Obama: Public Speaking Miracle

I am currently reading for review Barak Obama’s newest book, A Promised Land (Crown, 2020). I was startled to come across a passage on page 52 that spoke of an experience I have had—a magic moment in public speaking. Obama says: “[T]here comes a point in the speech where I find my cadence. The crowd quiets rather than roars. It’s the kind of moment I’d come to recognize in subsequent years, on certain magic nights. There’s a physical feeling, a current of emotion that passes back and forth between you and the crowd, as if your lives and theirs are suddenly spliced together, like a movie reel, projecting backward and forward in time, and your voice creeps right up to the edge of cracking, because for an instant, you feel them deeply; you can see them whole. You’ve tapped into some collective spirit, a thing we all know and wish for—a sense of connection that overrides our differences and replaces them with a giant swell of possibility—and like all things that matter most, you know the moment is fleeting and that soon the spell will be broken.”

Perhaps a dozen times in my long career of public speaking, I’ve experienced the magic moment Obama describes when I am at one with my audience. Together, my listeners and I become part of a reality that is greater than we are. It is as though we have been touched by the divine.

I don’t know how to make that magic happen. My sense is that it occurs when my audience and I share an awareness not given to all human beings. I’m profoundly grateful I’ve experienced it.

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