Michelle Obama — Public Speaking 101

Dynamic communication is one of the keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to learn how to do three things: 1) become an excellent conversationalist; 2) write clearly and succinctly; and 3) present well – to groups of two to 200.

I’m a political junky.  I love watching the conventions – although this week, I must admit that I switch back and forth between the speeches and the US Open tennis.  Besides hearing what people have to say, I enjoy the conventions because I like to watch the speakers, to see who does well on the platform and who does just so so. 

Have you been watching the Democrats this week?  Which speeches have you enjoyed?

Tuesday night, Michelle Obama did a talk at the Democratic National Convention that rocked.  And she did it by using one of the oldest presentation techniques in the world.  She told stories.

Stories are a great way to communicate your ideas.  They help you related to your audience on a human level.  However, stories have to make a bigger point – one that’s goes beyond the immediacy of the story itself.

Tracy Kidder, a Pulitzer prize winning author, and a great storyteller in his own right, makes a great point: “All stories are local, all good stories are universal.”

On Tuesday, Michelle Obama told the story of her families – the one in which she was raised, and the only she and Senator Obama have created.  The stories she told about growing up with her parents and brother and about her courtship and marriage to the Senator was the local part.  They recounted her life.

However, these stories were designed to make a bigger, more universal point.  And that point was something like this: “We may look different from other presidents and first ladies, and my husband may have a funny name, but once you take away the superficial differences, we’re like you, and most Americans.”

Anyone who has shared a room with a sibling could relate to Michelle Obama’s story about staying awake and talking with her brother after they went to bed.  Anyone who has parents – like mine – who scrimped and saved so their kids could go to college can relate to her story about her father struggling with MS, yet going to work every day.  Anyone who has children can relate to her story about Senator Obama driving very slowly and carefully as he brought her and their first born daughter home from the hospital.

These are all great personal – or as Tracy Kidder would say, local, stories.  However, they have a universal message – “We’re like most Americans.  We want the same things as most Americans.  Our skin is a different color and my husband has a funny name, but that doesn’t matter.” The universal point of the talk was pretty clear – to me at least — Barack and Michelle Obama are more similar to most Americans than they are dissimilar. 

The common sense point here is simple.  Dynamic presenters use stories to help make their point.  They tell stories that are personal for them, but have a universal point.  If you want to connect with your audience and sell them your ideas, you need to tell meaningful stories from your life experiences, and then show your audience how these stories relate to the bigger picture.  People relate to stories.  Your presentations will be much better if you use them to make your points.

That’s my take on the power of stories and dynamic presentations.  Please leave a comment telling us how you’ve used stories to make and enhance your ideas in presentations you’ve given.  I truly appreciate and value all of your comments. Thanks for reading – and writing.


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  1. There is no doubt that stories can help improve on a presentation because when you tell a story it becomes a conversation between the speaker and each individual listener.
    You stated, “The universal point of the talk was pretty clear – to me at least — Barack and Michelle Obama are more similar to most Americans than they are dissimilar.” Which I think is interesting.
    I know this is not a political blog but I feel compelled to state that just because somebody can give a captivating presentation does not make it any more true than a bad presented untruth.
    Sure, the Obama’s have a lovely family and they want the American Dream for their kids and they worked hard to get where they are today. But when Barack Obama made 4.5 Million dollars last year and most Americans do not even make 50,000. I’m pretty sure he isn’t aware of the struggles that most Americans through because it has been so long since he was in our shoes. (I am not complaining at all….I too have a great family and wonderful and dynamic wife).
    There is no doubt that both of the Obamas are TREMENDOUS public speakers. They ooze self confidence and show they have prepared themselves very well. I know that is the point you are making Bud and I agree with you. But a lot of times in Politics thats what gets the voting level pulled, presentation more then truth.
    I apoligize for taking up so much space.

  2. Steve:
    Thanks for your comment. And you’re right, this is not a political blog. I will watch the Republicans next week, and will probalby write a post about something that happens at their convention.
    On the other hand, I thought that Mrs. Obama’s talk made very good use of stories, and in connecting her local stories with universal ideas. That was the point of the post, and I know you got it.
    Thanks again for your very thoughtful and thought provoking comment.
    PS — I agree with you, and will go one step further. I think that by the time anyone wins a seat in the Senate, he or she has become very out of touch with normal everyday America. Even Joe Biden’s train to Wilmington story glosses over the privelege he has as a Senator — and I’m a Democrat.

  3. i remember when i was still in high school, i always fear public speaking engagments.;“

  4. Jasmine:
    Have you gotten over your fear of public speaking? If so, please share with us how you did it.

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