President Joe Biden’s Inauguration Speech – Proof that words really do matter

Joe Biden

Joe Biden made his inaugural address on Wednesday. It was an inspirational masterclass in the choice and use of words.

I’m not a US citizen, I live in the UK. I’m not particularly interested in politics; I’m interested in people and progress. I have zero interest in division, I live in hope of unity wherever we live in the world.

Politics aside, it was the impassioned theme and mindfully chosen words of unification which connected with me during President Joe Biden’s speech.  “To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words.” In a speech where he recognised the historic moment of crisis and challenge, he referred to America but, in my mind and heart I heard, ‘the world’. When he said, “Unity is the path forward,” to me he wasn’t simply addressing one nation, he was crying out to us all.

The paradox

He’s right of course, we all need ‘much more than words. As he so fervently expressed, those were the words the country and indeed the world needed to here at this moment in time. Arguably, the process of meaningful and sustainable change does not begin without words.

As a public speaking coach and someone who has passionately spent the last decade helping people to connect with each other through the spoken word, here is what I took from Joe Biden’s speech.

  1. Clarity

The foremost key to success in high impact public speaking and presenting is having a clear, concise and compelling message. There was no room for ambiguity in Joe Biden’s message as he used the word “unity” eight times in his 21-minute speech.

To convince others to act on your words you have to have a message which is not only clear but connects with others emotionally as well as intellectually.

“Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.”

  1. Humility

Joe Biden’s speech didn’t have all of the hallmarks of a typical politician’s formal address. It wasn’t fraught with jargon, manifesto’s and party ego; it felt like a speech coming from a man who genuinely cared. His choice of words to express this were simple; here are just a few that connected with me:

“Not as adversaries but as neighbours.”

“In each of our moments enough of us have come together…”

“Let’s begin to listen to one another again, hear one another, see one another. Show respect to one another.”

“Because here’s the thing about life. There’s no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days you need a hand. There are other days when we’re called to lend a hand.”

I don’t believe that in my lifetime I have ever heard any presidential or leadership speech crafted and delivered in such a personal and caring tone.

  1. Purity

This isn’t a word I often associate with public speaking; especially in the world of politics.

Listening to Joe Biden’s speech I felt a sense of purity. If you look the word up on our old friend Google, it suggests, ‘Freedom from adulteration or contamination.’

That’s exactly what I felt; a speech uncontaminated by competition, coercion, ego or eccentricity.

This was a sincere, heartfelt plea to a nation.

“We are good people. And over the centuries, through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we’ve come so far…Through civil war, the Great Depression, world war, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed.”

  1. Dignity

To be able and willing to express yourself clearly, in the knowledge that people don’t have to agree with you is a critical element of leadership.

Joe Biden’s speech recognised the division and diversity of views:

“I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal, that we are all created equal, and the harsh ugly reality that racism, nativism and fear have torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never secure.”

This wasn’t a speech demanding honour and respect, it was a plea for it to be shown to each other.

  1. Reality

Joe Biden’s speech was firmly grounded in reality.

“A once in a century virus that silently stalks the country has taken as many lives in one year as in all of World War Two.”

“Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice, some 400 years in the making, moves us.”

“A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any clearer now.”

“The rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism, that we must confront…”

This wasn’t scaremongering or exaggerating the truth; this was the reality of not only a country today but the entire world.

  1. Positivity

If I am lucky enough to live to the age of 78, I am certain that the last thing I will want to find myself doing is leading a team, let alone leading a nation.

Joe Biden on the other hand whilst acutely aware of the monumental challenges he and his country faces, has a vision.

He has a vision of hope, possibility and unity; a vision of healing.

It’s one thing being able to tell it as it is today but having the passion, belief and optimism for change is another matter entirely.

“This is a great nation; we are good people. And over the centuries through storm and strife in peace and in war we’ve come so far. But we still have far to go.”

“We’ll press forward with speed and urgency for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibility.”

“Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.”

“With unity we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs, we can put people to work in good jobs, we can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus, we can rebuild work, we can rebuild the middle class and make work secure, we can secure racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.”

  1. Responsibility

Joe Biden’s speech was a call for unity and in making that call he also made a personal pledge.

“My fellow Americans I close the day where I began, with a sacred oath. Before God and all of you, I give you my word. I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution; I’ll defend our democracy.

I’ll defend America and I will give all – all of you – keep everything I do in your service. Thinking not of power but of possibilities. Not of personal interest but of public good.”

What a beautiful, impassioned and historic journey of rhetoric at one of the most important times in a nation’s history.

There’s a lot at stake and words really do matter.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch this historical event please take a few moments to do so here:

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