Why was Walter Cronkite the epitome of trust? Trust is an essential quality to have in any communicating experience, particularly newscasting. And every article, blog or TV clip mentions how Walter Cronkite was so trusted. What can we learn?
I think there are three primary elements (of many) that made him "the most trusted man in America", and perhaps the most successful newscaster of all time. Two of them have oft been mentioned, so I'll just mention some adjectives here because they are well sprinkled in other more weighty commentaries on his passing, and then concentrate on the third one, which I have not yet read nor seen...
Walter Cronkite: Even temperament, tough, disciplined, hard working, news leader, values, accurate, thorough researcher, thought leader.
As Lyndon Johnson said when Cronkite came back from Vietnam and reported that we were NOT going to win that war, "If we've lost Cronkite we've lost mid-America."
Walked the talk, did his homework, loved his work, authentic, consistent, highly skilled.
Although he could read script and teleprompters with skill, he excelled (and preferred) to be extemporaneous and real, as when he told the nation of JFK's assassination.
This is an area that is not often mentioned, but in my view is critical to the trust that Walter Cronkite engendered.
First, a question on trust. If you didn't know their names, of these two public figures whom would you tend to trust more?
Now I don't mean to disparage Michael Chertoff, and he may even have the character and behavior of a Walter Cronkite for all I know, but looking at his face alone he is at a disadvantage in the trust sweepstakes. There are other examples of course, but here it's like night and day, black and white, closed and open.
Face: Walter Cronkite was called Uncle Walter because he was open and approachable - largely because he looked open and approachable. Walter Cronkite had the face and the voice to be "the most trusted man in America." This is not talked of much - perhaps it seems superficial - but it is not. Our facial expression 'speaks' volumes without saying a word.
Yet many people have a trustworthy face, but most don't have qualities #1 and #2 above. Of course there are a lot of people who have character and who walk the talk, but they don't 'look' that trustworthy. For the former, work on #1 and #2. For the latter...
Although we can't do a lot with changing our face, we can change our expression and our attitude. Particularly if we tend to appear closed, and not friendly or open. It's critical to our communications, and worth working on. In Walter Cronkite's case, he was unique in having one of the most welcoming faces in America to go with his skill and credentials.
Voice: And what a deep, resonant and ear pleasing voice Cronkite had. All of us who have heard him often can recall today that voice like no other. It IS the voice of trust. Always calm, never strident. Conversational but not casual.
We are fortunate if our voice naturally gives us credibility. No matter, our voice gives our feelings away - like it or not. In the age of the cell phone we ought to take note. We can work on our vocal energy and enthusiasm. If we work hard we can affect the tone and resonance of our voice, and professionals must train at this. In the age of podcasts and YouTube replacing newscasts - the voice becomes even more important for credibility and influence. For professionals - and for us. For we are communicating daily to others, when it counts, on the phone - no matter what our occupation.
So with Walter Cronkite, perhaps we had the 'perfect storm.' In this one man came together the blessings of his physical nature that he honed, along with the character and behavior of a man that was destined to become the foremost newscaster of the ages - and a man we can trust. He will be missed. May he inspire all of us.