Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators of 2007

This year’s List of Top Communicators highlights the best (and worst) from business, politics, entertainment and sports. Take a look to see how communications skills helped make or break these notable individuals.

THE BEST

1. Gov. Mike Huckabee – What but for communicating would get a presidential candidate so far so fast?

A few months ago Huckabee was almost an unknown. Now he is a front runner for the Republican Presidential nomination, and“ probably the fastest rise ever from relative obscurity to the cover of the weekly newsmagazines. Governor Huckabee is open in style, authentic, natural and amazingly great at thinking (and speaking) on his feet. He tells stories, and connects with people. (See more detail here.) Powerful tools when you have to build trust and credibility visually, quickly and mostly through TV. And powerful tools for a leader. Although he has a conservative constituency, they alone could not get him this far this fast. It is his communicating.

2. Dr. Mehmet Oz – He became “America’s Doctor” in one short year, because of his communications (and Oprah of course.)

He is a unique personality, fast eyes, crisp words forcefully put – when he talks about alcohol he says œhangover with a hard G. The communication experience he delivers is a man of the people – trusted by the people. He makes a good case for Dress & Appearance – always in surgical scrubs when on Oprah. He is able to synthesize complex health/medical discussions into something tangible – he talks at our level. Add to that straightforward and down to earth advice, funny and real – you have a real (and media) superstar.


3. Al Gore – even if he hadn’t won the Academy Award, Al Gore would get the communicator’s comeback of the year award.

In a few short years he transformed himself as a speaker by becoming open vs closed, vulnerable vs. distant, fluid vs. stiff. He worked at it, and even though he did not ‘invent the internet,’ he did invent ‘global warming.’ Or his film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ gave it the exposure to get in the popular vernacular. But it was Gore himself as narrator of the film who did the job (with a little help from our friends at Duarte Design (see Best Communicators #9 for the importance of visual support in communicating.) Some people think Al Gore deserves the Presidency. I don’t know about that, but he does deserve his many awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize and a top communicator of the year. Who would have thunk it?


4. Ben Zander -“ this great musical conductor is not only brilliant, he is one of the most sought after speakers on the ‘circuit.’

Contrary to popular belief, there really is no ‘speaking circuit,’ as groups and organizations hire speakers very independently. But if there was one, Ben Zander would be the darling. He speaks on leadership, teamwork and creativity in an original style, yet he is a world-renown musician and conductor.
A master at creativity – he expresses himself with reckless abandon – and makes the case as well as anyone that communication rides energy. As one audience member said, “Trying to describe what Ben Zander does in front of a large audience is like trying to capture the essence of electricity – it crackles, it sparks…”


5. Maria Bartiromo – recent controversy aside, Maria Bartiromo is one of the most articulate, attractive and animated TV commentators around.

She knows her subject well, and has ridden her stint as financial commentator to a news anchor and respected interviewer on CNBC and nationally. Her distinctive style, with a slight New York accent, powerful voice, and eye communications are even more causative of her rise to fame than her full lips. Even when confronted with recent controversy, her confident communicating enabled her to overcome adverse publicity. She will be around for a long time.

6. Tony Dungy – a quiet style, he speaks softly yet carries a big stick.

He was the first NFL Coach to defeat all other 32 NFL teams. He won a Super Bowl and his Indianapolis Colts are contending again this year. Author of the best selling “Quiet Strength,” Tony Dungy is forceful as a person, coach and man. When his son James tragically died in 2005, he spoke up about it, and was vulnerable. When he wanted to put his beliefs up front, he did so with firm conviction. For when he speaks, he is low key but carries a big stick. Big enough to tame the mightiest of football players.


7. Glenn Beck – an unknown except in radio until the last couple of years, Beck is really made for TV.

‘First Brain Friendly’ is a term almost invented for Glenn as he always has a ready smile even amidst strong diatribes. The first communicator to get his own steady hour show on the instant and pop-corny CNN Headline News, he interviews extremely well, is fast on his thinking feet, and is personally vulnerable, which make for great communication attributes.

8. Dr. Jim Dobson -This conservative Christian commentator speaks out on unpopular issues with a force and power of content that belays his soft and humble style.

