The Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators of 2010

This Annual List of Top Ten Communicators of 2010 highlights the best (and worst) from business, politics (big this year), entertainment, sports and the professions. Take a look to see how communication skills helped make or break these notable individuals:

The 10 Best

1. Sebastián Piñera – Excellence above and below the surface

The rescue of the Chile miners was the miracle – and the communications orchestrated by President Sebastián Piñera amplified the miracle to the world. Yes, he spoke brilliantly to the mass media at the end, showing emotion, purpose, hope – and brevity. And yes, he was there for the full 35 hours of rescue, not just the photo op. As the last miner is rescued, you can see the real joy on his face. But in addition, he orchestrated the communications from start to finish – insisting on transparency, placing video cameras in the mines when they weren’t sure they could even rescue the miners, and then he arranged the unusual, dramatic and excellent world wide coverage of the day and a half of rescue. Because of this, and more, Piñera is unanimous choice for #1 Communicator of 2010.

2. Scott Brown – Refreshing face and voice

It seems so long ago with the November elections, but in January this Massachusett’s unknown took the country by storm in winning a stunning upset in the Senate race for Ted Kennedy’s vacant seat. He was a fresh personality, with refreshing spontaneity. And he marked the beginning of the conservative movement in this election year, but had to run a great campaign to overcome the Democratic lean of his district. He needed more than his truck, and the help of the Tea Party – he needed great communicating in situations formal and informal, and he delivered. His victory speech is a classic – expect to hear a lot more from him.

3. Sandra Bullock – Grace under pressure

From winning the Academy Award in March to responding to the press and pressure around her unfaithful soon-to-be ex-husband, Sandra Bullock made all the right moves – naturally. She is always authentic whether accepting her Award on a stage in front of millions, or keeping appropriately silent under the relenting barrage of the paparazzi. Then when it came time to speak, she did so publicly and eloquently. And naturally. True grace under pressure.


4. Admiral Thad Allen – Rock solid under pressure

In the initial confusion surrounding the BP Oil Spill in the gulf, what better spokesperson for the Government than the forthright, even gruff, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. His voice is tough, he is no nonsense in manner, and almost always was armed with the facts. The Admiral was experienced, as in his handling of the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco a few years earlier. His press conferences and interviews may not have been interesting, but that was not his communicating role. It was to bring stability and an air of competence to the proceedings. That he did.

5. Marco Rubio – Articulate power makes a new political star

Relatively unknown, Marco Rubio was trailing Florida’s incumbent Governor by double digits and went on to beat him in the Republican primary for Senate. He went on to beat the both the Democrat opponent as well as Governor Crist as an independent in November, and by an amazing double digits in a three man race. Yes, an attractive fresh face and one who will always refer to himself as an ‘exile,’ but a great communicator as well. Already people are mentioning him as a potential Presidential contender with this burst upon the national scene. Confident, strong voiced and articulate, he should go far.

6. Luke Russert – Chip off the old block, beyond his years

Luke is the son of Tim Russert, himself one of the Top Ten Communicators of 2008, but that’s not why Luke is here. Although he was given national exposure through his father and famous mother Maureen Orth, he took advantage of it to show his capability. Years of work in news and sportscasting has made him excellent beyond his young 25 years, and landed him a job with NBC. One highlight where he confronts Rep. Charlie Rangel and doesn’t back down. Luke Russert is worthy of filling his father’s large shoes in the years to come.

7. Buster Posey – Speaks softly, but carries a big stick

Rookie of the Year. World Series winner. And humility with homer busting power, that’s Buster. His response to the question “Don’t you realize you had an epic night?” is classic, and typical. Buster Posey is a refreshing change from athletes who are both full of themselves and can’t speak very well. We guess that his young looks help him as counterpoint to his strength and skill, but for communications – there is no one on the same par this year that represents the humble leader. Remember, he’s the catcher for the World Champion San Francisco Giants as a rookie, and the catcher is the leader on the field. Quite a feat in your first year. And he doesn’t crow about it.

