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Three Things We Social Changemakers Can Learn From Obama’s Speech

First – Be Direct

The inaugural speech was brief, direct and to the point. The President was clear in his call to launch an era of responsibility – talking about why this needs to happen, how it could happen, and providing examples about how we have done it before. Unlike most political speeches, this moment did not call for an anecdote about one American who had done extraordinary things. This speech really was an attempt to reach and engage each and every one of us.

Second – Make your ask

The President was not shy about asking for help.  He called on each citizen to serve others.  This was not a new call to action – but one that was pitch perfect for the moment in time in which it was delivered.  Just the day before, millions of Americans were moved to participate in service projects on Martin Luther King Day.  How better to build off of this momentum than to include it in a speech listened to by billions.

Third – Know your audience & always target

A friend of ours is fond of saying, “The general public is not a target audience.”  So true – even on Inaugural Day. The speech was not meant to be all things to all people – but recognized that there were specific constituencies – domestic and foreign – each of whom needed to hear very specific messages on this critical day.  To young people – a call to serve.  To foreign dictators – a call to loosen the grip of despotism and meet America’s open hand of friendship.  To cynics – a call to recognize that the world has changed and there is little time to stand on the sidelines and jeer.  And finally, to political leaders of both parties – this train, Obama’s political agenda, is moving so you’d better be on it or risk getting left behind.

And as a bonus…Respect the moment

With billions around the world watching, the Inaugural Committee and the President created stagecraft that was simple, elegant, and respectful of our nation’s history. Much like the punch held back by Ali during the second Liston fight, there was no need to belabor the historic nature of the day.  Instead, by reveling in our shared American history, the President was able to capture the importance of our common history without overplaying the uniqueness of the day.

–Dan Cohen, Principal


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