President Obama's Farewell Address - Elements of Presentation Style
As a presentation skills coach with 30 years of speaking and teaching the subject, I must say that President Barack Obama will continue to be heralded as being among the most gifted, accomplished speakers in our lifetime and before. His sense of timing, cadence, animation and ownership of the content of his speeches will be his personal brand long after his transition to ‘former president’ status. He will continue to be an example of excellence for students of public speaking, and all those interested in the subject. Whether you are on the right, left, middle or on the peripheral of the political spectrum, you must admit to his talent as an orator.
It is not the intent of this author or this posting to speak to the specific content of his farewell presentation. I will not add to the punditry any analysis of the success or failure of his vision, policy or actions. I will also refrain from measuring the magnitude or effects of the success or validity of his accomplishments. There are plenty of talking heads to debate those dynamics. Rather, it is my intent to discuss the elements of presentation style that President Obama exhibits so that our audience might learn and emulate.
The foundation for every top-of-game public speaker is to be genuine, authentic, natural, positive and an owner of their speech’s content with uncompromised belief in its value to the listeners. President Obama exhibits these attributes. His broad smile comes from a deep, self-actualized core and his steel-eyed gaze to his audience demonstrates the confidence and belief in his words and their founding.
Among the traits and attributes that make him exemplary are a low-and-slow delivery, full breadth of vocal dynamic expression, use of pauses and deliberate eye contact. Notice how he slightly lowers the brow while he speaks to give an authoritarian presence. His use of a power gestures just a second before the power phrase is a skill that only naturally gifted speakers use at that level. Use of the teleprompter has always been his strength. President Obama’s teleprompter mastery sets the right pace for text exhibition. And coordinated flow and timing with his teleprompter engineers has been a case study of seamless execution.
There is one content element that I must mention. During his speech, he made a plea for fact and data based debate. This was a message mainly to his progressive base but applies to all citizens joining political discourse. His statement that “…selective sorting of the facts is dishonest and self-defeating”, was a charge for a more learned citizenry. His tone showed his concern for the polarization of political thought and feeding frenzy in the social media troughs that support polarized political dogma. This has led to a public, on both sides of the rope line, that are adamant to stay on their right or left side and never meet in the middle. This he calls “the third threat to democracy”. His charge was to “admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making reasonable points”. I am confident that he is hopeful that this part of his message seeded the most value. The mantra of The Purple Podium is to ‘know, and be able to state, your opponent’s position better than your opponent’. So we acknowledge a call to educated, but still passionate discussion and debate.
During our presentation skills workshops, our coaches are often asked, “Are great speakers (such as Barack Obama) born with this skill or do they develop it?” Our answer is usually, “yes.” In the case of the President, both are resoundingly true. True to the level that his achieved position in life, as the most powerful person on the planet, matched the talent and skill with which he delivers his messages.
Immigration reform will be one of the most significant out-of-the-gate issues for the Trump Administration and the options available to the administration to navigate the shark infested political waters of what to do with the undocumented-among-us will play out in the early days as Congress discusses actions and effects of stricter border enforcement.
The initial objectives of the Trump administration will be to provide strict enforcement of immigration laws and provide border closure to undocumented immigration. The effects will be multifaceted. Fewer potential immigrants will want to make the dangerous trek through the Southern Americas as higher risk of success of entre will prove a deterrent. With increased risk comes increased fees imposed by an edgy underground network that facilitates transport of undocumented immigrants.
Fearful of a stronger deportation policy many will self-deport (as Mitt Romney phrased it) and return to the families that they have been supplementing financially from the US side of the border. Those choosing to leave will do so sooner than later as they would realize a strong border restricts movement to and from the US. They may choose a known destination in their home country as opposed to casting their fate to new policies governing employment and the shadow economy that may involve detention and removal.
To compliment an aggressive growth-strategy for the US economy President Trump would likely make more H-1B work visas available, allowing highly educated and high-wage talent to come into the country, which would create jobs and could even boost creation of Intellectual Property and technology enhancements. But he would restrict immigration for lower-wage, blue-collar jobs, satisfying a significant segment of the people that voted for Trump to drive change. With this, Trump would fulfill his commitment to his constituents while creating jobs in technology and other IP-based industries.
