Book Review Of Say
It Like Obama, by Shel Leanne
Copyright © by Jessica Schneider, 11/3/08
Even the deepest McCain supporters cannot deny the talent that Barack Obama has for oration. His articulation, mannerisms, and wording all play a role in a delivery that has placed him beside the likes of Martin Luther King and JFK. His speeches have been quoted all around the globe, even published in their very own book. He is so good, in fact, that his opposition has seized on this and tried to turn his skill into a negative. “They’re just words,” some have said. “He’s only a celebrity,” others have claimed. But there is no denying Barack Obama’s ability to captivate an audience, and in Shel Leanne’s book, titled Say It Like Obama: The Power of Speaking With Purpose and Vision, readers are given insights into just how to use these techniques for themselves.
Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, this book provides useful information for anyone wanting to improve one’s speaking skills. Though this book will probably be more favorable to Democrats, it isn’t a political book, but rather one that focuses on that Obama Magic: just how does the man do it? Well, there are a number of things Leanne addresses: things such as body language, mannerisms, alliteration, repetition, pacing, and most importantly, how to tie the speech into one’s own life. One of the techniques Obama is known for is his ability to relate to his listeners by using his own life and struggles and then comparing such to that of the struggling American. One is also shown the ways in which controversy can be avoided, and dealt with in such a way that is both assertive, yet non-aggressive.
Of course, politics does rely on Political Correctness, and Obama is no exception to this. One has to be careful in the ways of phrasing, as a means of not alienating potential voters. And Obama has been guilty of using certain terminology that did in fact offend some (the point the book makes is the one about Americans being “bitter” and having to “cling to their guns.”) Yet, the book also stresses the importance directness serves when it comes to apology (Obama came right out and apologized for it, and the book notes why this was a smart move on his part). Admit you’re wrong, and people will respect you more for it.
The book also includes two of Obama’s most famous speeches—the one from the Democratic National Convention in 2004, and of course, the acceptance speech he made in Denver in 2008, at his own Democratic National Convention. And it’s not just the speeches themselves that are reprinted, but the text notes specific hand gestures, body language, delivery, pausing, among other techniques he used throughout the speeches. Rereading them is a way for anyone who is looking to improve their speaking skills—to learn the tools of the trade, so to speak.
Serving as mostly a functionary guide for public speaking, anyone who has studied Obama’s delivery and has wished that talent upon themselves, this book serves as a useful resource with specific examples so one can learn how to make that happen. Or at least try to. If what you’re looking for is a political book that delves into the greater context of Obama’s political goals and vision, this is not the book for you. Say It Like Obama focuses on the specifics, the technical, and the physical. How does one relate to an audience? How does one deliver and phrase things in such a way that is memorable? This book dissects all that.
“Barack Obama has brought the power of oration back to American politics,” the back of the book states. And that is true. Learn from Obama’s style, take from it and make it your own. Obama has reinforced the notion that the speech, in and of itself, can be its own work of art.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website.]
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