Obama’s Historic Speech Doesn’t Match MLK’s

He was his usual confident, well-spoken, forceful self, but Barack Obama’s speech on tonight did not compare with others he has given before (2004 Democratic Convention), nor was it as memorable as this historic day required.

Barack Obama had the 84,000 people at Invesco Field and millions more watching TV or surfing the web in the palm of his hand.  And although he is a great speaker, he didn’t do anything memorable or repeatable.

The first 15 minutes of Obama’s speech was delivered in the usual political style, a little too strident for my taste.  He went on the attack right off the bat.

After that long opening rally (tirade if you’re a Republican), he finally allowed the conversational Obama to emerge.  He lowered his voice and reminisced about his past and his interaction with people he’s met over 20 years.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton’s Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She’s the one who taught me about hard work. She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life.

The best line of the night, from my executive speech coach’s viewpoint, was …

This election has never been about me. It’s been about you.

So, too, are all good speeches.  They are not about the speaker; they are about you, the audience.  It’s not about what the speaker says, it’s about what the audience takes away.

Obama finally mentioned Martin Luther King’s historic trip to the Mall in Washington, D.C. 45 years ago to the day, at the very end of his speech.  But the words about that day were so-so.  Nothing to remember.

And he ended with a Biblical quote, that he “swallowed” at the end.  I just heard it and I can’t remember it.  It was unlike him to blow his closing line.   HINT:  Practice your ending line.  It’s the last chance you have to make your speech a winner.

Although Martin Luther King, Jr., may have been up in heaven smiling, realizing that his dream is visible on earth, he won’t have to worry that his iconic speech will be toppled from the top of the list…at least for the time being.  Barack is still young.

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