To ensure stronger enforcement of immigration laws on those businesses that employ undocumented immigrants, adoption of e-verify would serve as a firewall. E-Verify is an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee's Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility. E-Verify's most impressive features are its speed and accuracy. E-Verify is the only free, fast, online service of its kind that verifies employees' data against millions of government records and provides results within as little as three to five seconds. The effect of enactment of e-verify with its enforcement ‘teeth’ would change behavior of businesses that hire undocumented immigrants almost immediately.
Will fewer immigrants affect the US economy? To any informed observer, the answer seems an obvious “yes”. Illegal immigrants do pay state and local sales taxes. Some even pay social security taxes through their employers. Some estimates place the value of these disappearing revenues to be $12 Billion. Fewer immigrants also translates to fewer expenditures for social services. The offset of revenue to expenditures is left for government budget offices and think tanks. Another positive effect will be wage increase for mid-level skilled workers. Economists of opposing political views agree the Arizona’s economy took a hit when large numbers of illegal immigrants left for Mexico and other border states, following a broad crackdown. But they also say the reduced competition for low-skilled jobs was a boon for some native-born construction and agricultural workers who got jobs or raises, and that the departures also saved the state money on education and health care. Whether those gains are worth the economic pain is the crux of the debate.
These considerations, and may others, will be front-and-center as the debate of dealing with immigration heats up. As Trump's strategy and tactics of his policy will be broadcast in 140 characters and on a variety of talking head shows, the interested public will be able to join the debate and energize the positive solutions that benefit the most.
Immigration Reform in the Trump Era: A Dose of Reality
The new administration has made broad and strong pronouncements about its desire to secure the border (build a wall), expel caustic illegal immigrants (gang and cartel members) and bolster the filters for acceptance of future immigrants. Since these tenants of immigration policy represent the pillars of the incoming administration’s campaign and victory platforms, expect the legislation to move quickly through the legislative chairs, albeit with much noise and rancor by the activated observers on both sides of the rope line. Somewhere in between ‘send them back’ and ‘bring them all in’ lies the fertile ground from which future US immigration strategy, policy and action will consummate.
The ability to achieve legislative success and popular support will ultimately center on the question of what to do with 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living among us. Especially those 8 million who are productive contributors in the workforce. Of focus, will be the 66% of those undocumented adults who have resided in the US for a decade or so, who most certainly have family and community roots. We can expect some bi-partisan support for ‘securing the border’ and ‘expelling the gangs’, but a campaign to remove peaceful, productive human beings, who have come here to escape oppression and enjoy ‘a future’ ‘will be the largest challenge.
The Trump administration is positioning for, and hopeful of, a roaring economy with 4-5% GDP growth per year or better. Public works and private sector growth will demand a capable workforce and immigrants will be an important component to feed the labor beast needed to sustain such growth. Tearing hardworking, value-centered people from the economy will be counterproductive to the growth-strategy. And will create unnecessary distractions from the administrations focus on jobs and the economy. Unpopular actions will also become potent fuel to the next election cycle bonfire.
The realization of these concepts is drifting into administration planning and policy group discussions already, as evidenced by the shifting position statements of the incoming administration choir directors. The rhetoric has migrated from “send the undocumented out” to “we’ll see what we need to do” for those non-criminal undocumented people among us.
The public will be watching with great interest, expecting promises of vetting of future immigrants and securing the border to be kept. Finding common ground in thought and act that protects the citizenry, promotes labor growth and projects a heartfelt society based the best of human values will be one of the first acts of the Trump and GOP majority ballet.
The Generation between the Baby Boom and The Greatest Generation
As I have observed over summer and into the fall the “Tea Parties”, Town Hall meeting and debates on health care and Medicare I began to notice that there appeared a large group of individuals that fit a specific demographic. My curiosity led me to look into who makes up this group and why their passion. What I have discovered is largely a generation that was born and grew up through the “Great Depression” and the “Great War”, came of age in the shadow of the “Greatest Generation” and was foreshadowed by the “Boomer Generation”.
