Over the past two years, I have had the good fortune to get to know Bert Decker. He is an amazing person with an incredible background. If you haven’t heard of him before, Bert Decker is a national communications expert, best selling author and entrepreneur. He founded the 100 person communications training company Decker Communications, Inc. He has been featured in the NY Times, Business Week, and on 20/20, as well as being the communications commentator for the NBC TODAY Show for the Presidential Debates. He has been a communications coach to Charles Schwab, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Mattel CEO’s John Ammerman and Jill Barrad, Olympians Bonnie Blair and Tom Dolan, SF 49er All-Pro Brent Jones, and dozens of other executives And he is the best selling author of “You’ve Got to Be Believed To Be Heard” and “Speaking With Bold Assurance“. Bert graciously agreed to do a ten question interview with me and here are his insights on a wide range of topics.
(1) In your book “You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard” you refer to “The New Communicators”. Can you explain what a new communicator is? Can you give an example of your favorite New Communicator?
New communicators connect with EVERY audience – no matter the setting – in:
In our Decker Method courses we call it the messenger, the message and the medium – they all are one. A new communicator creates a communication experience that is energized and action oriented.
Three great New Communicators are Steve Jobs (business world), Guy Kawasaki (tech/author world) and Bono (celebrity world.)
(2) So, that covers the good communicators. Who would say is having the most trouble these days as a communicator and why?
• Richard Fuld, Lehman Brothers CEO – closed, arrogant and aloof when he testified to Congress.
• Caroline Kennedy – she lost her bid for the NY Senate seat with a monotone, halting delivery, unfocused message and a mess of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs.’
• Timothy Geithner – stiff and cold. He is not a good messenger for this very important and controversial message.
(3) There has been so much said about Barack Obama’s oratory skills in the past year. Would you consider Barack Obama to be a New Communicator?
No, he’s a good orator, not a great communicator. I’ve reviewed him often (check out Bert’s review here) and it’s fascinating – Obama is President largely because of his 2004 Convention speech, but he STILL does not use the teleprompter well (here’s Bert’s detailed take on Obama’s use of the teleprompter) And when not speechifying, he usually communicates in a professorial manner, with a halting cadence, and also many ums and ahs. Occasionally he is energetic and open and light – but rarely. So ironically, the one who became President because of communication (read oratorical) skills needs to increase his connecting skills.
(4) If you could give one bit of advice to Mr. Obama, what would it be?
• Learn to use the teleprompter so it’s not a ping-pong match – 4 seconds to one side and 4 seconds to the other.
• Leave pauses instead of filling space with non-words.
• Vary rhythm and pacing of voice – energize not professorialize.
(5) You have become a fixture on Twitter in the past year (BTW, I love your Tweets). How do you see the rise of social media tools like Twitter and Facebook impacting communications over the next few years?
I see Twitter (not Facebook) as the dominant communication tool for both text and speaking. It’s a powerful business/personal communication medium in it’s current form as text only, and will become EXPLOSIVE with the right app (the new Nambu is promising – that’s the direction it will be going.) But it will change the face of the speaking environment.
(6) Do you believe there is going to be a new breed of new New Communicators who will use social media tools to connect with people?
Yes and no. First the no – the majority of people will use the text only email/Linked-in/Twitter etc as text only – will not incorporate it holistically.
And yes, the New Communicator will embrace the social media tools (Twitter mostly) in ALL of their communicating environments – but they will be smart about it, and understand there is a difference in text, voice and in person communications – learn the differences and use them intentionally. Most people communicate at the unconscious level – our goal is to make it conscious.
(7) It seems that a big buzz these days is about the use of Twitter at conferences and presentations. What are your thoughts on the rising use of Twitter during presentations?
Twitter is going to be very powerful in expanding (or disrupting) the conference and formal speaking environment. I blogged on that here – but more is yet to come. Big business (most of our clients) are not used to using Twitter in meetings and speeches, but no longer can anyone say ‘laptops down.’ People will Twitter whether you like it or not, so you have to incorporate that in your ‘experience’ and be intentional. Those who become good at it can enhance and expand their speaking – but it will be a rocky road for awhile. Those who use it well will succeed mightily.
(8) You attended SXSW in Austin, TX earlier this year. What were the top insights you gained at SXSW this year?
One of the most amazing conferences I’ve attended (out of thousands!) SXSW Interactive was peak energy, peak connections and peak engagement. 30 meetings going on at a time, 50-75% of people in most meetings/speeches were tweeting on laptops or cells. Podcasts and audios, twitpics and Flip videos and of course tweets were going out to the world by the thousands every minute. More and more conferences will become more like this.
Again, New Communicators must have not only the messenger and the message at peak performance, but also the medium.
Critical point though, that almost ALL neglect is getting video feedback and seeing themselves – so many at SXSW have distracting and nervous habits that it doesn’t matter how good their content or medium use is – they get in their own way. Observed behavior changes. The smart New Communicators at SXSW and all conferences will get themselves on video!
(9) What blogs are you reading most these days and why?
• Well, this one: EdgeHopper - Always well written and lengthy posts on relevant communication subjects – interactive media and personal behavior.
• Presentation Zen - Garr Reynolds is the leader (along with Nancy Duarte) of slide design and communications quality. His posts are in depth, and insightful.
• Seth Godin’s Blog – At first I didn’t like Seth’s text only posts, but then they grew on me for two reasons. They are short and pithy. 80% of them are original and thought provoking. (Pareto’s Law comes into play.)
(10) Who are your favorite follows on Twitter and why?
@ed – a very unusual man of integrity, insight and influence that I have gotten to know well on Twitter.
@OliviaMitchell – great communication research, tips and blog.
@Mashable – always good, up to date links and info on Twitter and the tech world.
But it’s a very tough question because there are so many Twitterers AND blogs that are good. [Chris' note: If you want to follow Bert on Twitter, and I highly recommend it, he's @BertDecker]