We are in the age of Communication and those who communicated effectively greatly increased their influence while those who failed ended up losing credibility and goodwill. This year’s list was compiled with the help of persons outside the formal practice of Communication who utilised Social Media and popular online survey platforms to submit their nominations. The list is diverse and uses specific examples and tangible takeaways; hopefully readers will use it as a teaching moment and pick lessons for their own use.
Great Communicators analyse and understand their audience then craft and creatively deliver pertinent messages, which connect with the Audience. Most of the times they receive positive feedback expressed through the audience engaging in a desired course of action and even when an audience disagrees, great communicators will have gained enough goodwill for the audience holding opposing views to give consideration to their propositions. In 2015, the following persons epitomized the attributes of Credibility, Authenticity, Great Delivery, Deep Knowledge, Likeability, Humility and Passionate Delivery that makes for great communicators.
1.Foreign Secretary Amina Mohammed- Firm Versatile Diplomacy
Kenya’s Top Diplomat tops the list this year, and rightly so. She has been the epitome of consistency and versatility when addressing diverse audiences and above all manages to always be On-message.
Madam Amina displayed that rare ability of being able to communicate a strong point of view even to opposing audiences without condescending or becoming a polarizing figure. Her ability to internalize key messages and move beyond written talking points to extemporaneously deliver articulately, no doubt makes her a great communicator. She was clearly a lady in Charge and effectively deployed her communication abilities to back her up.
2.President Barack Obama- Inspirational, Aspirational Conversation
When Air Force One landed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and President Obama jogged down the long stairway, much scrutiny would be on his Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication during his tour. The First African American President who traced his roots from Kenya was in a sense “coming home.” His tour was carefully themed as “a focus to the future as opposed to the past” and by the time he stood up to speak to the Kenyan People on his final day at the Safaricom Indoor Arena with a youthful audience in attendance this theme became more evident.
Great speeches usually have a common characteristic; the moment they are delivered may be fleeting, but they have a transcendent quality about them and become a part of conversations in years to come. This was one such speech; particularly because in addition to the historic nature of the speaker, the themes of a shared Hope and National Unity, which transcend the current myopic obsession with tribal identity, will have an enduring resonance in Kenya’s future and will continue to be central in our quest to build a more perfect Nation.
In its final iteration President Obama’s speech to the Kenyan people wove together the threads of his father’s roots, his own journey, American and Kenyan values, aspirations of the Kenyan people and his desire to use his words to shape the perception of Kenya’s present reality into a new reality based on his sentiments that all Kenyan’s shared a common destiny. The speech was a masterful fusion of substance and great delivery connecting with the Kenyan people and he was able to speak hard truths without appearing patronizing to his host the Kenyan President and the Kenyan public. (A comprehensive Analysis is available and will be made public on my blog www.paulachar.wordpress.com)
3.Pope Francis- Humble, Firm Compassionate Delivery
When the plane christened “Shepherd One” landed in Nairobi, Kenyan’s were formally introduced to Pope Francis’s Considerate Communication Style. He displayed great humility, exhibited good knowledge of the country and its challenges. (A clear indicator that he had read and internalized his briefs). His tour was designed to fit with his overall agenda of accessibility to the least among us and it was no surprise that he declined any lavish state dinner, avoided a huge motorcade and even carried his own bag.
This was all communicating who he is and what he believes in. When he stood to deliver his sermon or speak to the youth, his considerate conversational style and manner combined with a bold message on social justice appealing to the better side of Kenyans was proof that you don’t have to raise your voice to communicate and connect. His emphasis on humility, concern for the poor and interfaith dialogue was well communicated in the stagecraft and message of his tour.
4.President John Magufuli- Authentic and Passionate
When the Tanzanian Governing Party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) nominated Dr. John Magufuli as its Presidential Candidate it came as a surprise to many. How would a party insider distinguish himself from the incumbent and authentically position himself as a change agent? When he eventually hit the campaign, his stump speech was a masterful fusion of a change message, hopeful future and a promise to break from the past. His authentic passionate delivery backed up with a narrative of his hardworking scandal free public service track record greatly enhanced his credibility.
His Direct Communication Style, message and passionate delivery made him appear like an insurgent leading an uprising from within the CCM and his slogan “Hapa Kazi Tu” (All about Working) elevated him to the Presidency. His actions and communication since the start of his Presidency have been consistent with his Anti-Corruption and “Hapa Kazi Tu” slogan. His first address to parliament will go down in history as a great speech. It was Direct, Authentic and Passionate while clearly articulating the scope of his Administration’s Agenda and we also learnt that he is good with the Teleprompter. His influence on the African continent is certain to grow in coming years.
