Barack Obama’s example of answering a tough a question

 In Learning from Luminaries, Politicians

How would you handle a tough question?Questions and Answers

Below is a video clip of Barack Obama handling a tough, loaded question from a Fox News reporter –  and my analysis of the clip.

This was a 9/10 performance.

Here is my analysis of the Obama’s speaking.


  • His first words, that subtly teased the questioner. Namely, ‘I doubt I’ll have time to outline my entire foreign policy doctrine’.
  • The light, humorous retort about the questioner’s organisation with, ‘I’m not sure you ran them’.
  • At the start and throughout the answer, the superb, measured speaking combined with fluent, flexible translation of thought to speech. Due to this fluency, his seven minutes of speaking flew by.
  • That Obama used the speaking device of anaphora with ‘have never been . . . have never been . . .’
  • The vignette with anaphora where he argued his critics objections, ie. ‘You should be . . . ‘, then rebutted the propositions, followed by, ‘What do you mean?, What else do you mean?, so what else should we be doing?’.
  • The masterful demonstration of thinking while speaking. This behaviour aligns with luminary speaker, Bob Carr’s telling point that,

    ‘you don’t get marked down for being thoughtful’.

  • The use of a thumb to index finger, hand gesture for important points and the ‘owning’ and occupying the physical space with wide arm gestures to the side of his torso – and use of a karate chop, hand gesture to drive home key messages.
  • Use of the word ‘orbit’.
  • The metaphor of ‘playing the same note’.
  • Near the end of his speaking, combining a deeper vocal pitch for added authority, with the phrase ‘my role as Commander-in-chief.


  • Omits needless words. Being a lawyer, Obama’s inclination is to answer questions as he would write them. This can make his speaking be verbose. After he finished speaking – due to its length – I couldn’t restate his key points. He needed to briefly summarise his key points at the end of his answer.
  • Reduces the use of ‘ums’.
  • Pronounces the (th) in the word ‘them’.

Click here to view video


Your CALL to action/How to apply for this post. Save the clip in a ‘Think on you feet’ folder. Before you have to enter into tough, speaking situations, watch the clip and use it as an expert model, for adaptation to your speaking style.

Check out this post on Obama compared to JFK

Check out luminary historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, September 2016, exit interview with Obama

Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to Behind the Voice

Regular insights, guidance and commentary on how communication influences business and the world around us

Thank you for subscribing