AMERICAN president Barack Obama is well-regarded as an inspiring speaker. An analysis of his recent State of the Union speech will help you deliver more persuasive presentations:

Lead with your most important message

We are living in a world of many distractions. So if the speaker does not get to his key message fast enough, his audience checks out. 

Since this is a State of the Union address, everyone wants to know how America is doing, and Mr Obama answered the question under three minutes, saying: “It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.”

Keep your key message short and Twitter-friendly (under 140 characters) so that it is easy to understand and remember.

Talk is cheap, prove it!

Specificity creates credibility. If you want your audience to believe what you say, words alone are not enough. You have to demonstrate through vivid examples.

To reinforce that America’s success should not depend on accident of birth but the strength of the Americans’ work ethic and the scope of their dreams, Mr Obama cited three simple but vivid examples: “It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker — (applause) — how the son of a barkeeper is speaker of the House — (cheers, applause) — how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on earth. (Cheers, applause.)

Beat confirmation bias with a well-told story

A significant amount of psychological research has shown that the more you try to convince an audience who disagree with you, the more entrenched they will be in opposition of your idea. This phenomenon is what psychologists term “confirmation bias”.

If you want to effectively persuade and change mindsets, you have to first learn how to avoid activating confirmation bias by telling a story.

In Mr Obama’s speech, he told five. For your story to work:

•    Your story must be based on an actual example;
•    Your audience must be able to relate to the character in the story;
•    Your story is told with little details (Mr Obama took less than a minute to tell this story);
•    Your story has a clear purpose. In Mr Obama’s case, it was the value of the health reforms; and
•    Your story must also have a clear call for action.

Evoke strong emotions

Many presentations I have seen are full of numbing numbers — the speakers’ attempts to persuade their audience.

In 2004, Carnegie-Mellon University did a study and discovered that once we put on our analytical hat (to think), we hinder our ability to feel. And this in turn affects our ability to persuade since people only act when we make them care enough.

So how do we make our audience care about what we say? We do what Mr Obama did — evoke emotions. Here is how to do it:


 “Listen, China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines; and neither, neither should we. We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender.”


 “The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”


These could be love, meaning and service. “Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance. (Cheers, applause.) Give them that chance … They need our help right now, but more important, this country needs them in the game.”


In this case, he was referring to his fellow Americans: “But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.” (Cheers, applause.)


 “My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might but because of the ideals we stand for and the burdens we bear to advance them.”

Practise these tips and you will be on the road to becoming a more effective speaker and presenter.

Article by Eric Feng, who helps executives, salespeople and C-suite present with more clarity, confidence and charisma. For more information, visit