Obama Opens Mouth, Inserts Booth Feet

President Obama’s comment during a Wednesday, July 22 national press conference that “the Cambridge police acted stupidly” during a July 16 arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., a black Harvard University professor, is a matter of speaking before understanding the facts.

Whether the Cambridge police accepted appropriately is not the issue as it relates to Obama’s comment. No U.S. President should speak publically without knowing the facts.  When a President, particularly one as popular as Obama, makes a statement, it takes on tremendous credibility for much of the population.  Such a remark is dangerous in that it may sway people’s views and potentially ignite a fire storm of misunderstanding, debate and criticism, as is currently the situation.

The lesson for President Obama and for all of us is to get the facts before offering an opinion.  All too frequently people state their views without taking the time to understand the issues.  If you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t say anything.

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President Obama Fails to Inspire on 60 Minutes

President Barak Obama missed an important opportunity to build hope for the success of his economic program this evening on CBS’s 60 Minutes program. With the economy in a recession that could spiral down into a full blown depression, the American people are looking for assurance from the President that the steps that the administration and the Federal Reserve are taking will work. Instead we saw a man who appeared uncertain, wishy-washy and light hearted.

Asked by Steve Croft if he thought that the people on Wall Street believed in him, Obama skirted the question. He began with, “Part of my job is to communicate to them “look, I believe in the market, I believe in financial innovation and I believe in success and that I want them to do well” and then went on to say that the pay on Wall Street is out of balance. He failed to answer the question in an inspiring manner. For instance, he might have said, “There are some on Wall Street who have concerns. And over the next days and weeks my administration and I will be taking steps to ensure that Wall Street understands that the plans that we putting will place will take us out of the recession and create a period of tremendous growth in the country.”

Asked who will work for the banks and investment firms if their investment professionals are limited to bonuses of $250,000, the President said that these people should go to North Dakota, Iowa or Arkansas, where people would be thrilled to earn $75,000. This type of condescending statement doesn’t add credence to his earlier statement that he “believes in success” and will only further the schism between him and Wall Street.

A number of times during the interview, Obama laughed inappropriately and gave the appearance that his was making light of the economic situation. Asked by Croft why he was laughing about the predicament of the automobile industry, Obama explained it as “gallows humor.”

Furthering the perception that the President lacked conviction, were the number of non-positive words that he use liberally throughout the interview:

  • “uh” – 122 times
  • “I think” – 11 times
  • “I tried” – 4 times

Think about how Winston Churchill (“We will not surrender”), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”) or Martin Luther King (“We as a people will get to the promise land”) would have spoken.

Lastly, I’d like to see our President sound more Presidential by dropping some his colloquialisms, such as the word “stuff”, as in “He (Geitner) has a lot of stuff on his plate.” His wife was “planting stuff” in the garden. When asked about the White House, he described it as “pretty nice digs.”

Here’s how I rate the President’s 60 Minutes interview on the three most important parts of any presentation on a scale of 0 – 10, with 10 being the highest:

  • How he looked: 7. He looked sharp in his navy blue suit, light blue shirt and blue tie. Nice smile, good eye contact. I’ve taken on point away for his not wearing over the calf socks and therefore exposing his leg as he sat with his legs crossed during the interview. Another two points for the inappropriate laughter.
  • How he sounded: 5. The preponderance of weak words were a killer.
  • What he said: 5. He missed the chance to create hope, and hope is what he need now more than ever.
  • Overall score: 6
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The Power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Words

As we reflect back on the life of a great man on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I think about what a dynamic speaker this man was. He had the unparalleled ability to not only powerfully deliver the message, but to choose positive, inspiring words.

Never once did I hear him utter a “non-positive” word. Non-positive words are neither positive nor negative, they’re somewhere in the middle. Some of the most frequently used non-positives are “think,” “believe” and “feel,” as in “I think I provide excellent service.” That begs the question, do you or don’t you? Other examples of non-positives include “hopefully,” “probably” and “maybe.”

But Martin Luther King Jr. never equivocated. He was never wishy-washy. He was always direct, positive and confident. One of my favorite examples is when he spoke in Birmingham, AL, on the night before his death April 4, 1968. As he finished his rousing speech, he prophetically concluded “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promise land.”

Despite the previous five days of social unrest during which 2,500 African Americans were jailed, there appeared to be no doubt in his mind about getting to the promise land. No “I think,” “I believe,” “maybe” or “hopefully,” just a simple, yet profound “we as a people will get to the promise land.”