I heard Dr. Dobson in a speech this year and was amazed at his impact without seemingly raising his voice. He would just be a good ministry leader if he did not shy away from also being an active voice. He embodies our leadership concept of ‘œforward lean.’ In this blog account, there are more reasons Dobson excels as a communicator in person, on radio and in print and books.

 9. Steve Jobs, Guy Kawasaki, Garr Reynolds - power in supporting visuals. 

Here we have three top notch communicators at varying degrees of public impact, but ALL sharing brilliant use of visuals as PowerPoint (or Keynote) support. Steve Jobs was singled out as #1 of the Top Ten two years ago, and could justifiably be so again with his brilliant introduction of the iPhone. Guy Kawasaki was in the Top Ten last year, and deserves it again for consistency of speaking, knowing speaking, and knowing human impact. (And having the biggest blog in the communications arena.) Garr Reynolds is new to the list, but probably is the best at knowing all there is to know about design and PowerPoints, and is just out with his great new book ‘Presentation Zen.’ (See his blog of the same name so you too can use PowerPoint support the way it’s supposed to be used.)

10. Oprah Winfrey -“ the only reason she’s number 10 this year is because she’s been on the list in past years.

And she probably deserves to be on each year’s Ten Best Communicators list since she is so good, so versatile, and rather than reinventing herself she builds on what she has already created. She isn’t afraid of risking, in communicating and in life. She spoke up sharply and with power when there was scandal in her Foundation, and no doubt will continue to be a role model for great communications because of her energy, vulnerability and consistency.

Continue on for the Ten Worst by clicking the link below…


The Ten Worst Communicators of 2007

1. Alberto Gonzales – he not only lied, but showed he was lying because of
his behaviors.

Even when he could no longer lie and had to apologize to his fans and the general public he did it in the most non-convincing way possible. Former Attorney Alberto Gonzales was kept on for a long time by President Bush, but to no avail – he could not talk his way out of a very strong appearance of guilt that was caused by his communications as much as actions.

 2. Michael Vick – when you want your public AND the judges empathy,
it is not the time to ‘˜gut it out’™ and put on a stone face.

What Vick did was bad enough, but how he handled himself made it worse. Stiff, appearing aloof and distant, he communicated that he was as bad as his press. This is a young man who had an amazing talent and he was unable to parlay that into Character, which is the most important quality in a leader.

 3. Robert Eckert – the Chairman of Mattel was caught in a toy recall disaster probably not of his making, but ‘˜the buck stops here.’

And he did not take advantage of his spokesman role to turn the tide for Mattel in the recall of lead painted toys made in China. He said the words, but his manner belied sincerity. One of the YouTube clips could be subtitled, ‘œHow to be a disaster’ . The hand tenting, eye communication and facial expression are vivid examples of Emerson’s quote ‘What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.’

4. Bud Selig – the steroid scandal is bad enough, but you don’™t have to look farther than Baseball’™s leadership to see why it has gone this far.

One of the worst communicators even before this year,“ Commissioner Bud Selig could be called Big Scowl. This Bud could never nip it in the bud. He reeks of ineptness culminating in his ‘ums’™ and ‘˜ahs’ and lack of authenticity. Baseball sure could do better, and don’t expect the scandals to end anytime soon as long as Bud Selig continues to waffle in communicating and in decisions.

 5. Nancy Grace -“ the worst last year, she hasn’t gotten any better.

I still don’™t know why she is on the air – perhaps it has a similarity to the fact that we tend to like looking at spectacular disasters. Harsh, snarly and abrasive, she remains on the air, but diminished in stature.

 6. Fred Thompson – high expectations dashed!

When the venerable Senator/Actor announced for the Republican presidency, he was expected to rocket to the top. Instead he fell to the bottom of the polls, which surprised a lot of people – me included. What happened to the credible, authoritative, smiling person we had known? We now saw an uncertain, hemming and hawing figure with downcast eyes. Of all people who should have shined in the debates, he has become a tarnished also ran because of poor communication and not meeting our expectations.

7. Larry Craig – high expectations dashed, Part II. And a bit more serious.

Here we had no communications expectations of Senator Larry Craig, but we did have at least expectations that a Senator would at least tell the truth. Boy, talk about body language. Foot signals and tapping do communicate, and for Craig his ‘˜unconscious communications’ became conscious very quickly. Plus he should have said what he meant, or nothing at all. To plead guilty to escape shame just does not track as truth. The soon to be ex-Senator Criag gave us a lesson in how NOT to handle a crisis.

