What Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and You Have in Common
There is no such thing as a natural born communicator. People in the public eye including executives, television hosts, and especially candidates for public office become “naturals” by practicing—and often with the help of a communication coach.
You’ve probably experienced the wedding or formal occasion in which a favorite relative, let’s call him good ole Uncle Joe, rises and delivers an entertaining toast. He seems to know exactly what to say and his toasts always resonate with the crowd. After Good ole Uncle Joe sits down, people whisper perhaps with a tinge of jealousy, “He’s a natural.” However, little do they know that good ole Uncle Joe practiced that toast a dozen times before he delivered it. The notion of the natural born communicator is a myth!
Jay Leno seems to effortlessly deliver his current events-oriented monologues as if he read the morning paper and waltzed into work just before air time. In reality, Leno practices monologues and comedy routines repeatedly in the hours leading up to taping. He is often the first Tonight Show employee to arrive for work and the last to leave. Making it look easy for viewers requires lots of practice.
In politics, the late Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have both been hailed as fabulous communicators. Many have called them “naturals.” Are they? Ronald Reagan spent more than a quarter century learning lines, practicing and evaluating himself as an actor before he entered politics. If you believe Bill Clinton was always a great communicator, find the video of his speech to the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. He delivered a long, rambling and boring lecture that got the biggest applause when he said “In conclusion.” Many wrote him off as a player in national politics, because he failed to connect with the audience. Clinton learned from this blunder and focused like a laser beam on improving his communication skills. When he thanked his party for his two terms as President during the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, he delivered perhaps the most effective speech in recent political history.
Some in politics believe that you either have it or you don’t. It is that magical ability to dazzle television viewers or a live audience. You may know a candidate who never practices but who can handle the toughest of questions and look like a glib leader on Meet the Press. How do you know this candidate never practices or has never been coached? Many candidates, executives, and television hosts would prefer that people consider them natural born communicators. They want you to think that their ability to dazzle and motivate is divine. This image adds to the mystique and makes people feel that they are uniquely qualified to lead. In reality, these candidates practice. They often do it secretly—and with a communication coach.
Communication coaching combines practice with guidance. What may take a candidate weeks to accomplish by practicing solo can often be accomplished in a few hours. Communication coaching is the secret weapon of countless candidates for public office who get elected. The right coach can polish a candidate’s media and presentation ability by carefully analyzing traits that impede clarity and interfere with the candidate’s message. The coach intensively works with the candidate to improve voice tone, language, body language and to communicate clearly and concisely. Also, coaching gives the candidate skills for staying on message, answering tough questions, projecting a leadership image and motivating voters.
The next time you see a candidate, executive or a leader who dazzles an audience, realize that person has done a lot of practicing and has been coached. Natural born communicators exist only in imaginations.
Copyright © 2004 by Evan Rosen. All rights reserved.