And now, here we are 41 years later on the eve of the U. S. Presidential Inauguration of the first African American U. S. President. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words inspired a generation of Americans of all races and, perhaps, a young boy by the name of Barrack Obama.

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I think Caroline Kennedy will

I think Caroline Kennedy will, I mean, could, uh, become a, you know, senator.

Caroline Kennedy has attracted significant media attention since declaring herself a candidate to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate seat once held by her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Never having held or sought public office before, she has shied away from the public stage other than her speeches at the DNC Conventions in 2000 and 2008.

Now the significant media attention that she has received has given us a good look at Ms. Kennedy as a communicator and the result is painful to observe. In television and print interviews in December, the perception that she created was one of uncertainty and ambiguity.

During an interview with New York Times reporters on December 27, 2008, she used the expression “you know” 138 times. When you use fillers such as “you know” or “uh”, it is a signal to the listener that you are filling your time with meaningless words while you think of what you are going to say next. The result is that you appear uninformed, nervous or both.

In the following answer to a question about how serving as a Senator might impact her relationship with her family, she used “you know” seven times:

“I mean, both of us have had a lot of commitments, you know, up till now I think we’ve both put our family first. And my kids are really supportive of this idea, I think they understand that it will make — you know, bring change for them. But you know, again, I think this is, you know, I think he’s someone who’s committed to, you know, education, science education, you know, he makes children’s museums, you know, this is, he —“

Moreover, she comes across as uncertain by using the non-positive expression “I think.” By saying “I think” she places some doubt in the mind of the listener about her confidence in what she’s saying. It’s as if she’s saying, I think this is correct, but I’m not positive. In the above answer she said “I think” four times and 128 during the entire interview.

Click here to read the New York Times interview. Click her to see a five-minute edit of her 30-minute interview on Manhattan’s local news channel NY1.

Ms. Kennedy’s articulation gaffs likely won’t have a significant impact on her quest for the New York Senate seat, but it will diminish her perception as a communicator. Ultimately, it will have a negative impact on her effectiveness as a leader.

Do you have fillers and non-positives in your conversations with people? To find out, tape record yourself and listen carefully to the words you chose. If you hear fillers and non-positive words, practice eliminating them in everyday conversation. Just give yourself a mental slap every time you get ready to use one. Soon you’ll be free of these distracting words and on your way to creating the perception of a confident, positive communicator.

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Lloyd Ogilvie Perfectly Delivers Inspiring Thanksgiving Speech

Lloyd John Ogilvie, Pastor Emeritus of First Presbyterian Church, Hollywood, and former Chaplain, U.S. Senate, delivered a speech last Friday that kept the rapt attention of the two hundred members and guests of the Rotary Club of Los Angeles. Those of us fortunate enough to attend were treated to an inspiring Thanksgiving message delivered by a master communicator.

Avoiding the normal extraneous comments made by most speakers, Ogilvie startled the audience by shouting “You bigot!” as he opened his talk with a humorous story about a man who accosted him because he thought a sign in front of the church read “Presbyterians” instead of “Pedestrians.”

Ogilvie then went on to speak of one of the greatest qualities of life – gratitude. Pointing out that gratitude is the not only the essence of Thanksgiving, it is a way of life. After all, he said, “God created it. We require it. And people never tire of it.” Moreover, Ogilvie pointed out that gratitude produces an attitude of humility. Yet, he cautioned, as important as gratitude is, there are some who thrive on withholding it as a way of controlling others. All that does, said Ogilvie, is create resentment.

As Ogilvie wove stories throughout his 25-minute speech, he held the silenced audience spellbound. His booming voice, a perfect example of the use pace, range and inflection, commanded the full attention of all. He punctuated his points with big, broad gestures. His facial expression was open and friendly as he connected with people in all parts of the room.

Ogilvie closed with the following poem from Annie Johnson Flint, who was crippled and twisted most of her life with arthritis, yet out of her ordeal of protracted pain, she developed a sensitivity to suffering that helped her understand and encourage others who also were suffering.

God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow,
Peace without pain.
God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift easy travel,
Needing no guide.
He hath not promised we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.
But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

Following the poem, Ogilvie proclaimed “Happy Thanksgiving.” No obligatory, unnecessary “Thank you”, simply the holiday greeting. Bravo! Surely this must be one of the best Thanksgiving messages being given in America today, delivered by a kind man with tremendous communication skills.

