People are overwhelmed today. The average person may see over 30,000 different messages every day. So, how can your nonprofit get your best stakeholders’ attention and hold it? My recommendation is begin creating and sharing bolder messages. I recently saw an interview with Michael Reagan talking about how his father, President Reagan would deal with all the changes in communications of the past five years. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the right or the left, we all agree that President Reagan was able to get many things done because of his communications and interpersonal skills. As I watched the son try to capture his father’s magic in this interview, I started thinking what was Michael saying that we could all learn from.
The first key is President Reagan communicated in bold colors. He was not shy about letting others know where he stood on issues and challenges. I know what you might be thinking, that today Ronald Reagan would be less popular because of his stands on key issues. I believe people who take a stand will always endure. Talk to any person who truly believes what they say and you will discover they naturally move to bold. Take President Obama, for example, when he speaks from the heart and talks about what he believes. His power comes through. Have him read a something he really doesn’t care about and he becomes stiff and unanimated.
The second key is President Reagan created a bold vision. Organizations that stand out from the pack do so because they have a bold vision. This vision must be clearly definable and have an emotional appeal to your natural stakeholders. This vision may galvanize your opposition against your vision of the world. Many visionary leaders I’ve known realize that without the power of vision their power vanishes. Many people comment that Steve Jobs was able to accomplish so much because he created an “us against them” mentality in his teams. This “us against the world” belief helped people rise to new challenges to prove their cause. We must strive to share our vision to attract the best stakeholders while at the same time repelling people who have no interest in our causes. It’s okay not to be all things to all people. Your vision must help create connections with people who will share your vision. Today, to be effective, you must create sharable messages. Social media demands it, but just as importantly, your vision will allow others to connect to your view of the world in their own ways.
The third key is President Reagan had a bolder communication style. I know you might be asking, “What is bolder communication style?” “How do you create a bolder style?” President Reagan would always look for opportunities by using powerful quotes and ideas from leaders of the past to create connections to others. He used these simple ideas to move people emotionally. He was able to use shorter words and powerful phases to move people and so can you. An essential element of bolder communications is to learn to use pauses more. Stop! Pause, let your words sit with your listener. So many people are taught that you only have so much time to connect to your audience. At the beginning of the message, this may be true but as you continue sharing your story, your listeners will be pulled in not by your words but by your ability to get them involved emotionally. Pauses will have more impact in the era of shorter communications media.
And finally, President Reagan understood that people are moved by optimism. He understood people want to feel good when they receiving a message. Times may be challenging, but things are going to get better. Because people felt Reagan believed in them, they believed in him. By including a more optimistic message, you’re going to stand out from the crowd. Because negative emotions move us so powerfully, many speakers today have forgotten how much it costs to be perceived as a doubting Thomas. I believe this is what made President Obama so powerful in his first White House run, he talked about our fears, but then provided the optimism for the future. People are attracted to people who see an optimistic future. People are willing to pay the price to create a better future if they believe in your optimism.
So, how do you stand out from the hundreds of messages that bombard people in their day-to-day lives? How do you break through the clutter and appeal to the people that want to hear from you? Take a lesson from Ronald Reagan and remember to things, be bold and be optimistic. Don’t be afraid to turn some people off to your message, they weren’t really interested in the first place. You will attract the people that want to be involved.
Yesterday we spent the day celebrating a great man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is certainly one of the most influential men in world history. He was a rare combination of visionary and implementer.
How did Dr. King accomplish so much in his life? I believe there were three key secrets to his effectiveness that leaders can learn to help promote their causes. I think there are more but I believe that these three will take you life to the next level.
The first secret is he was an incredibly gifted orator. He understood how words moved people and used moving words. He spoke simply and did not use jargon or hidden meanings. His words were targeted to his audience but permitted others to understand where he stood on key issues. His “I Have a Dream” speech appealed to his core audience while also permitting others to embrace his vision for the world. He tapped into a theme that resonated with others, our children. His ability to make complicated issues simple was unmatched. I believe that part of his gift came from his education and his heritage. He had experienced many things in life before he developed his unique world view. We all would be well served to allow our past to communicate our future. We also must be able to communicate through an easily understood teachable point of view.
The second secret was he understood the power of seeing himself as a leader of a movement. This movement would go beyond his life. To make this work, a leader has to empower others to share in their own unique way. However he put a strong foundation in that included many other great men like Jessie Jackson, Andrew Young, James Meredith , Ralph Abernathy, and, of course, Coretta Scott King. He shared his principles with all of these individuals, but allowed them the freedom to be their own unique individuals. It sounds easy but if you ask any leader what their biggest challenge is and you will find equipping your team with a sustainable message that resonates both with the person and the movement is very hard to accomplish. I’ve interviewed and photographed all of these persons over the past 30 years and was struck by the strengths and differences of each. It takes an amazing person to be able to hold together this type of team. Dr. King was a man who saw himself as leader of something larger than himself. He shared a teachable point of view and then allowed these individuals to craft a message from their own biography. The other lesson critical lesson here is don’t be afraid to surround yourself with strong and opinionated leaders. They will help build a lasting legacy.
The third secret was his unlimited energy. Dr. King had an endless supply of energy for his cause. He was unrelenting in crafting his strategies and then worked tirelessly for results. When you realize the physical and emotional stress Dr. King lived through you realize how much energy and drive this man must possess. For most people, when we are under stress we require more rest and time to work through more difficult problems. In Dr. King’s life, he was faced with daunting decisions on a daily basis. He understood the magnitude of these decisions and still made the right decision almost all of the time. I believe that this was because he understood the power of prayer and small amounts of meditation. He spent time reading the Bible and found rest in its passages. I’ve known many religious leaders over my life and found that many of them find rest in their spiritual books. I’ve discovered that most high energy people find a way of channeling their energy into what they love and believe. Don’t take time investing in small things that don’t move you. Invest your time in ideas that will make a difference. In this way, you can be a leader more like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. every day.