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3 lessons from Michelle Obama's DNC Speeches from 2008 - 2020

Michelle Obama gave exceptional speeches at the last four Democratic National Conventions. She expertly adjusted her delivery to meet each moment in 2008, 2012, 2016 & 2020 to clearly transmit the emotions behind her words.

Beyond the inspiration I take from watching her deliver these major speeches, I recently wondered what lessons we can apply to our own work. What is most readily apparent to me is how her speeches reflect the moment she is in fuelled by her clarity of purpose.

Context drives content and delivery. Her content is expertly crafted and worthy of analysis in another post as her use of rhetorical devices is on par with the great orators. For this post though, I'm focused on her delivery. The first three speeches were done in person, at a podium on stage, in front of exuberant thousands. Her speech last week was not. All are powerful examples of how to engage millions in a message.

Take a look at images of her speaking at the DNC in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. What strikes you? Even without hearing her words, you can likely come up with a different word to describe the differing optics she presents in each picture below.

That's because while it's fun to look at her changing hairstyles, clothing, jewelry choices and backdrops, they are also instructive. They play a supporting role to her content and delivery and each of these elements would have been carefully considered for the impact they would have on us the audience and herself when she spoke. That's the first lesson. Pay attention to your wardrobe and setting. Sleeveless in 2012. Wearing a VOTE necklace in 2020. Yes, we heard you Michelle. It's not just your spoken words that count.

The second lesson is about the power of speaking clearly to convey passion and authenticity. Yes, we know her credentials, intellect and accomplishments but that's not on full furl. Instead she talks to us conversationally, with humour and frankness. She's not afraid to be vulnerable and share stories and because of this, she's relatable and revered by millions. When she says "I hate politics", you know she's telling her truth. When she says "Vote like your life depends on it.", you know she's telling her truth.

Check out her four speeches from 2008 to 2020 below. I don't expect you to watch them all (although some of you will because she's that good!) Just take 10 minutes and do a little experiment to get a sense of the adjustments she made at each convention speech as she went from possible future first lady, to first lady, to departing first lady to former first lady. Do this by watching the first and last minute of each speech and write down on a piece of paper a few words that come to mind about her presence (body language, voice, expression & tone).

Let me know what you came up with please, I'd love to know if we have some of the same words!

The third lesson is about having your presentation delivery remain strong and powerful while presenting virtually without a live audience. We know how powerful and effective Michelle Obama is at commanding the largest of stages. In this 2020 convention speech her content was the sharpest rebuke of the opposition to date. A less accomplished speaker might well have missed the mark by not adjusting to the changed reality of Zooming in the speech. She paired her powerful words with restrained quiet calm and determination that demonstrated her urgency and passion. She delivered.

In case you're wondering how not to present virtually, I give you Kimberly Guilfoyle last night at the RNC. She missed the mark with her amped up delivery for a number of reasons, not least of all because she didn't have the accompanying optics of a cheering frenzied audience to accompany her "over-the-top" shouting.

When next you're delivering an important message virtually, whether it's to one person, at a meeting or a large virtual address, apply these three lessons to make the most of your speaking opportunity.


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