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Mayor “uh” Villaraigosa’s “uh” Oration Skill

The November 18 edition of the Los Angeles Times featured an article entitled “Fires bring mayor’s oration skill to fore.” In the article, the Times pointed out how important it is for the mayor to take the public stage to issue reassuring messages in times of crisis, such as the fires that ravaged Southern California during the past week.

I agree with the Times that a key role of a mayor – actually any leader – is to communicate quickly and frequently during catastrophic times. It sends a message that the leader is in charge and is doing everything possible to remedy the situation.

Being an observer of the charismatic Mayor, I watched his press conference several days ago during which he gave a 58-second update. His laudatory comments notwithstanding, I found his “oration skill” in need of improvement. The issue was his repeated use of the filler word “uh”, which he used 19 times. Here’s how he began: “I’m very uh grateful uh that President Elect uh Barack Obama called last night uh and said that he is uh uh ready, willing and able to do everything he can.”

Considering that he spoke for 58 seconds, that’s about one “uh” every three seconds. His repeated use of “uh” makes him sound unsure of himself or like he is grand standing – or both.

If he were to eliminate fillers from his presentations, Mayor Villaraigosa could become one of the great communicators of our time. He has excellent vocal quality and passion and he looks good on camera. Uh, hopefully someone will uh give him uh the message.

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Saving the Best Speeches for Last – Election Night 2008

Shortly after the polls closed in California at 8:00 p.m. PST, CNN predicted that Barack Obama would be the next President of the United States. Moments later, in his home state of Arizona, John McCain took the stage at a gathering of the party faithful to give a very gracious concession speech and perhaps his best oratory of his entire campaign. As I watched this man comely, confidently urge us to come together as Americans, I wondered why he hadn’t spoken so convincingly, so presidentially before.

An hour later, Barack Obama took the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park to deliver his acceptance speech to an estimated crowd of 125,000. He began by congratulating McCain for a hard fought campaign and then thanked his supporters, family, campaign manager, wife, children and deceased mother. “This victory belongs to you, “he concluded.

He continued by reminding us that “The road ahead will be long, our climb will be steep, we may not get there in one year or even in one term, but American I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.” And then, borrowing from Martin Luther King’s speech of April 1968, concluded with “I promise you, we as a people, will get there.”

He urged us to come together as a people to resolve the many challenges facing us today. “Let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. “

Obama continued with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, “We are not enemies but friends. Though passion has strained, it must not break our bonds of affection’. To those who did not vote for him he said, “I need your help and I will be your President, too.”

He concluded his speech with the plight of a 106 year old African American woman, Ann Nixon Cooper, who cast her vote in Atlanta this morning. When she was born, said Obama, she couldn’t vote because she was a woman and she was black. During her life she witnessed the depression, the bombing of Japan, WWII, the civil injustice of the 60s, the landing of a man on the moon and the fall of the Berlin wall. Through those times, he said, “We were told we can’t and we pressed on with that American creed yes we can.” “And this year she touched her finger to a screen and cast her vote. Because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes, we can.”

He then asked that if our children should live to the next century, “What change will they see? What progress will we have made? This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. When people doubt us we will respond with ‘Yes we can’”.

This was a well written speech delivered passionately and flawlessly. He held the audiences’ attention by raising and lowering the tones and volume of his voice to emphasize his key points. Gone were the pesky fillers (“uh”) and non- positives (“I think”) that plagued his debates.

John McCain has served our country well and would likely have been a very capable leader. Obama has the same leadership potential, plus an important quality that challenged McCain, tremendous communication skills. We have just elected our next great communicator.

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The Third Presidential Debate – McCain Gets It Right

Finally, after two previous attempts, John McCain got it right. If you’re a subscriber to my blogs, you’ll recall that I explained why Barack Obama previously has had superior performances. During the past two weeks, the press buzzed with the notion that the third debate was McCain’s last chance to show voters that he has what it takes to be President…and he delivered.

This is not to take anything anyway from Senator Obama. As I wrote earlier, he has excellent communication skills, which is why he moved from a long shot to the nominee for the Democratic Party. Those skills were on display again Wednesday night as Obama calmly answered questions and listened intently and openly to McCain’s answers. But this debate was very different, primarily because McCain finally corrected the mistakes he had made in the previous debates.