 8. Janet Jackson – body shape changes, but communication doesn’t.

Here is a case of a person who has been through a lot and is a great performer, but cannot convert that to credibility in person. Janet Jackson has a great voice, but when she speaks it is high and squeaky, and she lacks authority.  She is unfortunately an example of many public figures who perform with confidence yet speak poorly – potential influence wasted.

 9. George Bush -“ it is tragic when the bully pulpit is not used effectively.

President Bush gets on the worst communicators because of another loss of potential. His lack of speaking ability, detailed on these pages and elsewhere, have unfortunately made his opinions seem less and less important. He had his most recent press conference on December 20, and it was worse than a yawner. Nobody was listening. No news headlines, and amazingly little coverage for a President. He has the power of position, but not persuasion, and that is tragic in any leader, much less the leader of the United States.


10. Suze Orman – many people like her, I don’t get it.

Suze Orman is knowledgeable and opinionated, but strident and sharp. Most of us like our financial information from a trusted and credible source. Suze is an admitted media star, and supposedly knowledgeable from being an author, but in person she projects sarcasm and bite. So she makes the list, but for Suze lovers, at least she is among the best of the worst.

So what do you think?

41 comments on “Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators of 2007

  1. Pingback: The Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators of 2011 | Decker Blog

  2. In regards to Suze Orman. In recent months we were visiting the United States and watched CNN primarily because of the economic crises and the U S election. We do not understand how you can have a person like Suze Orman discussing the financial state of your country. We found her VERY harsh and her comments are doing nothing to help calm investors and Main Street people. Her calls of doom and gloom are excessive. As I am a Financial Planner myself, I do not believe any of us have a crystal ball, Suze included, so how can she make comments that are so opinionated that simply make people more unsure and scared than need be? Perhaps some sound financial advise without the sensationalism would be more appreciated than the dribble we are hearing from her. CNN is a very popular station and leader for world news and I don’t think she is an asset to your image.

  3. Hi Bert
    This is a very interesting post. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the speaking ability of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
    No matter whether or not you agreed with his politics 9 times out of 10 he was a very good orator. Although, whether he delivered the good last year during his final year in office I’m not so sure.
    Cheers,
    Jason

  4. It’s always scary to see the face of religion as voiced in thread comments.
    Bert,
    Even I was wondering why you had to mention physical atributes (not physical signals) when you wrote about the CNBC commentator. You could see right through that. You failed to fully-communicate your respect for her without tipping us off to a little of your own personal lust for her – entertaining though.
    All the Best,

  5. I think the list is solid. I’d also suggest you consider Jamie Dimon, CEO of Chase Bank. He’s got a very clear style and makes complex issues seem simple. I saw him speak at Denver University in 2007 and he was one of the best communicators I’ve seen.

  6. Philip, that’s a figure of speech on ‘inventing global warming.’ No one invented – many people caused it. But Al Gore actually popularized the term and brought it to the public and the media’s attention. Now he said he ‘invented the internet’ in his last political campaign, though he didn’t even come near popularizing that.
    But his speaking out and his film “Inconvenient Truth” DID do a lot to make the general public aware of global warming. The power of communication.
    Bert

  7. Great article but I am somewhat started by the statement that Al Gore “did invent ‘global warming.’” – It may come to a surprise to some Americans, but having grown up in Europe I was made aware by public media and debate of Global Warming, and it’s presumed causes and effects before even entering elementary school in the early 80s. This is a very important matter, which has been discussed and addressed for decades.

  8. As a great admirer of yours Bert, I thank you for your perenial wisdom. Am enjoying the comments on your somewhat controversial lists.
    I cannot help think that you missed a great communicator (albeit yet another Christian pastor), in Joel Olsteen. Any thoughts on his communication style?