8. Elizabeth Smart – Character and maturity

She walks tall, physically and mentally. Elizabeth is a remarkably mature 21 year old now, who experienced horror at 14 young years, and recently talked about it for three days in court. She gives straightforward detail of her kidnap and rape and nine months imprisonment, with no sensationalism in her candid testimony. Although the world could not see her live in court, you can envision the calm ability of this young woman. It is captured here in a powerful interview on Oprah, and now it is here in a live statement after the trial – she was just as impressive.

9. Emmitt Smith – A winner at many things

An all time Dallas Cowboys All Pro, Emmitt this year is a Hall of Famer. On top of that, he  is also a winner at communicating. Elected into the NFL Hall Of Fame this year, he gave an outstanding speech – in which he prepared well, and was emotional yet powerful. (We blogged on this in a surprising comparison to Jerry Rice, who is usually prepared…) Seems Emmitt Smith is always prepared whether in football, speaking, or even dancing! He won “Dancing With The Stars” a couple of years ago, and showed another charming facet of his communicating side – spontaneity and grace. He’s taken one career and leveraged it into a lot more with his speaking personality and preparation. Unique combination – unique individual.

10. Steve Jobs – Just has to be in the Top Ten, again

Although he has been “The Best” and on several other of our other Top Ten lists, he so stands out from the pack of public CEO’s that he rates making this year’s list too. This year he was also the subject of a book on presentation secrets, and again the most anticipated executive on a public platform as he announces some new software. Can you imagine, no new iPad or iPhone but just some nice upgrade, and he still makes the front pages of the financial sections. Jobs will go down as one of the very few CEO ‘rock stars’ in the business world. Guess it’s deserving of the personification of the Apple brand now that they are publishing Beatles songs in iTunes this year.

The 10 Worst

1. Tony Hayward – Appalling

“I want my life back,” said Hayward as a complaint for his extra stress as BP CEO during the Gulf Oil spill. Unbelievable comment, when people had lost their lives, literally, and millions more were terribly affected by BP incompetence. We blogged on it back in June, and it is even worse now that all the facts come out. Even in a sponsored BP TV Ad Hayward is not believable. Terrible personal communications by this ex-CEO for dozens of reasons that go beyond deception and self-centeredness. Even after he lost his job he still continues to whine, and is now the poster child for how NOT to handle a media disaster – both in choice of words and behavior.

2. Dick Fuld – Never learned

Ex-CEO Dick Fuld was right at the top of our 2008 Top Ten Worst list for his pitiful congressional testimony about the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, of which he appeared to be a very guilty leader. You think he’d have learned some communication skills in the intervening two years, but no. He’s back this year – different testimony but same story. He never learned how to NOT be defensive, look guilty, not answer questions, show arrogance, etc. Hope he doesn’t go before congress again…

3. Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller, Alvin Greene – Not ready for Prime Time

Shooting stars, that quickly flamed out. These three candidates were representative of many new faces in the November elections that were bright and newsworthy, but were not ready for the glare of the lights. Christine O’Donnell speaks well and with a smile, and Sarah Palin helped her cause, but she couldn’t hold it together what with the witch talk (and a very unfortunate witch ad,) poor media and, many felt, a lack of content. (You need sizzle AND steak.) Joe Miller in Alaska let controversy and mis-handling of the press stalk his Senatorial campaign, and thus allowed a very rare write-in campaign victory for incumbent Lisa Murkowski. (Good communicators don’t lie.) And Alvin Greene in South Carolina remains a mystery – little credentials and little campaign adds up to no victory. In all cases, people who initially appear as rockets fizzle out without the right fuel – substance.

