michelle obama

A perfect balance of Logos, Pathos, and Ethos.

Former first lady Michelle Obama delivered a powerful keynote address on the first night of the Democratic National Convention last week.

Here, award-winning keynote presenter and coach, Natsuyo Lipschutz gives a candid analysis of her speech to find out what made it so emotionally appealing.

1.Memorable phrases

In 2016, Michelle Obama’s speech went viral for her take on what it means to be the bigger person in the face of hate: “When they go low, we go high”. This phrase made news headlines and has been plastered onto T-shirts all over the world.
At the DNC 2020, she used the same phrase again, and reminded viewers of the need to take the high road, despite the unprecedented challenges that 2020 has brought. “Going high is the only thing that works, because when we go low — when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others — we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else. We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight.”

To anchor a message effectively, your message needs to be 1) in KISS, and 2) fewer than 10 words. KISS usually stands for Keep It Simple Stupid/Short, but I teach my clients KISS stands for Keep It Simple/Specific.
For the message to be memorable, you need to use simple language that even a child would understand. The language has to bring clarity into the picture, so everyone who hears the message will be able to paint an image – it may be a clear vision of their future, the actions they need to take, or to imagine the concept of the products/services/ideas the speaker is presenting.

If the message is too long, people are unlikely to remember or recall.
“When they go low, we go high” is a superb line.
Bringing this into this year’s keynote shows consistency and continuity, which 1) contrasts with the incumbent president’s inconsistent and often confusing messages, and 2) strengthens trust.

Michelle Obama also included a few other great phrases in this speech one of these being:
“Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are.”

2.Power of delivery

If I had to choose the single greatest strength Michelle Obama has, I would highlight her power of delivery skills.

Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, pioneered studies in the study of nonverbal communications.
According to Mehrabian, the three elements account differently for our attraction and engagement to the person who puts forward a message concerning their feelings: words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and facial expression accounts for 55% of the liking.
For effective communication, these three parts of the message need to support each other – they must be “congruent”. In case of any incongruence, the receiver of the message might be irritated by two messages coming from two different channels, giving cues in two different directions.
It becomes more likely that the receiver will trust the predominant form of communication, which to Mehrabian’s findings is the non-verbal impact of tone + facial expression (38% + 55%), rather than the literal meaning of the words (7%). This is known as “The 7%-38%-55% Rule”.

Michelle Obama’s delivery style is powerful, authentic, and empathetic.
Each word she says has such weight and depth.
In the extreme scenario, if someone who does not understand English at all watches her video, they will still receive the message loud and clear and importantly, they will trust her too.

3.Emotional rollercoaster

Michelle Obama opened her speech with how American citizens are feeling, which is consistent with her message that empathy is important (she is walking the talk from the get-go).
This is what I call the “tap and transport” method. She taps into listeners’ minds to create a connection, then transports them into her world and her message. Listeners will immediately feel “this person gets me”.
Next she takes us through an emotional rollercoaster by depicting emotional contrasts throughout her speech.

She started with addressing our pain.
Then she moves on to elicit feelings of disappointment, sorrow, distrust, and even anger by describing the current state of this nation.
She then delivers the following message with assertiveness, determination, and power: “So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country.”
She acknowledges potential opponents, and strategically shifts her focus to the future of our children – a universal message.
Then she softens by telling personal stories about Joe Biden. She sheds lights on a personal, humane side of Joe Biden.
Before closing, she again touches on dark, painful times we are currently going through.
Finally, she paints the picture of our bright future, if Joe Biden becomes the president.


I offer presentation coaching for senior leaders who want to draw on some of the techniques used in Michelle Obama’s speech in order to emotionally connect with your audience and create the power of persuasion.


One Comment

  1. business storytelling natsuyo lipschitz September 23, 2020 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    […] far at the world’s greatest leaders to see how they are bringing Pathos into their presentations. Michelle Obama’s latest speech at the democratic convention is a great example of that. Starting by addressing the nation’s […]

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