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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Obama Rhetorical Skills Silenced as President

July 17, 2010

There has been a great deal written about the rhetorical skills of President Barrack Obama, dating back to the 2008 presidential campaign, when he took the nation by storm with his speech making ability.

There have been few politicians in the modern era who’ve had the ability to stir the public consciousness, so when candidate Obama hit the political scene, it was novel and intriguing.

An adoring media covered his speeches like they were the second coming of the Super Bowl. Others, most notably members of the Kennedy clan, were so enthralled with his oratory skills; they immediately jumped onto his bandwagon and endorsed his presidential candidacy.

The Kennedys, and many others, thought Obama to be reminiscent of former President John F. Kennedy, who had a caddice and style all to his own, but still, many thought the young upstart possessed the same type of rhetorical skills.

Fast forward to 2010 and many are wondering what happen, or where did that stirring candidate go, as many now see his oratory to be less than visionary.

President Obama is still able to give a good speech, but much of what he has to say, ill regardless of the subject, sounds the same, and he hardly moves audiences as he once did.

The fact is during the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama basically gave one speech, and he was very familiar with it, and had it polished to perfection. He was comfortable, and could provide different voice inflections, varying caddices, and was able to virtually edit the speech, as he went along.

As President, this isn’t possible.

Issues change daily, and there is little or no time for President Obama to give the same speech over and over, and less time to prepare as well. The result is President Obama relies almost exclusively on teleprompters when giving a speech. He is struggling to provide inspiration, nor does he have the emotional passion to move voters on garden variety issues, such as health care, immigration, and oil exploration.

Part of the problem is the presidential institution itself. The White House employs a team of speech writers to assist in presidential wordsmithing – and while these writers sometimes write fantastic speeches “on paper”; the words can be unwieldy when delivered to an audience.

There are several things the President, and his staff, can do to right themselves from his rhetorical dilemma. Taking the advice of one of the most effective past presidents – Ronald Reagan – would be a good place to start.

Former President Reagan said, “When I’m speaking to a crowd – or on television – I try to remember that audiences are made up of individuals and I try to speak as if I am talking to a group of friends … not to millions, but to a handful of people in a living room … or a barbershop.”

President Obama has excellent timing but comes across stilted when he speaks from a teleprompter, especially to smaller audiences where such a device seems to be out of place.  Reagan relied on his shorthand – written out on four-by-six cards – thus when talking to a group - his speeches were always focused.

This helped him appear unrehearsed and heartfelt because he was able to formulate complete sentences as he went along. His experience as an actor, of course, did not hurt.

President Obama would do well to drop the teleprompter – except for major addresses – and find a way to speak from the heart – in his own style.

It could bring back the passion people have come to expect.