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Monday, January 16, 2017
MEDIA MONDAY / TAKE AWAY FROM OBAMA'S FINAL SPEECH AS POTUS
GUEST BLOG / By Leila Pedersen, New America Weekly. Obama hooked us with
his story and left us with a mandate.
student of Gamaliel, which teaches faith-based community organizing, Barack
Obama first captured the nation’s attention during his speech at the Democratic
Convention in 2004, artfully mastering the story of self, us, and now, the
public narrative course taught by Harvard professor Marshall Ganz.
he ran for President in 2008, Obama was criticized for his background as a
community organizer, but it was the skills that he learned as an organizer that
have enabled him to be an effective communicator.
Note: The following article was first published in the “New America Weekly,
Edition 148”, a digital magazine from New America, a foundation that focuses on
the ideas and policy challenges that will shape the future.New America kindly allows other
non-commercial online magazines like Pillar to Post to republish important
articles that have appeared in New America websites. For more on New America go
Obama told his story
not to tell us who he is, but to show us who we are and what we can accomplish
have called last night’s speech unconvincing, and that it sounded like he was
“riding off into the sunset.” I disagree. To me, his farewell speech confirmed
that the Obamas are not going anywhere. As he said himself, he is about to assume,
“the most important office in a democracy, citizen.”
Obamas may be leaving the oval office, but they aren’t going away. He delivered
his final speech as President in Chicago not only because that is where his
political career started, but more importantly, it is where Organizing for
Action, which was born out of Obama for America, is headquartered.
you were looking for the president to take his successor down, then you haven’t
been paying attention for the past 8 years. It was Michelle Obama who
popularized the phrase, “when they go low, we go high.” And that is exactly
what Barack did.
someone who used to live in DC and chase the news cycle with the rest of the
city, I understand that it is easy to be cynical about the future. But once you
leave the Beltway and get to know people in states and cities, from Maine to
Modesto, you see bright spots not visible from the halls of Congress. As Obama
said in his closing remarks,
generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, and patriotic – I’ve
seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and
inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark,
that its not something to fear but something to embrace, you are willing to
carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and
I believe as a result the future is in good hands.
one time I may have chalked that statement up to empty, political rhetoric. But
since moving from DC to California and transitioning from political campaigns
to a civic startup that invests in social entrepreneurs and helps them tell
better stories, my faith has been restored. The people I work with aren’t
waiting for Washington to solve their problems; they are taking the initiative to
create the change they want to see in their communities and throughout the
week I am reading applications for New America’s 2017 California Fellowship.
These public leaders are pitching their ideas for how to solve society’s most
difficult problems, from economic inequality to climate change. In reflecting
on Obama’s unique storytelling abilities and looking at the applicants with the
highest scores, I noticed some common themes:
1. Lead with your
order for an audience – whether it be composed of funders, policymakers,
employers, or the general public – to understand why they should care about
your work, they must first care about you.For many people, telling their personal story can feel daunting. How do
I tell the story of my life in a paragraph? The answer is, you don’t. You tell
us about one experience you’ve had that illustrates larger themes about who you
are, what challenges you’ve faced, and how you have overcome them.
don’t have to be a politician to learn something from Obama’s oratory skills.
Watch his speech from 2004 and notice how he tells his story. It isn’t a litany
of accomplishments; it is a strategically crafted message that reveals his
values, perseverance, and motivations.
2. Inspire with your
vision for the future
often, grant proposals, campaign communications, and pitches to investors start
with the problem, which can leave an audience feeling hopeless and depressed.
Think about the difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Don’t
start with the problem. Instead, paint a vivid picture of what life would be
like if your idea was implemented. How would our lives be better? After all,
how will your audience know if they want to follow you if you can’t clearly
articulate where you are going?
3. Have a plan
specific. Audiences are hooked by stories and vision, but in order to move them
from interest to action, people need specifics. If you are asking someone to
invest time or money in your idea, you better tell them what you are doing to
do with those resources. “Start a nonprofit” or “Grow my business” is not
enough. As an investor, I want to know the steps you will take to ensure that
my time and money don’t go to waste. Clearly explain why you are uniquely
capable of creating the future you describe.
4. Make an ask
we look at the arc of Barack Obama’s career, we can see how he has carefully
crafted his own personal story, developed a compelling vision for the future,
unveiled his plan for how to achieve specific goals, and left the office of the
Presidency by making an ask of the American people: to join him in rejecting
the temptations of cynicism and apathy in favor of more a useful outlook rooted
in hope and change.
In his farewell
speech, Obama outlined the current threats to our democracy: economic
inequality, racial divisions, and a disappearing belief in facts – each of
which requires us to empathize with the story of others in order to create
opportunity for all.
out to individual groups, he urged minorities to talk to white people who,
“feel that their way of life is being upended by economic, cultural, and
technological change,” white people to acknowledge that slavery and Jim Crow
still affect us today and that everyone deserves the equal treatment promised
by our founders, and native-born Americans that our ancestors were once
of the station we occupy; we all have to try harder; we all have to start with
the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as
we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their
children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.
final ask of the evening was simple, “If you are tired of arguing with
strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life.” Now, more than
ever, it is up to each of us to tell our story, listen to others, and move
forward with empathy.