5. Ms. Amina Hashi- Young, Knowledgeable and Confident Communicator
If you have never heard of this young Land Law Expert, well, make sure to look out for her in the coming year. She is clearly a great legal mind who combined good communication abilities with deep knowledge on land issues to curve a niche and despite of her relative youth has achieved quite a lot. Amina easily uses her Systematic Communication Style to speak with authority, while deploying an expressive voice that makes you want to listen. Her ability to synthesize and simplify complex legal land issues and communicate the same to audiences, which may lack a legal background, is the stuff good communicators are made of.
6.Dr. David Ndii- Transforming Complex to Simple
Great Communicators possess is the ability to transform complex concepts or subjects into simple to understand messages. This Rhodes scholar and Eisenhower fellow who holds a Doctorate in Economics from the University of Oxford has managed to break free from the “experts curse.” (This is when experts deploy technical esoteric language, which a majority fail to understand).
His opinions may be controversial as evidenced by the animated debates, his talks or writings evoke, but even his critics admit that he has effectively been able to break down economics into a simpler to understand subject for the mainstream. Combine the fact that he is a passionate speaker, who uses techniques like stories and imagery to pass across his message and you can bet audiences keen to listen to his presentations will certainly grow in 2016.
7 Inspector General Joseph Boinett – Articulate, Systematic Steady under Pressure
Professional and Credible Communication is of the essence when it comes to a Country’s Security Communication. Historically the appointees to the Chief of Police position in Kenya have been poor Communicators with few exceptions like the Former Police Commissioner Gen. Ali. The nomination and eventual confirmation of Inspector General Joseph Boinnet introduced Kenyans to an IG who was articulate and for the first time in the country’s history clearly articulated his agenda for the service as that of Building a People Centered Police Service during his parliamentary vetting process.
Since assuming office his confidence in his communication ability has steadily grown as evidenced by his Town Hall meetings across the country and in subsequent media appearances.
The Country has faced various security challenges and it has shown that speaking on behalf of the Police Service requires a high degree of Confidence, Steadfastness under pressure, Knowledge and the ability especially in the midst of a crisis to balance between bravado and reality, something the IG has managed. His Systematic Communication Style evidenced in his measured delivery proves that you don’t have to be the loudest to be effective. Hopefully in 2016, the Inspector General will deploy his communication abilities to speak with Kenyan’s more regularly even when there is no crisis.
8 Charles Kanjama -A Compelling ,Versatile and Engaging Speaker
It is not everyday you come across a lawyer who can quote Shakespeare, St. Augustine of Hippo and Pope Francis in one sentence while analyzing and trying to give sense to current affairs. Charles a lawyer, writer and Speaker is a spirited communicator who uses Stories, Analogies, References, Humor and Synthetic Parallelism to make his analysis or speeches come alive. His ability to analyze and synthesize diverse subjects into coherent narratives deployed in a steady expressive voice makes him a great communicator.
9 Ms. Anzetse Were- Great Delivery (Mastery of Content and Language)
Anzetse is a Development Economist and also the author of “Drivers of Violence: Male Disempowerment in the African Context”. She has been able to masterfully combine her work in gender programming and her economic consulting with a great ability to communicate.
Her ability to mainstream her economic analysis to diverse audiences and to articulately frame her positions while deploying supporting evidence made her one of the most recognisable economists on current affairs programmes.In her economic analyses and dispositions she came across as personable and objective using each speaking opportunity or media appearance as a moment to instigate debate.
On matters of gender programming and rights advocacy her Direct Communication Style can be termed as Hard-hitting yet bearing compassion and is non condescending. Anzetse is an articulate analyst who has certainly helped to bring back proper diction on Television debates.
10. Police Spokesman Charles Owino- Steady, Calm Cop
The Kenya Police Spokespersons office in recent years had lost its credibility with its majority Audience; the Kenyan people. A Police Spokesperson’s role is to articulate to the public matters security and it requires the holder to exhibit a high level of knowledge on technical security matters, possess great communication skills ultimately enhancing their credibility and generating goodwill for the National Police Service. The recently appointed Spokesperson Charles Owino was articulate and proved himself a master of plain talk which audience’s liked about him.
He proved to be a master of the Visual, Vocal and Verbal aspects of delivery. His understanding of the visual aspects of communication and mastery of the stagecraft of presentation saw him deploy good posture, a compelling demeanor, good dressing, the ability to command attention, great eye contact and utilized appropriate authoritative and confident gestures.
Winning over the public is still a major task for the Kenya Police, and for the Police Spokesman who derives most of his influence right now because of his position, we would hope that in the coming year he effectively moves from “Position Power” to “Persuasion Power” in his communication with the public.
1.Heshan De Silva- Poster Child for inconsistent Narratives and loss of Credibility
Heshan burst onto the public scene billed as a venture capitalist and young billionaire who had overcome drugs and depression while on his journey to success. It was a good story delivered masterfully and combined with powerful motivational anecdotes, he was soon all over our television screens and eventually joined the lucrative paid speaking circuit commanding six figure-sums per speech.
The curtains fell on this act when a single email from the PR Company managing him dissociating themselves from him and openly questioning the credibility of his narratives was sent to newsrooms.
