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Petar Pismestrovic - Kleine Zeitung, Austria - Click to purchase

Barack Obama is a good public speaker.  His fans praise him for it and his critics attack him for it.  A lot of people question his politics, some question his place of birth, but no one questions his ability to charm an audience with his smooth voice and rhythmic phrasing. The New York Times reports that people who barely understand a word of English buy recordings of his speeches to play as BGM!

So, just what is it about his speech pattern that makes it so listenable?  A search of the internet produces thousands of analyses of the content of his speeches, but very little that comment on the way he speaks.

One Christian blogger claims he speaks with a cadence (rhythm) like that used to read passages of the Holy Bible.  Another authority says he uses a style that is common among African Americans.  Both may be true.  I listened to Obama’s Inaugural Speech back-to-back with Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech and I could hear some definite similarities. Many of them are are both black and Biblical, but others are not so easily categorized.

– Repeats the same word or phrase often

– Highlights words by stretching them longer or with higher pitch

– Goes up or down at the end of each phrase

– Changes the speed of phrases – slow>>fast or fast>>slow

– Changes the length of phrases

– Uses parallel structure

– Stops for dramatic effect

This is a very simple and incomplete analysis, but it may be enough for you to get the idea.

All of these techniques give their speech a rhythm, make it musical. But the music is different; King croons lyrically, Obama is more staccato and sometimes sounds almost like he’s rapping.

Martin Luther King, Jr. by Yann Couedor

Martin Luther King, Jr. by Yann Couedor

Why does this mean anything to you, unless you are a linguist?  Well, if you want to better understand, speak or simply enjoy spoken English, you can learn a lot from these eloquent speakers.

Sometimes the best way to tell how a celebrity sounds the way he does is to listen to a good impersonator mimic his style. Imitators have to find the speaker’s strongest characteristics and exaggerate them — highlight them just like the artist did in the caricture at the top of this article. Amplifying the speech traits makes them immediately recognizable to the audience. Watch and listen how brilliantly Iman Crosson, as Alphacat, recreates the Obama style.

Now, click here for my standard phrase formatted version of Obama’s announcement after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.  It is not nearly as dramatic as some of his other speeches, but it has the distinct advantage of being short – just 861 words.

The best way to learn from this is to take the following steps.

1 – Copy and paste your own copy and print it.

2 – Click here to listen to this speech.

3 – Write a slash (/) every place he pauses or stops.

As you do this you will see how he uses regular and irregular phrasing stops to build a rhythmic pattern and to stress key words and ideas.

© Dane Degenhardt, Monde Dane, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dane Degenhardt and Monde Dane with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.