Article Category: Speech Critiques

How can you inspire your audience? Ask 10-year-old Dalton Sherman.

Is fifth grader Dalton Sherman the next Barack Obama?

Of course, it’s far too early to tell, but that’s how he refers to himself in an interview on the Ellen show, where my wife first saw this extraordinary young man who can teach us all something about inspirational speaking.

This article reviews the keynote address at the Dallas Independent School District (D.I.S.D.) Teachers’ Conference delivered by a 5th grade student: 10-year-old Dalton Sherman from Charles Rice Learning Center.

This article is the latest in a series of video speech critiques which help you analyze and learn from excellent speeches.

View Dalton Sherman Speech Video

I encourage you to:

  1. Watch the video;
  2. Read the analysis in this speech critique; and
  3. Share your thoughts on this presentation.
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Speech Critique — Dalton Sherman

This speech is remarkable for many reasons, including:

  • Repetition of signature phrases
  • Connecting personally with audience members
  • Vocal variety which signals key statements
  • Humor throughout
  • The rule of three

These areas are discussed in the speech critique below.

Repetitive Refrain – “Do You Believe…”

Dalton repeats the signature phrase 11 times during his keynote speech. [Note that numbers in brackets refer to the time in the speech.] These lines emphasize the central theme that teachers and students need to believe in each other.

  1. “Do you believe in me?” [0:43]
  2. “Do you believe that I can stand up here fearless and talk to over 20,000 of you?” [0:51]
  3. “Do you believe in me?” [1:12]
  4. “Do you believe in my classmates?” [2:05]
  5. “Do you believe that every single one of us can graduate ready for college or the workplace?” [2:15]
  6. “Do you believe in your colleagues?” [4:32]
  7. “Do you believe in yourself?” [5:50]
  8. “Do you believe that what you’re doing is shaping not just my generation, but that of my children and my children’s children?” [6:01]
  9. “Do you believe that every child in Dallas needs to be ready for college or the workplace?” [6:40]
  10. “Do you believe that Dallas students can achieve?” [6:50]
  11. “Do you believe in me?” [7:45]

On many occasions, this phrase follows a pause in delivery. By doing this, the repeated refrain also bookmarks the major divisions of the speech (the students, your colleagues, yourself, then back to students). This 4-part structure is highlighted in one of the lines near the end of the speech:

  • “We need you to believe (1) in us, (2) in your colleagues, (3) in yourselves, and (4) in our goals.” [7:10]

More and More Repetition

Sherman uses other repetitive figures of speech. Among these, here are two of the most powerful:

  • “I can do anything
    be anything
    create anything
    dream anything
    become anything
    because you believe in me.” [1:28]
  • “We need you” is repeated five separate times in the speech, making this a secondary theme (along with “Do you believe?”). [5:47, 6:34, 6:58, 7:02, 7:10]

Make it Personal

Sherman makes the speech personal by calling out specific groups within the massive audience. On every instance, his reference draws applause from that segment of the audience.

  • Early in the speech, Dalton calls out personnel from his own school, Charles Rice Learning Center. [1:10]
  • “Let me ask you a question, Dallas I.S.D.” (Dallas Independent School District) [1:55]
  • He refers to several large geographic regions: Sunnyside Dallas [3:10], Pleasant Grove [3:20], Oak Cliff [3:25], North Dallas [3:35], West Dallas [3:38]
  • Finally, he refers to the different educational roles in sequence. Nearly everyone in his audience should fall into one of these groups; the effect is that his message seems personal for everyone.
    “So whether you’re a councilor, or a librarian, a teacher’s assistant, or work in the front office, whether you serve up meals in the cafeteria, or help keep the halls clean, or whether you’re a teacher or a principal… we need you.” [5:15]

Lower and Slower Voice to Emphasize Key Points

Dalton Sherman delivers most of his speech with a loud and energetic voice. However, on four different occasions, he slows down and lowers his voice to deliver key points. This vocal variety is a signal to the audience that important words are coming, and the lines become more memorable as a result.

