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Three Great Pieces of Advice from Obama’s Speechwriter

I love the lead up to Christmas; am I the first to mention the C word this year? Please forgive me but my granddaughter, the wonderful Heidi, arrived yesterday all excited and telling me what she wanted for Christmas – a fish tank, she has given up all hope of getting her first choice, a dog.

So why do I like Christmas? It’s when I get to give hints to my family about the books I would like to read over the holiday.

A couple of years ago, this approach was successful. I received a present of “Thanks, Obama” written by David Litt, one of President Obama’s speechwriters. This book is a joy to read for anyone interested in being a better speaker, or, like me, provides coaching to people who need to speak as part of the business life.

The book is easy to read, full of insights on the life of President Obama and what makes him tick.

Presentation Advice:

I read all my books with a highlighter in my hand, text surfing all the examples and stories that resonate with me.

One simple judgement of my books is to flick through and see how much of the content is highlighted. In the case of this book, it’s a sea of orange, green and red text surfing as I have now re-read the book several times.

Let me give you three examples of highlighted extracts which may resonate, should you be an aspiring speaker or speakers coach

From Chapter One “The Rapture”

“Obama wasn’t just fighting for a change. He was change. He was the message and the messenger all at once.”

My comment:

Regularly, I see presenters telling me they are innovative, energetic, exciting, yet what I witness is the same old dull slides full of text, and a presenter who believes it’s OK to turn their back on the audience and read the slides in a dull monotone voice.

I help good speakers live the message they wish to portray.

From Chapter Five “The Salmon in the Toilet”

“In the real world, speechwriters are more like personal trainers than puppet masters, they can help you present the most attractive version of yourself to the public. They can’t turn you into something you’re not.”

My comment:

As a presentation coach, my aim is to help people be their best self. Your best self is way better than a poor imitation of someone else (perhaps your boss).

From Chapter Five “The Salmon in the Toilet”

“Speechwriters act as stand-ins for the audience. If you’re working with a writer, chances are you’re an expert. And if you’re an expert, chances are you’re boring. You can’t help it. The more you know about a subject, the harder it is to express your knowledge in a way the rest of us understand.

As professional dilettantes, speech writers use their short attention spans to your advantage. Sifting through the dense muck of fact and anecdotes, they find nuggets worth something to the outside world.

What you do have are thoughts. What you need, although you may not know it, is someone to organise them. A good writer can take your ten ideas and turn them into one coherent whole.

Where you see two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun, the speechwriter sees a Big Mac.”

My comment:

I could not agree more with the text above; my clients always want to talk (at length) about what they do (the product) – their audience is much more interested in how what you do makes them better. IT’S A BIG MAC THEY WANT – THE BEST SPEAKERS HELP THEM TASTE AND SMELL IT!


By Executive Coach Andrew Keogh of

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