This year’s List of Top Communicators highlights the best (and worst) from business, politics, entertainment and sports. Take a look to see how communications skills helped make or break these notable individuals.
1. Gov. Mike Huckabee – What but for communicating would get a presidential candidate so far so fast?
A few months ago Huckabee was almost an unknown. Now he is a front runner for the Republican Presidential nomination, and probably the fastest rise ever from relative obscurity to the cover of the weekly newsmagazines. Governor Huckabee is open in style, authentic, natural and amazingly great at thinking (and speaking) on his feet. He tells stories, and connects with people. (See more detail here.) Powerful tools when you have to build trust and credibility visually, quickly and mostly through TV. And powerful tools for a leader. Although he has a conservative constituency, they alone could not get him this far this fast. It is his communicating.
2. Dr. Mehmet Oz – He became “America’s Doctor” in one short year, because of his communications (and Oprah of course.)
He is a unique personality, fast eyes, crisp words forcefully put – when he talks about alcohol he says hangover with a hard G. The communication experience he delivers is a man of the people – trusted by the people. He makes a good case for Dress & Appearance – always in surgical scrubs when on Oprah. He is able to synthesize complex health/medical discussions into something tangible – he talks at our level. Add to that straightforward and down to earth advice, funny and real – you have a real (and media) superstar.
3. Al Gore – even if he hadn’t won the Academy Award, Al Gore would get the communicator’s comeback of the year award.
In a few short years he transformed himself as a speaker by becoming open vs closed, vulnerable vs. distant, fluid vs. stiff. He worked at it, and even though he did not ‘invent the internet,’ he did invent ‘global warming.’ Or his film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ gave it the exposure to get in the popular vernacular. But it was Gore himself as narrator of the film who did the job (with a little help from our friends at Duarte Design (see Best Communicators #9 for the importance of visual support in communicating.) Some people think Al Gore deserves the Presidency. I don’t know about that, but he does deserve his many awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize and a top communicator of the year. Who would have thunk it?
4. Ben Zander - this great musical conductor is not only brilliant, he is one of the most sought after speakers on the ‘circuit.’
Contrary to popular belief, there really is no ‘speaking circuit,’ as groups and organizations hire speakers very independently. But if there was one, Ben Zander would be the darling. He speaks on leadership, teamwork and creativity in an original style, yet he is a world-renown musician and conductor.
A master at creativity – he expresses himself with reckless abandon – and makes the case as well as anyone that communication rides energy. As one audience member said, “Trying to describe what Ben Zander does in front of a large audience is like trying to capture the essence of electricity – it crackles, it sparks…”
5. Maria Bartiromo – recent controversy aside, Maria Bartiromo is one of the most articulate, attractive and animated TV commentators around.
She knows her subject well, and has ridden her stint as financial commentator to a news anchor and respected interviewer on CNBC and nationally. Her distinctive style, with a slight New York accent, powerful voice, and eye communications are even more causative of her rise to fame than her full lips. Even when confronted with recent controversy, her confident communicating enabled her to overcome adverse publicity. She will be around for a long time.
6. Tony Dungy – a quiet style, he speaks softly yet carries a big stick.
He was the first NFL Coach to defeat all other 32 NFL teams. He won a Super Bowl and his Indianapolis Colts are contending again this year. Author of the best selling “Quiet Strength,” Tony Dungy is forceful as a person, coach and man. When his son James tragically died in 2005, he spoke up about it, and was vulnerable. When he wanted to put his beliefs up front, he did so with firm conviction. For when he speaks, he is low key but carries a big stick. Big enough to tame the mightiest of football players.
7. Glenn Beck – an unknown except in radio until the last couple of years, Beck is really made for TV.
‘First Brain Friendly’ is a term almost invented for Glenn as he always has a ready smile even amidst strong diatribes. The first communicator to get his own steady hour show on the instant and pop-corny CNN Headline News, he interviews extremely well, is fast on his thinking feet, and is personally vulnerable, which make for great communication attributes.
8. Dr. Jim Dobson -This conservative Christian commentator speaks out on unpopular issues with a force and power of content that belays his soft and humble style.
I heard Dr. Dobson in a speech this year and was amazed at his impact without seemingly raising his voice. He would just be a good ministry leader if he did not shy away from also being an active voice. He embodies our leadership concept of ‘forward lean.’ In this blog account, there are more reasons Dobson excels as a communicator in person, on radio and in print and books.
9. Steve Jobs, Guy Kawasaki, Garr Reynolds – power in supporting visuals.
Here we have three top notch communicators at varying degrees of public impact, but ALL sharing brilliant use of visuals as PowerPoint (or Keynote) support. Steve Jobs was singled out as #1 of the Top Ten two years ago, and could justifiably be so again with his brilliant introduction of the iPhone. Guy Kawasaki was in the Top Ten last year, and deserves it again for consistency of speaking, knowing speaking, and knowing human impact. (And having the biggest blog in the communications arena.) Garr Reynolds is new to the list, but probably is the best at knowing all there is to know about design and PowerPoints, and is just out with his great new book ‘Presentation Zen.’ (See his blog of the same name so you too can use PowerPoint support the way it’s supposed to be used.)