  9. Expat in France,
    Take a look at many of the past posts – I’m consistent I think in that content counts, but behavior gets in the way. You’ve got to be believed to be heard, and believability comes from behavior, not content. If you had seen the recent U.S. Primary results, you can see that in action. (See next post.)
    Your two examples of cruel dictators are NOT great communicators, they are great manipulators. That’s not what the list is about.
    Bert

  10. Hi Laura – help me out. I’d love to diversify and expand the list, but for the most part have to put people on the list who are in the public eye, and there is a teaching point, and they have accomplished for good or ill with their communications. Of course it’s subjective, but I haven’t been accused of being sexist ever – just not who I am. I’d love your help – who would you put on the best and worst who could replace.
    Thanks – Bert

  11. Outrageously sexist.
    Only 2 women on the best list: one for physical reasons, and one pooh-poohed conciliatory mention for a woman widely recognized as a fabulous communicator.
    As for the 3 worst: all are middle-aged, all are opinionated. Smart, aging women are often judged harshly – and this list appeals to that popular misogynist sensibility.

  12. Communication is an art, regardless of the message, but the credibility of the message counts too. You seem, however, to apply credibility to your assessment only when it suits you.
    Without becoming the judgemental thought police, how about writing an article that focuses more on the credibility of the content than on the ability to whip the audience into a narcissistic, self-perpetuating, love-fest?
    Let’s not forget that Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini were great “communicators” too… otherwise, we wouldn’t have had to deal with “Big Mistake II.”

  13. I wonder if Maria Bartiromo would have made the list if she wasn’t “attractive” with “full lips”. And if she would, then why mention these physical attributes?

  14. Thanks for the explanation on Obama being last year’s #1, Bert. I didn’t catch that.

  15. What exactly does Glen Beck communicate well? If I want to get a good hate-filled ignorant rant, I’m sure I could find someone else who does it better. After all, Dobson made the list!

  16. Sorry to pile on, but I have to agree with the Obama supporters. You could easily replace Maria Bartiromo on the list with the most eloquent public speaker in the country. While attractive, she’s not even in the same league. Her interview for the CNBC special on Alan Greenspan was terrible, as she spent half her time gushing like a cheerleader and chatting endlessly about silly questions such as how the former Fed Chairman makes decisions in the bathtub. Glad to see you listed Suzy Orman (scary woman), Thompson and Bush as among the worst. Thompson stumbled and stuttered through the NH debate the other night, while Huckabee was knocking it out of the park. And amazingly Bush has actually gotten worse in his seven years, picking up odd mannerisms and quirks. See http://markivey.typepad.com/onthemark/2007/01/a_speechwriters.html

  17. so this is a social forum now….when I started reading, Jesus was in the lime-light – and now Oprah is “becasue she has been”, this site is a has been! Mr. Decker, how articulate are you going to be when the Lord asks you…’why should I let you into my kingdom???’

  18. I just want to say bummer…in todays media of course we have good and bad speakers, what’s the message your trying to make and why post it? Your email represents believers, and seems now one more opportunity to give us a critical nature. Lots of other important things to focus on besides best and worst communicators.

  19. Barack Obama IS one of the top communicators – he was #1 Best Communicator on last year’s list. That’s why he was not on this year – I try to have new people on the list each year – and then repeat them the following year if they are consistently excellent. Oprah is an example.
    Interesting and appropriate that the #1 Best last year and #1 best this year both won the Iowa Primary last week – communications counts big.
    Bert

  20. You list the best communicators of the year and do not include Barack Obama? Are you serious?
    Please! He knocked off the biggest Machine in American Politics, gives a stump speech that Republicans love, and is the most gifted speaker America has seen in years. We wonder why we can’t get African Americans to vote for us (Republicans that is) and this is why. Give credit where credit is due. The dude is for real.

  21. Timmy, keep in mind that many Christian speakers are on the list because they have had years of practice in delivering public talks (aka sermons). You may not agree with their beliefs, but that has nothing to do with their ability to communicate. Suze Orman is a good example of someone who is brilliant in her area of expertise, but her communication skills could really stand to improve.

  22. This is the worst list I ever ready. It is bias toward christian leaders and people this person likes. In addition, no mention of what people ‘did’ on the worst communicator list. Bad people are bad communicators? This does not make sense. I do agree with the comments about Nancy Grace. She is a stupid bitch who should be off the air.

  23. Great list. I am from the UK, but have also been impressed by what I’ve seen of Mike Huckabee so far.
    I have to say that I do feel sorry for your George Bush sometimes – he really seems to have caught the foot in mouth bug.

  24. Great work Bert! Thanks a bunch for putting this together.
    I thought I was already convinced of the importance of communication skills prior to becoming a currency trading coach last May. Now that I’m delivering live market commentary and technical analysis lessons to dozens of students each day, my appreciation of the importance of communication skills has actually grown even more.
    I intend to pay close attention to your blog in 2008 for tips on how to improve my own game in the area of communication.

