‘Born in the USA’ Heralds Obama Gridiron speech

By Andrew Ivey | Public Speaking

Apr 01
Obamas speech at the Gridiron dinner

President Obama’s speech at the Gridiron dinner

After dinner speaking is an art form. An art form that deserves special attention. Sometimes the speeches work and sometimes…they don’t.

There are speakers who really perform and there are those who…don’t.

Any self-respecting after dinner speaker might be tempted to follow some guidelines before they commit to after dinner speaking. These are:

  • Prepare and practise your speech beforehand.
  • Keep it short.
  • Keep it to the point and keep it relevant to your audience–“who might have paid to be there.
  • Don’t drink alcohol before you speak. Never. You are never as funny or loquacious as you think you might be when you have had some lubrication.

Humour works for after dinner speakers. In fact, for many, that’s the very essence of after dinner speaking.

We had a good example this week.

President Obama, usually a very clinical and technical orator put in a rarefied performance this week as an after dinner speaker.

Now, being the President you’d expect him to have the best gag writers on his side. And that’s true. His gags were pretty funny.

But the best gag also needs precision timing. A good line delivered with conviction. A pause. And a punchline. The President was no stranger to this technique when he and 600 guests attended the 126th Gridiron dinner a stone’s throw from the White House in Washington D.C.

All US Presidents before him, since Grover Cleveland, have attended a Gridiron dinner hosted by the exclusive media club. The club meets every Spring time to eat, drink and roast each other in speeches, songs and skits. Their appropriate motto is “singe but don’t burn.”

And singe they did. Politicians were the butt of most of the jokes, though journalists and commentators featured in a few. No political hue was immune from being a target. In fact self-deprecating humour was probably the best way to get through the evening for many.

And the President? A well-prepared short speech for the assembled guests marked his very first attendance at the Gridiron dinner. He had some good jokes at himself, close colleagues and Rahm Emanuel.

His best moment, however, was when he asked the Marine band to stop playing “Hail to the chief” and strike up the Bruce Springsteen tune, “Born in the USA.” A very subtle knock at those who question his USA birthright!

The theme of his USA birth featured several times in his speech:

The American people are going to have some tough questions for Tim (Pawlenty).

Specifically, ‘Who are you and where do you come from?'”

“Which is OK. Two years into my presidency and I’m still getting those questions.”

With the first Lady away at Camp David, it was some surprise that the President’s evening finished at 1030 pm…a departure from previous events that carried on the entertainment to the early hours.

The cares of office…

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About the Author

The Principal Trainer at training business Time to Market. Based in Oxford, I run presentation and public speaking training courses, coaching sessions and seminars throughout the UK. Andrew Ivey on Google+