A Great Pre-Introduction!

obama 1

I just finished reading a speech which  . . . .

  • begins with an outstanding “preliminary” introduction
  • connects with an audience
  • can be “copied” in structure because of its simplicity
  • is worth considering when thinking about possible introductory options
  • builds “ethos”
  • would work really well if you are a visiting guest speaker
  • carries some good humor


It is a speech by Barack Obama, Former President, United States.  It was delivered as the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 17, 2018.

After some words of thanks and recognizing various attendee and guest, President Obama begins his speech.


“Let me begin by a correction and a few confessions. The correction is that I am a very good dancer. I just want to be clear about that.  Michelle is a little better.

The confessions . . . .

Number one:

I was not exactly invited to be here. I was ordered in a very nice way to be here by Graça Machel.

Confession number two:

I forgot my geography and the fact that right now it’s winter in South Africa. I didn’t bring a coat, and this morning I had to send somebody out to the mall because I am wearing long johns. I was born in Hawaii.

Confession number three:

When my staff told me that I was to deliver a lecture, I thought back to the stuffy old professors in bow ties and tweed, and I wondered if this was one more sign of the stage of life that I’m entering, along with gray hair and slightly failing eyesight. I thought about the fact that my daughters think anything I tell them is a lecture. I thought about the American press and how they often got frustrated at my long-winded answers at press conferences, when my responses didn’t conform to two-minute soundbites.



These pre-introductory words help . . . .

  • provide a sense of realism
  • give authenticity to what he is going to say
  • make the past President of the United States seem “one of us.”
  • lighten the situation
  • reflect a sense of respect and deference
  • disarm potential detractors by its humor


√ In President Obama first confession — “I was ordered in a very nice way to be here by Graça Machel” — it conveys his willingness to follow the direction of a highly respected woman of South Africa.

(She was the First Lady of Mozambique from 1975 to 1986, and she was also the First Lady of South Africa from 1998 to 1999.)


√ In President Obama second confession — he gives “human-ness” to himself and brings in some humor.


√ In President Obama third confession — he dismisses the idea that he wants to or will be lecturing, but sincerely speaking on something that matters to him.


If you are thinking about how to start a speech and are looking for a different way to begin, why not try . . . .

“Correction & Confessions”




“A Confession.”


Simple Mind Jogging Words:

I have a confession to make . . . .
Let me being with some confessions! . . . .
I need to correct the record before I begin . . . .
I have to admit something before I get into my message . . . .

Is there a way you can begin that presentation and/or the coming message which would draw the audience in —  so that they . . . .

want to listen


like you as a real person?



As an aside — since the purpose here is not to examine other rhetorical techniques found within the speech — here are some other noteworthy techniques.

Immediately following what was said above, President Obama does what many a speaker does.  It is worth noting.

#1) President Obama provides a roadmap for the audience.  That is rhetorically useful!

But given the strange and uncertain times that we are in – and they are strange, and they are uncertain – with each day’s news cycles bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines, I thought maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and try to get some perspective. So I hope you’ll indulge me, despite the slight chill, as I spend much of this lecture reflecting on where we’ve been, and how we arrived at this present moment, in the hope that it will offer us a roadmap for where we need to go next.

#2) President Obama increases his “ethos” or “credibility and respect” with his audience by saying . . . .

“Mandela’s light shone so brightly, even from that narrow Robben Island cell, that in the late ‘70s he could inspire a young college student on the other side of the world to reexamine his own priorities, could make me consider the small role I might play in bending the arc of the world towards justice. And when later, as a law student, I witnessed Mandela emerge from prison, just a few months, you’ll recall, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I felt the same wave of hope that washed through hearts all around the world.


#3) President Obama again increases his “ethos” or “credibility and respect” by complimenting them by bringing them into it! . . . .

Do you remember that feeling?

It seemed as if the forces of progress were on the march, that they were inexorable. Each step he took, you felt this is the moment when the old structures of violence and repression and ancient hatreds that had so long stunted people’s lives and confined the human spirit – that all that was crumbling before our eyes.

And then as Madiba guided this nation through negotiation painstakingly, reconciliation, its first fair and free elections; as we all witnessed the grace and the generosity with which he embraced former enemies, the wisdom for him to step away from power once he felt his job was complete, we understood thatwe understood it was not just the subjugated, the oppressed who were being freed from the shackles of the past. The subjugator was being offered a gift, being given a chance to see in a new way, being given a chance to participate in the work of building a better world.”


If you want to listen to the whole speech — President Obama IS A Great Speaker! — here is the Youtube link.

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