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.
The Ten Best
1. Steve Jobs – a unique, energetic and dramatic business presenter - his MacWorld announcements have become an anticipated experience, with this year’s unveiling of the video iPod a classic Jobs job.
2. Oprah Winfrey – she has had her own TV show since she was 21, and has never been better. Open, vulnerable, funny and compassionate, Oprah has become a conglomerate largely because of her communication ability and larger than life presence (even when she lost weight). She also launched Dr. Phil, an outstanding communicator who wasn't on this year's Top Ten list only because he was #1 on last year's list.
3. Pope John Paul – the Pope has departed, but not his memory, nor his dramatic impact on the world. Although infirm in his later years, his forceful and energetic speaking and travels changed millions, and left a legacy that will be remembered.
4. Condoleezza Rice – she didn’t rise to the top just because of her advice to George Bush. This Secretary of State has always been a great communicator – articulate, firm, smiling in adversity and animated. And she plays classical piano to boot.
5. Patrick Fitzgerald – this prosecuting attorney did an outstanding job in well over an hour of announcing the indictment of Scooter Libby. He did NOT use a teleprompter, but he talked without a non-word in detailing a lot of details! Very impressive (see post from 10/28). And although controversial, because of his powerful and persuasive performance, not one peep of commentary attacked him.
6. Charles Schwab – “Talk To Chuck” is their new ad campaign, and there’s a reason for it. Chuck Schwab is likeable and trustworthy – the key marks of a person who connects at the emotional level. He is all of that, and for his consistent display of values and success, he deserves a spot on the Top Ten Best.
7. Bono - a true rock star both in and out of concert venues. Direct, charming, and endlessly energetic – he is known for bringing world leaders together (from the right and the left) to make philanthropic miracles happen. Time Magazine took notice and noted him as a Top Person of 2005.
8. Janet Parshall – talk show radio host of Janet Parshall’s America, she is quick thinking and glib, yes, but more. She takes controversial issues and communicates with respect, power and grace. Having seen Parshall speak at conferences, she is even more animated and energetic in person. If you get the chance, don’t miss her. There’s a reason Talker’s Magazine listed her as one of the all time Top 100.
9. Nido Qubein – a remarkable success story, Nido arrived in America as an 18 year old with $50 in his pocket. He worked to go to High Point University in North Carolina, where now he is President. He has had a remarkable first year, while also working as Chairman of Great Harvest Bread Company, and several other organizations. A major philanthropist, Nido rose to success from speaking, both professionally and in business.
10. Malcolm Gladwell – although known for his books The Tipping Point and Blink, Malcolm is also a great communicator in person. A storyteller with a wry wit, he is in demand continuously for corporate business conferences, and at very high fees! He also deserves a place on this list because of the profound importance and impact of his book Blink on the unconscious communication process. And it’s a good read.
The Ten Worst
1. Michael Chertoff – the Secretary of Homeland Security is number one this year and only partly for his role in the FEMA incompetence during Hurricane Katrina (after all, he is the boss.) Primary problem - he does not inspire, and never has. It’s not just because he is always backing and filling in WHAT he says about FEMA’s problems, but he does not inspire confidence in HOW he says it. He was never a good communicator, and in appearance alone, is aquiline in feature and harsh of tongue. No warm or fuzzy feelings here, and the things that come out of his mouth do nothing to counter his uncaring appearance. The experience of Chertoff is not positive.
2. Jeannine Pirro – In August she announced running against Hillary Clinton for her New York Senate seat, and as she read her announcement she lost a page, asked “does anyone have page 10?” and then left a 30-second excruciating pause while she fumbled around. Maybe her campaign didn’t end with that major error, but she dropped out of the race a few weeks ago. First message: Don’t read speeches! Second message: When you lay an egg, acknowledge it, and move on.
3. Michael Brown – the ex-Director of FEMA took most of the heat for the messed up operation, and deservedly so. At least from what he communicated. He was not forceful or direct, lacked eye communication and had little animation. Which probably reflected his leadership – although we don’t know that for sure, we always infer the experience of the leadership of a person from the experience of their communication.
4. Mark McGuire – poor Mark McGuire. If only he had been more prepared and coached for his Senate testimony in the steroid hearings. Eyes moving like a scared rabbit, he stiffly invoked the Fifth. Perfect example of how we believe what we see, and not what we hear. If he was that uncomfortable at the plate he wouldn’t have hit even ONE home run, much less 70 in one year. This was a strike out.
5. Martha Stewart – despite a banner year for Martha – out of jail, two new television shows, and a new magazine – she’s among the worst. Though not quite as stoic as she was pre- incarceration, her mannerisms and lack of expression result in a communications experience that is aloof and tedious, rather than warm and engaging. And when you contrast her version of The Apprentice with that of Donald Trump’s, it’s easy to see why she was cancelled, while he’s casting his next season.
6. Lee Raymond – CEO of Exxon/Mobile gives us another strike out in televised Congressional hearings. Mr. Raymond is symbolic of the stonewalling that has been unfortunately forthcoming from the oil companies in the wake of outrageously high gas prices. We all want someone to blame, and it is so easy to blame the Oil Companies when we have CEOs testify in a stiff, unanimated and obfuscatory way. They could use some expert training for such an important performance.
7. Angie and Markus – these two finalists from Seasons 3 and 4 of The Apprentice were fired by The Donald because of their lack of communication ability. Angie was just unfortunate – her nervousness did her in as she stumbled and umm’d and ahh’d through an executive presentation. Markus was totally unfocused, and unfortunately for him hilarious in the process. Here are two people who beat out hundreds of thousands to get on the show, and when the pressure was on, did not know how to communicate.
8. Harriet Miers – another case of where we are saddened when one’s shining moment is eclipsed by a lack of communication ability. The time to learn and practice is before the spotlight is on. In stark contrast to preceding and successful candidate John Roberts, poor Ms. Miers seemed lost in the process of her nomination for Supreme Court Justice, and left almost no choice but withdrawal. The image that is symbolic of her short campaign is one of sitting almost orphan like at the end of a couch while waiting for an interview. We want and respect more confidence, force and energy from our leaders to be.
9. Tom Cruise – a perfect example of overdoing it (a la couch jumping on the Oprah show). Though well regarded as one of Hollywood’s most talented and successful actors, he takes his profession to the extreme, and remains a thespian off camera. His every word, movement and laugh appears methodically contrived and rehearsed – even in candid interviews. There is nothing natural or trustworthy about him.
10. President George Bush – The problems of the President would not go away if he was a great communicator, but they might be at least cut in half. President Bush continues to be inconsistent in his communications (see posts from 12/18-19), and only adequate in the informal and casual. In the formal settings (which are when we most often see him) he IS formal, and does not connect with the listener through eye communication and smile as past presidents have. On the contrary he continues to appear awkward and stiff, and he does not read teleprompters well. Not good for a President.