On eve of State of the Union: top five presidential orators of modern times

In advance of President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, Richard Greene, author of 'Words That Shook the World: The 1st Decade of the 21st Century,' has ranked the top five presidential orators since 1933. Mr. Greene analyzed not only the content of the speeches, but also how the presidents communicated that content. Body language, tone of voice, and vision all contribute to a president’s oratorical skills, says Greene.

5. Bill Clinton

Andy Nelson / The Christian Science Monitor
President Bill Clinton emphatically makes a point concerning his desire for a Patient's Bill of Rights during an event in the East Room of the White House November 2, 1998 in Washington, DC.

President Clinton is considered one of the finest one-on-one communicators in history, but he intentionally simplified his speeches so he could connect with a larger audience. From a strictly oratorical standpoint, this may have hurt his speeches, says Greene. From a political standpoint though, Clinton’s simple, conversational oration probably helped him politically by making him a guy voters would want to have a beer with.

“It’s one thing to be a great speaker. It’s another to politically connect with 300-million-plus Americans,” said Greene. “While people who love great speeches might love soaring oratory, it doesn’t always translate into people feeling a connection with a president.”

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