The Critical Business Communications Lesson from 1960

In 1960 a series of presidential debates were held between then Vice President Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

After the debate, pollsters surveyed the public to see who had won.

Interestingly, the results were atypical. One group of respondents claimed that Nixon had won by a lot. Another group of respondents felt that Kennedy had clearly won.

What was most interesting was that these two groups each had a similar makeup. For instance, it wasn’t that one group was mostly Republicans and the other Democrats. Or that one group was from the North and the other the South. Etc.

Rather, the difference was that people who listened to the debate on the radio felt that Nixon had clearly won. Conversely, people who watched the debate on television believed that Kennedy was the clear winner.

Below is one of the videos of the debate:

(This is just an 8 minute clip of the debate….but I think that Kennedy seems a lot more confident and sincere than Nixon.)

So what is the business lesson here?

The lesson is that business communications can comprise up to three factors — Verbal (the words you say), Vocal (the pitch, speed, volume, etc. of your voice) and Visual (what the audience sees).

When you communicate with important audiences (customer, partners, investors, etc.), we typically rely on email (verbal), telephone (verbal + vocal), or in-person (verbal + vocal + visual).

When you are able to combine all three factors, as you can do in an in-person meeting, you can generally convey the most effective and powerful message (if you practice it of course).

So, while email or telephone may be the most efficient communication method, if there is a potential partner, investor, customer, employee, etc. that you absolutely must convince to say “yes” to you, you must go the extra mile to get the face-to-face meeting.


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