Obama has three objectives for his speech tonight, administration officials said, starting with explaining to America the gravity of the situation without appearing pessimistic.
"We learned from the Great Depression that an inspiring leader is important, someone whose voice can shine through the darkness," said Amity Shlaes, author of "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression."
A source told ABC News that the president will express confidence the country can emerge from the crisis, but the effort must be bipartisan and will include making tough choices.
Second, he must also explain the administration's short-term solutions, spelling out for Americans why the federal government is investing $787 billion in a stimulus plan while also soaking up billions of dollars more in shares of faltering companies like Citigroup and Bank of America.
Third, Obama will have to describe for Americans the road ahead, which will allow him to talk about other programs, such as developing alternative energy, education, health care and containing costs for programs like Social Security.
It is a balancing act that must combine toughness, vision, clarity and optimism.