  1. “… is to believe that we can reach our highest potential.” [2:55]
  2. “As you know, in some cases, you’re all we’ve got.” [3:50]
  3. “… who love us when sometimes it feels like noone else does.” [4:10]
  4. “If you don’t believe — well, I’m not going there.” [7:22]

Humor Both Implicit and Explicit

The premise of this speech — a 10-year-old fifth grader giving the keynote address at a teachers conference — seems wonderfully absurd, and this fact alone provides much implicit humor in the speech. Numerous audience outbursts testify to their enjoyment.

In addition, Dalton’s speech includes a couple explicitly humorous lines:

  • “You better, because next week, we’re all showing up in your schools — all 157,000 of us.” [2:32]
  • “We all know, that sometimes, we kids can make it tough.” [5:00]

Rule of Three

The classic speechwriting Rule of Three technique is present a couple times in this speech:

  • “You’re the ones who feed us,
    who wipe our tears,
    who hold our hands or hug us when we need it.” [4:00]
  • “Believe in them.
    Trust them.
    And lean on them when times get tough.” [4:50] (refers to colleagues)

Did Dalton Sherman write this? Was he coached?

The speechwriter? As pointed out by this Dallas Morning News article, school district officials wrote the speech. The full speech text is also available here.

The coach? The article also reveals that Dalton was coached by his parents and an oratory coach from his school for several months. His preparations involved delivering the speech three times a week at his family’s church.

For these reasons, some Internet critics attack Dalton Sherman, suggesting that he’s a puppet reciting someone else’s words.

What do you think? I think this underscores how good you can be if you devote yourself to consistent practice and obtain speech coaching.

Although the delivery of some lines is choppy (which indicates memorized, but unnatural text), the majority of the speech is wonderfully delivered. As the video demonstrates, Dalton nails most of the choreographed body language, and he receives loud applause from his audience.

As just one example of this young man’s personal speaking strength, consider the opening to his speech. Despite standing before 20,000 while delivering this keynote address, Dalton Sherman still has the presence to wait for applause to die down before beginning [0:30 – 0:39]. Many adults have the tendency to talk over the audience applause, but he avoids this temptation. This a testament to the courage of this remarkable young man, and demonstrates that he has considerable talent.

Dalton Sherman on Ellen: “… the next Obama”

During an appearance of Dalton Sherman on the Ellen show, he was asked what he wants to do when he grows up. Dalton responds that he wants to be a news reporter and “the next Obama.” Aim high, young man!

Dalton Sherman on Oprah

Update — After this Six Minutes article was originally published, Dalton Sherman appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in an episode seeking to highlight some of the world’s smartest and most talented kids.

What did you think?

I’d love to hear your opinion on Dalton Sherman’s keynote speech.

If you are a teacher or have a career working with youth, does this speech inspire you? Does the speech achieve its goal as the keynote address at a school district conference to start the year?

Please share this...


This article is one of a series of speech critiques of inspiring speakers featured on Six Minutes.
Subscribe to Six Minutes for free to receive future speech critiques.

Comments icon56 Comments

  1. Thanks Andrew for highlighting this remarkable performance! Dalton is a great kid. But it was too much of a performance for me, and reminds me why I don’t like memorised speeches or choreographed body language. It didn’t feel real. It felt like half-poetry reading, half comedy performance. Both incredibly well-done – but I’d like to get to know the real Dalton Sherman. Olivia

  2. Naturally the fact that someone Dalton’s age can have such fearless stage presence is impressive. However, he appears too staged — too choreographed and far too prepared. Once I got over his intrepidity, the speech felt repetitive and overly rehearsed.

  3. Marilyn says:

    Wonderfully inspiring. The speech was rehearsed, that’s obvious. Please remember that Dalton is 10 years old–he has much room to grow. The stage itself was a setback, or maybe the camera used to record the speech was. If it was photographed with more cameras we could have benefitted from observing his body language. As it was, Dalton’s back was always facing someone, and as we know that isn’t ideal for a speaker.
    Thank you for posting–I have forwarded to the members of my Toastmaster club.

