On Zelensky And Unfiltered Communication
The Ukrainian president's messaging approach offers an authentic, unbiased view of his cause.
Like everyone, I’ve been riveted in the recent weeks watching Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speak to the world through selfie videos shot while holding his own phone.
And, like the rest of the world, I’ve been struck not just by the righteousness of Zelensky’s cause, but also his clarity, his conciseness and his deftness with words and messaging. The president is uniting the world and inspiring his countrymen to stay and fight their attackers — and he’s doing so without a prepared script.
Zelensky provides a lesson for leaders in every realm, and not just in his bravery. By making a direct pitch, showing a command of the facts and speaking straight into the camera, he is commanding credibility and rebutting Vladimir Putin’s untruths.
Unfiltered communication is the key. We tell our clients — business leaders, nonprofits, pretty much everyone – that you have to start with direct appeals to your target audiences and constituents. Speak right to them.
We saw that same direct appeal recently in President Biden’s State of the Union Address. The president came straight to the American people and delivered a message of American unity on Ukraine.
There was no media filter here. No writers interpreting Biden’s intent or pundits parsing every sentence (at least until he was finished). It was just the president looking into the camera and saying to Putin, “Hey, we have our disagreements in this country, but on this issue, Democrats and Republicans are basically together.” You could tell the president was speaking from the heart. He was engaged in it.
Not surprisingly, his poll numbers rose immediately.
Of course, not every leader has access to an international TV audience to get out the word. In our business, we use other effective mainstream methods to help our clients spread their message — op-eds, letters to the editor and direct mail. All succeed as unfiltered, straight-from-the-source delivery systems.
And we amplify that communication through ever-evolving social and digital tools. Social media is essential these days.
President Biden has 53 million Twitter followers between two accounts. Zelensky, largely unknown to most people outside Ukraine until recently, is gaining Twitter followers at the rate of one million a week.
So much of what we all see and hear these days comes through the filter of partisan media. But when you can get beyond that media prism and connect in a direct, unfiltered way — be seen and not edited — people will be able to fairly judge you and your cause.
Again, Zelensky is proving to be a master of that. He was trained as an improvisational entertainer and that background has proven helpful to him. To draw a comparison, President Reagan was also a very effective communicator, but trained as a traditional actor. Everyone knew he was reading from a script. Zelensky is just turning his camera on and talking. And he’s doing it brilliantly.
Every word matters. And there’s no better way for leaders to communicate than speaking directly to their audience — through the camera, printed word or social media. That way, you control the message.
Larry Ceisler is the Founder of Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy