Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Public Speaking, and President Obama's Skill Therewith

I saw Obama's press conference yesterday, and watch O'Reilly's commentary afterwards. I must confess, I was underwhelmed. Since the campaign began, all the news analysts, liberal and conservative alike, have been gushing about what a phenomenal speaker President Obama is. I just don't see it.

I know the common sentiment is when he's using the teleprompter, he is the finest orator since Demosthenes, but when he's speaking off the cuff, there's no telling what he'll say. I agree with the latter, but not the former.

His speech last night, to put it simply, was boring. Even Bill O'Reilly was bored. Obama speaks clearly, he has no accent, and he pronounces everything correctly, but there's nothing special about that. Any Toastmaster can do that. I can do that. I'm not impressed, Mr President.

His question and answer was worse than boring. Not only is "Umm" the President's favorite word, but I felt like he was condescending. I've never felt like that before. He ended every unnecessarily verbose answer with "Mmkay?". If I had done that in my public speaking class at Appalachian State University (a university not renowned for it's oratorial excellence), I'd have gotten at least one letter grade knocked off. You just don't condescend to your audience.

A President should not ever say "umm" or "er". Compare President Obama speaking extemporaneously to talk show host Dennis Miller. When Miller is asked a question, there's usually at least a full second pause before he responds. He says nothing while he thinks of what he's going to say. The pause is just long enough to be noticeable, but not long enough to interrupt the flow of the dialogue. He never stammers; he never minces words. Miller could orate circles around our President.

Furthermore, despite President Obama's verbal tics, he never says anything off the cuff that he didn't already say when he was using the teleprompter. It appears as though he doesn't have any more information in his head than on the screen, and what appears on the screen isn't much.

I question the use of teleprompters by Presidents. The President of the United States should be informed enough to know all the details of the current issue, without needing notes, and he should be intelligent enough to remember his speech. If Brad Pitt can remember his lines, shouldn't the President be able to remember his?

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