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Three Communication Secrets of The Great Communicator

I've worked in media and public relations for 20 years, and experience has taught me that communication is an essential skill to master in order to be successful in all aspects of one's life. No one person can do many things without the involvement of other human beings; having superior communication skills, then, is a highly enviable quality, and those who manage such a feat serve as role models to the rest of us. Ronald Reagan, "The Great Communicator", exemplified this quality so well that people elected him President.

1. Confidence, such as Reagan had, is one of the essential non-verbal aspects of communication. Confidence can help one talk to others with ease and makes people want to listen to what one has to say. One way to gain confidence is to gain understanding. If one has a firm grasp of what it is one wants to say, one will have fewer reservations about speaking out. Reagan had confidence in what he was saying. He believed in his material and was familiar with it, which gave him the confidence to communicate well and be well received by his audience. Similarly, believing in one's own goals and ideas, communicating them without doubt, will gain them a better reception than an uncertain, mumbled communication would.

2. Reagan's confidently-delivered speeches were crafted to give his American audience hope and a sense of optimism. His 1984 re-election campaign slogan, "It's morning again in America," exemplified his vision of a better future for the country, especially after the traumas (Watergate, Vietnam, etc.) of the sixties and seventies. No one likes hearing bad news, and a positive attitude inspires one's listeners, improving their outlook on the topic and on the speaker. Reagan's use of symbolism- "morning"- is a particularly effective method of communication, as it solidifies an abstract concept in the listener's mind with an image, making Reagan's idea of a positive future more real. In communicating an idea, one would best be served by finding a positive expression for the idea, and finding an evocative symbolic form for the positive idea.

3. The third key to being a great communicator is wit. One must have a sense of humor and be able to tell stories, jokes and anecdotes. Telling a joke will help break the ice and get people interested in what one has to say, enabling a better connection with them. Doug Gamble, one of Reagan's speech writers said, "Unlike Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, whose use of humor often seemed less than heartfelt and somewhat mechanical, and George W. Bush, who is uncomfortable doing it, humor glowed from Reagan's very soul." Reagan expertly used his genuine sense of humor and excellent comedic timing to not only amuse his audience, but also to convey his political points. For example, Reagan illustrated a key principle of his political philosophy with the quip, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

One effective manifestation of wit is the strategic deployment of self- deprecating humor. Making oneself come across as more human and down-to- earth will more readily draw people's interest in one's message. Returning to a Reagan example, the late President enjoyed poking fun at himself, not only for entertainment purposes, but also to disarm his opponents. When Reagan's opponent in the 1984 campaign, Walter Mondale, described Reagan's reign as "government by amnesia," the president reacted, "I thought that remark accusing me of having amnesia was uncalled for. I just wish I could remember who said it." Similarly, Reagan jested about his alleged tendency to fall asleep on the job, "I've given my aides instructions that if trouble breaks out in any of the world's hot spots they should wake me up immediately - even if I'm in a Cabinet meeting." Self-deprecating humor is a very effective communication tool.

With "The Great Communicator" no longer with us and with no role model to replace him, it remains up to each of us to become our own great communicator. Be confident, be witty, be optimistic, and you can interact effectively enough with others to realize your goals.

Michael Levine is the founder of the prominent public relations firm Levine Communications Office, based in Los Angeles. He is the author of 7 Life Lessons from Noah's Ark: How to Survive a Flood in Your Own Life. is a resource for people that want to get famous in the media, without going broke.


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