By Executive Producer, "Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator in his Own Words"
updated 6/5/2004 6:35:32 PM ET 2004-06-05T22:35:32

One thing that’s more important than ever in this media age is the ability to communicate. To be able to cut through the clutter with a compelling message – to really connect with people – that’s a rare and valuable skill. And just about everybody agrees that the man who set the standard in that department is our 40th president, Ronald Reagan.

President Reagan died at 93 now, and his voice was stilled for years by Alzheimer’s disease. But his words and his impact are still very much with us. During Reagan’s presidency there was often bitter disagreement over his policies, and that debate continues to this day. But even his staunchest opponents acknowledge that Ronald Reagan had a gift for getting his message across. It was that gift that earned him the nickname, “The Great Communicator.”

Mr. Reagan had plenty of experience as a communicator by the time he became president. He was, after all, just a few weeks shy of his 70th birthday when he was inaugurated in 1981. Over the years he had been a sports announcer, a movie actor, a television host, and a corporate spokesman. By the time he became governor of California in 1967, public speaking was second nature to him.

Video: Merv Griffin on Ronald Reagan But Ronald Reagan had mastered more than just the mechanics of effective presentation. He actually had something to say, and his ideas about big government and America’s role in the world found an enthusiastic and growing audience. In the turmoil and upheaval of the late 1960’s, Reagan’s message began to take hold. In time it carried him to the White House, and the pinnacle of political power. As he would later say, he brought conservative ideas into the mainstream – something that admirers and critics alike called the Reagan Revolution.

As president, Mr. Reagan was always his own most effective spokesman. He had conviction, yes, but also humor – including the ability to laugh at himself. Just as importantly, he had empathy. He could articulate the feelings of others. That was never more evident than on the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded. Reagan effectively became America’s “mourner in chief,” with words of comfort and hope for a nation in shock.

Ronald Reagan left the presidency fifteen years ago and went home to California. American politics was transformed during his eight years in office. Many attribute that to his skill as a communicator. Here’s how Reagan himself saw it, in his farewell address as president. “I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference. It was the content. I wasn’t a Great Communicator, but I communicated great things.” Words that still resonate in 2004.

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