A defining moment came six minute into the debate when McCain mentioned Obama’s encounter with “Joe the Plumber” (Joe Wurzelbacher). During a campaign trip through Ohio a few days before, Joe had expressed concern to Obama that he would not be able to buy a plumbing business due to Obama’s tax plan. Looking directly into the TV camera, McCain said, “Joe, I want to tell you, I’ll not only help you buy that business that you worked your whole life for and I’ll keep your taxes low and I’ll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees. And I will not stand for a tax increase on small business income.”

Using the story of Joe was a brilliant way to illustrate what McCain sees as a flawed tax plan. Stay tuned for McCain to use Joe the Plumber as a metaphor for Obama’s concept of “spreading the wealth”.

A second defining moment came 19 minutes into the debate when McCain responded to Obama’s comparing McCain to George W. Bush. “Senator Obama,” said McCain, “I’m not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush you should have run four years ago.” This was the perfect response to Obama’s most successful strategy to date – linking McCain to George Bush. Too bad for the Republicans that McCain hadn’t introduced this comment earlier, although I suspect we’ll hear it repeated again over the next several weeks.

McCain seemed to be particularly alert during this debate. At one point he corrected moderator Bob Shieffer by saying “change” when Shieffer had misspoken and said “climate ‘control’”. In addition, on two occasions McCain complimented Obama on his eloquence and cautioned the audience to listen to the vague words Obama was using (i.e. “have to ‘look at’ offshore drilling”).

On other occasions McCain was sharp and witty. Following Obama’s response that education vouchers don’t work, McCain shot back, “Because there aren’t enough vouchers, therefore we shouldn’t do it, even if it’s working. I got it.” Not only was this an poignant observation, but instead of looking angry, McCain let out a big laugh.

As with the two previous debates, Obama demonstrated poise and confidence with his off camera behavior. His ability to focus intently on McCain while McCain answered questions was remarkable. He continued to maintain unflappable facial expressions during some of McCain’s most vehementous pronouncements. Nothing seemed to bother Obama.

However, in sharp contrast to his previous performances, McCain’s off camera expressions were very different. In the first debate, McCain appeared disgusted with Obama whenever Obama spoke. This time he maintained a pleasant expression, frequently laughed, looked at Obama while Obama was speaking and spoke directly to the camera when it was appropriate to connect with the TV audience. It was clear that McCain had received some good coaching over the past several weeks.
Whereas McCain dramatically improved in his style and content, Obama committed the same vocal errors of the previous debates. He came across as unsure of himself with the expression “I think”, which he said 41 times. (“I think he (Biden) shares my core values.” “Here’s what I think we have to do.”) Furthering the perception of uncertainty, he used the filler “uh” at least 169 times, thus eclipsing his first debate (146 times). By eliminating the fillers and non-positives, Obama will be perceived as much direct and definitive.

McCain stumbled over his concluding remarks and would have come across stronger had he said, “I urge you to give me an opportunity to serve again” instead of “I hope …” Obama, on the other hand, was smooth and fluid. Unlike McCain, he urged people to vote for him with his final comment “I would ask for your vote.” This would have been stronger by omitting the word “would” and simply saying “I ask for your vote.”

For the most part, the post debate polls show Obama as the clear winner, which makes me wonder who the media is polling. My bet is that the success of this debate will catapult McCain into a much closer race with Obama than the polls are indicating now. And you can bet that Joe the Plumber will play an important role.

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The Leadership Styles of John McCain and Barack Obama

The recent financial crisis has given us a unique opportunity to understand the leadership styles of the U.S. Presidential candidates by studying the way they communicated their views of the U.S. financial crisis last week.

McCain heatedly called upon the Federal Reserve to stop participating in bail outs of big financial firms and pledged tough penalties for “predatory lenders who knew you can’t afford an adjustable rate mortgage, but misled you into signing one.” Further, he proposed a new federal agency “that will get the Treasury and other financial regulatory authorities in a proactive position…instead of reacting in crisis mode to one situation after another.”

Obama announced that he had decided not to issue a financial rescue plan because he wanted to give the Bush administration a chance to work out a bipartisan solution without political interferences.

One quick and decisive, the other cautious and pensive. One had enough information upon which to make a decision, the other waited for more details.

The manner in which both candidates communicated their views of the explosive financial news is indicative not only of their leadership styles, but of their natural instincts. By understanding their natural instincts, we’ll have a predictable indication as to how these men would communicate and lead as the U.S. President.

