General Question

ibstubro's avatar

Honestly, objectively, do you think President Obama is an exceptional public speaker?

Asked by ibstubro (18636points) June 16th, 2014

During the first campaign I remember hearing Obama called “The Great Communicator”, a term I associate with Ronald Reagan. Since I don’t have a TV channel, I was seldom, if ever, given the chance to hear Obama speak.

Within the past year, I started listening to NPR, and they frequently play clips of Obama speeches. I’m constantly amazed at how poorly cadenced most of his speeches are, almost like he’s reading the material for the first time.

This isn’t a political question, and I’ll go on the record as saying that I think both Reagan and Clinton were exceptional orators. I’m just having a disconnect between what I’ve been told about Obama’s general public speaking and what I’ve perceived.

I ask the question because I heard part of an Obama speech this week that sounded very fluent. Unlike what I was accustomed to.

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36 Answers

janbb's avatar

There is much I respect about him and much I criticize but no, I do not think he is a great public speaker. Most of the time his rhythm seems off.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Maybe, but there’s a huge difference between the Great Communicator and the Great Implementer.

talljasperman's avatar

It is his script writer that is exceptional. He just smiles more than the average president. Also he is tall dark and handsome, with a hot wife.

tinyfaery's avatar

His cadence is off-putting, but I think he’s a good speaker. Not as good as Clinton. I suspect we won’t have one as good as Clinton for a long while.

filmfann's avatar

I have been to a number of Toastmasters competitions, and I would give Obama an 8 out of 10 now, and a near perfect 9.8 during that first candidacy. I understand how the difficulty of the Presidency can take a toll.

Seek's avatar

He’s no Winston Churchill, but he’ll do.

ibstubro's avatar

Thanks, @janbb. That’s the validation I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear an outstanding speaker, and all I got was choppy.

Splain, @Adirondackwannabe.

Too many conflicting contentions, @talljasperman

Thanks for agreeing that his cadence is often off-putting, @tinyfaery.

I tried to factor that “first candidacy in, @filmfann.

“He’s no Winston Churchill, but he is” @Seek

funkdaddy's avatar

I’d say the cadence is a product of how the speech is being delivered as much as to his particular style.

When he’s working from notes, he’s more methodical so generally has less large pauses than others, but settles into a pattern with breaks small breaks to make it happen. When he’s working from a teleprompter or on materially he’s practiced extensively he works in bursts. When he’s working from memory or without preparation he’s more natural, but we’re so quick to pounce on any tiny missteps presidents rarely speak naturally any more.

I think he’s among the best considering how often he needs to speak and how bright the spotlight is each time.

For reference, here’s a famous Winston Churchill radio broadcast. Would this hold up today?

Here’s a video of Bill Clinton speaking mostly from notes regarding the Affordable Care Act

Both are great speakers in the same arena, but both display the same shortcomings being called out here and occasionally lack of clarity.

Compare to I Have a Dream which is often considered one of the greatest public speeches recorded. MLK has the cadence of a preacher and is so distinctive you don’t need to hear much of any part to know who’s speaking.

I think Obama has his own style and compares favorably to any of his active peers. Beyond that, great speeches are defined by great moments, and he hasn’t had to capture those history changing moments.

kritiper's avatar

No. He tries too hard for memorable, historic speeches and ends up just droning on and on and on…

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Yes, of course he is an exceptional pubic speaker. You don’t reach that level of politics without having mastered that little trick.
He honed it serving for years his Chicago overlords before moving on to the presidency.

funkdaddy's avatar

One of my favorite speeches seems apt

Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as a cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twister pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities – all these are marks, not as the possessor would fain to think, of superiority but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affection of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves in their own weakness. The role is easy; there is none easier, save only the role of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.

-Theodore Roosevelt

gondwanalon's avatar

Obama has given a few good speeches but in general he is boring and comes across to me like an intellectually dishonest lawyer or used car salesman. I don’t trust him but I don’t trust much anymore after Bush. Obama is a better speaker than Bush but not by much (in my opinion). Bill Clinton always captivated me with his speeches. Slick Willy truly has a gift for speeches.

LostInParadise's avatar

Of the presidents who I have seen, speaking ability has not been all that great. Clinton is the notable exception. Every time Bush spoke, the overwhelming impression I got is that the guy is an ignoramus and a bullshitter. It is hard for me to evaluate Reagan, because of my personal dislike for him. Bush senior, Carter, Nixon and Johnson were not all that good, and I think JFK is overrated. You have to go back to FDR to find someone else who was really good.

