Flight Mode

Notifications on the devices are constantly craving for our attention. We check them when waiting at the traffic signal, while having the food, during meetings and while talking to our loved ones.

Constant connection with technology is not allowing us to establish real connections with others. It is taking a toll on our ability to communicate, converse and connect effectively.

We want others to listen to us, really understand our ideas and acknowledge our thought process. Being understood is a fundamental human need. Key question is: How often do we fail to do the same when communicating with others? 

Flight mode on your phone is not simply for when you are on an airplane. Try it at family meal, in the cinema queue with your friend and when taking a stroll through the park with your kids. Sanity mode. You know it makes sense. – Nicholas Bate, Jagged Thoughts for Jagged Times 112

Turning off technology when meeting a fellow human being is a way to tell them, I respect you.”

Also read: The lost art of fine conversations by Kavi Arasu which has some excellent ideas  on conversations, leadership and learning.

Clearing the Fog in Communication

Our communication at workplace needs a lot of simplification. Have you seen leaders who throw jargons and so called “hot words” that leave people more confused?

When a boss says, “We need to get this done soon”, people are left to wonder what soon actually means. I once observed a senior leader who was approached by his team member for some help on an issue. After thinking aloud for a while, the leader ended up saying, “You need to somehow close this ASAP.”  For a struggling team member who needed direction, words like “somehow” and “ASAP” added ambiguity and needless urgency leading to frustration.

In one instance, a manager delegated a report creation task to his team member with a note of “urgent and important”. The team member worked hard to deliver the report created the report in shortest possible time but then received no response from the manager for days. Was it really important? If not, how can it be urgent at all?

I have seen managers who request “quick calls” that go on for hours together. Meetings to “touch base” end up being meetings that “drill down”.

I see a huge need to simplify our communication – our words and our actions have to convey very specific (and congruent) messages. Jargons and hot words break the communication, creates barriers, robs understanding, adds clutter and leaves people guessing. “I need to get this report by 12:00 PM tomorrow so that I can review and send it across to customer by 4:00 PM” is much better than “I need it ASAP”. Next time you call something as “important”, make sure your subsequent actions also demonstrate the importance.

What if we stop using jargons where we need to be specific? If we clarify expectations relentlessly? Our work will be free of foggy messages and hence simpler. Clarity and congruence in thoughts, words and actions are first pre-requisites of being excellent at anything – more so if you are a leader.

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Photo Courtesy: Gavin Liewellyn’s Flickr

Leadership: 6 Pointers on Having Face Time with People

In case of my 7 year old daughter, all significant behavioral and habit changes have been a result of “face time” – time spent one to one to inspire, inform and involve her. Face time is an oasis of meaningful conversation amidst the hustle and bustle of life – a place where positive difference and lasting change happens.

This sounds simple, but in an organizational context, the hustle and bustle can be far more toxic, keeping leaders away from having face time with their people. Add to this, the complexity of distributed teams and the problem grows worse. People feel “used up”, isolated and disconnected. All they do is respond to changing priorities and task requests and the relationship between the individual and a leader (or organization) becomes purely transactional. Employees get actively disengaged and creativity stalls. (By the way, this is also true for face time with your “customers”). Face time may be enabled by technology, but the ground rules don’t change.

If you are a leader who is striving to influence positive change in your people, here are a few suggestions that may work well to increase the face time with your people (and quality of that time):

Schedule face time. If your to-do list consumes all working hours or worse yet, if you are constantly responding to external demands, you will never be able to spend quality time with your team members. One of my mentors always scheduled 75% of his work day for planned tasks and kept 25% of his time for conversations and exigencies. He considered that 25% of time as a critical success factor – and it was. If you don’t schedule active face time in your days/weeks, it will not happen.

Plan for it: To deliver positive outcomes, face time has to be planned. You can interact one-on-one or in a group. You can organize an open-forum or have a closed door meeting. It can be impromptu or scheduled. It can be in-person or via online conference.

Be clear about the purpose of having the face time: Conversations can easily take diversions if they are not done purposefully. Face time can be used to inspire others or simply inform them. It can be used to gather intelligence or to take decisions. It can be used to build consensus, to educate others or to simply assess progress. If you interact with a specific purpose, conversations become focused.