Their values were forged in the stark reality of the greatest periods of sacrifice socially, economically and in human life this country had come to know. From their parents, whom they observed struggling through the depression, they learned the value of hard work and the suffering of deprivation. From their older brothers and sisters they learned the lessons of self-sacrifice as millions went to war and unwavering patriotism in a period of great struggle. Their first defining moment to prove themselves came through the struggle with “Communism” culminating in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Both ultimately ending in less than clear victory as defined by the war of the “Greatest Generation”. Shaken by the social upheaval of the 60’s with attacks on their values of patriotism, work ethic, morality, social class, and segregation.
The very values they learned growing up and embraced came under attack and were changed forever. Struggling to define themselves they sought leaders to return the country to its “foundational” values. But this was to be denied them as those from the “Greatest Generation” took the key leadership positions to be followed by those of the “Boomer Generation”. As the torch was passed from Bush senior to Clinton and from Clinton to Bush Jr. this generation was skipped. Then came their moment, a time to bring to leadership one of their own, John McCain. Someone who could lead the country back to those sacred lost values. A true hero of a lost war, descended from a lineage of hero’s. Someone who would return this country to the greatness it had lost. Yet, once again it was to be denied them.
Instead the torch was passed to the next generation – a post-baby boomer, a “Gen-Xer” - a man of color, Barrack Obama. It is this generation, now in their 70’s and early 80’s, appearing in the forefront of contentious Town Hall Meetings. They are angry and afraid. They value hard work, individualism, small government and private enterprise. Yet, they are the beneficiaries of some of the greatest social government programs this country has– Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They live in one world desiring another but with all of the benefits of the first. They are a product of all that they are. How they define themselves as seniors may well define their generation, will it be self-first or selfless.
Monte Fellingham is a retired US Military Officer and an Executive with a Research and Development firm in Austin, TX
After viewing Tom Tancredo’s address at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville this past week, where he spoke about using a “literacy test” as a requirement for voter eligibility, I became concerned that the initial clarity of purpose that crystallized this movement could get lost in the bog of directionless messages.
As an independent I have been intrigued with the convection of the Tea Party faction and I acknowledge its significance. As I understood it originally, the Tea Party band of brothers and sisters were borne of frustration with the overreach by government and its century long spree of spending, entitlements and taxation.Yet the Nashville convention entertained fringe elements of the conservative movement looking for a stage to voice their complaints and conspiracies that were not necessarily related to the wanton economics of progressive governance.
Birthers, border fence builders, and those seeking to change the basis upon which we can vote in this country found a stage with media coverage. Progressives and the MSM have and will continue to use sound bites from the convention to paint the movement as “fringe.” Hopefully, those in attendance paid little attention to the far right side shows and will continue to trumpet the principles that formed the group.
Thomas Jefferson sums up the thesis of the movement best as he said….
"We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our selection between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts as that we must be taxed in our meat in our drink, in our necessities and comforts, in our labors and in our amusements, for our callings and our creeds...our people.. must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live.. We have not time to think, no means of calling the mis-managers to account, but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow suffers. Our landholders, too...retaining indeed the title and stewardship of estates called theirs, but held really in trust for the treasury, must...be contented with penury, obscurity and exile.. private fortunes are destroyed by public as well as by private extravagance.
This is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of society is reduced to mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering... And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression."
The Tea Party movement is fed through the strength of growing public distrust of government overreach. Opinion polls show that the public is increasingly restless and fearful of growing federal and state government entitlements and the tax burden to support them. It is all about unabated spending and that is a strong enough issue to support this movement. In a June, 2009 article published by the National Council for Public Policy, Pamela Villarreal raises the facts that the National and local Governments face an unfunded liability that has hard choices.
“The 2009 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports show the combined unfunded liability of these two programs has reached nearly $107 trillion in today's dollars! That is about seven times the size of the U.S. economy and 10 times the size of the outstanding national debt.
