Communication Skills: Lessons from the Best Broadcasters

We often learn by watching experts in action. To become a top-level communicator, start watching and listening to the role models you can tune into for free at your convenience–the broadcasters who deliver the news, conduct interviews, report on sports, and so forth.

In many instances, we learn by watching experts in action. You learned to walk by watching your parents’ steps. You learned to talk by observing how they moved their mouths. Later in life, you learned ice skating, ballet, golf, baseball pitching, dancing, driving a car, and many other activities by watching people who did those activities well.

By the same logic, to become a top-level communicator, start watching and listening to the role models you can tune into for free at your convenience–the broadcasters who deliver the news, interview guests, predict the weather, report on sports, give commentaries, and summarize the day’s stock market movements.

For specific examples:

On “America in the Morning,” Carol shows us exactly what “animated” means. I cannot imagine anyone becoming distracted when Carol appears on the tube. Her hearty laugh seems completely unplanned, certain to help you come to life at 6:00 a.m. Yet in her serious moments, you believe she is talking with you privately, rather than to millions of viewers. Always, her facial expressions reflect the mood she wants to convey.

Another admirable trait: During interviews, she listens intently, without shuffling through notes looking for her next question. Carol Costello provides a stronger jump-start than three cups of high test coffee.

Although he launched his career as a sports guy, Brian has become well versed in world events. Pay special attention to his rapid-fire delivery. Why? Because most of us plod along with a rate so ponderous that listeners start daydreaming. The average person speaks at 125-50 words per minute, yet we can understand a person who speaks up to 400 wpm (picture the used car salesman giving his TV commercial). Note that Brian’s pace keeps you alert and interested..

The most durable broadcaster in history, Paul Harvey signed a ten-year contract at age 82–and that was six years ago. I attribute Paul Harvey’s widespread appeal and longevity to four factors.

One: His trademark use of the pause. Other broadcasters have tried to imitate his well-timed pauses, but they come across as second rate mimics.

Two: His stories. Usually his broadcasts consist of a series of true-to-life stories, giving behind the scenes visits with the famous and the ordinary.

Three: His simple language. You don’t need a dictionary handy when you hear him. Paul Harvey knows that eloquence means that people get your meaning quite easily.

Four: His incredible voice. That’s a rare gift we won’t have. Even so, through coaching and practice we can make the most of the voices nature gave us.

One word accounts for Oprah’s worldwide acclaim: Trust. Her guests trust her enough to tell their most sacred secrets. Her viewers trust her enough to believe that she is sincere. Centuries ago, Aristotle taught that ethos (credibility, in our lingo) may well be the orator’s most powerful tool. If your listeners trust you–whether they be family members, employees, bosses, or prospective clients–you enjoy a remarkable advantage.

This former Yale quarterback has all the right moves for TV, too. In addition to his central casting looks and poise, I applaud his focus on facts. You never have to wonder, “What reason does he have for that assumption?” Phillips documents every report. The lesson: Research your topics from every angle. Become a renowned authority, and you will make sales no one else could make, or explain quite clearly a complex issue at a department-wide meeting.

“But Bill,” you may be thinking, “how can you possibly leave out __________________or _________________?”

If you want to tell me about a broadcaster who has given you valuable lessons in “championship communication,” then please do this:

1. E-mail me the name of another broadcaster you admire as a communication model.

2. Tell me–specifically– what the broadcaster has demonstrated as a dynamic communication principle.

Please title your E-mail: Favorite Broadcaster

Send to:

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