OK, OK, Obama is a great communicator!?!
At least that’s the general consensus. And I had him as #1 on our Top Ten Communicators of 2008!
So why do I say he needs a communications coach? He doesn’t need a new speech writer – actually he has one of the best and that is where his strength is – his words and oratorical skills. But oratory is not all there is to communicating, particularly in these desperate times where trust is so important in our leaders. And this is where he needs a communications coach. He didn’t ask, but here’s some free advice:
- Less professorial, more leader – President Obama looks, acts and sounds like a leader in most of his formal speeches (except for his use of the Teleprompter, and see below.) But in his informal communication settings he reverts to his professorial background – measured slow phrases and long answers. Practice in improv and spontaneity skills would be great (not that I expect a U.S. President is going to do that.) But increasing thinking-on-your-feet mental agility would help.
- Get skilled with the teleprompter – Obama’s preference is to always speak from a prepared text, written for him in most cases, so he is reading someone’s words. And almost always by Teleprompter – it’s a part of his traveling package. And he looks like he is watching a slow moving ping-pong game whenever he speaks in a formal setting. He looks to the left for 4 seconds, then to the right for 4 seconds, and so on. (More examples here.) Watch him Tuesday night. No variation – which shocks me. It also shocks me that not that many people notice when I mention it. But they will – it becomes monotonous and distracting, and over time the unconscious will become the conscious in the public’s experience of Obama’s speech reading. (Unless he reads this and gets some training – teleprompter use can be seamless.)
- Less ums, more eyes – In interview settings particularly, and other informal communication situations he has a lot of non-words (ums and ahs) and his eyes cast down more often than not. These are not the hallmark behaviors of a leader. Pausing and looking directly, always, will correct these confidence leaking distractions.
Watch him Tuesday night – he does not yet approach Reagan or Clinton, yet with a little coaching…