Ensure dialog: Allowing others to express themselves and listening fosters their self-esteem and increases engagement. When interacting, ask open ended questions, elicit what they “think” and what they “feel”.

Avoid distractions: I hate it when people constantly attend to their cell phones and instant messengers during conversations. It can quickly defocus others.

Watch your language: It is easy to talk about your past accomplishments. It is easy to dish out directives. It is easy to provide wider view-points (and almost everyone has them). When interacting, be conscious about your words and its impact on others. Be specific and to-the-point. Avoid judging others and refrain from drawing conclusions too soon. Focus more on “insights” and less on “data”.

The best leaders I have seen understand the importance of spending (or investing) quality time with their people. Not only did they deliver superior results but also built memorability in how they led others and helped them grow.

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Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

Excessive use of positional power: I was interacting with a leadership expert recently when he said, “If you have to use your position to exert your power, you are not powerful.” Being at a certain position within organization means that you have a higher visibility which needs to be extended to others. Your position is an opportunity; an obligation to make a difference in how your team performs. When you blatantly use positional power, you quickly isolate others. Disengaged team will, at the best, comply to your directives but will never be able to bring their complete creative potential on board.

Simply staying on top of information: Yes, you definitely need to know what is happening in your team. Getting status reports on various initiatives is important. However, when you excessively consume information given to you without acting on it, you fall in a trap. When team members provide you information on issues, risks and concerns, they need to be acted upon. Your are NOT in control when you know a lot of things, but when you act on it to make a positive difference. Sitting on top of information (and simply passing that information higher up in the hierarchy) is not a useful way to stay in control.

Keeping People Uninformed: The more people in your team know what your goals are, the more buy-in you will get – and hence better results. You cannot expect your team to perform if they are not informed about the vision, context, goals and progress. Team also needs your guidance on how something can be accomplished. They need you to validate their ideas. They need to know the purpose. Good leaders remain in control by clarifying the purpose relentlessly, then allowing people to execute, and provide support where needed.

Bottom line: Dr. John Maxwell puts in brilliantly, “The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.” If you are a leader at any level who aspires to be in control, focus not on yourself but on them – your people. Connect with them, help them understand, guide them in their performance, eliminate their roadblocks, give them the control and keep them informed; the results may surprise you!

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If you liked this post, you will also like bite-sized ideas on quality, leadership and people in my book #QUALITYtweet. Click here to check it out.

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In 100 Words: The More You Tell

I used to get angry and preachy when my kid threw tantrums till I heard this wonderful statement from a leadership expert, “The more you tell, the less you sell.”

Leadership starts with listening. In face of a conflict, reacting is our natural instinct. We want to tell/justify immediately without an attempt to completely understand the problem.

The better alternative is to step back and ask open ended questions. Then sit back and listen before you respond. Listening enough is caring enough.

This works with kids and works even better in teams. There is a difference between responding and reacting.

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Wish you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful 2013!

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Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page. Looking forward to the conversations!

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

In Praise of Comprehension and Meaning

We live in an “instant” world. People want to do everything instantly, including understanding, comprehension and making sense of something.

I remember having attended a strategy meeting where head of the department (call him boss) was explaining a new strategy that none of us had heard about before. He completed explaining and requested the audience to ask questions if any. One of the fellow team members instantly uttered, “This sounds interesting!”.

Boss gently smiled and cautioned, “When you say it sounds interesting, I am assuming that you have complete understanding of what I just said.” Further discussion revealed that the team member did not actually grasp the concept in its totality. She just uttered something because she had to, not because she really meant it.

How many times do we end up doing this? Saying something when we don’t really mean it. Our quest to sound intelligent and respond instantaneously forces us to sacrifice meaning. Wanting to be perceived as ‘smart’ takes precedence over wanting to be ‘relevant’. This becomes even more crucial when we work in a knowledge world where comprehension, contextual clarity and ability to communicate are central to our success as individuals and teams. I have seen many projects that failed, people who were put off, customers who were unhappy just because someone on the team didn’t care to understand things completely.

