5 Things Church Communicators Can Learn from Michelle Obama’s DNC Speech

I don’t know if you watched Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention live or not. I wasn’t planning to watch it but kind of got sucked in during the speech by the mayor of San Antonio.

If you haven’t seen it, allow me to encourage you to watch it above.

What I saw the best political speech I might ever see in my lifetime.Which is saying something, because her husband has had some epic moments during the 2008 campaign. Anyone remember 1 million people showing up at Grant Park in Chicago? I mean Clint Eastwood says he cried. There are reports that Chuck Norris gave up round house kicks to the throat because of Barack’s speech there.

The speech above is amazing in a lot of ways. But, the real question for my fellow church leaders is… what can we learn from Michelle’s speech?

Here’s 5 lessons: 

  1. She was set-up well. The content of her speech was clearly part of the script for the night. Previous speakers didn’t hint at the content of her talk or step on her themes, they didn’t package a video intro highlighting the key words to listen for, etc. The video intro and the introduction set-up the audience for what they were about to hear. Lesson: Don’t make your services so thematic that the sermon doesn’t reveal something. If you are producing services in a theatrical manner (auditorium, stage, lighting, etc) than use that to your advantage. I can’t tell you how many times the person introducing the sermon has said, “the pastor is about to talk about ____.” I mean, really? Don’t do that! 
  2. She was prepared well. Trust me, this wasn’t a speech she practiced twice on Wednesday morning and then said, “I’m good.” That speech was a team effort. She knew where the cameras were, she knew where he emotive points were, she knew which lines were instant Twitter gold, and she was familiar enough with the content of the speech to get past forced gestures and have the whole thing come off as straight from the heart. That only comes when you really, really know your material. Lesson: Too many pastors depend on talent/experience, foregoing the positive impact of practice and preparation. If you are working on this weekend’s sermon this week, you’re not going to get that response. And if you are creating sermons in a vacuum, even with just your staff, you aren’t going to get that response. Prepare more for a better response.
  3. She stayed within herself. She spoke within a framework that her audience expects of her. Clearly, her speech was political as she tied her families story to the story of millions of Americans in contrast to her husband’s blue blood opponent. But she didn’t get into issues or stomp the stump. She played her part, she was an expert character witness, and you never felt like she was stretching to become believable. Lesson: One of the things I really like about our pastor is that he stays within what he knows well. Too often, I hear pastors preaching things they know little about. You are left to think… “Wait, what does he know about counseling… he has an MDiv, he’s not a licensed therapist.” When you get outside of what you know you start to look real dumb, real fast. If you need an element for something, bring in an expert or use a video. 
  4. She was centrist. For years I’ve talked about the 1-5-10 rule of content creation. Negative content gets a 5 times multiplier versus normal content. But truly remarkable content gets a 10 times multiplier. She didn’t get 28,000 tweets per minute by being negative. She got the massive response by telling a story every person in the room could identify with. Lesson: I’ve heard from pastors who say they preach in response to what’s happening in their congregation. Um, responding isn’t leadership. Leaders take people where they would not go by themselves. Remember, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for EVERYONE. If you are preaching to the choir than you are limiting your potential impact. Instead of aiming your ministry at the top 15% or the bottom 15% of the learning curve, aim for the middle 70% to maximize. 
  5. She was inspirational. Her speech reminded people that the American Dream is not just about financial success. (Certainly, the Obama’s are no longer poor.) Her speech took the audience somewhere. It started as the Obama’s story and morphed from personal pronouns of “my story” to our shared journey of “our story.” You were left not just cheering for the Obama’s but also for yourself. That’s impressive. Lesson: Take your audience somewhere. Help them see that their life with Jesus can add perspective, meaning, and purpose to their lives. Stop talking about the dreams of the individual and move people towards the dreams we can fulfill as a community of believers. I don’t want to  go to the mountaintop alone– I want to go with us. 







6 responses to “5 Things Church Communicators Can Learn from Michelle Obama’s DNC Speech”

  1. Bryan Jaster Avatar

    great reflections adam – it’s hard to live and practice daily that jesus’ good news is both personal, for others and cosmic. I personally was amazed at how she truly Invited people into her story and then made it about “our” story. Fascinating!

  2. KJ Avatar

    Hers was a great speech. Especially in her ability to convince the public that one set of ivory League scholars (Obamas) is so much more like them than another set (Romneys). THAT is political and oratory talent!

    I wonder if true hope and change will have arrived when somebody is elected President who spent two years in community college before transferring to a state school……but I digress.

    What did you think about Clinton’s speech last night? I wonder if he isn’t the best speech giver in history of politics. I kept leaning over to Rachel and saying, “man, he’s good.” he was a bit longer than necessary, but I think his speech last night ranks up there with the all-time greats, too.

    …and after the platform fiasco earlier, Clinton gave everybody something different to talk about. I actually believe he may have saved Obama’s reelection hopes.

    I like your,point about not revealing too much about sermon prior to actual sermon…good stuff!

    1. KJ Avatar

      “Ivy League”, not Ivory! Now everybody knows I’m not one! Dang it.

    2. Adam McLane Avatar

      I only saw about the last 10 minutes or so of Clinton’s speech, but I read the highlights on CNN, too. Obviously, he’s amazing. I was rather sick of him in years 6-8 of his presidency… and one could argue that his 11th hour change in mortgage backed securities caused the 2008 recession… but that said, he’s always been an amazing communicator and I like that they put him out there as the enforcer.

      I think the smartest thing they did was remind the viewers that the democratic party is centrist. (At least, more centrist than the current version of the republican party.) IMO, the irony is that Romney would have been far more electable had he remained a moderate. Unfortunately, he had to sell his political soul to the conservative edges to get through the primaries and now has no real hope of beating a very beatable Obama.

      1. KJ Avatar

        Oops, meant to hit the reply button and hit the “don’t like” button instead, sorry.

        Intend to think NEITHER party is centrist, and both have moved much farther to right or left. The democrats happen to do a better job of convincing us they are centrist but their positions/policies seem to have moved as far left as Republicans have to the right.

        Glad I’m an independent….at least I don’t have to claim either side of this mess!

  3. Chris Avatar

    I agree with the factors that make people love the speech, it was so good , that it convinced me even further why I will not vote for Obama.

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