Monday, December 28, 2009

The Rocchi Awards for Best and Worst Communicators of 2009

It is that time again, Dear Readers. We are close to the end of the year, and I am ready to crown my best and worst communicators of 2009. There was an abundance of candidates for the Rocchi Award for Worst Communicator, while it was harder to find effective communication. So, for good or for ill, here are my choices, as voted upon by my panel of experts. (Okay, I am the panel, but hey, I spend a lot of time studying communication, so I’m as qualified as any group of people!)

WORST COMMUNICATOR – Dishonorable Mention

My goodness, but the poor and ill-advised communication from a wide array of politicians was stunning this year. Here is a sampling of ne’er-say-wells:

  • President Barack Obama, last year’s best communicator, relinquishing his title through his inability to articulate the case for healthcare reform, allowing his opponents to highjack the discussion.
  • Sarah Palin, last year’s runner-up for worst communicator, with her ham-handed explanation of why she was resigning as governor of Alaska. She couldn’t blame that one on Katie Couric.
  • Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, resurrecting long-discarded Hispanic stereotypes by saying to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings, "You'll have lots of 'splainin' to do." Shades of Ricky Ricardo! With that phrase (combined with a condescending tone), he played right into the worst stereotypes of the Republican Party as an exclusive country club.


Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California, was roundly criticized for speaking against gay marriage in the question-and-answer portion of the Miss USA beauty contest. Personally, I thought she should have been able to say whatever she believed in that situation and inject some honesty in that otherwise faux and homogenized event. But she quickly overstayed her welcome and became a tempest in a D-cup. This self-described Christian complained incessantly about the attempts to silence her as she appeared ad nauseum in the same “mainstream media” she sought to denounce. If she was so persecuted, why did we see so much of her?

Speaking of seeing so much of her… (segue to the sarcasm…)

It became hard to reconcile her squeaky clean, church-going image with the nude photos that surfaced, which was later followed by a video of her “pleasuring” herself. Miss Prejean, remember the Biblical injunction against those who would cast the first stone? No, didn’t think you did. Watch your step next time as you ascend that soapbox.


Remember how Spider-Man was advised “With great power comes great responsibility?” Well, NBC, the National Broadcasting Company, officially abdicated its responsibility as a broadcaster by eliminating quality from their lineup. Slowly but surely, the network has become a purveyor of pap by concentrating on weight loss competitions, one-time events and other inferior programs. However, their greatest crime was to give up five hours of quality programming every week, Monday to Friday, from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. and turning it over to Jay Leno and his pale imitation of the Tonight Show. I am not a Leno basher by any means (I met the man in person once, and he was an absolute prince), but it was unconscionable to give up prime-time real estate to his un-entertaining variety show while a cable network is picking up NBC’s discards like “Southland.”

Even Jay looks guilty and weary on his show. He probably is aware of the crime for which he is an accomplice. NBC is creating a template for the demise of the once-great networks. Maybe Comcast will treat this jewel with more respect if the FCC approves the acquisition.


I wrote earlier in 2009 – in the same post criticizing Senator Tom Coburn — that “Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was a model for his party, and perhaps all citizens, in his decorum (during the Sotomayor hearings). He clearly had issues with Sotomayor, but he was able to express them in a courtly and respectful manner, calling to mind a level of discourse that we once had in this country until we Rush-ed in another direction. And as a former Judge Advocate General (JAG, like the TV show), he was well-qualified to question Sotomayor on legal issues.”

Joe Klein of Time magazine, in his own year-end review, also gave Graham kudos: “He faced down his home-state party on climate change and the need for civility in politics.”

In a year marked by knee-jerk partisanship, Graham used high-minded language to rise above the fray.


Let me compare two scenarios:

  1. A certain leading golfer is revealed to be having a number of extramarital affairs, and he loses his standing with the public as well as a number of lucrative endorsements.
  2. A famous TV star is threatened with the disclosure of several relationships with staff members. Said star meets with the extortionist, has him arrested and, in turn, shoots up to number one in his time slot.

David Letterman, along with his press advisors and his lawyers gave us a masterpiece in press relations this year. Lynette Rice of Entertainment Weekly wrote that “Letterman has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to preempt the scandal by getting ahead of it, both by using his sincere mea culpas and by poking fun at his predicament.” Indeed, Letterman controlled the situation rather than letting it control him. As a result, he and his show are leading in key audience demographics for the first time in years.

Tiger Woods is not the only person who could have learned from this approach. Presidents Nixon and Clinton could have benefited from it, too.