  4. Regardless of who wrote the speech or that he had plenty of coaching, I don’t think any of us would be able to give such a presentation at 10 years old with any coaching!

    1. Sarah says:

      I agree 100%. Well done Dalton Sherman!

  5. Johnnie GIbson says:

    As a retired educator, I am greatly moved and impressed by this young man’s speech. It is one that should be heard by everyone involved in the education of our children no matter what position they hold.
    The challenges presented to us are thought-provoking and worthy of repeating time and time again.
    I am certainly impressed by Dalton’s ability to deliver the address in such a dynamic manner.
    Congratulations and best wishes for what is destined to be a very bright future.

  6. From a presentation coach in Germany: The video clip proves what I keep telling my students over and over again: It is all in your voice.
    The speech is fine, it is making all the right moves, includes all the right rhetorics, nothing wrong with it, (apart from pathos and doing everything right, maybe) and yet I find it (and the performance) completely soulless.

    That little boy still has a long way to go to learn that for your words to ring true, you must feel them first.

    And then watch and compare him in his interview with Ellen.
    Just a boy. A little nervous. His voice his own, lower, (vocal cords more relaxed), and now he sounds so much more natural. And he is so much more likeable, believable than the fine-tuned first edition.

    Thank you for putting up the two videos. The speaking lesson is learnt much better that way, There is also another lesson to be learnt, about children and what parents and teachers should and should not make them do, but that is a different story.

  7. James Stephenson says:

    I am in education. We forwarded this video to several thousand employees. It is inspiring. It captures “our message” masterfully. However, I cannot tell you how disappointed I am to find out it didn’t come from his heart but from teacher speech writers. Sure, speechwriters are often the magic behind great communicators. But one expects a child’s communication to be innocent and from the heart. It speaks loudly to how we work today as educators. Pound “the script” into their heads and let them regurgitate back to us. One thing he does have on President Elect Obama – at least he didn’t have a teleprompter as a crutch. Neither gentlemen, it appears, would be worth a darn as a communicator if it wasn’t for somebody else’s handwork.

  8. Bob Kirokosky says:

    I totally agree with James. Where is the heart and soul?

  9. Tonecia says:

    As I read the comments, I fiind them to be so discouraging. Ask yourself at the age of ten would any of you even have the heart to say your ABC’s let alone deliver a message that dynamic in front of 20,000. I agree there are areas where improvement can be made, but remember it’s all about how things are said that makes the ultimate difference.

  10. Javier Urena says:

    Hello, My name is Javier Urena. I am from Houston Texas currently attending Allied University. I would like to add that I love this kids courage. He shows confidence in himself and shows the public he believes in himself. He has an excellent body of speach and an excellent closing. He never demonstrated unprearness, and included the I and the you. One important thing I noticed this kid never did was make bias remarks and always included the word us, as in all student. Excellent.

  11. julie70 says:

    Great article and great video too, and great kid and what a delivery, too! bravo

  12. I was extremely impress with Dalton’s speech. I have heard many speakers in my time, but, for a 10 year old youngster to stand up in front an audience that size and deliver a speech like that “Blew Me Away”. I think that young man is one of the gifted ones that can do anything he sets his mind on. Eloquent is what I would call him. Watch Out Obama!!This youngster could easily fill the foot prints your leaving. Congratulations are due this young man plus his folks and all the folks that helped him.

  13. Kim Shephard says:

    I am disappointed to comment that I find some remarks far too critical. The fact that an 11 year old can step out on to a stage, in front of 20,000 people and give a speech at this level, thoroughly impresses. He has a successful career ahead of him and should be applauded for his hard work, preparation and early demonstration of what might also be some raw, natural talent. It’s wonderful that others are helping him on his journey. He is no more a puppet then all of the parents out there that are taking thier kids to soccer practice & piano lessons every night. Lift him up, congratulate him…

  14. Sarah says:

    Wow! This speech was Great! I mean, can you give a speech in front of 20,000 people, even if it was rehearsed! He is 10 years old, and he have a bright future ahead of him. It was a great speech.

