The Speech That Changed America

Image for post
Image for post

A Message Of Unity

The first aspect I want to highlight is Obama’s use of unity as a theme. By unity I mean the common connections seemingly disconnected groups and individuals have.

The Power Is In Your Hands (And The Rest Of You)

That’s great Andrew, but what about body language?

Image for post
Image for post
  • Pointing finger = authoritative & forward (used to drive home a point)
  • Okay symbol = authoritative but non-aggressive (also used to drive home a point)

The Role of Inclusive Language

The third part of the puzzle is the words Obama uses: specifically ones that create a shared experience and are group-oriented, connecting the listener and speaker. We’ll call these words “inclusive language” for simplicity’s sake.

Narrative Building

The final part of Obama’s speech that deserves attention is his use of stories. You’ll notice that throughout the entire speech, he weaves in different stories that are deeply personal: his mother’s story, father’s story, his story, the story of Shamus, of John Kerry, and the citizens he met on his journey like the ones in the collar counties around Chicago. Even in the stories that don’t have a defined main character, he still describes the environment in a detailed enough way that allows you to visualize, or at least understand, that experience:

In Conclusion

A speech is a complicated animal. Each aspect of it has a depth that we could spend years trying to reach the bottom of. Not only that, but each part feeds into each other: a message of unity is the substance of the speech, but it can only be realized through effective word choice. Even with the right words, a speech that doesn’t create an image in our mind will inevitably fall flat: which is why we need deeply personal stories that we can relate to. And in order to communicate those stories, you need to be fully invested in your speech with enthusiasm and energy.


Abraham, Matthew. Think Fast Talk Smart: Communication Techniques. Stanford Graduate School of Business, December 14th, 2014.

Poli Sci grad, Comms Strategist, great at remembering names and terrible at pronouncing them. I write on political psych, practical philosophy, and random stuff

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store