If they were to each take the Kolbe A Index™, we would know with certainty how they would act. Since it’s unlikely that they will take the index, I’ll give you my best guess of their natural instincts.

McCain’s immediate response to the crisis as it hit the news last week indicates that he initiates in Quick Start. He will trust is gut and be quick to react. If free to act at will, he will be decisive and not second guess himself. He will be innovate and welcome change.

Obama’s measured response and desire to check in with others indicates that he is a consensus builder and mediator. His Kolbe A Index™ likely will show his inclination to seek the advice of others before making decisions. Further, he will look to find common ground for those with different opinions.

The way in which the candidates reacted to the Russian invasion of neighboring Georgia last month confirms my educated guess of their natural instincts. McCain denounced Russia and demanded an immediate withdrawal declaring “We are all Georgians.” Obama initially urged both sides to show restraint and later issued his condemnation of Russia’s actions.

When Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast earlier in the month, McCain detoured to Mississippi to tour the state’s Emergency Management Agency. Meanwhile Obama opted to stay away saying that a sudden visit might “draw resources away from folks on the ground.”

Another example of McCain’s leadership style occurred several weeks ago when he said he would “suspend” his presidential campaign to come to Washington to help negotiate a financial bailout bill and argued that the first presidential debate should be scrapped. On the day of the debate he reversed his decision to boycott the debate.

In the coming weeks, there may be more opportunities to observe the way that these two men react to other emergencies. If so, I expect that their future actions will confirm their natural instincts.

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The Second Presidential Debate – Advantage Obama

Here we are 48 hours after the Second Presidential Debate on October 7 and most of the polls have picked Senator Barack Obama the winner over Senator John McCain. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey suggests that Obama won, 54% to 30% over McCain.

Although I see the debate as being much closer, I give the nod to Obama again on this second debate for one major reason, Obama’s ability to connect with an audience. Obama comes across as very likeable, McCain generally like a grumpy old man. And for 90% of the voters, that’s what it’s going to come down to. Forget the issues, the incessant blaming and the candidates’ questionable past acquaintances. For McCain to win he must make some dramatic changes to the way he is perceived or it will be a slow burn to defeat.

A close look at the debate will help you to understand my perspective. When the moderator, Tom Brokaw, introduced the candidates, both stepped briskly onto the stage, waved, smiled and shook hands with each other. This was in sharp contrast to McCain’s stiff, curt appearance the month before – a nice improvement.

But a significant differentiator between the two men continued to be how one acted while the other answered questions. McCain usually busied himself by jotting down some notes or reviewing his talking points. Obama, on the other hand, maintained a pleasant facial expression and locked his eyes on McCain seemingly so as not to miss a single gesture, movement or word. It gave the perception of a man so confident in his message that he didn’t need to study his notes and could instead focus on the responses of his opponent.

Similarly, when Obama answered questions he typically engaged the audience by addressing not only the inquirers, but everyone in the town hall setting. For the most part, McCain directed his answers only to those who asked the questions, thus missing important opportunities to engage the audience and build rapport. Moreover, McCain frequently blinked his eyes rapidly and darted around the room when responding to questions from Brokaw or the Internet. This is usually a sign that someone is uncomfortable or lying or both, which is not how McCain wants to be perceived.

Although there were few meaningful sound bites, McCain scored points when he reminded Obama that he said he would cut taxes when things got bad, then looked at Obama and said, “I’ve got news for you. This is bad.” Obama, fond of speaking in generalities, made his point clearly when he said, “If you make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year, you will not see a single dime of your taxes go up. If you make $200,000 a year or less, your taxes will go down.”

For the record, both men continued making some of the same vocal errors. Obama, prone to filling his language with fillers (“uh”), had about 40, down from 146 in the first debate, compared to McCain’s three, down from 31. McCain’s use of the words “my friends” (at least 12 times) was both irritating and impersonal. A simple “you” would have done the trick. Equally bothersome, but less repeated, was the expression “the point is.”

So, no knockout punches, but the advantage goes to Obama for his Rock Star Attitude – showing people that he likes them.

Stay tuned next Wednesday, October 15 at 6:00 p.m. PDT for the third and final Presidential Debate from Hofstra University where Bob Schieffer will moderate a 90-minutes session focusing on domestic and economic issues. As usual, I’ll post a blog shortly thereafter.

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