September 28th, 2016

First Lady Michelle Obama Visiting USDA Employees

Throughout my 30-plus years in communications, I’ve written many executive speeches for various employee meetings, conferences and press events. I’m usually in awe of how the words come to life by the speaker — especially when they allow their personality to shine through.

As I listened to First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech on the first night of the Democratic National Convention on July 25, I was impressed by the words and the delivery of her speech. So what made the speech so special? Below are seven lessons and reminders that can help us connect the hearts and minds in future speeches: 1. Make it personal. At the onset, the First Lady talked about being a mother and the importance of instilling a foundation of values and morals in her daughters in this “unusual life” in the spotlight. Once I was preparing a women’s initiative speech for a CEO, and I asked, why is advancing women important to you? He wanted to give it some thought over the weekend. When we got back together, he talked about how his mother had a college degree, but because she was a woman, she couldn’t be more than a secretary. He also told me that he wanted to ensure that his daughters had better opportunities than the previous generation. Needless to say, injecting that personal information made for a much stronger speech and connected to the hearts of the audience. 2. Take the high road. Although we knew who she was referring to, Mrs. Obama didn’t directly call the opponent out. It wasn’t necessary. Often, we spend too much time worrying about our competitors and what they are saying about us instead of focusing on our vision. She spoke about ignoring the hurtful things that her daughters heard from public figures on TV and urged them not to stoop to their level. “When they go low, we go high.” 3. Paint a picture of the future. During her speech, she often came back to “leaving a better world for her daughters and our kids.” The First Lady also laid out the character traits needed to take the country forward. “I want a president with a record of public service… teach[ing] our children that everyone in this country matters… [who] believes in the vision that our founders set forth.” 4. Focus on strengths. Once she talked about the character flaws that don’t make a good president, she clearly outlined the values and maturity needed as a commander-in-chief. The First Lady gave examples of how Hillary Clinton exhibited these traits when she lost the election to her husband. “She didn’t get angry or disillusioned. Hillary didn’t pack up and go home, because as a true public servant, she knows this is so much bigger.” 5. Make it relatable. Ask yourself, why should anyone care? Mrs. Obama brought it down to the individual and community level when she emphasized coming together for the sake of our kids. She identified volunteer coaches, Sunday School teachers and heroes who risk their lives for us. She also empathized with the families in Dallas and Orlando, who recently lost loved ones to violence. More important, she became very emotional when she pointed out the amazement of living in a house that slaves built and how she watches her daughters playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. 6. Have a call to action. I always ask leaders, what is it that you want people to know, feel and do? The First Lady encouraged everyone to have a sense of urgency and passion for getting out and voting. 7. Have a memorable close. As Mrs. Obama said, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great!”