"Best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you’re talking about."

Michael H Mescon



Robert Graham

Robert Graham is the Principal of GrahamComm, LLC (, a consulting and training company that helps clients increase their sales and deliver outstanding presentations. He can be reached at 415-652-0763 or

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When Barack Obama asked me what I do for a living a few weeks ago, I told him that I'm a public speaking trainer. "Great," he exclaimed. "Maybe you can help ME!"

I just laughed (perhaps I should have asked for his card instead) and told him that he was the best speaker I had ever seen and that I was taking notes the entire time he spoke.

He had just ignited a room of 120 supporters at a fundraiser in San Francisco with a stump speech that has fueled his momentum around the country. As Obama appears to be on the cusp of wrestling the nomination from Hillary, I thought I would share with you what I learned watching a true master speaker.

Senator Obama opened his 40-minute talk with wit and gratitude.

"Now this is a good looking crowd!" he said to the packed room, many of whom were from our old stomping ground, the South Side of Chicago. I want to thank our hosts for opening up their beautiful home to us tonight. From the sounds of the kids upstairs, I'm afraid some of your new renovations might not last too long."


One of the senator's sharpest tools is his wit, something we get glimpses of in the debates. He knows that a crowd can only focus for a few minutes on content without drifting, so he keeps it interesting.

Some of his humor is spontaneous, reacting to a comment or shout from the crowd. Other times, he uses a line that he knows will get a laugh. He brought up the accusation people make that he doesn't have much experience in Washington to which he responds, "Nobody had more experience than Rumsfeld and my cousin Dick Cheney, and look at the mess they've gotten us into!"

But Obama isn't there to entertain; he's there to influence. So as the laughter dies down each time, he brings us back with "but here's the thing." Then he makes his next point.

Clear, Inspiring Message

For all his masterful delivery skills, the real power in this speech came in his clear and inspiring message. Before he opened the floor to questions, he summarized by saying, "We're not just going to win the election, we're going to transform the country. But I can't do this on my own. Know that every one of you can make a tremendous impact as individuals."

As he said this, and as he was demonstrating in that moment, you couldn't help but feel a bit more empowered. He was moving the crowd, and he was doing it just by speaking. I reflected on the potential influence all of us have in the boardrooms, training rooms, and lunchrooms of our lives.

Closed With a Bang

"I want to close by reiterating that I can't do this alone. Everyone here wrote a check this evening (and if they didn't," he said to an aide, "don't let them leave until they do), and I thank you for that. But we need people to take action. And if you think you can't make a difference, let me tell you a story."

He then recounted a story of a woman he met after a couple glasses of wine who told him she would vote for him if he came to speak to her small town of Greenwood, South Carolina. It was a long, funny story about getting in late to a hotel, getting up too early, reading bad news about himself in the New York Times, then getting his umbrella ripped from his hands by the battering morning storm as he got into his cab.

At the event, there was a woman in the back who kept upstaging him by yelling, "Fired up! Ready to Go! Fired up! Ready to go!" Somehow, she got the whole crowd, and eventually Obama as well, to join her in the chant.

He finished quickly by saying that each of us CAN make a difference, then he asked us if we were fired up, to which every person in the room yelled "Fired up!" The crowd did the "cheer" three times, then Obama looked at us and with the confidence and conviction of a man on a mission said, "Let's go change the world."

The Greatest Speech I Never Delivered

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