Millions of people around the world watched President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address in January 2016. At ECG, we looked at this event with different eyes. It was a premier opportunity to extrapolate from a very public figure some lessons about communicating as a leader, lessons that have relevance and application in our private and corporate lives.

Who hasn't watched a leader delivering yet another speech and wondered, "How do they do that?" It doesn't require supernatural skills, but it is spellbinding when all the pieces come together. Few of us give presentations that include the pomp and circumstance, potential liability (exposure), and long history of the State of the Union address. What historically was mandated communication between the President and Congress has become a highly anticipated, powerful communication event between the President and people all over the world. The learned skills exhibited in this type of leadership communication transcend current news events and political orientation as well as geographic and cultural boundaries. They are simply good lessons in communication.


Every presentation is an opportunity to define your platform—your current perspective—on a specific issue or multiple related issues through messaging, regardless of how simple or complex the messages are, the formality of the setting, or the size of the audience. Determine your strategy and its elements, shape each point, and provide sufficient explanation and support for each.

The affect and storyline must align with your purpose to provide clarity, credibility, and shape to the presentation. Success in communicating as a leader comes from consistency between the messages and the way they are delivered.


To truly communicate as a leader, we are obliged to do everything possible to ensure that our messages are clear to the entire range of listeners, regardless of the forum. Our listeners do not need to agree or even like what we are saying, but we need to give them compelling reasons to listen. To accomplish that, the speaker needs to know who the audience is and what characteristics its members likely possess.

To do this, conduct an audience analysis, paying special attention to audience demographics and disposition. Use that analysis to direct body language and vocal variety, the ebb and flow of the content, and the use of relevant anecdotes, metaphors, and stories to design messages that resonate with listeners.


Most of us don't have the luxury of speechwriters and full-time coaches to help us prepare for presentations. Creating and editing content are critical, but usually the larger portion of available time should be dedicated to rehearsal. Every audience deserves a fully developed and rehearsed event. Generally, the higher the stakes (personal, professional, psychological), the more time you should spend rehearsing. It's a simple formula—the more you rehearse, the more spontaneous and comfortable you will appear.

There's no magic in communicating as a leader, just plenty of highly-focused hard work, no matter how experienced you are. The next time you are listening to a presentation, think about how well the platform was defined, how inclusivity was achieved, and how preparation likely added effectiveness. Then use some of those "magical" world-class lessons to enchant your next audience.