- What a year.
The Olympics. A Presidential Election. So much noise this year – a colossal communications cacophony. What, then, stood out? The moments.
With such a divisive political, economic and social landscape this year, we found that people heard what they wanted to hear, and we also felt it would be more productive to take a new direction. Instead of identifying the Top 10 Best and Worst Communicators, this year, we bring you the Top 10 Communication Moments of 2016, each complete with a “So What?” — the communications lessons we can apply from both the inspiring and insipid, excellence and egos, alike.
1. FLOTUS for POTUS: That’s What Many Were Thinking When Michelle Obama Dropped the Mic after her DNC Speech, July 25, 2016
Dynamic, ambitious, eloquent and relatable to everyone, Michelle Obama is an outstanding communicator. If you weren’t among the 25.7 million watching her speech from the Democratic National Convention live, you must watch it. It will give you chills. It stirred emotion with women and men, as she describes how difficult it is to raise great children in a very difficult world – and she did so without preaching. She spoke with compassion and care – to the point where you could feel it. She has a life to which most people can’t relate, yet, she found common ground with people across the country. Michelle Obama works so closely with her speechwriter, Sara Hurwitz, that her speeches have an emotional core that’s authentic to her. Michelle Obama’s ability to connect with her audience through her authentic emotional vulnerability (spoiler alert: she’s super likable) and powerful vocal conviction is incredible. The most memorable lines, “I wake up every morning in a house built by slaves,” and “When they go low, we go high.” Yes, she practiced for this key moment, and yes, it showed. Best of all – she’s not a one-hit wonder. Time and time again, Michelle Obama is real, listener-focused, influencing and inspiring.
So What: Even in a scripted, teleprompter experience, you can speak from the heart by focusing on how you come across through your voice, your facial expressions, your eye communication and your warmth. Be provocative — and do it with care and thoughtfulness.
2. The Voice that Unified the Divided: Dallas Police Chief David Brown’s News Briefing, July 8, 2016
It’s easy to grab someone from the limelight who couldn’t handle the pressure. This was completely the opposite. Dallas Police Chief David Brown didn’t want the spotlight – he just wanted support. And peace. Brown stepped up to rally and inspire a community during a time of tragedy. With a strong voice and a steady conviction, the police chief was able to highlight the weight of the events in Dallas, Texas while inspiring support. His transparency, compassion and vulnerability about how he was personally handling the grief resonated across the nation. He graciously and humbly reminded viewers of the humanity behind the uniform, pulling people in when unity was vital. In a press conference he boldly asked for help; yet because of his conversational cadence and confident posturing, he never once victimized himself or his colleagues amidst the tragedy. Events like this rarely manifest the kind of leadership and greatness that we saw in David Brown – yet they are the times when we need it the most.
So What: When we get cornered, it’s easy to get defensive and attack. Instead, use transparency to pull people in.
3. Three Ring Circus at the Highest Stakes: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the Presidential Debates, Sept. 26, Oct. 9 and Oct. 19, 2016
2016 was the year of the most polarizing two Presidential candidates in history. The three Presidential Debates (one, two and three) were the most talked about and the most watched – because it’s hard to turn your head away from a car wreck. They were key communication moments – even if they didn’t have the impact that either candidate wanted. The focus was on the countdown to the debate, whether or not they would shake hands and whether or not the moderators would control or be controlled. Did you try the tactic of putting the sound on mute and just watching the body language like this journalist? Or did you already learn the memorable behaviors by watching SNL? Donald Trump’s dour facial expression (some call it lemon-faced), pouty lips, stage stalking and interruptive manner reflected his arrogance and curtness. Yet his powerful rhetoric resonated with those who were tired of the politically correct style. In contrast, Hillary Clinton’s calm, well-rehearsed answers, prepared platform and puns were peppered with stories that came off as very political. Her serious face with strident gestures inhibited the warmth that many said she had off-camera. Both candidates refused to own up to statements they had made in the past, instead denying and acting deferential in trying to create alternative meanings for their statements. These high stakes debates were…well…kind of a circus.