I wish the good had outweighed the bad in 2009, but let's hope for better in 2010. Let's all do what we can to improve communication in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Celebrating the Birth of Christ

It is the morning of Christmas Eve. The neighbors’ houses are brightly decorated, the cards are mailed, and our gifts are wrapped. My wife, Marie, is preparing a seven-fish dinner Christmas Eve dinner, an Italian-American tradition that she has adopted for our family over the last 10 years. But in this moment in the early hours, I find my time to reflect on what this season means to me.

Like many men of my Boomer generation, I struggled with religion, particularly my Catholic Church. I dealt with the inconsistencies and hypocrisies that exist in all religions, yet I found myself always drawing back to church and my desire to lead an ethical life. I saw so-called religious people — many to whom I am related — profess disdain, if not outright hatred, for people who were different from them. When I talked about helping someone who was down, the response that shot back at me was, “Who helped ME?”

Through them, I questioned, “Is this how people who call themselves Christians are supposed to act?”

Finally, somehow inspired, I found I could come to terms with the role of Christ in my life by concentrating on a single passage from the New Testament (John 15:12), in which He says:

“This is my commandment,
that ye love one another,
as I have loved you.”

That single sentence is everything for me. It informs my thoughts and actions. It causes me to ask myself how I should treat my fellow humans, regardless of their colors. Regardless of their facial features. With no mind of their gender. And without judgment of whom they choose to love.

When I am in want, I hope that someone will reach out to me, whether I need a consideration, an opportunity or a kind word. Do I, in turn, give my own gifts to others? Do I give from my abundance or from my leftovers?

When someone commits a wrong, how willing am I to forgive?

Am I even willing to let another car in front of me when I am in a long line?

When I vote, is it in habitual response to an ingrained ideology, or am I really choosing someone who will make life better for all of us through the judicious use of public service?

Years ago, when I worked as a young intern on a local religious program, I had the pleasure of meeting spiritual counselor Tony Campolo. He has always been unlike most evangelical Christian ministers in that he spoke in common language, spreading a message of love and humor. In recent years, I saw him on a national political talk show when the subject was religion in public life. He said —and I’m paraphrasing here, as I don’t remember his exact words — that nowhere in the New Testament did Jesus comment on gay marriage, prayer in school, or keeping our wealth. However, He did speak frequently of looking after one another. No one else on the panel could respond to Tony or dispute him.

As I have experienced more than 50 Christmases and am well past the ephemeral enjoyment of toys, I give much more thought on the birth we are supposedly celebrating. The Jesus Christ I know, love and admire is not a figure of retribution but one of love, a traveler and teacher who reached out to all. I see Him more often in the actions of community workers than in those of politicians, more sincerely in Mother Theresa than in televangelists. I hear His message more strongly in Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” than I do in many sermons and hymns.

In this year-end celebration that is common to so many of our cultures, let’s reflect on our roles in this imperfect world. If you profess to follow a Perfect Master like Jesus, Buddha or Mohandas Gandhi, this can be a season of renewal and a time to recommit to their principles.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Christmas Song from my Group

Here is a performance of O Holy Night by A Cappella Pops, a singing group of which I am a proud member. Enjoy!

Friday, December 18, 2009

10 Principles for 2010

In my pile of loose notes, I came across this list of "10 Principles" from hotel heir Barron Hilton. Wise words for a new year:

1. Find your own particular talent.
2. Be big. Think big. Act big. Dream big.
3. Be honest.
4. Live with enthusiasm.
5. Don't let your possessions possess you.
6. Don't worry about your problems.
7. Don't cling to the past.
8. Look up to people when you can look down to no one.
9. Assume your full share of responsibility.
10. Pray consistently and confidently.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don't Get Burned by Holiday Toasts

