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Michelle Obama’s Speech – How she hit the Home Run

Election years often bring great speeches. The first night of the Democratic Convention is a good place to start.

Michelle Obama closed the first day of the convention with a speech that created such a positive response in the twitter-sphere that, at points, there were 28,000 tweets about it per minute – more than double anything achieved by the Republican Convention.

Politics aside, I want to highlight some key reasons why this speech was so good from a communication point of view, and why it was favourably reviewed by the USA and worldwide press.

By far the clearest and most powerful tool Michelle Obama used in this speech was storytelling. She painted a vivid picture of her father going to and from work when she was growing up and of President Obama’s grandmother starting out as a bank secretary and paying for his education. These references achieved persuasive goals, They made the audience feel as if the couple are “one of them”; they’re like me, they understand me and my history.

In a communicator, storytelling is a highly-valued skill. You do it when you’re describing how things went while your boss was away on holiday this summer, or when you’re talking with a client about your business, or when you’re leading a team towards a goal.

In fact we’re doing it a lot of the time.

Here are some key storytelling techniques the First Lady used in her speech with aplomb.

Firstly:

  1. Be specific, give details. Who was doing what? Where were they doing it? When did it happen?
  2. Keep it simple, use plain, clear language. Just because you’re telling the story doesn’t mean it has to be overly long, onerous or tangential.
  3. Use all your five senses; put the listener in the scene, describe what was going on just before, how it took place, where you ended up.
  4. Finally, know the destination you want to take your audience to. To avoid going off-track or losing your way, make sure you know where you’re taking the listener. Make sure it’s somewhere they want to go!

Secondly, a real appreciation of the social media space. A great many of the key messages the First Lady spoke could be transmitted in 140 characters.

“Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it; and he wants everyone in this country to have the same opportunity.”

“For Barack, these issues aren’t political – they’re personal – because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles.”

“I have seen first hand that being President doesn’t change who you are—it reveals who you are.”

Using social media like this does two main things.

  1. The “word bites” are immediately digestible by both the physical and digital audiences. They reach as many people as technologically possible. But, more important, they keep the sentences elegant, precise and impactful.
  2. It defeats a cardinal communication sin. Wordiness. Ask yourself, in your business meetings, conference calls and 1:1 conversations, how often are they just one way traffic? Some people like giving their own ideas, opinions and thoughts to the exclusion of everything else. They hog the conversation or produce a rambling stream of consciousness with no planning or editing. Communicating clearly is an athletic activity. It requires practice, thought and precision.

Finally, let me tell you my favourite aspect of the First Lady’s speech – which cannot be trained, practised or faked. She came across as “natural”. There were parts of the speech where, in my opinion, she ever-so-slightly got the timing wrong, or her voice cracked a little when it shouldn’t have, but her AUTHENTICITY shone through even so. In fact, brilliantly!

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