The 7 Greatest Communication Successes Of 2011

Media darlings and mavens of masterful storytelling who took center stage with aplomb in 2011.

Welcome to Part 2 of my annual list of who’s been naughty and who's been nice as a speaker or communicator. This week, the winners.

Occupy Wall Street: "We are the 99%" is a brilliant use of language to tell an important story. The OWS group has channeled the anger of citizens toward the businesses and business leaders they believe have benefited at their expense. Like other successful slogans, the statement at once connects the dots for supporters: There are heroes, villains, and an emotional component that is plaintive yet strong. I believe this rallying cry is here to stay and demands for attention and redress will grow. Business and government should take heed.

Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson: We can quibble over the nature of this pro-football player’s public "sharing," but what we should agree on is the skill with which he has managed his enormously successful personal brand. From changing his given name to the Spanish translation of his jersey #85, to his handling of the now forgotten players’ strike by doing other work and refusing to publicly badmouth the owners, to his current 3 million-plus Twitter followers (a million gained since May) Ochocinco's reputation management is masterful.

Steve Jobs: Jobs was the greatest CEO presenter of all time. He knew that substance + style = sales. He proved that being entertaining did not detract from the importance or quality of the product and that being boring would actually have done harm by contradicting the Apple brand he’d labored to establish. Most of all, he understood that speaking beautifully about beautifully designed and functional hardware and software would make oodles of money for workers and investors and make oodles of customers happy.

Genette Cordova: The object of former Congressman Anthony Wiener’s ill-advised tweets, this college journalism student was able to do what many much older, vastly more experienced public figures struggle with: behave with class, propriety, and presence of mind during a media firestorm. Cordova never lost her cool, was polite, and, above all, truthful. As a result, she was believable and the firestorm around her, at least, has been doused.

Maria Shriver: Shriver handled her husband’s very public betrayal in a way consistent with our times. She had recently established herself as a leader in the women’s empowerment movement, one of the characteristics of which is telling it like it is in the daily act of juggling work and family. She reached out to her legions of followers by releasing a series of unglamorous, do-it-yourself videos in which she asked for their advice about getting through tough times. This endearing tactic cemented the relationship all but ensuring attendance at future Maria-sponsored events.

Elizabeth Warren: Even though she is a professor at Harvard Law School, this candidate for U.S. Senator from Massachusetts knows how to speak in plain terms and form a narrative voters can understand and immediately connect with. There is a simple, homespun logic to her statements that anyone can relate to. They make sense in a way data-driven, wonky explanations would not. When Warren speaks, listeners think and feel, "Yeah, she's got that right."

Hillary Clinton: Less than four years ago, Clinton was running for president and being excoriated in the press on many fronts. She is now one of the world’s most admired women doing what she does best: putting her nose to the grindstone and using her considerable brainpower. But she is doing something else, too. Clinton has been loyal and faithful to President Obama despite the fact that he and his campaign took her down. The media and public have thus been forced to change their view of her as a liar and manipulator.

In turn, she is using her bully pulpit to represent and advocate for the Obama administration on some unpopular issues. She is still a terrible, stiff public speaker, but being Secretary of State requires another, related set of skills she is excellent at: what I call "private" speaking. That type of one-on-one, interpersonal relationship-building is critical in her line of work--and all lines of work, actually. Through such focus on communication, Hillary Clinton has reopened some doors and may yet have another chance to become president.

As with the failures, I'm sure I left someone out. Please tell me who.

Also, we're about to embark on a brand new year, certain to be rich in communication failures and successes, so I'd consider it a favor if you see something to say something.

Happy New Year!

Ruth Sherman Associates LLC / High-Stakes Presentation Skills Coaching, Consulting & Media Training for CEOs, Celebrities & Politicians / Greenwich, CT

[Image: Flickr user Jeff Kern]

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3 Comments

  • kiye

    Let me guess, you're the same people who were batshit crazy about the tea party.  Mutual admiration society? Well at least there's a society there to admire, and not a bunch of straight rednecks with a straight redneck message - advocating positions that don't even benefit themselves, not to mention anyone else.

    To my real purpose, and re:ochocinco... if only he could catch the ball as well as he could tweet.

  • Michael Wasylyshyn

    I agree completely with the previous poster.  Just another example of the liberal media "mutual admiration" society...

  • Douglas Wolf

    Well Ruth seems to have a strong penchant for liberals in this column! I would suggest that Michelle Bachmann had a remarkable rise to the lead the pack in Iowa if only to fade like other challengers to Romney. 
    As to OWS, a bunch of lazy, over educated, pampered malcontents did not project a single coherent message that anyone can recall. This is hardly an example of successful communication.