So What: When you’re asked a question, answer the question directly for what it is. When you have an opportunity to move the needle, be more listener-focused (that’s how you can influence).
4. Retiring at the Top of His Game: Vin Scully’s Goodbye Speech at Dodger Stadium, September 23, 2016
When it comes to modeling the Decker Principles, few do it better. Vin Scully’s final speech at Dodger Stadium this September was a cherry on top of an incredible career, and it embodied so many of the elements that made him an amazing (and amazingly consistent) communicator every game for 56 years. Vin Scully used humor and stories to create an experience and draw people in. He spoke right to his fans – addressing them directly, identifying their impact on his career and thanking them. This listener-focused message struck gold, helping everyone feel personally connected to him. And much of Vin Scully’s experience also comes in the telling, itself, with incredible vocal variety, vocal energy, pausing and oh-so much more. He mixes up his content, adds tons of stories, doesn’t use filler words and really connects with his audience – many of whom were moved to tears. Were you?
So What: We can all tweak one or two behaviors to be more like Vin Scully, one of the masters. Try adjusting one at a time – focus first on your vocal energy, then try eliminating filler words, then practice pausing, then focus on telling stories.
5. Belting Out Likability: James Corden, Carpool Karaoke (too many to list)
Unscripted, undeniably authentic and just plain real – we all love what James Corden brought to 2016. How did he do it? His laughter is infectious, he doesn’t hold back emotion and he is unfiltered. With James Corden, what you see is what you get. His ability to create viral snippets have had lasting power in a world where our attention spans are shorter than ever. There’s a reason he got named as one of the most influential people on the internet, that Apple purchased access to his viral videos and that he’s continuously booked for prominent roles. You can feel his enthusiasm when he talks to people and lets them shine under his spotlight – kind of like Jimmy Fallon. With over two billion views, to date, the most-watched of all time is with Adele, and a few other faves include JLo, Gwen Stefani (pictured above), Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. He’s real – and able to go from zero to sixty – from tragic empathy and compassion to enthusiasm. He belts out the hits – and we all want to sing along.
So What: In our communication coaching and consulting, we often encourage executives to add lightness. You don’t have to be serious to be taken seriously. Your audience will connect with your lightness.
6. No Flattery in Plagiarism: Melania Trump’s RNC Speech, July 18, 2016
When Melania Trump spoke to the country during her Republican National Convention speech, it was a moment that shattered the standards of original content and left us all shaking our heads. Content aside (and no – we do not condone plagiarism), her scripted speech still tanked. Just look at the side-by-side difference between her delivery and that of Michelle Obama, who delivered many of the same words four years prior. What does the billionaire’s wife bring to the communication experience? Cold and distant might work well in the modeling world, but it doesn’t work well in communications or in efforts to influence. Melania Trump comes across with a serious face, squinty eyes and a skeptical look that doesn’t evoke enough warmth. Plus, we notice her hesitant lack of familiarity with her content – this all makes her seem overly rigid and inauthentic. Sure, she was using a teleprompter, but so was Ivanka Trump, who spoke on the same stage with the same teleprompter with much success. Now that she’s the first lady-elect, Melania Trump will need to step it up.
So What: Emotional connection is created from both content and behaviors. Executives we coach constantly seek to strike the balance between warmth and competence. Competence usually wins, making them appear more rigid vs. connecting. However, research shows that warmth is the conduit of influence.
7. Spurring an International Incident: Ryan Lochte’s Allegations, August 15, 2016
The mark of Olympians is that they are the best, and they are proud to represent their country. The feeling wasn’t mutual between the United States and Ryan Lochte. He embarrassed fellow Olympians – and our country. We have great expectations for our Olympic athletes – not only in their performance in their sport, but even more importantly in how they represent us. Even before knowing the content is a fib his description of the robbery lacks any drama; his details lack support, and his voice is lazy with lots of upspeak. Again, it wasn’t the international incident he caused that landed Ryan Lochte on this list. Sure, his inconsistent and blatant lies were a recipe for Olympic disaster (and the loss of many sponsorship dollars for him). His dismissive communication behaviors earned all of the fallout.
