When Ronald Reagan was president, he was nicknamed the great communicator. If you ask James Rosebush, one of Reagan’s former top advisors, he will confide that Reagan’s greatness was in the ideas he communicated and that you can train yourself to emulate him.
The six most iconic words of Ronald Reagan’s presidency was: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
But until the last minute, Reagan kept insiders guessing as to whether he would really deliver that famous line at the Brandenburg Gate, challenging Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to level the Berlin Wall. Each time Reagan’s proposed speech was reviewed by the Pentagon, State Department, or National Security Council, they would delete that line. And each time Reagan got the text back from them, he reinserted it.
The rest is history. Reagan threw down the gauntlet to Gorbachev on June 12 1987, and sure enough, on November 9, 1989, the wall came tumbling down.
What gave Reagan the courage to defy his advisors and go with his gut instinct? And do you have to be president to feel empowered like that, or can anyone reach that level?
“You have to know that you’re on a mission, and that G-d sent you on that mission to fulfill your unique role,” says James Rosebush, a former senior advisor to Reagan. “Then, when you see something that’s fake or hear advice that doesn’t fit within the construct of your belief system you can immediately dismiss it or recognize it as a direction you don’t want to go in.”
Rosebush, who today is CEO of GrowthStrategy, coaches business leaders in effective crisis communication, public speaking and sales. On a recent edition of Mind Your Business, my weekly radio show on 77WABC Radio, he asserted that anyone can become a great communicator if they master the seven keys to the perfect pitch.
1) Visualize Your Communication
Reagan could visualize what he wanted to communicate to his audience. He had talent for holding the image of an event, story, a policy or a person in his imagination while he verbalized a description of it as vividly as possible. He would tell people we have it within ourselves to begin the world over again, and said it so many times with such conviction, that he imbued people with confidence, strength, and foresight.
2) Love Your Audience
Rosebush says 64% of all communication is nonverbal. You have to show respect and affection for your audience. The audience can detect if you really believe in what you’re saying and are passionate about it.
3) Quote People Smarter than You
President Reagan spoke in a language his audience had already accepted. He would quote from the Prophets, the Founding Fathers and American patriots, giving a muscular authenticity to his words. “People really like when you can bolster what you say with the wise words of others,” Rosebush says.
4) Employ Humor with a Purpose
Public speakers feel compelled to start a speech with a joke, or sprinkle humor into their presentations, but Reagan employed his sense of humor to help people understand the complexity of a situation. Like the time he quipped: “I’ve wondered at times what the 10 Commandments would have looked like if Moses had to run them through Congress.”
5) Align your Message with a Broader Strategy
When Reagan decided it was an American imperative to provide military aid to rebels all over the world who were fighting communist advances, he coined his new strategy: “The Reagan Doctrine.” The name caught on, as did the moniker “Evil Empire” he minted to describe the Soviet Union.
6) Issue a Call for Action
Whether you’re speaking to the public, your shareholders, or board of directors, demand an achievable accomplishment from them. When Reagan asked Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” that was something within Gorbachev’s power to act on. If you’re a CEO, or head of a nonprofit, call on your sales force, or fundraising team to band together to increase sales and donations substantially.
7) Start with the End
As soon as you get up to speak, let people know: “This is what I’m going to deliver to you in the next 10 minutes and here are the five points I want you to take away from these remarks.”
Bottom Line Action Step: Formulate your communication in advance. Ask yourself: What does my audience expect to hear from me?