A Leader Put to the Test
The events of September 11, 2001, could not have been worse. The terrorist attacks were seared in the hearts of Americans because we saw them happen in immediate color.
But the aftermath of fear, terror, and suspicion could have been worse—much worse. And communication made the difference.
It was eight months into the presidency of George W. Bush. Mr. Bush was known primarily as a master of mangled syntax who had eked out a win in the narrowest election in history. He ran neck and neck with opponent Al Gore, a notoriously dull, dry speech-maker. As communicators, Gore was no Bill Clinton and Bush was no Ronald Reagan.
On the evening of the attacks, President Bush spoke to the American people from the White House.
"These acts of mass murder," he said, "were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.... None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world." As important as the words he spoke was his behavior—eyes steady, jaw resolute, shoulders firm. This was not the campaigner we had seen months before. This was a leader who was authentic. The speeches President Bush delivered that day gave the American people the sense that this man was ready to lead.
Three days later, Friday, September 14, 2001, President Bush went to Washington Cathedral and gave what many consider the most eloquent speech of his presidency. He began in Lincolnesque form with words worthy of the Gettysburg Address. "We are here in the middle hour of our grief," he said. "So many have suffered so great a loss, and today we express our nation’s sorrow. We come before God to pray for the missing and the dead, and for those who loved them."
He spoke as the commander in chief, appealing to our resolute strength and unity as Americans. He became America’s chaplain, saying, "Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance and love have no end, and the Lord of Life holds all who die and all who mourn."
He inspired us with stories, briefly told, to remind us of the heroes of that day: "Inside the World Trade Center, one man who could have saved himself stayed until the end at the side of his quadriplegic friend. A beloved priest died giving the last rites to a firefighter. Two office workers, finding a disabled stranger, carried her down sixty-eight floors to safety. A group of men drove through the night from Dallas to Washington to bring skin grafts for burned victims."
It was a memorable speech—but even more memorable was the speech he gave just a few hours later. He flew to New York and arrived at the sacred ground where the towers had stood. Now dressed in blue jeans and a brown jacket with an open collar, he was greeted by iron-workers and firemen shouting, "U-S-A! U-S-A!"
The president walked and shook hands and shouted encouragement. Then he jumped up onto a fire truck with the help of retired fireman Bob Beckwith, who was working at ground zero as an unpaid volunteer. Beckwith was about to climb down, but the president said, "Stay right here," and put his arm around the man.
As the chants of "U-S-A!" died down, someone handed a bullhorn to the president. "I want you all to know," Mr. Bush said, "that America today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn."
"I can’t hear you!" someone in the crowd shouted.
"I can hear you!" the president shouted back through the bullhorn amid applause and cheers. "The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"
The applause and shouts of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" grew louder, and the president paused until the chanting subsided. "The nation sends its love and compassion to everybody who is here," he concluded. "Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for making the nation proud. And may God bless America."
Becoming a President for All
What happened? Did the inept communicator get coaching? Did Bush decide to communicate like Clinton? What was the transformation?
President George W. Bush became authentic. He was not trying to play the role of president, as he had appeared to before. He was the president. He deeply felt this event and thus he felt his words, and he communicated that feeling. He was real, and authentic, and he had finally reached the First Brain of the American People.
In June 2003, Pulitzer prize–winning journalist Carl Cannon of the nonpartisan weekly National Journal reflected on what has come to be known as the "Bullhorn Speech." He said, "If we didn’t have confidence in him as a communicator, we didn’t have confidence in him to do anything. So when Bush does that [the Bullhorn Speech], he really in that moment becomes a President for all the people, and a person that even people who didn’t vote for him...can look to as their Commander-in-Chief."1
This is a profound insight: When people have confidence in someone as a communicator, they have confidence in that person, period. The ability to communicate is essential to leadership. It’s indispensable to persuasion. It’s crucial to the ability to motivate, inspire, energize, galvanize, and mobilize an individual or a nation. The ability to communicate is the key to selling, whether you are selling a product, an idea, a political agenda, or a vision for the future.
A Duty to Communicate
Regardless of our political views, we can all relate to Mr. Bush in this sense. Few of us are naturally effective at communicating—and fewer still enjoy speaking before audiences. But when our circumstances demand greatness, we can rise to the challenge. We can all learn to be more effective communicators.
