Debate Underscores Communication Imperative

The June 27th Presidential Debate has spawned thousands of political takes. There’s no reason to add to that here.

But it’s important to note the communications lesson that should be learned: In all facets of life, even in a world of email and emojis, verbal communication remains imperative.

It may not always be fair (and it certainly isn’t for intelligent, capable people with disabilities that can affect verbal communication), but in our society, still, the best verbal communicators are perceived as the most qualified to lead.

Even, or maybe especially, in the Zoom world, how you perform on calls dictates if you get the job, if you get the “yes” from your boss or if your point of view prevails in a group discussion. It’s why clients spend time with us preparing for a presentation or panel. It’s why to truly attain financial security, many who want to advance in their careers have to step from behind the scenes and into visible roles, overcoming fears along the way.

The pressure to perform this way is why fewer executives want to participate in media interviews, afraid of “saying the wrong thing.” It’s why fewer speakers want to stand behind a lectern and give a speech, opting instead for the more comfortable “stage conversation.” It’s part of why it’s harder than ever for candidates to actually agree to be in a debate in the first place.

If you study human history, the best orators tended to ascend to the highest positions, often with catastrophic consequences. The ability to communicate out loud translates for most with the perception of the ability to lead. Day-to-day, leaders lead by their communication, maybe more than anything else they do.

In thinking of my own career, one of the key reasons why I was able to move “up” so quickly and accomplish things in newsrooms and, later, in conference rooms at a “young” age is because I was beyond lucky to get to be regularly on the radio when I was a kid. Knowing how to use speak and use my voice to effectively communicate was a skill that covered up for a lack of knowledge and experience in other areas. For most, they have to do it the other way around.

For almost all of us (except for a certain former President – sorry, it’s true), what you say is really important. But if you want to be seen as a leader, how you say it is vital. At this moment, that’s worth remembering.