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Obama’s Inauguration: An Archetype of Leadership Communication

I am so excited to see Barack Obama’s inaugural speech that I can hardly think of anything else. I am not head-over-heels in love with the guy, either. I think of him as just another politician much like all the others, but with a rare gift — the gift of oratory.

I will never forget when I first heard Obama speak at the 2004 Democratic Convention (on TV). I was flabbergasted that there was this person out there who could speak so beautifully and who seemed to get the tone and tenor just right. This is no small feat. I knew at that moment a star had been born. Apparently so did a lot of other people and, clearly, Obama himself recognized the impact he had because he then went on to harness the reaction and build on it.

The writing, of course, must be good with rhetorical devices in place. There has to be a rhythm to it meaning the devices have to occur in just the right places. The stories that are told must not be too long, but should be meaningful. The feeling that Obama imbues the speech with must be heartfelt and real, lest the listeners detect a lack of authenticity. Finally, the delivery must be flawless with just the right amount of expression, emotion, crescendos and diminuendos, pauses and silences.

It must accomplish something important: it must speak to all the people, not just in this country (though especially to them), but also to the world. The whole world is watching and waiting. The speech must lift people up but the language itself must not be too lofty. This speech is about getting carried away and I mean that in the most positive sense.

The speech has no doubt gone through many revisions. I saw somewhere that work on it began two months ago. Although his chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, will have been charged with creating most of it, he and the president-elect will have actually tag-teamed on it because they know it must be in Obama’s voice and not even a long-time speechwriter always gets it right. Some veteran speechwriters have probably been brought in to assist and vet, too.

Obama will have to practice this speech, say it out loud many, many times with people present who can give him feedback. He’ll have to try certain lines a few different ways before they feel and sound right. By the time he delivers it, it should be practically memorized. Even though the teleprompter will be there, he will probably not need to use it.

This is a lot of work. I mentioned above that he has a gift. But is that really what it is? After all, the pieces are discrete, distinct, and deconstructible. Can anyone do this?

Yes we can.

Copyright 2009 Ruth Sherman.  All Rights Reserved.

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