Mr. Bush’s approval ratings peaked at 90 percent soon after 9/11, and then began a downward spiral. What accounted for this disastrous slide? For one thing, the war in Iraq was itself under continuous attack, being described in the media as a disaster—and Mr. Bush was saying little to counter that portrayal.
Then came Hurricane Katrina. Once more the American people had horrors seared into their hearts as they could see the tragedy unfold on live television—this time a disaster wreaked by nature instead of man. And this time, where was the leadership? After four days, Mr. Bush strode into an aircraft hangar in Mobile, Alabama, to be briefed on the Katrina response. Greeting FEMA director Michael Brown, he said, "Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!" To millions of viewers, Mr. Bush seemed shockingly out of touch with reality. The situation cried out for another Bullhorn Speech. The president’s response seemed more bull than bullhorn.
By April 2006, Mr. Bush’s approval ratings hit rock bottom. His presidency appeared to be on life support. Ironically, while his rankings were at an all-time low, the economy was astonishingly strong. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was approaching an all-time high. The nation was ringing up record retail sales. Unemployment was below 5 percent. The gross domestic product had grown 4.8 percent in the previous quarter. Minority-owned businesses were experiencing a dramatic upswing. And yet—
The Simple Secret of Effective Communicating
The message for all of us is clear: Whatever our life goals, our career goals, or our dreams of a better world, the key to success lies in our ability to communicate. No matter how uncomfortable or ill-equipped we feel as communicators, we dare not back away from the challenge of becoming effective speakers.
Short on skills? We can learn them. Short on confidence? We can gain it. Short on experience? We can make our own opportunities.
In this book, you will discover the secret to effective communicating, a secret that many political leaders, business leaders, sales leaders, and others have failed to learn—much to their detriment. It’s the simple secret of reaching the "First Brain." Do you want that promotion or better-paying job? Do you want to make that critical sale? Find that richer relationship? Lead your team, your church, your corporation, your nation to some grand visionary goal? Whatever you want to achieve in life can be yours through the power of the First Brain.
This discovery will place enormous power in your hands—the ability to connect with others through believability and trust. The First Brain is our emotional brain. It is real. It is physical. And it is powerful. Neglect it, ignore it, fail to harness its power—and you’ll miss out on the most transformational tool for reaching other people and achieving your goals. Understand it and use it—and you’ll know how to persuade an audience of one or an audience of millions. No longer will you communicate merely to dispense information; you’ll make an emotional connection with your listeners—a connection that will enable you to achieve your goals.
Not only will you learn to reach the First Brain of your listeners, you’ll also learn how to master your own First Brain to overcome the fear of speaking before audiences—an anxiety common to us all. Even though public speaking is my life, I know what the fear of speaking feels like. I’ve learned how to transform that emotional tension into positive communicating energy—and I’ll share those secrets with you in these pages.
I’ve been immersed in the communication field for decades. My company has trained more than two hundred thousand leaders, managers, salespeople, and professionals. I have personally coached Charles Schwab, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and five-time gold medal Olympian Bonnie Blair, as well as many other leaders and influencers. I’ve appeared on NBC’s Today show numerous times.
I’ve made a lifelong study of the psychology of communication and persuasion. I’ve seen it proven again and again: The effectiveness of our spoken communication determines the effectiveness of our lives—yet our colleges and universities don’t teach people how to communicate effectively. Instead, they teach a dry, academic approach to "public speaking" that involves little more than speaking words written on three-by-five-inch index cards. I’ve written this book to share my discoveries with you and to show you a better way to communicate.
The first edition of this book has been continuously in print since March 1992. This newly revised and expanded edition updates the information in the original book and adds many powerful new communicating tools, including the revolutionary Decker Grid. By reading this book and applying these principles, you’ll gain the skill that some of the top political, professional, and business leaders in the nation have paid thousands to obtain.
Don’t worry about having to wade through a lot of technical jargon. This is a practical, user-friendly book. You’ll be able to put its principles into effect even before you’ve finished reading. By the time you’re done, you’ll be thinking "First Brain" in every communicating situation.
So read on—and open a new chapter in your communicating life!
Excerpted from You've Got to Be Believed to Be Heard by Bert Decker
Copyright © 2008 by Bert Decker
Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.