  15. Mary Ellen says:

    I don’t care who wrote this speech or how much this child was coached…it is an amazing performance! Dalton did a masterful job of delivering this speech; and who cares what color his skin is? I found that to be an incredibly inappropriate comment. Dalton reminds me of why I am in education…to improve the lives of children. AND, to have fun along the way!

  16. breonna rinz says:

    i loved this speech it taught me a few things. it showed me that i should believe im myseld and have more faith in what i do and have more self confidence. the persuasion used had a big impact on my view of the speech. the way the boy presended himself impacted my view on the speech.

  17. nadine byron says:

    He really appeals to emotion with the way that he acts and presents himself. The fact that he is so young and is so well educated in what he is doing is a major emotion key all in its self. He also appeals to logic. He is very educated in what he’s talking about. You can tell that this is all from his heart and not something that someone else wrote and asked him to repeat. It absolutely amazes me that someone so young could be so passionate and in tune with a single subject. He carries him self very well and presents an almost inescapable truth and reasoning.

  18. Ellie bolger says:

    I thought you did a great job! on showing all your confidence. i think its amazing how you believe so much in yourself at your age, your going to get far in your life. Once again i couldnt express myself more on how great of a job you did:) i would watch this speech over and over again if i could. DONT LET ANYONE TELL YOU DIFFERENT.

  19. Dan says:

    well i dont like the idea of another obama, but i did like the speech, hes a great inspiratinal speaker for being 10. it talked about alot of great things, and how we should all belive in eachother and stuff

  20. Travis says:

    I thought it was good except for I don’t think he appealed to reason very well and I don’t think he aknowledged the opposition.

  21. Kyle Tack says:

    I thought Dalton did a great job! Ive never seen a speech that well executed, and by a 10 year old at that. I was very impressed, two thumbs up!

  22. James Linhart says:

    ya know i thought it was really good…very inspiring… makes me want to give a speech like that (;

  23. jacob says:

    this article is very helpful and inspirational. ithink that he did a great job since hes only 10. i hope we dont get another obama. the united states is bad enough. with another obama were gonna be screwed.

  24. Kathryn Church says:

    I am amazed at how this young man can give a speech, and how confident he appears to be. Most kids even adults can not stand up and give a wonderful speech like Dalton did. His speech is incouraging, and i love the way how he interacts with the audience with humor, and making it personal. I am disapointed in some of the responses of the people, this young man is remarkable and will go far in life. Keep up the good work Dalton and dont let people bring you down. =)

  25. Lauren says:

    I liked this speech alot! It inspired me to think about all the things in life i can do. (Isn’t a persuasive speech supposed to inspire you or change your way of thinking?) I like how he gives good examples and adds in alot of rhetorical questions. His speech will help me write persuasive papers.I hope it inspired other people too.

  26. kirt says:

    awsome speech man

  27. josh byce says:

    good speach, sounded cool i like when he did that gansta move.

  28. mitch says:

    Very good. insperational. although his voice was kind of annoying.

  29. Mike W says:

    he was very good at changing the view of the public

  30. Lindsey Slocum says:

    Dalton Shermen used all possible forms of a persuaseive speech, and I must say I was really persuaded!!!

  31. Tenaya Jacobson says:

    Gosh. That kid is 10 and im 11! I can also speak in public, but i has never done that before. He was really a great kid and yes, it was most likely memorized many times. Lets give him a hand!

  32. I think that Dalton did a very great job at preforming that speech and I don’t think I could ever do that. I liked how he asked questions to the audience and was really interactive with them. Dalton did seem a little too confident but over all he did a great job

  33. Joey says:

    Nice delivery, but it’s pronounce “th”in “thing,” not “d” as in “ding.”

  34. Seme says:

    WOW!! Very inspiring not only for me but also for my kids at school.

  35. aleph says:

    I’m a teacher and I didn’t like it at all.
    It’s too rehearsed and sounds phony.

