Trump and the rule of one

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post “Obama and the rule of three“, in which I analyzed the previous American president’s re-election speech and praised his public speaking skills. Incidentally, over the past months – guess why? – this article has become one of the most frequently visited titles on my B2B Storytelling pages. Since then, an awful lot has changed, and the US as well as the rest of the world are getting used to living in the new, Trumpian reality.

I honestly admit that I’m not a fan of the 45th President of the United States. Neither of the person, nor of his political doctrine, nor of his deeds since January 20. But as Donald Trump was elected by kind of democratic process, he also deserves kind of credit.Tomorrow he will deliver his first State of the Union address. An occasion to zoom in on the newly-on-duty POTUS’ presentation skills.

Surely, Mr. Trump isn’t the eloquent orator that Barack Obama was, though in my honest opinion he is definitely not a bad communicator. Note that from the writing perspective of this blog, I’m only assessing his communication style, not his content nor his use of (alternative) facts and figures – which would put me on too thin ice. When analyzing his public talks, I think I’d rather associate him to a “rule of one” than to a rule of three: as a speaker, he systematically puts his one-self in the center; his person seems to be more prominent than his words or his audience.

There are a common practices that seem to come back in every speech the president delivers. Some of them are so striking that they have become fodder for effective Trump parodies:

  • He has a clear and strong voice and uses simple, often sloganesque, language with short and declarative sentences. This is an appropriate habit, considering DJT’s target audience and key messages. His one-liners like “make America great again” and “let’s build that wall” have the same magnitude of emotional impact as Obama’s “yes, we can”.
  • The words he uses are congruent with his message, and he consistently repeats them. After analyzing 95,000 words used in campaign speeches, the New York Times concluded that “the most striking hallmark was Mr. Trump’s constant repetition of divisive phrases, harsh words and violent imagery that American presidents rarely use…”
  • The new US president (figuratively and literally) tries to take a maximum amount of space. His alpha male body language, facial expression, and hand gestures are compatible with his overall message. Take, for example, his index finger pointing in the air while putting his second finger and thumb together (accentuating he’s right and the others are totally wrong), his thumb-and-forefinger pinch (that signals precision and control), and his pneumatic drill movements (to hammer the point he’s making home.)

trump_cnn

Donald J. Trump has only been on duty for six weeks. Probably we ain’t seen or heard nothing yet. But, whether you agree with his politics or not, you can’t argue that he isn’t a good communicator.

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Occam’s razor shaves better

Yesterday, my company Alcatel-Lucent combined with Nokia. Two industry leaders joined forces, and their combination will profoundly change the technology market. But the Finnish touch may also change our corporate communication style.

In the brand starter kit that my new employer distributed, I read that “we bravely refine and simplify,” that “our communication is clear, honest and free of the unnecessary — yet still warm,” and that “each sentence should be meaningful and valuable to the audience.”

As a long-time fan of crisp and clear communications, I can do nothing but warmly applaud these guidelines. And I’m looking forward to applying Occam’s razor

Also known as the lex parsimoniae (Latin for law of parsimony,) Occam’s razor is a problem-solving principle attributed to the Franciscan monk William of Ockham (1287–1347.) The principle, as originally written, states that:

“When one is faced with competing hypotheses, he or she should select the one that makes the fewest assumptions,”

or simply said:

“Don’t make things more complex than they are.”

The term “razor” is used as a metaphor for cutting apart two similar conclusions or shaving away unnecessary material.

Scientists have adopted the principle of parsimony to synthesize research data into actionable insights, and medical practitioners use it to deduct a viable diagnosis from a set of illness symptoms.

But Occam’s law also applies to corporate messaging and presentation design. Simplicity always works, though it often requires a thorough understanding of the complex details. Keep your messages short, sweet and simple. Cut your slides down to the information your audience absolutely must absorb. Be consistent in what you tell and what you show.

Occam’s razor shaves better. Cheers to the new Nokia and its pure communication style!

Nokia

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