Top 10 best and worst communicators

Communications guru Bert Decker is an expert at analyzing the way people present their messages and helping them improve the way those messages — and the people presenting them — are perceived. I spoke with Bert on New Year’s Day, and he graciously agreed to let me repost his annual list of the 10 best and worst communicators of 2007.

I used to run Bert’s list every year when I was editorial-page editor of the San Francisco Examiner, and although I don’t always with his choices for the annual list, his explanations of those choices are always fascinating and insightful.

Looking back on some of Bert’s earlier lists I think I’ve gleaned two related lessons from them. First, there can be a big difference between what you mean and what people hear. Second, if you want to deliver the right message, you can’t just be concerned about the words that come out of your mouth — you also have to pay close attention to how you say them.

Whether communicating with our family and friends, with our business contacts, or with some segment of the world at large, we all can learn from the accomplishments of people who are particularly adept communicators as well as those who consistently fail to deliver the message they intend.

Here, then, is an abridged list of the 10 best and 10 worst communicators of 2007, according to Bert Decker. If you find these lists interesting, be sure to check out Bert’s blog at and his business Web site at


This year’s List of Top Communicators highlights the best (and worst) from business, politics, entertainment and sports. Take a look to see how communications skills helped make or break these notable individuals.


1. Gov. Mike Huckabee — What but for communicating would get a presidential candidate so far so fast?

A few months ago Huckabee was almost an unknown. Now he is a front runner for the Republican Presidential nomination, and probably the fastest rise ever from relative obscurity to the cover of the weekly newsmagazines. Governor Huckabee is open in style, authentic, natural and amazingly great at thinking (and speaking) on his feet. He tells stories, and connects with people. … Powerful tools when you have to build trust and credibility visually, quickly and mostly through TV. And powerful tools for a leader. Although he has a conservative constituency, they alone could not get him this far this fast. It is his communicating.

2. Dr. Mehmet Oz — He became “America’s Doctor” in one short year, because of his communications (and Oprah of course.)

He is a unique personality, fast eyes, crisp words forcefully put — when he talks about alcohol he says hangover with a hard G. The communication experience he delivers is a man of the people — trusted by the people. He makes a good case for Dress & Appearance – always in surgical scrubs when on Oprah. He is able to synthesize complex health/medical discussions into something tangible — he talks at our level. Add to that straightforward and down to earth advice, funny and real — you have a real (and media) superstar.

3. Al Gore — Even if he hadn’t won the Academy Award, Al Gore would get the communicator’s comeback of the year award.

In a few short years he transformed himself as a speaker by becoming open vs. closed, vulnerable vs. distant, fluid vs. stiff. He worked at it, and even though he did not “invent the internet,” he did invent “global warming.” Or his film “An Inconvenient Truth” gave it the exposure to get in the popular vernacular. But it was Gore himself as narrator of the film who did the job (with a little help from our friends at Duarte Design — see Best Communicators #9 for the importance of visual support in communicating.) Some people think Al Gore deserves the Presidency. I don’t know about that, but he does deserve his many awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize and a top communicator of the year. Who would have thunk it?

The Ten Worst Communicators of 2007

1. Alberto Gonzales — He not only lied, but showed he was lying because of his behaviors.

Even when he could no longer lie and had to apologize to his fans and the general public he did it in the most non-convincing way possible. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was kept on for a long time by President Bush, but to no avail — he could not talk his way out of a very strong appearance of guilt that was caused by his communications as much as actions.

2. Michael Vick — When you want your public AND the judge’s empathy, it is not the time to “gut it out” and put on a stone face.

What Vick did was bad enough, but how he handled himself made it worse. Stiff, appearing aloof and distant, he communicated that he was as bad as his press. This is a young man who had an amazing talent and he was unable to parlay that into Character, which is the most important quality in a leader.

3. Robert Eckert — The Chairman of Mattel was caught in a toy recall disaster probably not of his making, but “the buck stops here.”

And he did not take advantage of his spokesman role to turn the tide for Mattel in the recall of lead painted toys made in China. He said the words, but his manner belied sincerity. One of the YouTube clips could be subtitled “How to be a disaster.” The hand tenting, eye communication and facial expression are vivid examples of Emerson’s quote, “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.”

For the full list of Bert Decker’s 10 best and worst communicators of 2007, visit his blog.


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