Americans Can Do (Almost) Anything

March 3rd, 2009

When it comes to communications, a good story can go a long way, but a bad delivery can stop it in its tracks. Just ask Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who was universally panned for the Republican response he delivered to President Obama’s first state of the union address last week.

The content wasn’t bad. He had a good theme: “Americans Can Do Anything.” He even used a strong narrative device by introducing it through a story from his childhood when his father, an immigrant from India, spoke those words to him as they walked through a supermarket packed with thousands of different items. Unfortunately, the delivery was atrocious.

Jindal came off as a combination of Mister Rogers doing an infomercial and Kenneth from 30 Rock. Not exactly presidential, which is the aspiration many people in the Republican Party had for Jindal. (At least they did prior to his national address.)

Jindal, or his advisers, should have known the importance of delivery in effective communications. In fact, a highly respected study by University of California Professor Albert Merabian says that 38 percent of communication impact occurs through voice tone, 55 percent happens through body language and only 7 percent is as a result of the actual spoken words.

Whether those numbers are precise or not we’ve certainly seen instances throughout history where appearance and delivery trump content — most notably the famous Nixon/Kennedy debate of 1960. In the first nationally televised presidential debate, Kennedy soundly beat Nixon based on the response of the television audience even as those who listened on the radio thought Nixon had won handily. Unfortunately for Nixon, the television audience was exponentially bigger.

So Mr. Jindal, please learn a lesson from your republican brethren of the past — when it comes to TV, it’s style over substance and delivery is king. (Although, you may have to tweak your content a bit as well.) How about, Americans Can Do Almost Anything, Except Deliver a Good Story? A little less catchy but in this case more accurate.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Posted Under: Storytelling
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