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Speaking in front of a crowd is a task that can be frightening for many individuals. Some people experience such a great deal of nervousness, that it is exhibited in form of stutters, sweaty palms, shaking knees, and lumps in the throat. However, to become a great public speaker and an orator, overcoming these difficulties represent a very small portion of the journey towards accomplishing this goal. The art of eloquent speech started long ago. In fact, it can be traced back to the ancient Greek and Roman civilization that have come to be known as some of the greatest possessors of eloquence. Besides their high level of eloquence, the Greeks and Romans are also considered as great orators and public speakers because of their highly developed debating skills. For instance, the Greek epics have been portrayed as containing very powerful debates whereby participants argue cases. Thus, in these ancient societies, being able to deliver messages in a strong and moving way was a gift that was admired by many people. Throughout history, the beauty of effective oral advocacy has been displayed by a number of individuals who have impacted the world in a very powerful way through mastery in their persuasive speeches. An example of individuals who have been able to transform their nations and the world as a whole through their exceptional and commendable oratory and public speaking skills will be Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr. They are considered to be among some of America’s greatest speakers as their speeches and public speaking have been greatly affective. They share a certain amount of similarities and also have some differences as speakers.
Born William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States has proven to be among the America’s greatest speakers. He has achieved this through the use of a number of techniques which can be extracted from his speeches. In the first place, as a speaker, Clinton has formulated a very effective way of strengthening his points through the use of contrast. The speech he delivered at the Democratic National Convention (2012) provides an excellent illustration of this. For instance, in his effort to make a strong point about Barack Obama, he uses contrast by saying “I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside – but who burns for America on the inside" (Harris & Martin, 2012).
Clinton has also cemented himself as an excellent speaker through his mastery of the technique of knowing when to stop speaking and when to continue. This is highly effective tool in creating an emphasis. For instance, during his speech at the convention, he makes use of pacing in his words when he says: "President Obama started with a much worse economy", (Harris & Martin, 2012). In line with this, he frequently makes long pauses being effective in attracting the attention of the audience. It also makes his speaking quite dramatic, which further captures the people's minds.
Being a speaker, Clinton is well known for his gesturing tendency during his speech delivery. For instance, he is fond of making open and wide movements of his arms, gestures portraying accessibility and genuineness. However, what is unique about his use of this visual aid is the fact that he is able to sync it with his words. For example, when he needs to influence his audience’s emotions and at the same time attract their attention, he usually extends his hands and makes his palms face out or up. This can be seen in his speech at the convention when he says “Let me ask you something” (Harris & Martin, 2012), where he is seen extending his palms up.
Clinton also has the fantastic ability of making subject matters easy to understand no matter how complicated they really are in life. This is done through his use of explanatory language in his speeches. He applies explanatory language through the use of phrases like “Look, here’s what really happened, here’s what it does, and here’s the challenge he faces” (Harris & Martin, 2012). This makes it possible for him to address the issues that are not well understood by the people.
In addition to the above mentioned, Clinton has also been able to cultivate his reputation as a superb speaker by connecting with his audience. He does this firstly by finding a way of relating to them and establishing a common ground. In his 1995 eulogy on bombing victims during the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial Prayer Service as explained by Kulshrestha (2013), Clinton embarks on the process of connecting to the people by first appealing to patriotism. This is demonstrated by the first words he utters “Our fellow Americans” (Kulshrestha, 2013). He also makes use of inclusive language in order to continue with his goals of connecting to the people. He does this through phrases such as “We share” and “Work hand in hand with you” (Kulshrestha, 2013).
Bill Clinton’s speeches were strong and affective due to their mesmerizing and tantalizing nature. They were able to carry the audience along and energize them into wanting to realize the message delivered.
Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th President of the United States. He has established himself as an excellent speaker, and many people acknowledge him to be among the America’s greatest orators of not only his time, but also in history. He has delivered speeches around the world that have built strong feelings in people's minds: feelings of pride, patriotism, and need for changes. The significant way that Obama has been able to shape himself as an eloquent and brilliant speaker is his use of the technique of establishing a connection with his audience. He does this through the use of words that establish ethos like ‘we,’ ‘ours’, and ‘together’ instead of referring to himself alone while using pronouns such as ‘I,’ and ‘myself’ as observed by Greene (2009).
