Barack Obama's September 24 Economic Crisis Remarks: 5 Communication Best Practices

Whether one is Republican, Democrat or Independent, most people agree that Barack Obama is a master of highly effective communication. In Say It Like Obama: the Power of Speaking with Purpose and Vision (www.sayitlikeobama.com), I examine many of the best practices that have helped make Obama an outstanding communicator. Yesterday, Barack Obama provided another useful example for our consideration. Before the press, he issued comments in response to the news that Senator John McCain would suspend his campaign and in response to McCain’s suggestion that the presidential debates scheduled for Friday, September 26, 2008 should be postponed. For leaders seeking to improve their own communication skills, it is worth considering at least five practices that made Obama’s comments of September 24 effective.

1. Excellent use of props and image. Staging can always be important. For Obama, issuing his remarks in a formal setting, while dressed in business attire and flanked by large American flags, helped project him as "presidential." Setting and props go a long way in sending sub-messages that reinforce the key themes a leader is seeking to put forth.

2. Excellent use of nonverbal language. Obama’s confident body language and determined tone reinforced his commanding stature. It’s possible to communicate volumes without speaking a word.

3. Leveraging the language of a leader. Obama’s choice of words also reinforced the presidential image he sought to project. For instance, when he vetted questions about whether he should return to Washington to focus exclusively on forthcoming legislation, Obama replied with an emphatic ‘I am prepared to be anywhere at any time’ as needed to help resolve the crisis. He also insisted, ‘presidents are going to need to deal with more than one thing’ at a time. There was no hesitation. No doubts cracking through his tone. His remarks and intonation conveyed certitude about his choices. His delivery reinforced the notion, ‘if you want to be a leader, you have to talk like one.’

4. Drawing attention to initiative. Obama drew attention skillfully to the fact that he had taken the initiative to call McCain on the morning of September 24, 2008, to suggest that they issue a joint statement to "send a strong signal" to members of Congress. The point of the joint statement: to encourage and lead Congress to take decisive, effective steps to address America’s economic crisis. In highlighting this early morning phone call, Obama steered attention to his willingness to take the initiative as a leader. Initiative, initiative. Roll the sleeves up and get it done. Very good for impressions.

5. Conveying ethics. During his remarks, Obama asserted that partisan politics should be kept out of efforts to address America’s prevailing economic crisis. To many ears, this sounds like a leader taking a strong, positive stand of putting the country first. While critics can argue these were "just words"—and, certainly whether the nonpartisanship pans out in reality is a separate matter—the words nonetheless can potentially build good morale, laying a foundation for consensus building. Camaraderie, strong morale, unity—great for effective teamwork.

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  • Alice Korngold

    Shel, I particularly enjoyed reading this post after watching tonight's first presidential debate between Obama and McCain. And given that Obama is such a role model to young adults who are so deeply engaged in the political process, it is terrific that you are translating Obama's communications skills for the next generation of leaders. There is a lot we can all learn from these excellent five lessons. Thank you! Alice