When Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, came from behind a curtain and to the stage after being introduced by Chris Collinson, president of Connect Meetings, to address the more than 1,200 delegates to several parallel meetings of Connect groups that met recently at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, Florida, it took more nearly a minute for the audience to quiet down at his urging.
Clearly, President Obama was a crowd favorite, both during the noisy welcome and as he responded to 11 questions posed by Collinson on behalf of those who came to the event—some of them enduring a line that stretched, at times, some four football fields long—to hear the former President as he and Collinson spent an hour on topics that were intentionally non-political.
Instead, what the audience heard was a President Obama who was relaxed and humorous—almost chatty—as he sprinkled his answers with occasional wry bits of humor, some of it self-deprecating (at one point, he joked about the size of his ears) and using not-so-subtle facial expressions (arching his eyes or exaggerating a frown) when making a point about the U.S. economy or some other issue.
Following is INBOUND’s recap of the questions that Collinson posed to President Obama, and a capsulized version of his answers.
Question: When did you know that you were in love with Michelle (Obama and his wife, Michelle, have been married for more than 27 years)?
Response: In what was his longest answer of the session, the former President got into considerable detail, even mentioning what he used to wear and how he first noticed Michelle; but, in short, the answer was that he knew after their first date.
Question: Which is the hardest—to be President, the wife of a President, or the daughter of a President?
Response: It is difficult to compare or answer simply, as each position poses unique challenges.
Question: How long were you President before they told you about Area 51? (Area 51 is the common name of a highly classified United States Air Force facility located within the Nevada Test and Training Range. According to some conspiracy theorists, it is also the site where remains of crashed UFO spacecrafts are stored.)
Response: After a short time in office, he said, he had his “security person go take a look at it.” (This did not seem to be a serious answer.)
Question: If you had not become President, in what way would your life had been different?
Response: Here, President Obama went into a lengthy speculation as to what he—what any person—should seek in life, closing his answer with “wealth and power are not the things that bring you joy.”
Question: What were the highest and lowest points of your presidency?
Response: The highest point was the day that the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress (March 21, 2010) and the lowest point was the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred—December 14, 2012—when, in Newtown, Connecticut a deranged person shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children between six and seven years old, and six adult staff members.
Question: Why don’t leaders show emotion?
Response: Here, Obama explained that, when he was a child growing up, the leadership figures in popular were all men (“Who didn’t look like me” and were not women) who were “strong and silent: types who never showed emotion. As we see more leaders who can and will express themselves with emotion, it will benefit everyone.
Question: Which will be President? Michelle, Malia or Sasha? (Malia and Sasha are the names of President Obama’s two daughters.)
Response: In his shortest answer, the former President indicated that all three women are certain that they do not want to live the life of a President, commenting, “Don’t wait for that to happen, y’all.”
Question: What does a day in the life of a former President look like?
Response: The former President said he had a difficult time, at first, adapting to the change in pace. He compared the change of pace in his work today to a scene in the 1999 film, Matrix, in which bullets are shot at Neo (Keanu Reeves) who dodges them as if they are coming at him in slow motion. He no longer thinks and works 24/7 but still keeps busy with a pace that is still more than that of the normal work day—with speaking engagements, travel, writing and more.
Question: Why is tourism important to you?
Response: While he went on to discuss this issue at length, his answer was basic—tourism is good for the U.S. economy.
Question: What do you hope to accomplish from this day forward?
Response: While it seemed apparent that he plans to stay active politically, the former President seems focused, for the time being, in carrying out the work of the Obama Foundation and its goals and objectives. A Chicago-based entity, the Obama Foundation is overseeing the establishment of the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. It also operates My Brother’s Keep Alliance which operates a scholarship program through the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.
Question: What is your favorite destination?
Response: He cited Hawaii, where he was raised, and some popular U.S. cities, but the former President was most laudatory of U.S. national parks, which he described as America’s “Crown Jewel.”