Article Category: Commentary

2008 Election Night Speech Analysis – Obama and McCain


Tuesday, November 4, 2008. History was made.

The immediate impact is tremendous, etched on the faces of millions as they watched the results and listened to the speeches. The longer-term impact has yet to be written.

While we can’t accurately predict the next four years, we can assess the speeches from election night. Both Barack Obama and John McCain received praise for their performances.

Watch the speeches, and then read the analysis from many sources.

Barack Obama’s Victory Speech

Read the full speech transcript

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John McCain’s Concession Speech

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Speaking Experts weigh in…

James Wood — in The New Yorker — offers a stirring analysis of Obama’s victory speech:

A movement in American politics hostile to the possession and the possibility of words-it had repeatedly disparaged Barack Obama as “just a person of words” — was not only defeated but embarrassed by a victory speech eloquent in echo, allusion, and counterpoint. No doubt many of us would have watched in tears if President-elect Obama had only thanked his campaign staff and shuffled off to bed; but his midnight address was written in a language with roots, and stirred in his audience a correspondingly deep emotion.

Nick Morgan praised the election night speeches from both John McCain and Barack Obama.

[W]e witnessed rhetorical history: two equally literate and gracious speeches from the candidates, Senators McCain and Obama. […]

McCain’s concession speech, like Gore’s, was more appealing than many other speeches he’s given, because he relaxed, and the cranky grandpa persona was gone. […] His best speech of the campaign. […]

The best thing about Obama’s speeches so far is that they are not about him, but rather about the audience. That is almost unheard-of for a politician, and rare for any speaker. Therein lies his oratorical genius.

Lisa Braithwaite concentrated mostly on Barack Obama’s speech:

Obama gave a powerful and presidential speech that had many of the elements we look for in a successful and engaging presentation. […]

This is the kind of speech that will be memorized in classrooms: powerful, positive, honest, direct, persuasive and emotionally engaging.

Bert Decker called Obama’s victory speech a transformational speech:

Barack Obama gave a once in a decade speech in accepting the Presidency. He has an incredible ability to move people with oratory in both his behavior and content – and he took advantage of that when he had his most important audience of perhaps hundreds of millions of people across the world.

John Watkis praises John McCain’s performance:

John McCain gave his best speech. McCain seemed more relaxed and more in tune with his speech last night. He seemed more comfortable with the words and rarely struggled with the teleprompter. Although he did lose his rhythm a few times, the timing of his words was far better than it has been in the past.

Ian Griffin draws a stark contrast between speech skills of Obama and McCain:

Obama’s speech […] moved through time and biography to the present day. His speech has echo’s of Lincoln and Martin Luther King. A lesser speaker (say, oh I don’t know, the current President and Republican nominees for President and Vice-President) would not have been able to carry this off.

Olivia Mitchell extracts six lessons in public speaking from Barack Obama.

  • Know your audience.
  • Envelop your point in a story.
  • Paint pictures on the canvas of your audience’s mind.
  • Get personal.
  • Wait for weight.
  • Light and shade.

TJ Walker takes a broad view in examining communications lessons from the 2008 campaigns:

Over the entire campaign, there were six main communications categories both candidates had to deal with.

  1. Positive message about their own candidacy.
  2. Contrast/negative message about their opponent.
  3. Defending negative messages from their opponents.
  4. Quick reaction to opponent’s blunders.
  5. Adaptation of messages to shifting macro-political climate.
  6. Visual/stylistic communication.

What did You Think?

How about you? What were your impressions of the speeches from President-Elect Obama and Senator McCain?

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Comments icon2 Comments

  1. I agree that both candidates did a great job at the end of a long, hard road. What I’m sorta (but sorta not) looking forward to is when Obama has to quickly give a speech to address unfolding events. I think that this will show the true depth of his speaking ability – anyone can practice an acceptance speech when you believe that you are going to win, it’s the off the cuff speech that will be the most interesting…!

  2. Tariq AlNoman says:

    Analyst had good views but the writers were great in conquering people’s thinking and feeling

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