Who were the best and worst communicators in 2013?  In a very real sense, it’s an impossible question.  There are something like 6 billion of us humans on the planet.  All of us are communicating all the time (if mostly during our waking hours).  So, to pick 10 best and worst is to ignore the plain fact that we all could find our way on that list – for good or ill – on any given day.  We all have great communicative moments and poor ones.

Nonetheless, if we limit the question to the public sphere, that cuts down the sheer numbers from the billions to the thousands.  And from there, how the world pays attention gets us the rest of the way.  For the last several years, I’ve commented on Decker Communications’ Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators.  It’s time for the 2013 edition.

Perhaps I’m getting soft, but this year I find myself largely agreeing with Decker’s list, if not exactly the ranking.  Except in one way, which I’ll get to later.

In a brilliant move, Decker puts Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafazi tops on the best communicator list this year.  Who could argue with that?  The icon of human endurance, courage, grace and spirit from the past and the most recent and remarkable poster child of human endurance, courage, grace, and spirit from 2013.

After that, we get, in order, Dick Costolo, the new Pope, Astro Teller, Blake Mycoskie, Alan Mulally, Debbie Sterling, Chris Christie, Brene Brown, and Jimmy Spithill.  I would put the Pope at 2, move Sterling and Brown up, perhaps take Mulally off, and who’s Jimmy Spithill, anyway?  I was too busy staying in touch with my blue collar roots to watch the 2013 America’s Cup.

But these are minor complaints that come largely from the perception that some of these people are essentially shills for businesses (in the best possible sense) and others are deep thinkers about the human spirit.  Oh, yes, and a US politician found his way on the list.  Last I checked, only partisans can agree these days on specific choices for effective political communicators.  Is there really anyone on the US political scene who appeals broadly to both parties and the independents in the middle?

Of course not.  And the answer just shows up the hopeless mess that is US politics these days.  So yes, I would have left all US politicians off the list, simply because I don’t think there’s an effective one in the bunch.  All of them are so trapped in trying to stay cool with their base that they’re unable and unwilling to do anything except sneer across the aisle.

Which is why so many politicians are on the 10 worst half of the list.  And I agree, they’re all terrible in their own ways.  To decide on a ranking is to hold your nose and pick from a variously horrible crew.

But I think the only real mistake on the worst list is putting Rob Ford, absurdly criminal mayor of Toronto, near the bottom of the list at #9.  Finally Canada gets recognition, and all it gets is #9?  For the sake of my Canadian friends, I want to move Ford up to at least #2.  Also, for the sake of my British friends, I would put David Cameron on the list.  He’s proven himself to be a uniquely weak Prime Minister at a time when the United Kingdom desperately needs strength.  A good deal of the economic and social despair I sense on visits to the UK these days can be put at his door.

Finally, I think TED itself should be on the best AND worst list.  Best, because TED has made an enormous amount of wonderful video available to the world in a way that is unique in history and provides an extraordinary public service.  Worst, because it has become ubiquitous, too successful, and oversold.  It risks becoming passé, and if that happens, public speaking will suffer, and I for one would be very, very cross.

Happy Holidays, congratulations to Decker Communications for a great list, and here’s to better communications in 2014.





  1. Hmmm TED becoming too ubiquitous… I think it is attracting too many wanna-be TED talks and not enough people who are spending years silently and slowly making a real difference – a good speech never replaces habitual action 😉

  2. TED is usually such a sacrosanct topic for many that it’s refreshing to see it admonished in any way at all. But I can see where you’re coming from. I’m a huge fan and it’s really helped me on my journey over the last few years. But you can have too much of anything, no matter how loved it is. Maybe there’s an inevitability about this when you relinquish control by spreading it through self-organised events. I’ve seen TEDx done really well by volunteers but the quality of the speakers is variable and the events I’ve been to have not included discussion groups around the topics covered, a missed opportunity I think.

    As a Brit I’m also intrigued by your rating of David Cameron. He’s not a revered leader this side of the pond either. Maybe it’s because he’s seen a a posh Eton kid who’s telling us all to tighten our belts when he’s never known hardship or personal trauma himself. Contrast that with Malala and Mandela from your top 10 list who most certainly qualify on that front! That’s an interesting debate I think, whether you can be revered as a leader without a back story involving some serious personal struggle. Love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. Thanks, Andrew, as always for your comments. I love TED, but I’m concerned that the enormous service it provides the world will fall into general discredit if it cheapens the brand too much. And Cameron? Indeed — he talks about suffering as one who hasn’t experienced it, and that is both fatal and foolish for a politician.

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