Ronald Reagan was dubbed “” when he was president because of his unique ability to convey facts in meaningful and understandable terms. To do this, he often used anecdotes to make a point or dramatize an event by inviting people who were involved in the event to his presentation.
This technique added a lasting quality to his speeches, for it was easy to recall the message when you associated it with an anecdote or real people. The effectiveness of this straightforward approach to communication is, I believe, borne out by the adoption of this practice by succeeding presidents.
So often we are given facts that have no bearing on the problem at hand. For example, most airlines have a standard message that they deliver to passengers when their aircraft is pulling up to the gate. The message: “Be careful when opening the overhead bins for your personal items may have shifted while we were in flight.” So what! Does that describe the peril? Absolutely not!
Air France, on the other hand, takes a more straightforward approach in their message, which states: “Be careful when you open the overhead bins for your personal items may fall out and hit you.” That is good communication because now you know exactly what the peril is instead of having to infer it from some vague statement.
I believe the country has been well served by President Reagan popularizing this form of communication. In a somewhat similar manner, our own industry has been blessed for more than 50 years with its own “great communicator” who inspired audiences around the world with his always memorable presentations. I refer to Bart Hodges, past president of the National Association of Life Underwriters, who passed away on Jan. 10, 2002, thereby stilling one of our most effective voices.
Bart always presented himself from the platform as just a regular guy from Texas (although he was born in Alabama), but he was a far more complicated person than that. He was a perfectionist and practiced every expression and gesture until it seemed perfectly natural when delivered in a presentation.
Prior to entering the life insurance business, he was a journalist, writing for such publications as Readers Digest and the Washington Post. Bart was also an artist and once considered a career with the Disney Studios.
Combining his artistic eye with his journalistic skill, he was able to paint word pictures one did not soon forget. I can remember speeches Bart made and the messages they conveyed from over 40 years ago. One example immediately comes to mind.