Obama is also a great speaker because of his usage of transcendence. As a speaker, he is able to transport his audience to the place he is talking about and paint a very clear picture in their minds. It is his application of concrete and tangible language that facilitates this. This can be assessed in his 2012 victory speech. In this speech, Obama can be heard speaking in concrete terms about the people who provided him with support and tirelessly campaigned for him. For instance, he says “You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift” (Gallo, 2012). This has also allowed the president to hold the attention of his audience since the use of concrete and tangible language allowing specificity, which is where the interest of the audience lies.
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President Obama’s application of anaphora or simple repetition when speaking is also another technique that has made him a brilliant speaker. Moreover, this makes him out also as a memorable speaker. There is also one more significant method that he used to place emphasis on his ideas or points. For instance, in 2004, the president delivered a speech that made him quickly gain recognition at a Democratic National Convention. In this speech, he applied repetition effectively in such lines as “I believe that we can give our middle class relief, I believe we can provide jobs, I believe that we have a righteous wind in our backs” (Greene, 2009). His use of repetition is not confined to repeating words alone, but also in the manner in which he represents his ideas. For instance, Obama is fond of expressing them in groups of three. This is very effective because it helps his audience to remember what he says.
The use of gestures and effective manipulation of voice are trademarks of Obama as a speaker. As a confident and rigorous speaker, Obama makes use of hand gestures in many of his speeches. These gestures help to reflect the clarity of his thinking and exude some form of confidence in him as a leader. The president is also known to make use of gestures to punctuate his sentences. He also has developed an effective way of using his voice as a speaker. Listening to his speech, one may note that he has the tendency to slow down his voice, lower its volume, and pause in a bid to make an impact on his listeners. When he needs to make a vital point, he tends to speed up the pace of his voice and also raise its volume.
Further on, Obama is known to make use of rhetorical skills as a speaker. In this case, he has the tendency to vary the impact of his delivery. This helps to prevent shouting too many lines and regarding every point as vital while this is not the case in many instances. Thus, to draw out his main points and make the audience to take home with them what he needs, he applies variable pitches and passion in order to show different issues and subjects. Therefore, many of his speeches have many highs and lows. Besides acting to ensure that he highlights what is important and what is not for the audience, the use of rhetorical skills also serves to hold its interest.
Obama’s speeches are strong and affective because he takes into consideration who he is speaking to, his audience, and where he is speaking (the venue). Further, they have also had this kind of impact on the people as a result of the simplicity and efficiency in their structure. The support content of his speeches and, consequently, his delivery method have all come together to accomplish this goal.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is said to be one of the most brilliant speakers of his days. Well, his brilliance as a speaker is still discussed today, and whenever someone brings up the topic of great speakers, his name always apeears. One reason why Dr. King was such an exceptional speaker is that he used a lot of vivid illustrations and analogies in his speeches. This can be observed in his delivery of his famous I Have a Dream speech. Seeking for describing the injustice that was being carried out on African Americans, he says: “We have come to our nation’s Capitol to cash a check,” (Hansen, 2003). The authors of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, he noted, were “signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir” (Hansen, 2003). Using the analogy of cashing a check in this case, he refers to the African American community demanding for their rights. When he talks about the Constitution, he means that it serves all Americans despite their skin color.
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More so as a speaker, Dr. King had the predisposition to forming catchy, attention capturing word contrasts. In this sense, he would take simple words and use them to portray extraordinary things. For example, taking a sentence in his I Have a Dream speech, he says: “a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” (Hansen, 2003). This really helps the audience to get a clear picture. Therefore, as a speaker, Dr. King came to the realization that a great speech is not just heard, but is also seen in the minds of the audience.
Further on, Dr. King spoke his words and delivered his messages in a string of emotion. He would go on and merge this emotion with a genuine belief he had in his message. The impact of this was in the fact that he was able to make his audience feel his speech. By believing in his convictions and speaking it to others, he was able to gain support from his audience.
