How to Master the Obama-Donut Technique

Esther Stanhope  - Michelle Obama.jpg

Michelle Obama recently spoke at the O2 in London and I got to watch her in action LIVE. 

Oh wow.  I loved her stories about meeting the Queen. Yes, The Queen of England wore the brooch she had given her as a gift.  And she also shared her body language protocol ‘faux pas’ story about touching the queen on the back because of her genuine ‘human reaction’.  

Michelle was 100% on form in terms of audience engagement and all 15000 of us loved it.

I couldn’t help myself noticing her use of certain speaking techniques that she’d picked up from the other Obama. This is something I write about in my book ‘Glossophobia – Fear of Public Speaking’.

Yes, former President of the USA, Barak Obama is a very easy target to learn from and a joy to watch and listen!  His public speaking improved with time and I learnt so much from his simple methods, so did Michelle Obama.

“He was the master of the pause and the maestro of audience engagement.”

I spoke with one of Obama’s speech writers a few years back and discovered he uses a very simple technique to engage his audiences all over the world.  

The Obama Donut Technique!

He used to have a ‘master’ speech – a generic one size fits all.  For example – this sentence could work anywhere in the world;

“We are going to change, we are going to look forward….”

However. He would have holes in his speech ready to fill in with local-audience-relevant gaps.  

Hence the donut theory.  

If his speech was about innovation and change, and he was speaking in London…he might say something like…

“When I come to London and see the Olympic park, I think, wow- that is innovation right there….”

“And when I meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace I think, you’ve managed to mix innovation with heritage…” 

How can you steal his terrific little technique?

You fill the holes in the speech with local references.  He fills his donut holes with London references and the Queen!

For example. If you’re talking to:

  • Senior management – you might refer to their challenges ahead, the vision and even the KPIs.


  • An audience of trainees and people under the age of 20 you might refer to social media or something that’s in fashion right NOW.

Sometimes when you have a mixed audience you can divide them in half by the reference points. This is a good thing because you can acknowledge who they are so no one feels left out, rather than pretend everyone knows what you’re talking about.

For example, if I refer to a British TV programme like ‘Sale of the Century’ from the 1970s, (with Nicholas Parsons) half my audience over the age of 47 will laugh and clap, but anyone under 47 looks bemused and confused.  

I can make a joke of it, so the youngsters can laugh at the older group who start reminiscing about a retro and old fashioned TV show with scantily clad women and a very camp host!  If most of the audience are younger – you might scrap “Sale of the Century” and mention something more suitable for their age like ‘Love Island” or ‘I’m a Celebrity get Me Out of Here”. 

So the tip here; use the donut technique, and fill in the gaps and reference points with content your audience will connect with. 

It enhances and personalises your speech instantly.  

The donut theory – is short and sweet – all you have to do is fill the holes with sprinkles of audience relevant references and anecdotes.  

They’ll love you for it!  Who doesn’t love a donut with sprinkles?

I love helping my senior clients prepare compelling content for their audience to fall in love with them at conferences, town halls, panel interviews or pitches. 

If you need my help to create your very own Obama-Donut-Style-Audience-Magnate speech, get in touch for a free chat

Esther Stanhope