Great communicators' actions make their words speak louder

On January 20, 2009, I recall being transfixed by the words of Barack Obama, who was being sworn in as our 44th president.

On January 20, 2009, I recall being transfixed by the words of Barack Obama, who was being sworn in as our 44th president. "What a communicator," was the common refrain among those around me.

But from his controversial stimulus package to today's out-of-control gas prices the bloom seems to have come off Obama's communications rose.

That all changed during a six-day period starting April 30, 2011, the night of the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner. Aware of Donald Trump's "birther" diatribes, Obama finally released his long-form birth certificate earlier in the week and put all reasonable arguments to rest.

At the aforementioned dinner, Obama trumped the Donald. His crack about Trump's firing of Gary Busey on Celebrity Apprentice being the "kind of decision that would keep me up at night" set the perfect tone. The President was funny, confident, in his glory.

What very few people knew at the time was what Obama had on his mind that evening, indeed for the past several months. On May 1, at his command, Navy SEALs would storm a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and kill Osama bin Laden. At around 11:30 pm that evening, Obama delivered the news to the world.

The following Thursday, he came to New York and visited Ground Zero to mark the momentous occasion in the war on terror. On this day, he saved his words for private moments with those assembled who lost loved ones on 9/11. No grand declarations.

So what makes a great communicator? It helps to speak well, but that must be balanced by having enough restraint to allow certain moments to communicate for themselves.

And then comes the determination to turn the words you are communicating into fruition. Some want to give President George W. Bush his due. Others are quick to note the problems Obama has yet to solve. However, for nearly a decade, Americans wanted bin Laden to be brought to justice. Obama promised to do that - and he delivered. (And make no mistake: history will credit Obama for bringing about the terror kingpin's demise.)

Great speeches can get you elected. They can also prompt others to call you a great communicator. But it's action post-oratory that brings communications full circle - and President Obama just put on a clinic. He just might have won himself an election, too. 

Gideon Fidelzeid is the managing editor of PRWeek. He can be contacted at

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