This Annual List of Top Ten Communicators of 2008 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:
1. Barack Obama
As his star continues to rise, there’s just no contest for #1 Best Communicator.
And it’s not just because he was elected President that he deserves #1, but that he was elected President BECAUSE of his communications ability. President Elect Obama is the first repeat at #1 (2006) and for the same reason. He vaulted from obscurity on the strength of his words and speeches at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and just kept talking. To date he hasn't really done much except communicate. Shows you how important that skill is. One of the greatest modern orators, we’ll now see if he can replace Bill Clinton as “the great communicator” while in office.
2. Tim Russert
He was one of the best, and we’ll miss him.
One of our best TV journalists died this year, and he would have made this list without the posthumous honor. Russert was personable, energetic and open but also tough, incisive and smart. Meet The Press, and Network TV News will never be the same. His son Luke Russert was eloquent in his eulogy, and maybe there will be more…
3. Randy Pausch
An unknown, until he gave one speech about his mortality.
“The Last Speech” of 48 year old Professor Randy Pausch has deservedly received an amazing 8 million views on YouTube by 2008. This popular Professor took the stage at Carnegie Mellon late in 2007 to announce that this would be his last speech. He was dying of cancer. And this one singular moment remains a classic communication masterpiece – in addition to the emotion without maudlin, Pausch is funny, energetic and fully engaging. He did continue to speak in smaller settings until his death on July 25, 2008, and his communicating led to the best selling book “The Last Lecture”.
4. Colin Powell
Always great, in 2008 he gave the interview of the year.
Colin Powell has always been a great communicator, and thereby a great leader. He is on the Top Ten this year for his masterful press conference when he endorsed Barack Obama. Clear, strong and in control in a Q&A with Tom Brokaw, Powell gave Obama perhaps the final boost he needed. It came from a highly respected communicator who himself could perhaps have been President had he chosen. He communicates like a President should.
5. Mike Huckabee
The one repeat from last year – he can’t be held down.
Governor Huckabee deserves his repeat on the Top Ten Best list (he was #1 in 2007) because of what he continued to accomplish with his speaking style and quick wit. He did two new things of note in 2008: Became an upset winner and viable candidate for the Presidency before his ‘value proposition’ did him in. Then he went on to be a conservative spokesperson with a national TV Show on Fox, called “Huckabee”. I hunch he will continue to thrive because he communicates well in any setting.
6. John Chambers
A remarkable businessman who’s speaking ability drives his company.
It’s good to have a businessman on the Best list in this economically woeful year. Cisco CEO John Chambers is a remarkable communicator who has led the evolution of Cisco Systems into the "human network." As a spokesperson for the industry. He is articulate, an advocate (and on issues beyond business), and a highly respected innovator (such as in this 3D Telepresence demo from India). When government leaders and Presidential candidates want to align with a powerful business person, they call on Chambers.
7. Sarah Palin
A remarkable woman in a remarkable rise to celebrity.
She electrified the public with her speaking ability and galvanized the Republican base. But I was even more impressed at her confidence under pressure. Several times. She was mocked by the media after McCain picked her as her choice for VP, until her acceptance speech when she wowed the country. After some missteps she was again counted out by the media and most others, until her electrifying speech at the Republican Convention. As a pure speaker on a national stage – whether using the teleprompter or not - she is surprisingly the best of all the candidates, including Obama. It’s the other communicating where she falls short. (See the Worst list below.)
8. The New Communicators – Nancy and Garr, Seth and Guy
There’s a new breed of communicator, and they are leading a vanguard.
There are those who speak well, and also use the new tools of communication in creating a new paradigm for connecting and influencing in a shrinking electronic world:
• Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds – both are best known for their design brilliance, but in 2008 they have exploded in impact with books and blogs. Nancy has written ‘Slide:ology’ and Garr has written ‘Presentation Zen’ – and both books are amazing best sellers that have revolutionized the business presentation business. Although they deal with design, both books are different and more profound – they deal with communicating messages effectively. PowerPoint will never be the same thank goodness. And Nancy and Garr are now in high demand on the ‘professional speaking circuit’ as well because they also communicate with excellence face-to-face.
• Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki – both are guru’s in the tech/internet/social media space, because they are brilliant, speak brilliantly and funny, and then cast their influence further through books and blogs, tweets and tele, speaking and showering pithiness wherever they go. I’m amazed when I ask a business client if they’ve heard of Seth and his book ‘Tribes’, or Guy and his book ‘Reality Check’ (or any of their many other books) and I sometimes hear the response, “Who?” If you haven’t heard of any of these four, you will soon. And seek them out. They are the new communicators, coming at you in all media.
9. Tina Fey
How could she not be on the Top Ten Best list?
Tina Fey is not only a top comedienne, a brilliant writer and producer of the Emmy winning series “30 Rock” but a sought after celebrity. Newsday even called it "The Year of the Fey." And though she became a household name in 2008 because of her uncanny Sarah Palin parodies on Saturday Night Live, she was on the rise well before. She is always real, natural and honest, and she will be a communicating force in the future, and probably beyond television.
10. Anderson Cooper
He’s one of a kind – leading a new breed of journalists.
Hard hitting yet compassionate. Personable yet objective. Anderson Cooper is incisive and engaged (images of Anderson Cooper being blown about in a hurricane come to mind). And above all he’s savvy. Cooper not only speaks with no hesitation, he can control a loud group of CNN spin-doctors with a light touch. When he does a set piece, it is a conversation rather than a lecture. He’s come far, and should go even farther.
