Obama Scores in State of the Union Finale: Analysis of His Communications Style


virgil.featuredBy Virgil Scudder, President, Virgil Scudder & Associates

President Obama’s final State of the Union message was arguably his finest.  It should go into history as one of the best written and best delivered.

Obama on the SOTU

(Source: Twitter)

The president was relaxed, cordial, and persuasive.  He backed up his points with facts and figures, many of them obviously intended to counter claims of leading Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.  An excellent example was his citing 10,000 U. S. air strikes against ISIS, accompanied by a statement that his policy was far better than calls to carpet bomb civilians.  Presidential candidates’ demands for more and indiscriminate bombing might “work as a TV sound bite,” he said, “but doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.”  “A smarter approach,” he declared, “is a patient and disciplined strategy.”

He also discretely did some score settling.  With a stone-faced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell looking on, Obama declared that solar energy employs more people at better average wages than coal.  McConnell, from the coal-heavy state of Kentucky, has been instrumental in thwarting many of the president’s environmental initiatives, especially those impacting the coal industry.

The president threw in a catchy sound bite or two, referring to “political hot air” and “peddling fiction,” an obvious reference to statements by Trump, Cruz, and other GOP presidential candidates on issues such as the economy and Obamacare.  Then he backed up his characterization with some solid and impressive statistics.

One thing he didn’t mention was the ten U.S. sailors being held by Iran.  He was criticized by some, fairly in my view, for that omission.

Looking at delivery techniques, Obama has never been better.  His gestures, timing, pauses, eye contact, and vocal variety were superb, giving the presentation a feeling of spontaneity.  This speech was a model for students of the oratorical art.

Unlike last year, the Republicans provided an effective response to the president’s talk.  The 2015 performance by freshman Senator Jodi Ernst of Iowa was awful; she was clearly in over her head.  This time, the GOP selected South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and the result was an intelligent, articulate presentation of the party’s views.

Haley was warm, gracious, and thoughtful.  She drew on her background as a minority growing   in her state (her parents both emigrated here from India) in calling for tolerance of people who are different.  She struck a blow for compassion, citing the response of South Carolinians to the Charleston church murders.  And she gained credibility by humbly saying that Republicans share some responsibility with Democrats for the state of the country today.

If the GOP feels it needs it needs a woman on its ticket as vice president, they should forget about the divisive and fact-challenged Carly Fiorina.  Haley is a far better choice and, I believe, someone who would greatly strengthen the ticket no matter who gets the nomination.  She’s quite a performer.

About the Author: Veteran media trainer and author of World Class Communication: How great CEOs win with the public, shareholders, employees, and the media. President of Virgil Scudder & Associates since 1990 after heading media training units at Hill & Knowlton and Carl Byoir & Associates following a career in New York and network broadcasting.


  1. Emil Walcek on at 10:30 AM

    Surely we can separate notes about effective speechwriting and oratory skills from our own points of view.
    Or can we? Maybe the prevailing mindset that nothing good (zero, nada, zip) can come from anyone with different ideas is the cause of the political gridlock these past years – where congressional bills get tabled, never to see light of day for a vote.

  2. Virgil Scudder on at 12:29 PM

    Emil, I’m not sure what points of view you refer to and in regard to which speaker, Obama or Haley. My points of view in this commentary are simple and transparent: both speakers performed well and provided substance, in contrast to many recent politicians’ diatribes. If you refer to the comment about Haley being a better VP choice for Republicans than Fiorina, that is absolutely a point of view and a strongly held one. Haley is an attractive figure with a successful track record and experience in governing. In my view, she is more likely to win female voters without turning away men than Fiorina which is important to Republican presidential hopes. One final note: commentary is, by definition, an expression of points of view. As long as it is labeled as commentary, it can add great value to the dialogue.

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