President Barack Obama has been hailed as “The Great Communicator.” His ability to strike a chord with America propelled him into the White House for two terms as the leader of the free world. Political adversaries had a hard time stopping his momentum as he communicated with the American people in a way that harkened back to President Ronald Reagan.
Part of what gives Obama the ability to do great things is his skill at communicating his ideas in a way that’s easy for his target audience to comprehend. He’s able to laugh at himself and others, while acknowledging the hard work that others do to give him the opportunity to lead effectively. He knocks down barriers and communicates past the filter, giving Americans a feeling that they’re personally connected with him.
Below are three events from the Obama presidency that have highlighted his ability to communicate. Pay attention: These are great learning opportunities for business leaders looking to communicate more effectively with their team and their target market.
1. A third term?
If you have the opportunity to make someone laugh, while at the same time drawing a parallel to an important concept, you’re more likely to create a meaningful impression than with a sober presentation.
The "laughter" scenario means that you won’t have to repeat yourself as often, and your point will be much more likely to come across fully to your team.
For example, while sitting down for a segment of Between the Ferns with comedian Zach Galifianakis, Obama answered a tongue-in-cheek question about running for a third-term as president of the United States (unconstitutional, actually) by jabbing back at Galifianakis: “If I ran a third time, it would be like doing a third Hangover movie. Didn’t really work out very well, did it?” (The president was referring to the actual film Zach starred in, which received horrendous reviews compared to its two prequels.)
Obama is also fond of relating his experience in the Oval Office to pop stars and trend-setters. For example, he reportedly answered a reporter’s question with the statement: “I’m so overexposed, I’m making Paris Hilton look like a recluse!”
Takeaway: Match the tone of the individual you’re speaking with. Meet this person on the same plane he or she is comfortable communicating on, and find ways to relate your message to daily life.
2. Friendship and political points.
In business, it’s impossible to reach your potential without a network of quality individuals who build you up and share the workload that keeps your business afloat. There are a ton of tasks that simply eat up time and distract you from what’s important as a leader. Delegating these tasks frees you up to remain distraction free (or at least with minimal distractions) and get the most important things on your to-do list wrapped up.
Recognizing the people that make it possible for you to delegate things is a great way to inspire others in your organization to follow their example. If you can call these individuals out, while making a joke that proves a point, you’ve scored an impressive feat.
Obama is known for being gracious and generous with his recognition of others' hard work. He also loves highlighting the idiosyncrasies of his political opponents. During his 2015 White House Correspondent’s Dinner toast, he said, “I tease Joe [Biden, the vice president] sometimes, but he has been at my side for seven years. I love that man. He’s not just a great vice president, he is a great friend. We’ve gotten so close, in some places in Indiana, they won’t serve us pizza anymore.”
The president was poking fun at the fact that some business establishments in conservative communities are refusing service to gay couples. Some of these businesses have been successfully sued and the practice is coming under intense judicial scrutiny. Obama used a punch line to drive his point home.
Takeaway: If you’re dealing with a divisive topic, laughter is the best medicine. Find a way to hit your audience’s funny bone in a meeting, and tough criticism will be significantly easier to swallow. Also, take time to recognize the people that contribute to your company. Positive reinforcement encourages good behavior, and public accolades encourage others to follow a positive example.
3. Healthcare reform.
The passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was an incredible accomplishment in Obama’s first 13 months in office. Republicans and other political opponents in his own party attempted to derail his agenda, but the president went directly to the people. He spoke candidly and passionately about the problems that “Obamacare” would solve for them. The president had a great deal of help from allies, but bypassing the obstructionist conservatives and making actual progress gave the president a meaningful victory in the first quarter of his first term in office.
Takeaway: Bypass gatekeepers and take your message, unfiltered, to your target audience. Relying on surrogates to get your message out is a great way to invite added frustration resulting from unintentional (and even intentional) miscommunication.