Another vital point to note about Dr. King as a speaker is that he sustained a sense of magnetism in his speeches. That is, the theme of his speech was always consistent and firm in nature. This was effective in emphasizing his points and highlighting to his audience what his exact message was in his address to them. His rock-solid confidence was equally essential in maintaining the consistency of his message.
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King’s voice was highly commanding. It was this commanding voice that inspired thousands of people who heard it. Besides being commanding, it was also booming. This may be attributed to the fact that Dr. King was also a preacher. His cadence was essential in the delivery of his speeches and consequent messages. He would start his speech in a slow and measured pace. Over time, he would increase both his volume and pace in an act that is meant to draw his audience's attention.
Repetition was a significant part of Dr. King’s speeches. In his I Have a Dream speech, he repeats the phrases a number of times. This was effective in building the intensity of his message. Each repetition that he used in his speech was created on the foundation of the one before. It was then reinforced by his passion which increased as he approached the climax of his point. For instance, Dr King makes use of repetition when he says: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi” (Hansen, 2003). He repeats the phrase 'let freedom ring from' three times. This repetition was useful in building the climax of his speech.
As a speaker, Dr. King also found it significant to connect with his audience. Subsequently, ten minutes after the beginning of his speech, he abandoned his written notes and spoke to the audience directly. In fact, it can be said that he established a symbiotic connection with his listeners. In this regard, both drew their energy from each other. It is this deep connection that made the event rather than the speech. This is because many people were so moved and thus driven to act.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speeches, especially the I Have a Dream speech, were effective and strong due to factors such as great emotions behind the words and the nature of delivery which was not only beautiful but also inspiring. In addition to this, King made his speeches very persuasive, which acted to sway the audience towards his ideologies and beliefs.
Comparison and Contrast
Barrack Obama and Martin Luther King had a certain similarity in their speech delivery. One very important thing is that both of them used anaphora as it has already been described in the art of repetition. Hansen (2003) points out that in his famous speech, Martin Luther used the phrase “I have a dream that one day…” in many sentences. In 2004, Obama used the same technique when he was at the Democrat National Convention and stated: “More to do for the father I met…More to do for the young woman”. This is a technique in which they both used to make what they say memorable.
Like Barrack Obama, Martin Luther King did not make use of notes in most of his speeches. For instance, his famous speech I Have a Dream grew better and better as he spoke at different places before he eventually went to March on Washington. The same, Barrack Obama does not use notes when he is giving most of his keynote speeches. This is one characteristic which indicates that these two great orators had a fine grasp of the content of their speeches and all they needed was a crowd to push on. Bill Clinton has not been a great orator ever since, he has been able to learn this art with time, and he does not do a lot of memorized speeches like the other two.
Barrack Obama and Martin King had another similarity in the fact that they did not give speeches; they created an experience of communication. In the views of Gallo (2012), they had a certain smart way through which they could connect to the audiences before they raise their energy into action. King managed the March to Washington. Obama was able to gather people’s emotions and was elected the 44th President of United States. Both of them understand the importance of the occasions in which they gave their speeches, and they did never fail to get the great connection. In DNC (2014), Bill Clinton did show that he could also communicate to the crowd rather than to just deliver his speech. He was good at putting across the message which communicated that democrats would ensure Obama stays in power.
Martin Luther, Barrack Obama, and Bill Clinton indicated in their speeches that they consider connection with the audience as something very important. Martin Luther just like Obama would lower his voice to makes sure that the content of their information had sunk through and that the audience is following. Clinton, before switching to the general context once the connection has been built, uses the art of singling out the members of the audience and communicating directly to them as though they are the only people in the crowd.
Despite being taken as great speakers, there are some differences among these three speakers discussed. To an extent, these differences can be used to determine the best speaker among the three highlighted. For instance, while Bill Clinton often makes use of contrast to highlight points that matter, Obama refrains from doing so in his speech delivery. Similarly, while Barack Obama likes to make use of his rhetorical skills when speaking, Clinton and Dr. King do not. Dr. King’s effective use of analog is not shared by both Clinton and Obama. One reason of this can be due to the fact that Dr. King’s analogies are very well crafted, and he had a mastery of integrating them in his speech in such a way that it made easy for the audience to relate themselves to what he is saying.