When the world's eyes were on Obama he didn't say "I"

Barack Obama’s inauguration speech was a call to action, moving, and inspiring. It’s interesting that Obama used the word “I” only three times in his 20-minute speech. His entire talk was about others and the country, not about him – even though this was the biggest moment of his life.

In contrast, there was a man and woman sitting next to me in a coffee shop, talking loudly about being unemployed and looking for work. I timed them with a stopwatch and over the course of ten minutes the man said “I” 64 times and the woman said “I” 51 times. Extrapolate that out to 20 minutes and here’s the score:

Number of times person said “I” in 20 minutes:
           Barack Obama               3
           Unemployed man       128
           Unemployed woman   102

At no point did the unemployed man and woman express any interest in anybody else. They were only out for themselves, which is likely one of the reasons they were out of work. On the other hand, when I interview successful people, they rarely say “I” and it’s often difficult to get them to talk about themselves. They seem very outward-oriented, they serve others, and they would rather chat about their passion, project, or other people they admire, than yak on about themselves.

It all comes down to the seventh success principle – SERVE. Successful people serve others something of value, and Obama is no exception. We sense that he really is out to serve others, not just himself, and that principle is one of the big reasons he was standing up there taking the oath yesterday, rather than one of the other presidential candidates. In his speech Obama talked about people who “embody the spirit of SERVICE; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.” He also said “it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.” Sometimes, what is not said is more important than what is said, and by not saying “I”, Obama said a lot.

  • paul

    great observation . Thank You

  • paul

    great observation . Thank You

  • Great post. I…oops. It will be a fun exercise to note how many times I use the word “I” in general conversation. Likely far more than 3 per 20 minutes. Thank you for the excellent observation!

    Tom

  • Great post. I…oops. It will be a fun exercise to note how many times I use the word “I” in general conversation. Likely far more than 3 per 20 minutes. Thank you for the excellent observation!

    Tom