say It Like Obama: the Power of Speaking with Purpose and Vision (McGraw Hill, 2008 - www.sayitlikeobama.com), Senator Barack Obama has honed outstanding communication skills and these skills have helped fuel his strong performance as a U.S. presidential candidate. Young leaders often ask me what they should consider the first steps in developing outstanding communication skills like those of Obama.

My answer? Preparation, preparation, preparation. 

Then practice, practice, practice. 

By preparation, I mean start by studying those people who speak in a way you admire or in a way you seek to emulate. In reviewing the works of these great communicators, you will be able to discern blueprints for effective communication. How did they start off their speeches? How did the form strong connections with the audiences? How much detail did they provide for effectiveness? What rhetorical techniques did they employ? Barack Obama, in fact, has noted that he has studied the speeches of some of the great communicators of recent times—he read the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. extensively during college, for instance. When hearing Obama’s public remarks delivered during this 2008 presidential campaign, you can also see in his eloquence, style and rhetoric glimpses of the influences of other great orators such as John. F. Kennedy.

The effective communicator never seeks to merely parrot another speaker. But there is great merit in learning from those who have demonstrated outstanding oratory skills. 

Next, practice, practice, practice. Be willing to make mistakes—things won’t always go perfectly for the novice speaker. But experience provides a wealth of knowledge to draw from to deepen skills and refine communication practices. It also helps build confidence and comfort in speaking—whether before a group of 5, 50, 500 or 50,000.   

 

Dr. Shel Leanne is author of Say It Like Obama: the Power of Speaking with Purpose and Vision (McGraw Hill, 2008 - www.sayitlikeobama.com) and President of Regent Crest, a leadership development firm whose clients come from Fortune 500 companies.

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