THE NEXT GREAT COMMUNICATOR: OBAMA RAISES THE BAR
Like the rest of the world, I was in awe at the outcome of the Presidential elections. As a naturalized American citizen, the outcome was evidence yet again of the power and durability of this democracy. We are the envy of the world by what we have done rather than by whom we have bombed.
But when I watched Senator Barak Obama’s election night acceptance speech before a crowd of a half-million fans (and countless billions viewing worldwide), I was struck once again not only by what he said but also by the brilliance of his delivery.
We’d seen it before in small soundbites on the campaign trail and in interviews. And we certainly saw it during the debates where the reaction shots of John McCain’s fiery temper contrasted starkly with Obama’s cool demeanor.
Like no leader in generations, Obama knows how to deliver a speech.
Admittedly, not all of Obama’s prose is written by him. His whiz-kid speech writer, Jon Favreau deserves much of the credit for the Dr. Martin Luther King-like verbiage and John Kennedy-style similes.
But the delivery is all Obama. It’s about more than just the words.
And as we’ve seen for the last eight excruciating years, even a well written speech can be slaughtered in the delivery. (Just what will Letterman and Leno do without “W” to kick around anymore?)
But what does this mean to you in your communications with clients, stakeholders and the media? Well first off, a higher standard of what makes a “great communicator”.
Barak Obama has raised the bar.
So what is it that makes Obama a “great communicator”?
TECHNOLOGY: Certainly he can read a teleprompter… a very “teachable” skill for some reason never mastered by John McCain. But better yet, he knows how to deliver a line with pacing and patience and passion. He knows when to wait for applause, or even just to let an idea sink in. Contrast Obama with Palin, one brilliant, the other clueless… one poised, the other staccato.
CONNECTING: Even unscripted, watch and listen to Obama. He thinks before he speaks, choosing his words carefully. He looks you in the eye and connects, even in a big crowd, cementing the emotional bond.
Watch the faces in the crowd in the Chicago acceptance speech on election night. Sure, they’re his fans, but look at their tear-filled eyes as they each think he’s speaking just to them, united in thought.
STORIES: Obama doesn’t speak in generalities. He offers anecdotes, one of the most powerful ways of connecting with an audience. And I’d take his 106 year old Ann Cooper over McCain’s “Joe the Plumber” any day.
LANGUAGE: Obama speaks English. Words do matter. His tone is at once formal and stentorian, and in the next minute informal and down-home. His vocabulary matches the moment, lending importance or humanity.
REPETITION: You don’t just deliver a key idea once, you repeat it. In the Chicago speech his rhetorical questions to the crowd were met over and over again with “Yes we can”.
HE’S REAL: Obama’s smile is killer… but genuine, and never forced. People instinctively know the difference.
Sure, it’s one thing to deliver an historic election night victory speech and quite another to talk straight with us about duty and sacrifice. But who would you rather take bad news from, a guy you trust or a phony robo-pol?
My prediction: We can look forward to four (maybe eight?) years of extraordinary speeches, press conferences, interviews and fireside chats. I’d expect the Obama presidency to make us all demand more of those we listen to, be they in politics or business.
Speech writers may try to mimic Obama (and Favreau’s) style. Their speaking clients will hope to match his delivery.
And we’ll be working with all our clients to help them meet Americans’ newly raised expectations of what it means to “connect” with someone they trust.
And you know what? Out of this we’ll all be winners.
Good communicators are what we need.