President Barack Obama’s Communication Style

Last night was President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address to Congress and the American people.  As I listened to his speech, I thought about a fascinating conversation I heard Tuesday night on National Public Radio regarding the health care plan.  All Things Considered host Robert Siegel interviewed two health care economists: Uwe Reinhardt, professor of economics and public affairs, Princeton University and Gail Wilensky, Ph.D, regarding President Obama’s health care plan.  As I was driving around Houston’s potholes, what struck me was Professor Reinhardt’s assessment of President Obama’s manner of sharing information – that he either uses an oratory style or he defaults to presenting information in the manner of a graduate student seminar.  Neither style has been effective at explaining the need for an overhaul to American’s health care delivery systems. Americans are confused, frightened, and angry at a plan they don’t understand.  Dr. Reinhardt’s viewpoint is that President Obama needs to be the “Teacher of the People” and use anecdotes and metaphors to illustrate the need for dramatic changes to America’s current health care system.

Well, that’s just good old fashioned story telling.  It’s what great marketing communication is: sharing your story with an audience in a simple and concise style. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid is the credo of good writers everywhere.

While the title of the report is Opposing views on Health Care Bill,  Siegel’s conversation with Dr. Gail Wilensky, which closes the piece, succinctly echoes the need for serious health care reform.  It’s worth your 9 minutes: Opposing views on Health Care Bill.

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Washington. Americans are Angry. Are you Listening?

Tuesday night’s victory by Scott Brown, a relatively unknown Massachusetts senator to secure Ted Kennedy’s Senatorial seat was stunning.  Massachusetts voters have grown increasingly angry, frustrated and energized over the past year leading to movements such as the Tea Party Patriots and others. Scott Brown consistently referred to the Senate seat as the “people’s seat” and motivated the Independent Majority in MA to get out the vote and to secure his victory. Martha Coakley, the attorney general and Democratic Party candidate, sat back after her nomination and didn’t campaign.  Therefore, the outcome of the “people’s” vote shouldn’t be that astonishing.  What is surprising is how quickly the national mood has changed in one year.

Just over a year ago on January 20, 2009, President Barack Obama officially became the President of the United States.  It was a gorgeous sunny day in D.C. and it reflected the nation’s mood of joy and optimism.  I watched the Inauguration filled with hope for our nation and our new President. I wanted a partisan relationship in Congress; a relationship that President Obama beautifully referred to as a “unity of purpose;” and a collaborative and intelligent approach to our national ills.  One year later, our nation’s leadership is splintered and combative to one another and the American people.  In 12 short months, American citizens have witnessed  the bailout of numerous industries including financial institutions; insurance companies and the automobile industry – to the tune of Trillions of dollars. The health care reform bill sounds more like the health care spending bill.  And American soldiers are still on the front-line of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; while keeping a watchful eye on Yemen, Pakistan and Iran.  American citizens feel taxed to death and have decided that the cry of “No taxation without representation” applies equally today as it did in 1776.

Are you better off today than you were four years ago? Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan asked that question during the close of the 1980 presidential debate.  So ask yourself as a citizen of the United States of America – are YOU better off than you were four, two or even a year ago? Tell the truth.  Then make your voice heard. Because if your representative doesn’t listen to you on the local, state, or federal level you have the power to enact change.  Just ask your friends in Massachusetts for the play book.

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You can save Tracye Sellers

Tracye Sellers is a funny, charming young wife, mom, daughter  and friend who lives in southwest Houston.  She also happens to have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and desperately needs a stem cell transplant to stay alive.  Diagnosed a year ago, Tracye’s oncologists have aggressively treated her disease.  You can read about her journey on her blog Southern Hospitality.

 Tracye needs your help to hit a perfect 10.  Oncologists want a perfect 10 out of 10 match markers to match Tracye’s DNA and aid in her stem cell transplant.   Here’s where you can help save Tracye’s life. 

Get tested.  It’s simple.  On Saturday, June 13, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,  the Weekley YMCA, located at 7101 Stella Link Blvd., Houston, 77025 will hold a “swab-a-thon” in the lobby.  You swab your cheeks in specific locations with a giant q-tip and then your saliva is sent off to a lab to be tested.  That’s it.  My husband Tommy and I did it in about 10 minutes.  Sadly we were not a perfect 10 for Tracye.  But maybe you are.

Donors must be in good general health and between the ages of 16 and 60 years to be tested.  To learn the specifics of being a stem cell donor check out Be the Match.

Sellers FamilyYou can meet and talk with Tracye at the Swab-a-thon this Saturday.  If you are the perfect 10 for Tracye, you will go through physical protocols at the world renowned Methodist Hospital.  You will incur no financial costs and the stem celll donation procedure will require several short visits over the course of one week.  Come out to the YMCA this Saturday, get tested and hopefully, you will be Traceye Seller’s life-line to a long and happy future.

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Bruce Almighty

I had the exhilarating experience of attending the Searching for a Dream concert tour of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Toyota Center last month.  I discovered Springsteen as a teenager in Linden, New Jersey, playing the now iconic Born to Run album endlessly on the turntable my Dad had given me as a birthday present in July.

Born to Run, 1975

Born to Run, 1975

I was passionate about Bruce’s stories of love gone wrong, partying with friends, and the power of friendship as a teen, and these songs still speak to my heart in mid-life.  For me, his lyrics are poetry set to music, and they have inspired me for more than 30 years.  At the Houston concert, even when Bruce played songs I don’t particulary like – the four songs of the set I dubbed the “depression recession” playlist: Seeds; Johnny 99; The Ghost of Tom Joad; and to a lesser degree Working on the Highway – still remain magical because of the strength of Bruce’s storytelling.  His description of place can transport me to the Jersey shore, and I can almost feel the ocean breeze on my face and see the sparkle of the lights on the Seaside Park ferris wheel.  And that’s what Springsteen is – a storyteller. 

People remember stories, because they stick.  Which is why every successful public relations campaign must have a solid story at its core.  Marketing guru Seth Godin has a great post on his blog “How to tell a great story”from 2006 that is relevant today.  Authenticity, first and foremost is the key element of a story for consumers.  After that it’s “what does this product mean for me or my family?” 

Here’s a fascinating business application of the power of stories.  SmartLessons, a program developed by the World Bank Group’s International Finance Grouptrains its employees to tell great stories to allow for knowledge transfer in their field reports.  Authors Shad Morris and James B. Oldroyd published an article in the May 2009 issue of Harvard Business Journal about the positive impact that these employee generated articles have had on business and personnel development.  Field reports are usually not juicy reads, but the SmartLessons program has made them a “must read” at World Bank Group.  So tell a story. Whether you are Bruce Springsteen or an international  financial services company, an authentic, honest and compelling story resonates with consumer’s minds and hearts.

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