The unfunded liability is the difference between the benefits that have been promised to current and future retirees and what will be collected in dedicated taxes and Medicare premiums. Last year alone, this debt rose by $5 trillion. If no other reform is enacted, this funding gap can only be closed in future years by substantial tax increases, large benefit cuts or both.”
With these heavy burdens in mind, the health care debate stirred more fears as those citizens following the process in the House and Senate for Health Care Reform became lost in and atrophied by fiscal implications of HRC and the perverted process to pass the measure. Many of those voicing negative views of health care reform may be doing so because they don’t trust the intentions of those trying to crash it through the public opinion firewall. As recent elections have proven, ‘Pass it first and then we will tell you why it is a good thing’ proved to be a flawed strategy at best.
For the Tea Party movement to continue its momentum it must maintain a commitment to the principles that inspired the original fight for US independence. Samuel Adams said, "If taxes are laid upon us without our having a legal representation where they are laid, we are reduced from the character of free subjects to the state of tributary slaves."
While the Tea Party organization is said to be leaderless, the committees that organize these events can continue to grow the movement by maintaining the consistency of the message. They must continue to tap into the ripe emotions that an uneasy public harbors about the price of growing our government.
Our Saturday morning family breakfast conversation began with talk of Verizon and Home Depot layoffs.Both announcements affected people we know.A friend is succumbing to the death rattles in his restaurant, which he began in 2007 with much fanfare and optimism. "My competition closed last year and with less competition, I thought I could hold out. But there are fewer customers as people are still hunkered down and pulling their money belts tighter."
With the recovery staggering through a muddy rut in the middle of a country road, there is an unsettled air across the nation.We have gone beyond looking for the witch and now seek the magic elixir for economic recovery. GDP is growing, mainly pushed by corporations realizing the productivity benefits of their downsizing and banks flush with cash, making their predictable smart investments in sure bets here and abroad.
Almost 18 percent of the folks are in need of meaningful work.People that are working as independent contractors, especially in self promotion disciplines such as training, advertising, marketing, travel and entertainment, are still in business but are seeing less of it. They are not counted in any of the employment figures but do account for fewer disposable dollars that feeds the economic recovery engine.
The banks will not return to the loose credit days.And many people will not return to undisciplined personal finance. This will cause a slower, sounder recovery. Canada did not fall as deep in the global recession because of the adherence of banks and citizens to obedient economics; 20% down on a house purchase, no easy loans, little credit card abuse. And the US is moving back to that platform, we hope.
Be creative with your business, market yourself, manage your pennies, save more, watch your debt and make prudent day to day spending and investment decisions. Be better off every four years because of what you have done without attention to what the government says or does.
Ok, we know what the problems are, high unemployment, growing deficits, unbridled government growth, inability of political legislators to work together,foggy climate change initiatives, diluted global competitive leadership, tight credit for business and consumers, health care cost growth, market uncertainty among others.
So for this speech we the people were seeking at most a cohesive plan to solve the problems or at least an offering of some tactical solutions that could have immediate effects on job growth and the other problems mentioned. Voters watching the speech also expected to see a CEO present a motivational vision for legislators to willingly act upon with expediency.
From Nuclear power and Clean Coal to Tax Credits for Community College Students the State of the Union Address was an attempt to appeal to everyone in the room.The pundits and party faithful found both red meat and blue sky to rally to in the words of the President. In total, the speech was either an attempt to demonstrate harmony with the voters’ priorities or served as an initiative to reach across the aisle to both liberals and conservatives to fulfill the bipartisan campaign promise.
We could see from the agreeable reactions of many legislators in the room for sound bites that spoke to American values. We also observed nods from both sides of the room for the confident messages of prosperity to come. Everyone was however waiting for the cohesive plan that they could align with to solve the problems that American voters view as their priorities.
On style, the President delivered the words with excellence, although at times seemed less presidential than in past speeches, especially when communicating his vulnerabilities. On substance, we will have to wait and see.The gauntlet was thrown for a new tone, but the jobs legislation that Obama demanded will be the first test as to the effectiveness of tonight’s message.
