Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Can Obama Improve the State of the State of the Union?

By David Murray

Every year the State of the Union is the same story, even if we aren’t in a mid-term election year in a crap economy with a president’s popularity teetering atop a teetering piece of signature legislation.

Ahead of the SOTU show, everybody says the president’s got to say something—stay the course, ignore the doubters, things will get better if you just follow me—and instead, he says everything, and we remember none of it at all.

I once heard James Carville say everyone accuses communication advisors like him of filling empty vessels with their words. “Naw,” he said, “I empty full vessels”—persuading his clients to say one meaningful, powerful thing, and to say it well.

The State of the Union, traditionally, is full-to-overflowing, as if this is the president’s only chance to communicate on every front. (It’s not!)

I realize that’s the genre. But it’s not a commandment.

And when the stakes are this high, one hopes a president who claimed to offer change we could believe in could bring himself to tweak the SOTU, and focus on “one crucial matter I need to discuss with you tonight,” letting us know the rest of the stuff is in the PowerPoint deck, available at whitehouse.gov.

Anything short of a New Kind of State of the Union, and I predict all the pundits, including yours truly, will be expressing disappointment for the umpteenth consecutive year going back to the days when it was called the Annual Message.

(That’s Message, singular.)

David Murray is editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, and editor of the widely read free weekly ezine, Executive Communication Report.

No comments: