President Obama is no longer the premier communicator – which is remarkable as he was elected largely because of his speaking ability. I even named him as #1 in my Top Ten Communicators of 2006. It’s not about the words – he does have very good speech writers – it’s about the authenticity.
He has slipped for several reasons.
First of all he is over exposed – speaking somewhere almost daily:
- 9 health care speeches in 9 days
- 4 Press Conferences in his first 6 months, more than President Bush did in 8 years
- more interviews than any recent President in recent times
In this over exposure in the media it is also now apparent that he is too scripted and aloof in formal situations, and halting in the informal situations. Not the great communicator.
See it now
Let me show you what I mean. First, there’s the teleprompter. It astonishes me that most people don’t consciously know when a person is reading from the teleprompter – but I think they DO know it unconsciously. And authenticity suffers. When someone is using the teleprompter, someone is READING A SPEECH – not coming from the heart (or at least appearing to do so.) I do not understand why Obama does not have good teleprompter coaching so that he properly uses focal points to at least APPEAR to be talking to an audience.
Here is Obama in his teleprompter mode at his Egypt speech. He appears to be observing a ping-pong game – 4 seconds to one side (left teleprompter paddle) and 4 seconds to the other side (right teleprompter paddle.) Throughout the campaign and up until last week he had this rigid habit – 4 seconds left, 4 seconds right – and here recently in a Health Care speech.
It’s very interesting that last week, in his press conference on health care (that turned into his ObamaGates speech that spawned the Beer Summit), he used the teleprompter (finally) like a newscaster – looking straight at the camera as he reads his speech on a transparent mirror. You’ll see he’s better – but still cadenced, stiff and academic.
Now here’s a funny but revealing take from the TODAY Show on Obama’s reliance on the teleprompter. It’s written and talked about, and has become so apparent that there is actually a teleprompter on Twitter that is very funny reading: @BOTeleprompter. (As BO says, no POTUS without TOTUS.) So Obama’s use of the teleprompter is unprecedented. No President, nor perhaps any public figure in history, has relied on continuous scripting of what he says as has this President.
The sad fact is President Obama got elected because he was a supposed ‘great speaker.’ Actually he was, and is, a great orator – but I think the teleprompter is now getting in his way. He has to go to another level. Martin Luther King, JFK, Roosevelt, Clinton and Reagan rarely read from teleprompters – except on formal and State occasions. And their greatest moments were not when they were reading – it was when they were speaking. From the heart. Authentically.
Every leader has to be able to speak well extemporaneously – they are always in the limelight and have to communicate well in all situations. You can’t take your speech writers and teleprompters everywhere. Sometimes President Obama is OK in extemporaneous mode, but more often he is halting and pedantic – his speech laced with ums and ahs, as in this press conference with Prime Minister Brown, and here in an informal press response that I posted on earlier.
Why it’s important
President Obama is our President. No matter what your political bent you want the country to succeed. It is leadership that makes that happen. And we have a President who is now over exposed and, purely from a communications standpoint, going in the wrong direction .
Reading speeches is not leading – where inspiring is critical. I posted about President Bush losing the Bully Pulpit a while back, and most would agree on that. I don’t think most will agree with me that President Obama is about to lose the Bully Pulpit as well, but it’s happening.
And that would be a tragedy for a country that is already on a slippery slope.