Communication Wins Again

The Presidential Primaries are great cauldrons to see communications impact in action. We can learn a lot, as the public platform emphasizes positives and negatives that relate to our everyday speaking. And NOW the newscasters are talking about the importance of likability and authenticity. It’s ALWAYS about likability and authenticity, for only then can your message get through to your audience. After just the first two primaries, we have the winners and losers, largely because of communications:

First, New Hampshire, because that race happened to be tonight:

Hillary Clinton: big winner. In the race and in her victory speech. She was finally vulnerable, and what some people call her “breakdown” when she ‘cried’ was actually a breakthrough. She did not cry (like Ed Muskie did in 1972 in the Presidential race where he lost the campaign with a display of weakness) nor did she display weakness. She was human and displayed emotion, and just in time to reach enough people to upset Barack Obama in the race. In her victory speech she used notes well, and spoke to the people. Her usual “I” centered message was touched with a new humility.

Barrack Obama: Always a great speaker (he was the #1 Best Communicator in my 2006 Annual List,) once again he hit a long ball, but not out of the park, with his ‘victory’ speech. Actually, he came in second in the election, but you wouldn’t know it from his speech. It was high energy, high confidence and high in rhetoric. He uses the ‘rule of three’ well. “Yes we can. Yes we can. Yes we can.” (We’ll hear a lot more of that phrase in the days to come, and remember the rule of three.) And his speeches are very well written. And that’s actually why it wasn’t a home run, because if you were looking you could tell it was written, and read. He surprisingly uses a teleprompter, and does not use it well. That really surprises me, as it is pretty easy to learn how to use a teleprompter when you have to do so. Bill Clinton was a master at it. Look at Barrack’s eyes go to right, then left, then right, etc. Not natural, and it takes away from his power of voice and cadence by not going directly to ALL the audience with his eye contact.

John Edwards: A great speech. Edwards came in a distance third, and is unlikely as a candidate, but he gave a great speech, with wonderful stories and details of content. And by comparison, content was sorely missing in Obama’s speech, and pretty much in Clinton’s as well. Edwards also had a great line in saying that 99% of the country had not been heard from, and he was taking the message to the country.

Now read about the Republicans in New Hampshire and the Iowa winners and losers by clicking below:

John McCain: Big winner. His election revived his campaign, but he is the one candidate that is not winning because of his communications. In interviews and on the campaign trail he is authentic, real and winsome. But his formal speaking, as in his ‘victory’ speech, is just the opposite. Here McCain read his speech from a script, head down, and his ending was terrible. I’ll edit his video and put the post up of how NOT to end a speech, and how the written script imprisons a speaker.

Mitt Romney: Good speaker. The problem with Romney as a communicator and I think with his campaign is it is predictable. That’s OK as long as there is some variety, some pace, some ebb and flow – as in speech or seminar. But Mitt is the same whether winning or losing, and a good speaker. Yet he still comes across as slicked down, kind of like his hair. And his emphasizing the silver medal a second time does not smack of the sound of a winner.

Mike Huckabee: Authentic in victory or loss. Although Huckabee came in a distant third, his speech was much better than in his Iowa victory. Natural, and with no script, he energized the crowd with his own energy. And he looked to the future, and as always peppered his speech with interesting asides.

The Iowa Primary (highlights):

Obama: He won, and many say his Iowa Victory Speech was his greatest yet – not so. Great, but he’s no Martin Luther King. Obama is one of the best with energy and rhetoric, but misses on content and spontaneity. Again, as in New Hampshire, he used a teleprompter, and not with the skill one would expect.

Clinton: She came in second, and then gave a terrible speech, which was “I” centered and low energy. Maybe she was in shock. And having the old guard of Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton (looking very tight and unhappy) in the TV frame as she spoke did not help. It was interesting, and smart, that she changed that for New Hampshire with a backdrop of young people.

