Obama Applies Storytelling Principles


One of the best ways to improve your performances level is to watch great presenters and analyze what’s good about their speeches. That way you can apply their best practices to your own future performances.


And so we decided to analyze one of President Obama’s speeches – the inauguration speech of 2013. We found that the President uses in his speeches the very principles of Storytelling that SOAP Presentations advocates.


You can watch the entire 20-minute Presidential address here.


Here we will analyze one of the main principles of a good story: the acts. President Obama’s speech is divided into three different areas, or acts, just like any good story, stage play and great movie:


ACT I: Together

In this first act, the President talks about the past, using words that will make the audience feel connected to him and to everyone else listening: “Together we determined…. Together we discovered…. Together we resolved….” He makes sure all the audience members are at the same level by presenting them with scenarios they’re familiar with.


ACT II: We, the people

In the second act, or second part of the speech, the President speaks about the present challenges, starting each phrase by: “We, the people understand…., believe…., know….” It’s also in this second act that the President’s address reaches its climax, when he tells the story of a little girl, and for the first time (and the only time in the speech) he doesn’t talk about the “we” but about a “she.” And with this little one-minute story he appeals to the feelings of the entire audience, making every single person respond emotionally. The audience cheers with enthusiasm. You can watch this little but meaningful story here:


ACT III: Our journey is not complete until….

Finally, in the third act, the President starts referring to the future, and all the phrases begin with: “Our journey is not complete until…” And here he refers to all the major minorities in the United States; women, gays, immigrants and children. All the people in these groups will feel loved and hopeful to hear these words. In the closing of the speech, the President’s final words are: “. . . let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.” These last words – as all good speeches are in this last part – are a call-to-action to everyone in the audience. The journey is not complete, so they all must act together to “carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.” Here, the President appeals to every person in his audience, and for sure every one who hears will feel part of something bigger, part of a country that is counting on them to build a better future.


In your next speech or in your next presentation, apply these same principles:


  • Create or recall a story that will help you convey your main message.


  • Separate your speech into three parts (introduction, development, closing).


  • In the second part, make sure there is a climax, a point of bigger interest to all who are listening.


  • Have a strong call-to-action in the closing, so that your listeners feel the need to adopt your idea, buy your product or adhere to your new policy.


  • And when you stand up in front of an audience, make sure you “touch” everyone’s heart.