Ah, it's the holidays. Time for lights and libations, presents and parties. The chances are that you will be asked to make a toast at an organization event or company party. Here are some tips to make it memorable but not deplorable.
  1. It's not about you. -- Everyone in the room is enjoying the holidays, not just you. Whatever you say, make it about them rather than yourself as often as you can. Example:
    "This is a time when we all enjoy being together," instead of
    "This is a time when I enjoy getting together with friends."
    In other words, use the words "we," "us," and "you" whenever possible, and the pronoun "I" as seldom as possible.
  2. This is a time of good will, not payback -- Sure, Fred the Photocopier incorrectly collated your presentation to the Finance team, or Shirley on the board of elections miscounted the ballots for Rotarian of the Year. But this is when we're supposed to have peace on earth and so on. Be upbeat and cheerful. Don't poison the atmosphere. I guarantee you that people will remember that as surely as if you had poisoned the punch.
  3. Be considerate of all your colleagues. -- Sorry to ask you to face the truth, but not everyone is celebrating Christmas. Yes, as a practicing Christian, I am truly thrilled about the coming of the Christ child, but perhaps your co-worker with the turban observes something different that is just as meaningful to him. The end of the calendar year is a common time of celebration for MANY cultures. Be thoughtful.
  4. Make sure you are clear-headed. -- There may be liquor being served at your party (a wild guess on my part). I know that alcohol can sneak up on me at times, even if I don't drink much. If you are not up to the task physically or mentally, bow out. You may earn an unfair reputation that you will never live down.
  5. Keep it brief. -- The cliche is true; brevity IS the soul of wit. Don't go on and on, making your toast an event unto itself. It is just a bit of holiday spice, not the main course. Treat the moment as a privilege rather than a birthright. If they want a long holiday drama, they will turn on the Hallmark channel.
Have fun during this most wonderful time of the year, to quote the venerable Andy Williams. By the way, click here to learn how to enjoy your company's holiday party without risk -- wise words from my good friend, Dr. Bill Lampton, the Complete Communicator.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

QUESTION: How long should a speech be? ANSWER: Just long enough

There is nothing quite like making a decision on the fly.

I gave a speech recently to a branch of the National Association of Credit Managers in Tampa, Florida, and I was confident that I was positioned to succeed. True to my own advice, I had met members of the group the night before, shared "happy hour" with them, broke bread that night, and had breakfast with them the next morning. They got to know me and developed a comfort level with me, for which I am grateful.
I was invited to speak about change management, the subject of my book, "The Six P's of Change." I was advised that this is a profession beset by change, where people are doing more work with fewer resources. My allotted time was 90 minutes.
I could tell we got off to a good start. They were engaged and asking questions. They laughed at the funny parts (thank goodness!) and participated in the instructional sections. It was going well.
Still, as time went on, I could see them fading a bit. "Well, it's after lunch, so their blood sugar is dropping," I told myself. And, yes, it was the day after a late night out. But there was no denying that they were drifting away like Leonardo DiCaprio from Kate Winslet at the end of Titanic.
I looked at my timer. I had logged 45 minutes, half my allotted time.
I believe I ended up making the best decision I could. I wound up the speech. I referred to material that summed up my premise, first an inspiring true story of triumph over adversity, and then a humorous story that drew hearty laughter.
My applause was warm, loud and, I believe, heartfelt.
My client, who was running the conference called for a break. After I sold a couple of books to attendees, he said to me, "I think you closed at the right time. I could feel that you were losing them."
I would have preferred for him to say, "Oh, Pat, you left the stage much too soon. You could have gone on for another hour." No such luck. But he did validate my judgment to wrap up when I did.
A week later, he sent me feedback from the group: a high grade and no negative comments,
"which is pretty good," he said. "Most speakers speak on specific credit topics and (those subjects) rate higher than a soft skill presentation." In other words, the attendees tend to be much more interested in presentations that pertain to their credit businesses, so my topic went over quite well.
When I was producing video full time, the client would invariably ask, "How much will my budget be?" Many producers like me would answer, "How long is a piece of string?" Similarly, as a speaker or presenter, you need to determine not only how much time is appropriate for you to make your point, but how much the audience could bear. Keep that second point in mind, and I am confident your odds of success will improve greatly.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Our Wondrous Bodies, Our Beautiful Minds

Yesterday, my wife and I visited a local exhibition of Body Worlds, the exhibition of preserved human bodies, which has become a global phenomenon. We enjoyed it very much as an educational experience, and it answered many health questions that I've had over the years. These include the differences between healthy and diseased lungs, how many blood vessels we may have in a part of our body, and what an actual nerve looks like.
However, as you might guess, I was still curious about our minds... not our physical brains, but our abilities to think, reason, remember, feel, and more. Body Worlds shows bodies in all their splendor -- very fit bodies -- but I have often wondered how we can have fit minds in our advancing years. (Sadly, I have seen many durable bodies outlast the brains that they encase.)
Luckily, there was a representative from the Alzheimer's Association, and I asked how we can exercise our minds as well as our physiques. She smiled and handed me a brochure titled "10 ways to maintain your brain. © ." The expected advice was there, such as taking care of your physical health (e.g., controlling sugars, blood pressure, and more), having a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy life habits.
Because this is a copyrighted creation, I will link you directly to the the pdf of "10 ways to maintain your brain. © ," out of respect for the Alzheimer's Association. In the meantime, I look forward to our continued, healthy communication for a long, long time.