The Ten Worst Communicators of 2008
1. George Bush
When George Bush speaks, nobody listens.
That is perhaps the greatest tragedy of this Presidency – the Bully Pulpit is gone. And it basically has been missing since shortly after September 11, 2001, President Bush’s one moment in time of powerful communicating. In the few weeks on and after 9/11 he was authentic, strong and powerful. He felt our pain and communicated leadership. But soon after he slipped back to the shrugs and smirks, and tangles of syntax and grammar. It perhaps reached a nadir in the response to Katrina. Such is not the communications of a leader. Having so little influence this past year, it is sad to put our President as the #1 worst communicator of 2008.
2. Richard Fuld
More than a poster child.
The CEO of Lehman is more than the poster child for the greed that was a big cause of our financial mess of this past year. Richard Fuld is also incompetent as a communicator, and not only gave a terrible visual impression in his congressional testimony, but what he said was as bad as how he looked. When you have made $430 million dollars you don’t act arrogant, nose uplifted, as your company goes broke. You don’t parse obtuse PowerPoints on national television, and not reap the consequences. A sad day for business, and a devastating day for Lehman Brothers.
3. Rod Blagojevich
The hair, and everything else.
Well, appearance isn’t everything, but why the long hair (a 50 year old trying to be an 18 year old), and then the obfuscation, then the maneuvering. To say nothing of the eye dart and fidgety manner on camera. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is fighting the charges of corruption, and looks like he will drag it to the bitter end. So we’ll probably see more of the stark comparison of the communications and the manner of the pursued, Blagojevich, with the pursuer, Federal Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who is excellent in manner and content.
4. Elliot Spitzer
The tragic fall of a Governor who can actually speak quite well.
Tragedy occurs when a character is brought to ruin caused by his own weaknesses. NY Governor Elliot Spitzer’s fall as a rising star was never more apparent as in his 'mea culpa' speech, where he had not planned to resign. He was anything but resigned in manner. What was evident was his hubris and arrogance in communicating that he did 'something' without acknowledging breaking the law consorting with prostitutes. And to have his wife sadly standing by as he shows no humility – now that’s a tragedy.
5. Roger Clemens
Another fall from grace.
It seems that 2008 was a year with many falls from high platforms (and we haven’t even included John Edwards who was a Presidential candidate.) Although perhaps not as serious as Elliot Spitzer but just as sad was the case of baseball hero Roger Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. When Clemens lied to the Congressional panel about his history with his trainer, steroids, and then later about consorting with young women – there were millions of young boys who lost a hero. We need our heros, and we need them to speak the truth with confidence. This baseball great tried to speak with confidence on this national stage of congress, but he faltered, and it did not ring true.
6. Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin was both the best, and the worst.
From the stage and platform, and when well prepared, Sarah Palin is a great communicator. (She’s on the Top Ten Best List). But when she is either unprepared or caught off guard, she is a disaster. This is very unusual, and I can’t remember seeing it on this big a scale. Palin is actually good in an interview when she knows her subject (as in this clip with Maria Bartiromo talking about Alaska gas exploration). But millions now have seen her unprepared with Katie Couric, where she picks the wrong things to say. It’s a matter of judgment that did her in, as she chooses confidently but glibly. And this includes making a televised statement at Thanksgiving with a backdrop of a farmer preparing a turkey for slaughter. Palin is a paradox – a study in contrasts. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here.
7. Dan Rather
Rather is finally rousted.
Likability is paramount, and Dan Rather never had it. Think of likability and trust – they go hand in hand, as in Walter Cronkite. On the other hand we have Rather, who in both communication style and affability is curt and distant, and ultimately made a mistake that finally forced him out. And the only reason it took so long was the CBS brass for some reason kept him on in spite of diminishing ratings. (Katie Couric caught off guard comments on him.) His story of lack of communication connectedness is featured in my newly revised book just out, “You’ve Got To Be Believed To Be Heard.”
8. Al Davis
This man is grim.
Al Davis owns the Oakland Raiders, and he is grim. He could afford to be grim and distant from the press when he was winning, and he was. Now the Oakland Raiders are losing - badly, over many years with a record six seasons of 11 plus losses – and Al Davis is firing his coaches annually. And with vitriol. He looks, sounds and acts grim. People can be forgiven for making mistakes, but Al Davis is on this list because in never acknowledging his mistakes he is acerbic, closed, and arrogant. And looks like he is wrong too.
9. Rosie O’Donnell
This woman is grim.
Rosie O’Donnell is grim, and that’s not good for a comedienne. Rosie should be Rosie, but she not only gets caught up in mud slinging battles with her peers (past) on The View, and Donald Trump, and the media, she is vitriolic in her diatribes on political issues. Her face shows anger and intolerance. She has a good vocabulary but it doesn’t take her very far. Her new show Rosie Live premiered in November and bombed. Her popularity continues to diminish as her humor dims.
10. John McCain
A man of character but not of communication.
Although John McCain might not have won the presidency even if he was as good a speaker as Barack Obama, he still could have done much better. Sure it was tough to overcome the burden of Iraq, the economy and the unpopularity of George Bush. But when you’re counted down and out before you’ve picked your Vice Presidential choice, something else is wrong. And then when your VP choice of Sarah Palin so overwhelms your candidacy because of HER communications, you know where the problem is. It’s sad too, because McCain was so much better in his concession speech and after the campaign, when he could just be himself. Just think what might have happened if he had communicated with the same naturalness during the campaign.