A. Watch a short documentary called Powerful speeches. What was Sarah’s first impression of Barack Obama? In her opinion, why is he such an effective public speaker?

B. Watch it again and complete the sentences with two or three words.

 In 2004, Barack Obama was a little known _________ from _________.

 American leaders have a _________ _________ of giving great speeches.

 President Roosevelt famously said “the only thing we have to _________ is _________ _________.”

 Public speaking is still important in the age of the _________ and _________ _________.

 Many public speaking techniques come from the _________ _________ and _________.

 The first technique is to _________ a _________.

 A great way to reinforce a point is to _________ with your _________.

 To make an argument sound more complete, give _________ _________.

 Barack Obama uses anaphora when he repeats the words “_________ _________”.

10   Great words have the power to bring _________ _________.



Sarah’s first impression of Barack Obama was surprise that this little-known politician was such a great public speaker (“Who is this guy?”)

In Sarah’s opinion, Barack Obama is an effective public speaker because he makes you feel like he’s talking to you personally.


1 senator, Chicago   2 long history   3 fear, fear itself

4 internet, social media   5 ancient Greeks, Romans

6 tell, story   7 talk, hands   8 three examples   9 I’ve seen

10 people together


Powerful speeches

N = Narrator, S = Sarah, O = Obama

N   In 2004, a little known senator from Chicago gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention.

O   My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation…I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story…and in no other country on earth is my story even possible.

N   His name was Barack Obama. Four years later he was president. (Congratulations, Mr President.)

N   His story seems almost unbelievable, so how did he do it? Sarah Finch, an actor, director and speech coach, weighs in.

S   The first time I saw Obama was during his 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. My first impression was: “Who is this guy?”

N   American leaders have a long history of giving great speeches. Sometimes the speeches become as famous as the presidents that made them.

[Roosevelt] So first all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

[Kennedy] And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country!

[Reagan] The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave.

N   But in the age of the internet and social media, many thought the art of public speaking was dead. Obama proved them wrong.

 Yes, we can!

 So what is it about Obama’s speeches that worked so well? He was a “new hope,” but his public speaking techniques were very old…going back all the way to the times of the Ancient Greeks and Romans! Let’s take a look at just a few of them. First off, Obama was a great storyteller.

 Obama is great at making you feel he’s talking to you personally.

O   Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let’s face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father, my grandfather, was a cook, a domestic servant to the British…

S   In his 2004 keynote speech he told the story of his family, but he made it the story of the nation, about succeeding against the odds, about the impossible becoming possible.

N   Secondly, Obama uses his hands a lot when he’s speaking.

 Obama “talks with his hands.” He uses his hands to reinforce what he’s saying.

O   It is that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper – that makes this country work.

N   Number three: the rule of three, or “tricolon.” Cicero, the Roman statesman, used this technique a lot, and so did President Obama. It means giving three examples, or making points or statements in three simple clauses. Why three? It’s the simplest pattern we can recognize, and the human mind loves patterns. The rule of three makes an argument sound more complete, more convincing, and more memorable.

 In public speaking, three is the magic number. He used this a lot in his farewell address.

O   We remain the wealthiest, the most powerful, and the most respected nation on earth.

N   And when three is not enough, even more repetition can be powerful too. The Greeks called this “anaphora.”

 Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers. I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch. I’ve seen Wounded Warriors, who at points were given up for dead, walk again. I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks.

N   Great words inspire great things, bring people together, and help people and communities through hard times. Peggy Noonan, President Reagan’s speech writer, once wrote: “When big, serious, thoughtful things must be said, then big, serious, thoughtful speeches must be given.”

O   Thank you. God bless you.

N   Obama knew that, and so too will the great leaders of the future.

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