Obama, stating that the “…anger…” that brought Scott Brown to the senate was the same that crested him to power was attempting to harmonize his new focus with that of the citizenry.Since the realization that a deep recession was at hand, the public has been focused on the economy.Individuals and families were changing behavior to reel in their own spending and debt and find creative ways to solidify their own sources of income. Almost everyone had a facebook friend that had lost a job or struggled with finding a first job in this bleak economy. The economy has been for at least the past year the most important single issue.
Meanwhile Congress, acting upon Obama’s priority list, was exclaiming about how important it was to reconfigure the US health care system. The initiative was being sold as a major driver to more jobs and a healthier economy.The public watched as Congress invested long nights, relationship capital and unappealing deal making to achieve Health Care Nirvana.And, as the economy drifted through the shadows of recession, the majority of Americans remained under-impressed and un-reassured. Very few voters have acknowledged Health Care reform as their 1st concern.In fact, recent polling showed it to be a distant 4th among major concerns.This disconnect is most likely the source of distrust as to the motives of those pushing a fast Health Care restructuring.
And now, as he prepares for the State of the Union, Obama is faced with the task of convincing a discontent public that the economy has been in his sights all along.And, he will reposition the Obama brand as focused on the economy first and foremost. The new playbook will suggest ways to strengthen inner cities as economic enhancement zones and redirect stimulus funds to promote small business hiring.The President will continue to take credit for setting policies that avoided a depression and for “…saving millions of jobs…” with deficit expanding stimulus. He will have to acknowledge continued press for Health Care Reform so that the energy doesn’t dissipate from the initiative altogether.
Behavioral Economics suggests that the economic recovery will begin when the public and financial institutions are convinced that it has truly begun. This will drive the private market behaviors that will cause consumers to spend and businesses to expand. So, for the State of the Union to be effective the tenor of the speech will have to instill confidence in the future of private business and job growth.
In 1836, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the poem, "Concord Hymn", dedicated to the Obelisk, a battle monument in Concord, Massachusetts, commemorating the men that gave their lives in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the first battle of the American Revolution. This engagement was a decisive moment in our nation's history and the first stanza of Emerson's poem speaks of the "embattled farmers" that "fired the first shot heard around the world". On that day in April, 1775, the common man of Massachusetts made his frustrations known and yesterday he did it again.
With a clap of thunder heard nationwide, the most reliable Democrat seat in the Senate fell to a Republican.Fifty years in Democrat hands meant nothing under the weight of public annoyance. The vulnerability of this seat exemplifies how voter frustration, focused into action can create significant change.Is this the first day of a new political revolution in our country or just the beginning of a season of fascinating debate - time will tell?
At this point in the campaign, the voters have decided.They have made a personal commitment to go to the polls tomorrow at their predetermined time and pull the lever or tap the button for their candidate.The respective political bases have been rallied (or not) based upon the energy that has been carried throughout the campaign by the contestant and their party followers. Each candidate wears a personal brand that has been molded over months of the campaign through the media to the voters.The brand is defined by the adjectives that the majority of voters place next to the name of the candidate when prompted. This brand was either intentionally crafted through the emotional themes they promoted repetitiously through the fall or by the caricatures that the media formed for those candidates that chose a less intentional path.
Republican Scott Brown chose a consistent theme that supported the sound bite “Its’ the people’s seat”. His mastery of retail politics, borne of previous campaigns for state office, appealed to an electorate that wanted to develop trust through a personal relationship with their leaders. Democrat Martha Coakley was confident of an election victory following her primary success.Given the well known demographics of the Massachusetts political blue landscape, her assumption was also presumed by National Democratic party leadership until the 11th hour. That is when her lack of focus, energy and theme building was overtaken by the tipping point model that Scott Brown effectively executed.
As the candidates retreat this evening to their home base and prepare for an election day waiting game, they will no doubt reflect upon the moments of decision that represented the respective turning points for their campaign. The biggest personal lesson for both Brown and Coakley will likely come from their ability to adapt to the changes during the run and the decisive sprint to the finish.