Speech of the Month, August 2020 - Michelle Obama

She may be a public speaking star but the technique's Michelle Obama uses are learnable. Here's a few of them...

Speech of the Month, August 2020 - Michelle Obama

For almost a week, Kamala Harris – the subject of my first ‘Speech of the Month’ post - was going to be this month’s subject too, but then Michelle Obama gave a video speech at the first night of the Democratic National Convention and because I’ve never had the opportunity to explore the techniques that one of the greatest public speakers of the 21st century uses, she had to be my choice. And the good news is that many of the techniques she uses aren’t difficult for anyone to employ. 

Pick your colours to match your speech mission

Don’t know about you but I thought Michelle looked so delicious in her mocha coloured top teamed with sparkling gold ‘vote’ necklace that I could’ve taken a bite out of her! But her choice of colours was not accidental. Browns and beiges project a warm, approachable feel which complemented her friendly, familiar ‘You know me’ slogan and persona. 

Kamala Harris is currently wearing a lot of blue, of course. And bold primary and secondary colours are wonderful at projecting a sense of leadership. Again, it’s no accident that those Butlin’s holiday reps, who lead the knobbly knees and glamorous granny competitions, wear the famous red coat.   

So if you are a leader and you’re giving an important speech, invest in a couple of bright jackets or ties that you feel good in and really suit you. If you’re not sure which colours suit you, then this Justine Leconte video will be a good place to start.   

Set out the problems clearly

If you’re asking people to do something different – and Michelle’s asking her audience to vote for a democrat president – then you’ve got to make a case for why they should early on. Tell the audience what’s going wrong that could and should be better. In her speech, Michelle spends a minute and a half talking about the unacceptable number of Covid-19 deaths, Trump’s downplay of the pandemic, job losses and racism. I’m always amazed by the number of presenters that forget to include this vital section in their presentations. From now on, make sure you’re not one of them. 

Create word images

Forcing an audience to visualise an image because of the words you use can have a very powerful pay-off. Michelle demonstrates this brilliantly when, speaking about Joe Biden’s personal bereavements, she says, “Joe knows the anguish of sitting at a table with an empty chair.” That sentence is far more emotionally arresting than saying, ‘Joe knows the pain of bereavement’ because it makes you picture the scene and feel the sadness in it. Consider when you can show rather than tell.   

Get your face involved 

Did you notice how much Michelle uses her face to get her message across? The face really is the emotional organ, it’s through it that we can see how a person feels and how genuine we believe them to be. Such is the power of that ‘emotional organ’ that many aging film actresses are faced with that awful dilemma –  ‘If I don’t take action to look young the parts with dry up, but if I do fill my face with Botox, then my face won’t work well and I’ll be less of a performer.’ Luckily, few of us are faced with that sort of dilemma, we just need to remember to get our faces involved when we're addressing an audience of any size.

This is easier said than done, however; when adrenalin’s in the body and the speaker isn’t in control of it, he or she will gallop to the end making no effort to connect with the audience. 

Interestingly though, there are a few moments when Michelle does slightly too much with her face. One is when she says, referring to the presidency, “It reveals who you are.” Did you feel that overly theatrical look on 'reveals' too? The reason she did it is because she’s used to addressing audiences of 1000+ and in that setting you have to be larger than life, but when you’re speaking directly to a camera, less is usually more. This is something I work on with participants in my ‘Presenting Through Zoom’ workshop. 

If you enjoyed this post and would love to be an affecting speaker like Michelle, then get in touch.   

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