This email eventually led to a greater scrutiny of his story and the glaring gaps in the “success narrative” continued to grow. Some commentators claimed that he had lied and demanded proof of his multi-million-business empire but his responses only raised more questions than answers.
Instead of deploying his speaking skills to respond, he simply posted a vague response on Social Media, closed all his Social Media accounts and pulled a Houdini. Well, as the year draws to a close, the possibility of multiple lawsuits by some of his past paid speaking clients is becoming common talk. The entire Heshan De Silva experience affirms the old adage that no matter how gifted you can communicate, without character and integrity it is all a house of cards and eventually when it crumbles the loss of credibility is something difficult to recover from.
2. Hon Moses Kuria- Arrogant and grossly Inappropriate Communication
The Gatundu Member of Parliament epitomizes the fact that irresponsible, inappropriate communication coming from an elected leader can destroy a reputation. As he continued to fight charges of hate speech, he also embarked on a media appearance circuit in which his hubris, unrepentant, bloviating and arrogant disposition crowned him the villain among elected Kenyan politicians. To cap it all, it couldn’t get worse than when Hon. Kuria walked out of a live TV interview protesting some tough questioning.
3. George Aladwa- Confrontational, Hostile Communication
The Former Mayor of Nairobi may not hold any elected office these days, but his influence as a leader demands that his communication is beyond reproach. His confrontational hostile words uttered at a public rally have ensured that he is also fighting charges of hate speech.
Responsible Communication by political leaders demands that they must continually conduct a wide audience analysis which not only focuses on the situational context but also the entire national context in order to frame a message which will not be deemed inappropriate when viewed from the wider context regardless of the cheers it may elicit within the immediate context. His continued pompous style has ensured he advances into 2016 with huge legal fees.
4. Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich- Uncertain, Negative Non Verbal Communication
Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich’s uncertain, wavering communication style failed to inspire confidence this year. While The National Treasury faced numerous questions, which required robust, credible responses from its Chief Executive, his public speaking performance was largely unsatisfactory. He may have deployed colorful graphs and Charts (Visual Aids) but he failed to elevate the level of his rhetoric by moving beyond the prepared talking points and expressing seamless extemporaneous deliveries.
The Cabinet Secretary has a natural likeable demeanour but when under pressure he revealed negative Non-Verbal cues from closed and defensive hand gestures, limited eye contact and the all to common nervous body shifts, which were clear negative behavioural giveaways. In the coming year, the Cabinet Secretary must invest more time in preparing for any speaking engagements, his Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication must also be in congruence especially if he wants his audience to trust that he has nothing to hide.
5. Presidential Strategic Communication Unit (PSCU)- Un-strategic Disjointed Communication
Strategic Communication within the context of governance can be defined as infusing communication efforts with a clear Policy agenda and master plan or the deliberate orchestrated use of channels of communication to move and influence policy or promote an administration’s agenda.
So why did the Presidential Strategic Communication Unit (PSCU) engage in Un-strategic seemingly disjointed communication? Some of the reasons can be found on this article using this link www. https://paulachar.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/two-years-on-why-has-jubilee-struggled-in-strategic-communication/.
The PSCU may have got some things right, but their public messaging strategy required more refining and simplicity. At times the Bullet Point, Colourful graphics themed messages were above two levels of abstraction and in some instances extended to three. The cardinal rule of Mass Public Communication is that you cannot go beyond one level of abstraction in your messaging. To break it down further, the majority of the public needs to understand the message without thinking too hard. Anything beyond one level of abstraction is geared towards a minority who possess technical competencies in that particular subject. To succeed in 2016 the PSCU must move beyond controlling the 24Hrs news cycle to a more strategic approach that anchors its efforts on the bigger picture but maintains simplicity in messaging.
6. The Elite Kenyan Athlete-Poor Pre and Post Race Interviews
Pic. Courtesy of www.mylesedwards.wordpress.com
The race is coming down to the wire, and up ahead the ultimate price looms. With history beckoning another Kenyan athlete gradually pulls ahead and crosses the finish line securing yet another win for Kenya. Then comes the moment many are awaiting; a chance to speak to the world and frame their victory in a manner only champions can do. The interviewer asks questions and the Kenyan athlete struggles to frame a coherent, articulate response.
This scenario was replicated numerous times in 2015 when Kenyan athletes won races worldwide.
The inability to effectively communicate has locked many Kenyan athletes from the numerous opportunities that athletic stardom accords others especially their competitors from the Western hemisphere. Some of these opportunities come in the form of corporate endorsements, paid sponsorships to serve as spokespersons for various global causes and of course highly paid speaking engagements. Considering Kenyan athletes will continue to dominate the tracks in 2016, this current state of affairs needs to change; it’s of the essence that the athletes improve on their communication skills.
7. Parliament of Kenya- Scandals Unexplained and Poor quality of debate.