Confession: I almost never watch political speeches. Especially for an hour.

But, as a communications Clarity Consultant, I did watch the 2020 State of the Union address, because I was quite curious. I know Mr. Trump effectively moves audiences on the stump, but how was he going to do on this stage, in the midst of the current political maelstrom?

Whatever you may think of Donald J. Trump as a person or as a President, the man is an effective communicator. So I decide to apply something I’ve recently developed – the 7S Formula for Clear Communications – to the flow of his speech. Which means that, yes, I actually watched the entire speech twice, taking careful notes the second time around.

(you’ve gotta be crazy, or serious, to watch an hour-long speech twice!)

As I outline in my book Clarity Wins, the human brain is wired to filter out background noise – which includes long-winded jargon, needless detail, and irrelevancies – and is tuned to latch onto messages that come in specific formats – what I call the 7S Formula. The marvelous brain function that does this for us is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

The RAS is impatient. Get right to the point, make it interesting and relevant and attention-getting, or you’re tuned out. Period. People assume that just because they speak words, communication has occurred. George Bernard Shaw would beg to differ:

As it turns out, Donald Trump is a master at getting through the RAS filtering system. Why? Because he speaks human. He speaks in simple, relatable language. And, whether he knows it or not, he uses the 7S Formula to get his point across.

What is my 7S Formula for brain-friendly communication? Here’s the secret sauce:

Statements – a fact; a promise; or a summary

Snippets – keywords or short phrases

Stories – illustrative narratives

Specifics – examples or statistics

Symbols – metaphors or illustrations

Surprises – unexpected twists

Stakes – risks; major gains/losses; threats/enemies

From the SOTU, I’m going to give you just a few examples of each of these elements below – if you want to dig deeper, I’ve prepared a .pdf you can download showing the ENTIRE FLOW of the speech through the lens of the 7S framework. (Bonus: if you were wondering what the actual structure of that SOTU address was, well, I deciphered it for you!)

Statements: The speech was full of clear, simple summaries of accomplishments, and promises of more.

  • America is thriving and respected again
  • The state of our union is stronger than ever before
  • The United States is now the #1 producer of oil and natural gas

Snippets: Mr. Trump is a master of these, including his MAGA theme which pervaded his campaign and resonated throughout the SOTU.

  • “Blue-collar boom”
  • “We’re putting America first”
  • “…a long, tall, very powerful wall”

Stories: Stories of individuals pervaded the speech and kept up the interest level.

  • Ian who wants to go into space (and his great-grandfather Charles McGee)
  • Philadelphia student Janiyah Davis needing an opportunity scholarship
  • Premature baby (now 2 years old) Ellie Schneider and her mother Robin

Specifics: There was a tsunami of statistics meant to demonstrate tangible progress over 3 years.

  • Drop in unemployment numbers across multiple demographics
  • Record stock market levels
  • Reversal of job and manufacturing losses due to NAFTA and China

Symbols: Not much on metaphors or abstract illustrations. That was saved for some very aspirational language at the very end.

  • This nation is our canvas; this country is our masterpiece
  • The sun is still rising on our country

Surprises: This part of the production – and it was a production – was truly exceptional.

  • The presence of the “true” President of Venezuela Juan Guiado
  • Presentation of the Medal of Honor to Rush Limbaugh
  • Appearance of Sgt. 1st Class Townsend Williams to greet his young family

Stakes: Mr Trump knows that no-one tunes in to moderation. So, as with all good politicians, there must be threats, risks, and bad guys.

  • The elimination of terrorists al-Baghdadi and Soleimani
  • The threat of socialism to the American way of life
  • Border crossers (criminals and illegals)

As I mentioned, these are just samples – the entire speech was full of simple, clear, easily-understood messages, all reinforcing one meta-theme – I kept my (very specific) promises and America is going to just keep getting greater.

Now, before anyone goes all ballistic with political commentary – as I said, this post is not about your stance, my stance, Mr. Trump’s stance, or anyone else’s. This is about deconstructing the SOTU to demonstrate, in very tangible ways, how effective communications work. My primary concern, and my mission, is helping businesses grow. And every marketer, every sales person, every executive, and every entrepreneur needs to understand that the human brain craves, not information dumps, but these 7 “S” formats.

You can be clear, or you can be background noise.

Here’s the bonus, however: if you’re a politician, or a teacher, or a preacher, or a writer, or a parent, or a journalist, or ANYONE ELSE who communicates – guess what? The 7S Formula is for you as well!

I help businesses craft clarity-fueled, effective communications. Contact me to talk about how we make your message brain-friendly. And be sure to order my book Clarity Wins to learn more about winning the communications game!

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