Obama address for Newtown Massacre

Obamas address after the Newton Massacre was an example of a leader leading in a time of crisis. He delivered a well structured speech that set out his vision. It worked for many reasons. While I hope we never have to see this type of address again, you can use some of the techniques to get your message across.

The first is the scripture – giving a reassuring background that this is part of a bigger picture. Then he brings this background from the biggest (GOD) to a smaller one (the whole country) then to the individual (You are not alone in your grief – our world too has been torn apart – all across this land we have wept with you). This broad-to-narrow style of opening gives the audience a context to feel part of. They are not there on their own – they belong to something bigger.

He then makes it real – mentioning each teacher by name. This raises massive amounts of emotions – you can hear people in the auditorium openly sobbing. He takes that emotion further by talking of the teachers who looked after the children and kept them safe – kept them alive. These teachers were in the room. This raising of emotions bonds an audience to the speaker. All good movies/books/concerts/plays etc do this.

He then masterfully breaks the tension with the humour – ‘Little children can sometimes follow instructions’ and the example of the karate kid. This breaking of the emotion bonds us closer to him – he has taken his audience from depth of despair to a light outbreak of humour – this change in emotions bonds the audience to the speaker. This causes emotional confusion in the audience, but because it finishes with humour the audience bond with the speaker.

To lighten the mood further, he speaks as a father – of having your heart walking around outside of your body. This light-hearted analogy serves 2 purposes – it lifts the mood and it gets everyone agreeing with him. He knows he is going to ask for a very big agreement later, so he needs to get some smaller agreements now to help get the bigger agreement. This is classic ‘sales 101’ stuff and it works. It also opens up to the logic that while our children are separating from us we must do what we can to protect them – something we all would agree with.

At this point Obama starts speaking as himself – as a parent. He expands the analogy to show that each one of us is the parent of every child. He explains that we have a responsibility to look after them. This is ‘find common ground’ with your enemy. With this, he shows that those who are anti-gun-law-reform are against protecting children.

He then boils what will be a long and complex argument down into one salient point, ‘Looking after our children is our first priority. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.’ This is defining the argument that he wants to have over the ensuing months/years……decade?

He then uses this point to frame his argument. Are we doing enough to keep our children safe from harm? Are we protecting our children? As a Nation, are we doing what we should be.’ (This is one of the few times that Obama has ever become lost in his script. If you look at the video (around the 10 minute mark) he is looking for where he should be – looking for the right words on the page. Even though he is lost he still manages to get his message out.)

He then answers that with a straight ‘No’. This signals ‘Game-on’ for gun law reform.

To start the debate and state his argument, he draws on what the country has experienced in his time in office – 4 mass shootings and countless gun deaths in ‘small and big towns all across America.’ He then states his vision – change.

To pre-empt the inevitable pushback from those opposed to reform, he sets about dismantling their case. He states that they have a valid point and that there is no easy or simple solution, but that shouldn’t stop progress. This is using their defence as his attack. He is agreeing with what they will say, and then pointing out the tactics they will use to stop any progress. This will make it much harder for them to use this line in the future.

He then sets about building the emotion again. His argument here is to save ‘just one child, just one parent’ from going through the emotional pain that other towns have been through. By slowly naming the towns and communities that have experienced massacres he is slowly building emotions.

Off the back of this emotion, he states what he will do. He outlines his plan of whom he will work with to solve the problem. There is only 2 sentences about this. It is deliberately very short.

Then more emotion building. He asks if the US should accept massacres as part of their freedom. This is a choice the people have.

He then drives emotions deep by asking what is it that we should be doing? The answer is looking after children – keeping them safe, giving them hugs, teaching them, being kind to them. He then pushes the emotion through the roof by naming every child that was killed in the massacre. You can once again hear people sobbing.

Off the back of this, he then asks the country to do what it must so the children are not forgotten. He wants to see gun law reform.

The way that this speech is structured is not all emotion. There is a healthy dose of logic included. If you want to win an emotional argument, you need to have logic. If there is no logic, when the emotions subside – and they do – they will not have any logic to carry them on.

This is an impressive speech. It is well crafted and delivered to the right audience at the right time to achieve the right objective. If Obama is able to push through on this point, this will be an address that is remembered and studied 50 years from now.

Lets hope he gets it done.

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