Who are some speakers better than Obama

rhetoric: Simply convince


Read on one side

He brings his own lectern. To the right and left of it, he has the semi-transparent glass panes of the teleprompter built up. It will be his last big gig in Germany. "To the people in Europe" was the title of the text by his team. And Barack Obama speaks to them, the people of Europe: on April 25, 2016, he will give one of those speeches in Hanover that made him famous and President of the United States.

Charismatic and charming, mischievous and pathetic - he pulls out all the stops. The speech is structured like from the textbook: At the beginning what rhetorician captatio benevolentiae call, the reaching for the benevolence of the audience ("I have to admit, the German people have a very special place in my heart"). And in the end a classic one conclusio ("Because a united Europe, formerly the dream of a few, is now the hope of the many and a necessity for all of us").

Obama seeks eye contact with the audience. He takes effective breaks. He can appear nonchalant - and in the next moment statesmanlike. He uses the whole body, the long arms, presidential, very efficiently. Barack Obama is a gifted speaker - and in this he follows a great historical pioneer.



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Martin Luther King also mastered the tools of rhetoric in his day. How skillfully he uses it is shown on August 28, 1963, the day of his world-famous speech: King is the star of the event, 250,000 people have made the pilgrimage to Washington to put an end to racial segregation and discrimination - and to meet him, King, to listen. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom will be the climax of the black civil rights movement - and a great moment in the history of rhetoric - something nobody knows at the moment.

For hours the crowd of 250,000 has stood in a shadowless square in front of the Washington Memorial. The light of the sun is glistening in the reflecting pool, a 600 meter long water basin at the monument. One speaker at a time comes up and down again. When the gospel legend Mahalia Jackson sings, the mood briefly arises like a breath of fresh air. But then the friendly apathy returns. It's just too hot and it won't stop. It was, as the journalist Norman Mailer later recalls, like a football game in which the team was 11: 3 shortly before the end of the game.

Martin Luther King is last in line. He has an elaborate speech in his pocket. He worked on the manuscript with his advisor Wyatt Walker by four in the morning. And he urged him to please refrain from the formulation that Pastor King so likes to use in his sermons: "I have a dream" - "I have a dream". That sounds trite, says Walker. This moment is historical, so the speech must also be unique.

Martin Luther King begins to speak. It's a home game. He can't lose it. Still - his speech does not ignite. King leaned on the desk with both hands. His message is urgent, every formulation is important to him. That is why he reads the text.

Perhaps it is the summer heat that makes this speech one of the greatest in world history. Perhaps it is the audience that demands everything from the ambitious speaker. Or maybe it is Mahalia Jackson who softly calls out to him: "Martin, tell’ em about the dream " - "Martin, tell them about your dream".

10 minutes and 30 seconds have passed. The sentences polished - but the spark does not jump over. King has just given the audience the mission: "Go back to Mississippi, go back to South Carolina ..." Mahalia Jackson calls out again, now louder: "The dream, Martin!"

Martin Luther King reacts in the eleven minute. He detaches himself from the manuscript and calls out to the crowd: "I still have a dream." What happens then is American history. Wyatt Walker later remembers that at that moment he knew that now they are all going to church, they just don't know it yet. Now comes a sermon.

King can preach. He learned it. At Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, he attended a course in homiletics, that is, teaching preaching. Together with fellow students, he developed new strategies for preaching. One of them was called: "The Hare in the Bush". The idea: The speaker fires arguments like shot into the audience, as if he wanted to find a rabbit in a confusing area. If the audience reacts, he fires the following argument in the same direction.

"Dream some more!" Shouted the audience in Washington. And King dreams. Now he has him, the rabbit. The sentence about the great dream is uttered nine times. The speaker uses it like a refrain, creating new variations of his topic off the cuff. While he was still speaking, King, who had been freed from the manuscript, developed another metaphor that will go down in the American treasury. He speaks of the bells of freedom that will ring from all mountains. From the glorious hills of New Hampshire, from the mighty mountains of New York, from the snow-capped peaks of the Rockys ... King rings the bells eleven times. Eleven times he calls out to the crowd: "Let freedom ring!"

The speech is a masterpiece, and not just in its last, famous third. King draws on a huge pool of quotes, references and formulations. He wanders through the Old and New Testaments, the American Declaration of Independence, the famous one Gettysburg Address of Abraham Lincoln, which in turn is a rhetorical masterpiece. But he doesn't just quote the big thoughts. You don't hear a colon or quotation marks. Often the speaker only plays with hints, sounds, paraphrases, you don't have to recognize the sources. They subtly charge his words.