We live in a time of division and strife. Sometimes the differences of opinion in America seem too big to bridge. Ronald Reagan lived in such a time. His ideas were met with derision and scorn.
But fast forward a few years, and people were praising him and calling him “the great communicator.” What happened? What made the difference?
His success is part of the answer. As time passed, people could see his ideas were working.
But how did Ronald Reagan become a beloved leader to whom many look for guidance, even today? Why did someone like President Obama, his idealogical opposite, try to copy his style?
How did Ronald Reagan become a great communicator, and what can we learn from him?
Here are five things he did to communicate effectively that we can do too.
Prepare and Practice
President Reagan began young. By age 15 he was teaching Sunday School classes regularly in his church. He worked to earn money as a radio announcer in high school, and later went on to become a popular actor. He practiced his public speaking skills in his years as a spokesman for General Electric, and during his two terms as governor of California.
Reagan was a serious scholar of political topics long before he became president. His messages were carefully considered and honed. Michael Reagan recalled that his dad was always working at his desk, reading and writing.
As patriotic parents, we need to give our children opportunities to think, read, write, and speak about important subjects. We ought to discuss current events in our families. We should all (even the kids) be prepared to share important ideas at mealtime. It was President Reagan who said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
And as adults, we don’t need to rewind the clock to follow Reagan’s example. We can start from where we are and do our best. It will prepare us to make a difference too.
Communicate Great Things
President Reagan didn’t think of himself as a great communicator. His focus was on his message, not himself. He explained, “I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things."
If we want to follow President Reagan’s example, we need to have a clear vision and communicate great things.
But how did he have great things to communicate?
In addition to being a scholar, speaker and writer of history, politics, religion, and other subjects, Reagan was a faithful journal keeper, as were many great leaders of the past. It’s no coincidence that many great leaders have kept written records. Writing in a journal allows a person to refine their thinking, evaluate priorities, plan and reach goals, and remember important principles, experiences, stories, and even jokes they can share with others.
Keeping a meaningful journal is one of the most important habits we can help our children develop. Some families set aside a time each evening for writing in their journals. Kids are more likely to continue this life-changing habit when they see we keep a journal too.
The Thanksgiving message below is an example of how many great things President Reagan could say quickly. This message lasts a little more than a minute. (1:24)
Communicate with Respect
President Reagan’s messages were clear, sometimes pointed, but he had a gift for delivering his remarks with respect. He went out of his way to build relationships of trust. Often under attack personally, he didn’t take offense. And he could attack false paradigms and defend true principles without being offensive. (1:43)
Use Stories and Humor to Convey Your Message
Ronald Reagan was a masterful storyteller. He used stories to paint clear and inspiring pictures that held our attention, and even our hearts.
Reagan had a joke for almost every situation. He loved to laugh with us, and he used humor to unify and to heal, but he also employed humor to illustrate idealogical differences and to defuse difficult political situations. (5:15)
President Reagan often wrote his own speeches, but he also found great speech writers who studied his core beliefs and style, and tailored speeches to fit him as perfectly as possible. Still, he rarely gave the exact speeches they wrote. He refined their work until it reflected exactly what he wanted to convey to the American people.
But beyond his words, President Reagan’s life was a perfect reflection of his message. We knew he was genuine.
Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter and biographer, emphasizes, “The secret of Reagan's success was no secret at all. It was his character—his courage, his kindness, his persistence, his honesty, and his almost heroic patience in the face of setbacks—that was the most important element of his success.”
Yes, Ronald Reagan gave many memorable and remarkable speeches, but in the final analysis, it was the way he lived his life that made him a great communicator!
A Special Invitation: President Reagan's farewell address is a masterpiece -- 21 minutes of wisdom and goodness. Please watch and share it with your family. Click here if you prefer to read. (21:23)