Huckabee: The surprising winner in Iowa, this election put him on the map, and he filled it out with his speech. (After all, he was the #1 Best communicator on my list for 2007.) Huckabee is the primary reason that all the media is talking about authenticity and likability now. He is also one of the few candidates who put issues in his message, whether in speeches or Question and Answer sessions. Behavior reigns, but content counts.

Romney: Second place, in the race and in communicating. As one commentator said, we don’t feel we know Romney. He communicates in a rote and mannered way, and his ‘concession’ speech showed it.


  • Be authentic, in victory or defeat
  • Be real, whether campaigning for President or leading a company
  • Use SHARPs to connect with your audience
  • Don’t read speeches
  • Don’t use teleprompters, and if you have to get skilled

6 comments on “Communication Wins Again

  1. This is easily becoming my favorite blog! I am constantly emailing your posts to the leaders I run around with (Flamingo Road Church). So much of what you share has so much of an impact on me. Thank you!

  2. Hi Bert,
    If you don’t think King was reading his speech, we’ve been looking at different footage. Take a look at the link below and tell me if you still think he didn’t read his speech for the first 12 minutes.
    If you look closely, you’ll also see him gather his script when he leaves the lectern.
    There’s no doubt King’s speech was better than Obama’s. Heck, I listen to it almost daily AND have it on my iPod playlist. But, as far as charisma and the ability to reach an audience are concerned, Obama is in the same class as King.
    When I compare the two delivery styles, I see one man reading a script and the other reading a teleprompter. I see both men connecting with their audience and repeating words that will resonate throughout the ages. I see two charismatic speakers who were more concerned with their “message” than they were about their “mechanics”.
    And I see that the principles of giving a memorable, moving speech are the same in 2008 as they were in 1963.
    I’m looking forward to your post on MLK day :-)
    John Watkis

  3. Great breakdown of the candidates and their strengths and weaknesses. I think because of the bombardness of images and sound clips these days via the media, most people have a general idea of how they feel about the way presidential candidates communicate, but they more than likely can’t describe why they feel that way. Thanks for the insight.

  4. Thanks for your thought provoking comments John. I agree that Obama maybe should have been repeated – but there’s next year.
    And I understand you are a speechwriter, so there’s more here than for a comment. I will be posting on Martin Luther King’s speech on his Holiday – he was one of a kind. But look again at his “Dream” speech. He did NOT read, even though it was written. Frankly, he was so immersed in his message he could have done it without a script there.
    But there is a big difference between creating an experience, as he did, and reading from teleprompters.
    Obama also created an experience – he is where he is because he is outstanding at communicating in today’s medium, and he is able to do that even with teleprompters. But if you look at the 17 minute experience of King, and the 10 minute experience of Obama – you tell me the difference.
    Thanks for the comments – more later.

  5. Let me just say that, even though Barack uses a teleprompter, he just makes those like McCain look horrendous when they look down…It’s simply non-engaging with notecards. Barack and Hillary’s victory speeches in New Hampshire and Iowa.

  6. Hi Bert,
    While I agree with many of your observations, I disagree with your analysis of Barack Obama’s speeches. You said his speech wasn’t a home run because it was written. And you said he’s “no Martin Luther King”.
    King’s most famous and significant speech, “I have a dream”, was a written speech. Not only was it written, King read it verbatim. It was only at the end of his speech that King’s eyes left the page. And, contrary to legend, King didn’t depart from the script. He had rehearsed what was written beforehand. Yes, the most significant speech in U.S. history was both scripted and read!
    If you compare the eye contact of Obama and King, Obama gave the appearance of having more eye contact with his audience than King did.
    As for whether or not this speech was a home run, the audience decided it was. The audience in front of him, to the side of him and behind him didn’t concern themselves with what you say was a lack of eye contact. They cheered and chanted throughout the speech.
    I appreciate that you have a different approach to creating speeches, but unless you’re going to say King’s “I have a dream” speech would have been better if it wasn’t scripted, you should stop telling speakers they shouldn’t script their speeches. Just say it’s your preference.
    John Watkis