  25. John J.,
    I think you’re right on Drew Peterson. I missed the Matt Lauer interview, but Peterson is NOT credible, and you could make a good argument for him being on the Worst list. Let’s see what happens – maybe next year.
    Bert

  26. I agree with the Obama nod. He is an orator on par with the leaders from the sixties.
    You also forgot Drew Peterson as one of the worst speakers of the past year. A prosecutor could put him away for life just based on his interview with Matt Lauer.

  27. 10 Best, 10 Worst Communicators

    Bert Decker is a renowned communications trainer and executive coach. He’s NBC Today’s communications commentator, coach to Nancy Pelosi, author of several best-selling books on public speaking, etc.Here’s his list of Top 10 Best and Worst Communicators

  28. If you’re going to give Huckabee a nod, then you ought to give Barack Obama a nod as well. His ability to transcend division through communication is powerful.

  29. I agree with your pick for Susan Orman. While she’s very knowledgeable about personal finance, I can’t stand watching her show all the way through. This is coming from a guy that like personal finance. I much rather listen to Jim Cramer about stocks than Susan about personal finance. I enjoy Guy Kawasaki’s blog and Mr. Job’s iPhone presentation as well.

  30. Thanks Heather, Anthony, Ty and Kare – loved your comments on Tony Dungy Kare. The personal and human connection is key.
    And appreciated your thoughts too Robert. Don’t agree about Glenn Beck – he is a great communicator, but I do agree about Don Imus – he is not! Perhaps should have included him – let’s see how he does next year.
    Bert

  31. Glenn Beck? One of the year’s best communicators? Really? Perhaps Beck’s been one of the year’s most well-documented* media monkeys, but does that mean he’s a talented communicator? The man is good at being angry about things of which he has little understanding or original opinion to share. He’s contributed a slew of racist, sexist, xenophobic comments over the past year. In fact, he should be right next to Nancy Grace on this list, eating her leftovers as he’s known to do. Glenn Beck’s greatest achievement, so far as I can tell, is that it’s easier to ignore him than Don Imus.
    Speaking of… Where’s Don Imus on the “worst of”? That was a pretty bad performance. Not only was he oblivious in the first place, but he fumbled around it for a whole week, wasting our time with one half-hearted mea culpa after the next. I don’t (care enough to) doubt his sincerity, but i definitely don’t feel sorry for him either. All getting fired did to punish that guy was score him a 9-month vacation and new $20million contract.
    Perhaps Don Imus could take the #2 spot instead of Michael Vick. After all, Vick’s biggest problems stemmed from dog fighting and immaturity, not his communication skills. I see your point about body language, but his apology made him seem way more sincere than Mr. Nappy himself, Don Imus.
    Otherwise, great list!
    Penny for your thoughts, Bert?
    *http://mediamatters.org/issues_topics/people/glennbeck

  32. Bert
    Kudos to you for an articulate, pithy summary of your top ten. I left a changed person, over a decade ago, when I interviewed Tony Dungy for the WSJ. Not a football fan, I was sent to get the backstory for a series on understated leaders. His clarity, humility and focus, in the face of so many situations that would have embittered others came shining through in the interview. Two assistant coaches and three players insisted on participating in the interview because they anticipated (rightly) that he would not bring up the adversity he’d faced.
    At one point one of the coaches had tears in his eyes as he told a story and I teared up too.
    His faith in his God and his players lifted up the game.. .and I am not just talking about on the field.
    P.S. Garr’s book is breathtaking. You sure hang out with uplifting people – and highlight them well

  33. Bert…. your name should be included in the Best Of charts!! It takes more than “slick,” “snake-oil,” and political savvy (you have none of the first two and lots of the third!) to be a Great Commmunicator. You are at your best when you are the real and Great Bert Decker. Thanks again for this year’s list. Happy New Year from Pat and me, with admiration.

  34. Great post. I saw Ben Zander present at a law firm marketing conference a few years ago, and I described the experience as “scary.” He did a great job of making everyone in the audience confront their fears and held everyone accountable as a member of his audience. It made me realize how important it is, as a presenter, to make the audience pull its weight. It also makes the presentation much better, because it becomes more of a dialogue than a monologue.