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Communicator of the Week: Obama

2nd July 2015


The challenges facing America over race and gun crime are significant. Parallels have been drawn with the battle against slavery in the 19th century. Today's issues - separate though intrinsically linked - are however, ones which threaten to undermine developments in society since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The recent murders of 9 black church goers by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina, has led to a national debate about the use of the Confederate flag (the pro slavery south in the U.S. Civil War) and split the nation. This is the context of the significant intervention by this week's award winner.

The great speech makers throughout history have shown that an ordinary speech can be made brilliant through performance and a good speech made iconic. This is what President Obama managed with his 34 minutes speaking to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

If you read through a copy of President Obama's speech it has a strong theme -'grace' - and is overtly religious in tone and content befitting the occasion and venue in which he spoke. It makes an argument well but would never be as memorable as it has already become without the way Barack Obama performed - not delivered - it.

Of course his speech was perfectly pitched to his audience sat in front and around him but it's power came in reaching out to many millions of others watching and listening at home.

I urge you if you have not done so to take some time to listen to some, if not all, of this speech. It was the ultimate lesson in speech making.

His delivery was sublime. Very often politicians are criticised for preaching to voters but for significant sections of this speech Obama went into religious preacher mode. It worked. His cadence was pitch perfect, helped by the words being drafted in a way that, if delivered by a lesser performer, could have fallen flat. For him though, this drafting allowed him room to shift through the gears when necessary or pull it right back when the time was right.

At other moments the folksy rhythm disappeared. When making a calm, considered argument, you would expect of a lawyer turned politician, Obama was as sharp and to the point as is possible. So yes, the performance was sublime but any great speech has to make an argument otherwise all you have is a great performance. This speech did that too.

If President Obama is able to turn the stirring prose of the eulogy into meaningful policies in his last 18 months in the Oval Office then this speech will be seen to have been as significant as it was beautifully delivered. If he fails to define his legacy through action it may not matter as this speech could already have secured it which is why he is my Communicator of the Week.

Comunicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite



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