10. Oprah Winfrey - the only reason she’s number 10 this year is because she’s been on the list in past years.
And she probably deserves to be on each year’s Ten Best Communicators list since she is so good, so versatile, and rather than reinventing herself she builds on what she has already created. She isn’t afraid of risking, in communicating and in life. She spoke up sharply and with power when there was scandal in her Foundation, and no doubt will continue to be a role model for great communications because of her energy, vulnerability and consistency.
Continue on for the Ten Worst by clicking the link below…
The Ten Worst Communicators of 2007
1. Alberto Gonzales – he not only lied, but showed he was lying because of
Even when he could no longer lie and had to apologize to his fans and the general public he did it in the most non-convincing way possible. Former Attorney Alberto Gonzales was kept on for a long time by President Bush, but to no avail – he could not talk his way out of a very strong appearance of guilt that was caused by his communications as much as actions.
2. Michael Vick – when you want your public AND the judges empathy,
it is not the time to ‘gut it out’ and put on a stone face.
What Vick did was bad enough, but how he handled himself made it worse. Stiff, appearing aloof and distant, he communicated that he was as bad as his press. This is a young man who had an amazing talent and he was unable to parlay that into Character, which is the most important quality in a leader.
3. Robert Eckert – the Chairman of Mattel was caught in a toy recall disaster probably not of his making, but ‘the buck stops here.’
And he did not take advantage of his spokesman role to turn the tide for Mattel in the recall of lead painted toys made in China. He said the words, but his manner belied sincerity. One of the YouTube clips could be subtitled, ‘How to be a disaster’ . The hand tenting, eye communication and facial expression are vivid examples of Emerson’s quote ‘What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.’
4. Bud Selig – the steroid scandal is bad enough, but you don’t have to look farther than Baseball’s leadership to see why it has gone this far.
One of the worst communicators even before this year, Commissioner Bud Selig could be called Big Scowl. This Bud could never nip it in the bud. He reeks of ineptness culminating in his ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and lack of authenticity. Baseball sure could do better, and don’t expect the scandals to end anytime soon as long as Bud Selig continues to waffle in communicating and in decisions.
5. Nancy Grace - the worst last year, she hasn’t gotten any better.
I still don’t know why she is on the air – perhaps it has a similarity to the fact that we tend to like looking at spectacular disasters. Harsh, snarly and abrasive, she remains on the air, but diminished in stature.
6. Fred Thompson – high expectations dashed!
When the venerable Senator/Actor announced for the Republican presidency, he was expected to rocket to the top. Instead he fell to the bottom of the polls, which surprised a lot of people – me included. What happened to the credible, authoritative, smiling person we had known? We now saw an uncertain, hemming and hawing figure with downcast eyes. Of all people who should have shined in the debates, he has become a tarnished also ran because of poor communication and not meeting our expectations.
7. Larry Craig – high expectations dashed, Part II. And a bit more serious.
Here we had no communications expectations of Senator Larry Craig, but we did have at least expectations that a Senator would at least tell the truth. Boy, talk about body language. Foot signals and tapping do communicate, and for Craig his ‘unconscious communications’ became conscious very quickly. Plus he should have said what he meant, or nothing at all. To plead guilty to escape shame just does not track as truth. The soon to be ex-Senator Criag gave us a lesson in how NOT to handle a crisis.
8. Janet Jackson – body shape changes, but communication doesn’t.
Here is a case of a person who has been through a lot and is a great performer, but cannot convert that to credibility in person. Janet Jackson has a great voice, but when she speaks it is high and squeaky, and she lacks authority. She is unfortunately an example of many public figures who perform with confidence yet speak poorly – potential influence wasted.
9. George Bush - it is tragic when the bully pulpit is not used effectively.
President Bush gets on the worst communicators because of another loss of potential. His lack of speaking ability, detailed on these pages and elsewhere, have unfortunately made his opinions seem less and less important. He had his most recent press conference on December 20, and it was worse than a yawner. Nobody was listening. No news headlines, and amazingly little coverage for a President. He has the power of position, but not persuasion, and that is tragic in any leader, much less the leader of the United States.
10. Suze Orman – many people like her, I don’t get it.
Suze Orman is knowledgeable and opinionated, but strident and sharp. Most of us like our financial information from a trusted and credible source. Suze is an admitted media star, and supposedly knowledgeable from being an author, but in person she projects sarcasm and bite. So she makes the list, but for Suze lovers, at least she is among the best of the worst.
So what do you think?