So What: When you believe something, speak with passion and conviction that are expressed through your vocal variety. It makes a difference as to whether people will believe you and follow you. And telling the truth doesn’t hurt, either.
8. The Power of Hamilton: Lin Manuel Miranda’s Tony Awards Acceptance Speech, June 12, 2016
Creator of Tony Award-winning musicals In the Heights and Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda consistently leaves audiences with a renewed sense of the fact that THEY are part of a bigger story. Even in his Tony Award acceptance speech, he used his time in the spotlight to creatively shed light and influence on issues outside of himself – without standing on a soap box. That is communicating to inspire. And the moment stood out because he did it differently than the status quo. Even though it was pre-scripted, he used creativity of verse – a Hamilton approach to the everyday. With an energetic and open expression, his animated passion drew us in right away. And his story, told as a sonnet, about his love for his wife and for humanity resonated so deeply because of his emotion and conviction. No wonder Lin Manuel Miranda took the country by storm.
So What: At the highest stakes, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing things the way they’ve always been done. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Be creative and different with your approach, and you will notice a profound impact. The higher the stakes, the more important it is.
9. Leaning Into Vulnerability: Sheryl Sandberg’s University of California – Berkeley Commencement Speech, May 14, 2016
Everyone handles tough challenges differently, and those who do it best (and publically) expand their messages to be bigger than themselves. An extraordinary example of a message like this was when Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, stepped up to the podium to deliver her Commencement Speech at University of California – Berkeley. What makes this one of the top moments of the year? The way she vulnerably connects to the audience by revealing intimately personal, specific details about her deep reservoir of sadness and the brutality of loss. Yet, it’s not a sad speech. She gets choked up and vulnerable, and then she quickly brings the tone back to lightness. Sheryl Sandberg uses extremely high emotional connection throughout the speech, bouncing between entertaining, college-specific references of revelry (referencing man buns, dating apps and pizza spots), and inspiring her audience to find gratitude and joy in the hard days while she chokes back tears. Sheryl Sandberg squarely lands at the top of the Inspire quadrant of our Communicator’s Roadmap. She even concludes her commencement speech with specific action steps and personal benefits that are targeted directly at her audience. No doubt, if they were listening, she motivated her audience to want to build resilience, speak up, find joy and be bigger than themselves, too.
So What: It’s amazing how many leaders and executives guard their personal experiences (wondering, “Who are they to know this about me?”). The more details we share and the more we show vulnerability, the more ability we will have to connect, influence and inspire.
10. The Knee Drop Heard ‘Round the World: Colin Kaepernick’s Interview, August 28, 2016
Are you going to make a point or make a difference? We all have an opportunity and a choice. Colin Kaepernick made a point, but he missed the opportunity to make a difference. He was not prepared to articulate his Point of View, and he missed a massive opportunity to speak with passion and purpose. Of course people would want to know what he was doing! It’s a lesson about what happens in any miscommunication – you mean one thing, and the audience absorbs another. While he’s saying all the right things, his behaviors are defensive and sketchy. Here (starting at 0:42), he won’t look the interviewer in the eye, his eyes dart all over the place, and he struggles to clarify his point. He’d be more consistent as a communicator if his behavioral skills were stronger. His intentions are good, but the moment didn’t go over as well as he hoped (costing him sponsorships and fans, too).
So What: Have a focused Point of View about what your audience can do with your message. If you want to make a difference instead of make a point, make sure you have call to action instead of a chance to vent or identify a problem.
What did we miss? Was there another moment that grabbed you in 2016? Was there something else you noticed? Tell us in the comments!