    It irritates me more than inspires, because these are not his words or thinking.

  36. Joel Hernandez says:

    First and foremost, I would like to say that that was a great speech by Dalton. I feel that Dalton’s speech was very motivating and uplifting. As a 14 year old, iIm surprised at his wonderful talent on giving speeches. What won me over was Dalton’s emphasis on the key parts of the speech. That really locked me to keep watching. I was also drawn to the fact that Dalton was explaning that the teachers are the ones who motivated us. Overall,this was probably one of the best speeches if herd or seen in a long time. Keep up the good ork Dalton!

  37. bailey walker says:

    1. How did you feel about Dalton’s speech? Explain yourself.
    I feel that this young man was very forward and very clear with all his points, he is very mobile and reaches all corners of the room with full force behind his words.

    2. What did you see in Dalton’s delivery you thought was effective?
    I personally think that Dalton’s very confident there for it allows him to reach his audience much forcefully and draw them into all that he says.

    3. What did you hear in Dalton’s speech you liked or didn’t like?
    I liked that he got the point through to so many that it takes just one to believe though to get so many to believe along with him it’s much more effective, along with sending a great message to all who listened.

  38. Amber Olvera says:

    1. How did you feel about Dalton’s speech? Explain yourself.
    Dalton’s speech was very interesting. I love how he’s not afraid to be in front of thousands of people, he knows how to talk loud so everyone can hear him. He didn’t look nervous at all and i like that. He seems like a very smart young boy, I am sure he made everyone proud and happy.

    2. What did you see in Dalton’s delivery you thought was effective?
    Apart of Dalton’s speech that I thought was effective was how he was walking around the stage and looking around instead of just staying in one part of the stage. I like when he said, “Do you believe in me?”

    3. What did you hear in Dalton’s speech you liked or didn’t like?
    In Dalton’s speech I really liked how he was saying that he believed in everyone, and that the teachers are very important because they are the ones teaching us, and helping us succeed in life. I didn’t really like the end, Dalton should of walked in a circle around the stage and wave at everyone.

  39. Christopher Ibarra says:

    1. How did you feel about Dalton’s speech? Explain yourself.
    I felt very moved and touched by Daltons speech, he was flaw less and made me feel like I my self could reach higher goal’s

    2. What did you see in Dalton’s delivery you thought was effective?
    The way he spoke, his pauses and his body language the pauses gave it mean as if to give some time to think of the previous said words

    3. What did you hear in Dalton’s speech you liked or didn’t like?
    I liked all of Daltons speech, Dalton showed very good body language and all of his speech was flaw less I taught

  40. Tristen Anderson says:

    I thought Dalton’s speech was very inspiring. It also kept me very intrested and it made me believe in me and make me feel a lot more confident in my self.

  41. Tristen Anderson says:

    I thought Dalton’s speech was very inspiring. It inspired me to believe in my self and to believe in others to.

  42. brittny smart says:

    i think this speechwas very good and well thought out for him being so young he was not that scared to talk in front of all those schools he did way better then i think i ever would keep up the good work dolton

  43. Amy Layne says:

    I found the speech to be inspiring and agree with the analysis. While, Dalton may not have the maturity to know his audience, his speech writer and coach did. Using a student and Dalton’s delivery are what made the speech. If an adult or even an older child have given the speech, I don’t believe it would have been as effective. Way to go Dalton on a speech well delivered. I can’t wait to see him write his own speech as he has the key concepts down.

  44. Moe Parvizi says:

    Dalton Sherman is very passionate and motivating in his speech. His tone of voice really goes to the heart and makes you feel the power of his message.

  45. Stacey Figueroa says:

    I really enjoyed Dalton’s speech and agree with the analysis. What a charmer! Though he didn’t write his speech, his delivery was fantastic. He was so confident and connected to the audience very well.

  46. Brenda says:

    I am speechless!!! I’ve never seen anything like it. Either that kid is a genious with a great memory or a being from another place and time. He is try encouragement for a fearful speaker. Mind Blowing!!!!

