body language

Winning the Future: Reflections on President Obama’s State of the Union Address

I love the pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union address. Anytime our leaders gather together to celebrate our history and our future, I am moved and inspired. I was especially so last night as I watched President Obama take control of the podium and deliver a well-structured speech that reiterated for all of us our unique and inspiring history. In his “story of ordinary people who dare to dream,” he was included, as was Joe Biden and John Boehner. From the moment he walked down the aisle and silenced the applauding crowd, I was (as I always am) struck by his easy charisma and presidential stature. He carries himself with confidence and certainty.  He is a leader who is so much in charge that he’s not afraid to set limits or to compromise. Either position is within his reach to use when required. He demonstrated this range last night as he moved nimbly from softness to seriousness.

Of course, the response to his speech from pundits and the American public was mixed. A CBS News poll of speech watchers, which was conducted online by Knowledge Networks immediately after the president’s address, showed that 91 percent of those who watched the speech approved of the proposals President Obama put forth during his remarks. Only nine percent disapproved. Despite that, some pundits claimed the speech missed the mark, even saying, “The speech is a mathematical riddle that can’t be solved.” (If anyone understands what that means, please let me know.)

I’m not a domestic or foreign policy expert, nor am I a political commentator. So I won’t comment on the proposals and ideas the president put forth. I am, however, a citizen, a speech coach, and a communication expert. And as far as I am concerned, President Obama captured my attention as he stepped into the rhythm of the Connection Loop and engaged us with his usual accessible style and well-structured message.

In fact, it was a beautifully sculpted speech. He told stories, used data, quoted others, asked rhetorical questions, asked for our involvement, used humor, used metaphors, and in general, used the rule of three to capture our attention, build his case, and inspire us to act. For example, after his opening remarks, he laid out his three point agenda: Innovation, education, and infrastructure by saying, “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” Likewise, while laying out his agenda for the year and the challenge to the leadership, he asked everyone “to step up, work together, and make it happen.”

He also gave us some highly quotable moments and phrases that are sure to become part of our public domain database. Some highlights that struck me were:

  • “What comes of this moment is not whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.”
  • “The future is ours to win”
  • “We do big things.”
  • “Innovation doesn’t just change our lives; it is how we make our living.”
  • “It’s not just the winner of the super bowl that should be celebrated; it’s the winner of the science fair.”
  • “If you want to make a difference, become a teacher. Your nation needs you!”
  • “Connecting every part of America to the digital age.”

Throughout the speech was his underlying constant rhythm of optimism. Yes, this was an uplifting speech—a speech that said in a completely new way, “Yes We Can.”

No matter what side of the political spectrum you adhere to, no one can deny that President Obama is a masterful presenter—someone who not only comes alive before an audience, but also someone who engages the hearts and minds of his listeners. So even if you don’t want to be the leader of the free world, but simply the leader in your industry or topic, then observe and listen to the president’s speech. He is definitely someone all presenters should watch and emulate.

Spooky Presentations – When Botox Makes You Say “Boo!”

“Eyebrows up!” I say this to my clients every day. “Don’t be a poker face, raise your eyebrows, and smile!” When speaking to a group, displaying a flat face is like playing a zombie in one of those Halloween movies—you come across as lifeless and boring, just like the living dead. Keeping a poker face when you speak shows little interest in your topic or your audience. That’s why it’s important to raise those eyebrows!

Research tells us that there is power in your eyebrows. When used naturally and in synch with your message, raising your eyebrows shows your curiosity, enthusiasm, and awe. Raising your eyebrows creates excitement, even a sense of joy—it shows you are interested and interesting. It’s one skill that will capture attention and radiate confidence.

I take this whole eyebrow thing very seriously, so much so that the swoosh over the DeFinis logo is…you guessed it…a raised eyebrow!

So you can understand my dismay at what I’m seeing today—an entire generation of people who can’t raise their eyebrows because they’ve had Botox injections! Sure, they no longer have wicked witch style wrinkles, but now they’re left with a face that’s ghostlike, immobile, and for an audience, flat-out scary.

I know that the purpose of Botox is to make you look younger. The chemicals relax the facial muscles and reduce fine lines and wrinkles, especially the deep crevices in the forehead and above the bridge of the nose. But Botox also impedes your ability to raise your eyebrows, because the very muscles that create the wrinkles are the ones you need to move that part of your face.

And this is a huge limitation for the public speaker. Yes, you may look younger and your skin may be smooth and ageless, but you can no longer express a range of emotions, including your natural curiosity and awe. Without this ability, you lose one skill that can help you connect with others and come alive in front of a group.

Mind you, I’m making no judgment here on those who have had Botox treatments. But as a speech coach, it’s downright creepy to think that so many people can’t use a variety of facial expressions that engage audiences.

Can you still give a great presentation if you’ve had Botox? Absolutely. But you have to compensate by using other skills, such as your physical skills, your smile, your gestures, and your voice.


In any event, I guess I’ll have to get used to it and adapt, because I’m sure Botox is here to stay. Dr. Frankenstein would certainly approve!