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Judith Parker Harris

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The President's Speech: How Obama's Body Language Defies His Message

Posted: 01/17/11 10:55 AM ET

An amazing intersection of events has been occurring since Saturday, January 8th, when the horrific shooting rampage of one mad man left six dead and 13 wounded at a political meet-and greet in Tucson, Arizona. One such event was watching our Commander in Chief as he struggled with his speech impediment in order to use words to comfort and strengthen a nation torn by violence, anger and bi-partisanship. The other event is the prayer going out for Gabrielle Gifford, a congresswoman who represents soft and moderate speech, calm versus angry persuasion, the capability to reach across the divide in Congress, and the ability to lead the different sides of her district to find compromise rather than anger-fueled victory over "the other guys."

Yes, I said speech impediment. The movie, The King's Speech, shows King George VI struggling with a stutter and being painstakingly coached to overcome it over incredible odds. I contend that President Obama has an equally strong impediment, that of allowing his body language to defeat his message. His head tilts up and to the left or right when he finishes a thought and that communicates a loftiness that sets him apart from us. This is accentuated by the President's stiff stance, holding himself slightly back from rather than in to his audience. And, perhaps most disturbing of all, our leader finishes most every sentence on a down beat as if he has run out of energy and hope. Finally, there is a flatness to his words that leaves them improperly fueled to travel the distance from his mouth to our hearts.

This was one of the most important speeches Mr. Obama has had to deliver in his tenure. He needed to lead his country in mourning, to comfort, to inspire, to unite the assembled hearts in the act of healing. I for one wanted him to succeed. I was a Rhetoric major in college. I have studied and then made speeches all of my life. I fully understand the structure of the speech and am aware of the mood, force, motivation and magical comfort words can convey. But the structure of the speech and the power of the words lie flat without the third element of speech -- the river of emotions required to deliver the message to the intended audience. The diaphragm carries the words out of the belly, through the lungs and into your ears. But it is emotion that carries the words into your heart and prompts the actions the speaker desires to inspire.

The words and structure were there, but I held my breath wanting more as I listened to President Obama. A recent graduate from Harvard, Cody Keenan, helped write segments of the speech. Together, they crafted it well. It contained beautiful passages and memorable phrases as the President prompted actions with the question, "What, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward?" He stressed the importance "to make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds." He warned, "We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence." He reprimanded, "What we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another." He appealed to our higher selves "to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully...." He requested that we reflect on all this and left us with the stirring image of Christina Taylor Green, the youngest victim, "as she dances on rain puddles in heaven."

Unfortunately, it was the President's own body language that was working against his very poignant message, the body language that kept his own emotions bottled up inside. He needs not to look up, but to look into the eyes of his audience. He needs not to back up, but to move forward into their space. He needs to open his heart center, the space between his extended arms that includes his heart and lung area. He needs to open those arms to embrace his audience; he needs to breathe into them the meaning of his words, the energy, the feeling. He needs to soften, not stiffen, to take his audience in, rather than hold them at a distance. He needs to fuel his beautiful thoughts with the emotion we all need to move forward and to heal.

Ironically, it is that emotion that lies healing in a hospital bed, the emotional core of Gabrielle Giffords. Gabby is about connection -- communicating from the heart, a 100 watt smile, with the determination to serve and to find the ways that will work for all of her constituents.

Gabby is the very personification of President Obama's eloquent speech. Through three terms in Congress, She is known as a voice of calm in the discordant state of Arizona, a state filled with political vitriol. Her voice comes directly from the heart and grabs people of all ideologies. As detailed by Tucson reporters Ashley Powers and Nicole Santa Cruz in an LA Times article, Gabby's state forced her to balance the needs of ranchers and environmentalists, strip mall developers and Native American tribes, voters who deplore Washington and those who depend on it financially. Gabby personifies being an American first and not a paritsan. She pours gallons of common sense and feeling into the brew of issues that divide and she comes up with a concoction of compromise. It seems she was always on the side of reasonableness.

With Gabby's survival, reasonableness has a strong chance of being resuscitated. President Obama reached out to Gabby with a visit to her hospital bedside. I look forward to the recovered Gabby reaching out to President Obama to share her gift of communication, of speech, of reaching out from the heart to find solutions that unite and heal. May Gabby's great gift heal The President's Speech.

Judith Parker Harris, film producer and author of three books (including Conquer Crisis With Self-Esteem and Secrets of Life's Seven Villains, is the Blockbuster coach to individuals and businesses getting projects on track from conception to completion. Judith uses screenwriting and producing techniques plus personal experience of becoming and remaining symptom-free from Multiple Sclerosis since 1990 to illustrate how to Bust A Block A Day in her keynotes, seminars, and consulting programs.

 

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