  47. This youngman Mr. Dalton Sherman was amazing to say the least. He is a very fearless, intelligent and inspiring youth of Dallas, TX. I am not surprised what our children are able to accomplish with just a little belief and faith. I will forward this on to my nurse officer students.
    Have a blessed day.

  48. Danielle Trought says:

    Thank you Mr. Dlugan for breaking down the speech for us, I thought it was very inspiring and humorous at the same time. Also, i diidnt like the fact that he had to memorize and choreograph his body language. I was hoping he spoke from his heart. It was an outstanding performance – but I would like to see more of Dalton Sherman. – Danielle

  49. Becky Arwood says:

    Dalton does an amazing job in this motivational speech. His primary message is “Do you believe?” He was challenging the educational workers to believe in him, his classmates, themselves, and each other. Dalton was a great person to deliver this speech. Who could motivate any one working in the educational field more than the ones they are educating. He kept the entire audience of 20,000 engaged throughout the entire speech. He used humor when and where necessary. He spoke clearly and was very memorable. Dalton was enthusiastic in his voice and actions. Yes it was obvious the speech and his actions had been rehearsed, but for a ten year old he delivered the speech well.

  50. Charles Musser says:

    Dalton Sherman was definitely the right person to deliver this speech. I felt this speech was motivational as well as inspirational. Every time he asked, “Do you believe?” he had everyone’s attention. He was very clear, funny, and drew the people into his speech. Dalton kept their attention and at no time did the audience look bored. Even though this speech wasn’t written by Dalton and he rehearsed it for months, I think it had a bigger impact on the people there than if an adult had given it. Dalton let all of them know how important they were to him and the other 157,000 of children that would be starting school. He also let them know how important they were to each other and I think he motivated and inspired them where if an adult had given the same speech it would not of had the same motivation and inspiration that he got across.

  51. Hank Werner- Johnston says:

    1. how did you feel about Dalton’s speech?
    It made me feel that anyone on this planet can do something in their life if they believe.
    2.2. What did you see in Dalton’s delivery you thought was effective?
    The way he started the speech with a strong base and a hook sayng “I, belive”.
    3. What did you hear in Dalton’s speech you liked or didn’t like?
    What I liked about his speech was he was strong, effective, and did not stop. He told people he was ready but are you ready.

  52. Fidelle says:

    This kid is just amazing. The rate of his voice, the tone and how he is delivering this speech is just wonderful. Even they wrote it for him, it make that speech be alive, it made it be so real.
    I think that we have the next Obama right there. Dalton you are a genius, hopefully you have a great career. I am really speechless by your talent.

  53. Yvonne says:

    Indeed, the young man is talented. But any one can tell that there has been plenty of practice. Whether he is naturally slow in vocal delivery or it is purely tuition, some of the pauses failed to come out naturally- instead led the viewer to think that he was trying to recollect his next “crammed” move so he get’s it right…….All said It is a must use for my PUBLIC SPEAKING CLASSES ….Thanks Andrew D.

  54. Christer Lundfall says:

    Hallo Mr Dlugan.

    400 teachers were shown this speech last week. It is horrible and agree with you that it is more a brainwashed puppet reciting someone else’s words than a pinpoint of important issues. Also, apart from the robot-like gestures, it is important to listen to what this child has been put on stage to say: if we believe in someone we don’t know he — or even we can reach and become what we want? Regardless of physical, intellectual och social obstacles?! It is exactly this kind of “positive thinking”, bordering on the fatal American Dream ideals, that make so many of young today miserable: the gap between what they have been told to aim at, and the stren reality they live in.
    Sorry; please usher this superstition out of scientific arenas and enter evidence based pedagogy.

    All the best,


  55. Jacob Greensten says:

    The effort and courage this adolescent had to deliver such an amazing speech to a crowd of almost 20,000 people and do it effectively is just remarkable and memorable. I’m doing this for a school assignment and was amazed! Great job Dalton!!

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