CWMcCall's avatar

When he is talking about Civil Rights and Health care, things he is passionate about he is very articulate. When he reads the teleprompter he can be a very compelling speaker. Take away the teleprompter or ask him a question he was not prepped on and he fails in a very embarrassing way. MLK he is not.

BeenThereSaidThat's avatar

No one can read a teleprompter as good as him.

ragingloli's avatar

Not really.
He seems to be collecting his thoughts too much.

rockfan's avatar

His cadence is very off-putting, so I always skip live speeches and just read the transcripts.

yankeetooter's avatar

My answer is apolitical as well, but, sorry, I cannot stand to hear the man speak. Even reading a teleprompter, his fluency in speaking is horrible.

cheebdragon's avatar

He can be…uh…very…uh…..annoying, to…um….listen to….and…uh….his press conferences are….you know….uh, embarrassing.

Sometimes it makes me miss the incredibly stupid shit that Bush would say.

stanleybmanly's avatar

On the written out rehearsed speeches, Obama’s as good as anyone around. Speaking extemporaneously, there’s little question that there’s a first class intellect whirring behind the words. But the problem faced by any “celebrity” when it comes to making statements in public is that a simple misplaced word or frank admission can result in catastrophic consequences. For example, Obama’s statement about Americans under stress clutching their bibles and guns was one of the most insightful and astute utterances to ever come from a politician. It should garner him a place in “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”. But Americans (and particularly those referenced) took immediate offense at the uppity black man bringing up a far from obscure bit of truth. So public speaking off the cuff is self censorship, and that requires an enormous amount of practice to avoid stumbling. It always amazed me just how far Ronald Reagan managed to get with only 2 talents. The man knew how to follow orders and was damned good at reading a script.

ibstubro's avatar

You forgot movie-star handsome, @stanleybmanly. Even you are up to three positive attributes.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@ibstubro Point taken! I might as well concede that good looks are indeed a talent.

ibstubro's avatar

Attribute, @stanleybmanly. And there is maintenance.

cheebdragon's avatar

@stanleybmanly I think a lot of people were offended by his remark because it was extremely hypocritical for him to say considering he is without a doubt the most heavily armed man in the United States.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@cheebdragon I don’t get it. While he may have well armed minions at our expense, there;s nothing in his remark that excludes HIMSELF. The remark was about Americans. Unless you subscribe to the notion that his citizenship is fraudulent, he’s talking about US as a society. What’s your opinion on the accuracy of what he said?

JLeslie's avatar

Rehearsed speeches he is good. Question and Answer he is a mild studderer in my opinion.

cheebdragon's avatar

@stannlybmanly He wasn’t talking about himself though, he was specifically talking about pennsylvanians in small towns who don’t want to hear his promises of change after hearing the same shit from the last 2 administrations that failed to follow through on, so they cling to their guns and religion.
If he hadn’t said it on the campaign trail, it might have been taken completely different, but instead the comment seemed like a snide explanation about a demographic unlikely to vote for him. Whatever his intentions were, either way, it was hardly a compliment to anyone.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@cheebdragon Once again, how about the accuracy of his observation? Take in consideration Obama’s statement, and recall the incident which generated the comment. The remark was not a compliment, but was it true?

Aster's avatar

I’ll give him an 8.

Jackofalltraits's avatar

I have mixed feelings on this. I would say he has his moments. In general, I would not rate his public speaking to be all that great—maybe average or even below average for a modern president (hardly a Clinton or a Reagan). The difference is that there are certain times when he is simply on fire, and those are, I would argue, some of the best moments in public speaking…but they are the exception, not the rule.

cheebdragon's avatar

@Stanleybmanly no I don’t believe that Pennsylvanians who didn’t vote for Obama did so because they were clinging to their guns and religion. I also don’t believe that liberals are clinging to welfare and love aborting babies.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Forget about whether or not they vote for him. The comment wasn’t about “Americans who don’t like me”. It was an observation on our collective behavior. I’m sure that plenty of folks who clutch their bibles and guns when stressed actually voted for Obama. I don’t believe that the statement was meant as an insult directed at those opposed to him or his policies. If he had said “Americans love hot dogs”, it would be a mistake to assume that it was a deliberate dig at vegetarians.

cheebdragon's avatar

He didn’t say that “Americans are clinging to guns and religion”, it wasn’t directed at all or even most Americans, it was specifically about people in Pennsylvania who weren’t interested in hearing him.
Either way I don’t believe that Americans in general cling to anything other than drugs.

tinyfaery's avatar

Ooh, I want to abort a baby. Fun.

ibstubro's avatar

Behave, @tinyfaery. Be tinier.

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