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:
- Watch the video;
- Read the analysis in this speech critique; and
- Share your thoughts on this presentation.
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.
- “Do you believe in me?” [0:43]
- “Do you believe that I can stand up here fearless and talk to over 20,000 of you?” [0:51]
- “Do you believe in me?” [1:12]
- “Do you believe in my classmates?” [2:05]
- “Do you believe that every single one of us can graduate ready for college or the workplace?” [2:15]
- “Do you believe in your colleagues?” [4:32]
- “Do you believe in yourself?” [5:50]
- “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]
- “Do you believe that every child in Dallas needs to be ready for college or the workplace?” [6:40]
- “Do you believe that Dallas students can achieve?” [6:50]
- “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.
- “… is to believe that we can reach our highest potential.” [2:55]
- “As you know, in some cases, you’re all we’ve got.” [3:50]
- “… who love us when sometimes it feels like noone else does.” [4:10]
- “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.
And lean on them when times get tough.” [4:50] (refers to colleagues)
Did Dalton Sherman write this? Was he coached?
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?