4. Gordon Brown – Consistent stumbler

I suppose if this list originated in the UK ex-Premier Brown might be #1 worst, but he’s a close second. Much has been written on Brown’s poor speaking by UK author and communications expert Max Atkinson, several posts referenced here. He was made fun of on the floor and he was disparaged behind the scenes. Never very energetic or accomplished as a communicator in the first place, he proceeded to make several gaffes in his election campaign. The most notable was not only making a foolish comment when he thought he was off camera (called a lady “a bigoted woman”), but how he responded to the press about the incident. From then on his speaking was even lower energy – a degree of listlessness where he seemed to think he should lose. And of course, he did.

5. Mel Gibson – Rant after rant

Where’s a publicist with some duct tape when you need one? Mel Gibson has managed to morph himself from respected leading actor to a raving madman through his communication in a matter of years. We thought he had learned, as he was on our Top Ten Worst in 2006, but no, this year was even worse. Instead of thinking before he speaks, Mel lets venom burst out of his mouth, leaving anyone who still watches him in awe. His personal rants have damaged his professional career, and now people view him as a loose cannon with a questionable character.

6. Jan Brewer – Inconsistent stumbler

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is not a bad communicator, usually. She gained political capital by leading Arizona in adopting a controversial immigration law. And she spoke well in interviews early on. But the lesson that she never learned was to not run the mouth until the mind is in gear. In one particularly bad news day, during a campaign debate, she first blanked out for 16 seconds, had earlier made a mistatement on ‘beheadings’ in the desert, then handled the follow up questions very poorly. She later admitted she was wrong, and her political capital enabled her to win the election in spite of her communications errors.

7. Eric Massa – How can one believe?

Still a mystery – here’s an elected official who resigned abruptly, made a lot of communicating noise about why (‘groping’ becomes ‘tickling’,) probably to outshout the sex abuse attacks that he knew would follow. He was even subject of an hour long Glenn Beck interview as part of the brief uproar, and Beck found him talkative, but unbelievable. He remains a mystery except for his obvious obfuscation (as on Larry King) – well, probably downright lying. Perhaps his strategy worked since he was neither arrested nor fired, and he quickly disappeared from the scene.  But talk without substance will not get you anywhere in your communications, unless you are covering up.

8. Bertha Lewis – Like many under scrutiny, talks with forked tongue

Actually this Worst Communicator speaks pretty well, if you had a pure blind faith in what she said, and her leadership of ACORN. As CEO she was under scrutiny, and apparently confronts arrows of attack until there are just too many to ward off. Then, like most CEO’s, politicians and government officials who are accused of misdoing, she becomes unbelievable in what she is saying. She still says it well, but in the end it is rare that misrepresentation and bad content can overcome a good style of delivery – particularly in the long run.

9. Harry Reid – This politician is no stem-winder

Nevada Senator Harry Reid should have won in a landslide – long time incumbent and Majority Leader of his party in Washington he was running against and inexperienced and mistake-laden candidate. Yet he barely eked out a victory because of his lack of communicating ability. It’s a wonder that he won before – soft voiced, monotone, unfocused messages. Even his own President Obama said made fun of his speaking, and said, “Let’s face it, Harry’s not the flashiest guy…” And perhaps the icing on this non-communicating cake was his recent loooooong story about football – on the Senate floor no less (5′ AND boring.) His focus could have been a lot better when he was supposed to be leading the Senate in serious business. We hate to have so many politicians on the list this year, but since it’s an election year we couldn’t leave Harry out.

10. Obama – Cadence, teleprompters and arrogance gets him here

The President almost always has to be somewhere on the Top Ten list. And President Obama has gone a long way, the wrong way, after landing the #1 Best spot in 2006 and 2008. He has actually regressed as a communicator since taking office. Needing to give numerous ghost-written speeches a day has left Obama disastrously reliant on the teleprompter – a tool he has not learned to use effectively. (Funny parody here.) His vocal tone and facial expressions no longer convey the passion and enthusiasm that rallied Americans to elect him in 2008. Often, his style is professorial, his content purely informational, and he’s adopted a sing-songy cadence that is only amusing when spoofed by SNL. It’s no accident that his slide as a communicator parallels his slipping popularity. Communications can carry, or bury, a presidency.