It is important to realize that understanding and comprehension of our work is at the core of our success as professionals. In fact, the more time we spend in fully understanding our approaches, the lesser time it takes in executing it.

One of my significant lessons in communication is: when communicating, you should not only strive to understand the logical and informational aspects of what is being said, but also emotional content behind them. How something is said, what words are used and what tone – these reveal the emotional background to some extent.

Comprehension is important. Understanding nuances of your work, its implications and clarity on overall context is as crucial in knowledge world as understanding others on the team. Style can enhance the presentation, but without substance, style itself cannot make you a better communicator.

Effective Facilitation 25

  • A novice manager tells people what needs to be done. A wise manager listens, questions and challenges.
  • People are not interested in what you tell them to do (command and control). They are interested in what they control and learn from what they are doing (empowerment).
  • Facilitation helps in both. In getting things done and ensuring that team members learn from that process.
  • The purpose of facilitating is: to get something done and to ensure that the person who is executing learns something valuable from the process of doing.
  • Facilitation is the key to developing people. A tool to lead.
  • Further, effective facilitation is also the key to build a great team.
  • If we are dealing with professionals, why do they need facilitation? They need facilitation so that they can work together as a team, do it better, faster, more creatively and more effectively.
  • Facilitation helps people reach their potential and elevate performance.
  • If you are a manager who is facilitating a team, you are not more powerful than them. You serve them, so that they become better and make you look good.
  • The act of facilitation should make things easy for them. If you are not conscious about how you are facilitating, you can make it difficult.
  • Facilitating someone in doing something is a great way to learn newer aspects of your work. Remember the rule? We learn only a bit of what we are taught, we learn a great deal of what we do and we learn the most when we teach someone.
  • In a group, facilitation starts with a common objective that everyone understands. That is #1 job of facilitator.
  • If common objective is not understood/defined, facilitation helps them achieve consensus on the goal.
  • You can facilitate someone on three key areas: The purpose of work (Why), the process of achieving that purpose (How) and specific tasks in that process (What).
  • Additionally, you can facilitate someone so that their expectations are managed, understood and communicated. To address their real concerns.
  • People will only allow you to facilitate them when they see value. Ensure that they see the value early in the facilitation process.
  • The art of facilitation also involves knowing when NOT to facilitate. Facilitation does not equal spoon feeding. Show them the way and let them run.
  • The starting point of facilitation is listening. Acknowledging the experiences of the team member, appreciate what they say and encourage them to be open.
  • Clarity is at the heart of good facilitation. If you don’t understand their problem OR are not able to provide clarity to them on your viewpoints, facilitation does not help. Confirm, clarify and reflect.
  • Questions are your tools to clarify – open ended questions that bring out the real thing.
  • In a group situation or meetings, it is very crucial for the facilitator to balance between the extremes of clarity and ambiguity. To remain focused on the objective without getting impatient or biased is a challenge.
  • Sometimes, facilitation also means that you have to let go of the agenda and focus on an individual/team’s real problems.
  • Facilitation is about designing conversations that really matter and make a difference.
  • People make mistakes. Allow them, for their mistakes are their opportunities to learn. Share feedback.
  • Facilitation is at the core of modern day management. Teams need facilitation, clients need facilitation and individuals need facilitation. On a second thought, all the fundamentals of effective facilitation are also the fundamentals of effective management. No?

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Join in the conversation: As a manager or a leader, do you see yourself as a facilitator? What are your lessons? Share them here.

In Communication, Substance Comes First

Services world revolves around communication. In projects/initiatives, knowledge has to be transferred, issues have to discussed and expectations have to be managed.

A lot of young professionals I meet want to improve upon their communication skills. A few of them also think that good communication is all about having a great style, good language, impressive vocabulary and so on.

I tell them: In effective communication, substance comes first. Style without substance is just fluff, because it may impress others but can never change them for better. This means a few things:

Communication (written or verbal) is transfer of energy. If your communication does not transfer any positive energy (or worst yet, sucks energy from the other party), it is not going to work.

Substance comes first. Great communication has power to change others – but they only change when they are able to relate and find a deeper meaning.

Be yourself. Effective communication demands that you need to be yourself first. Ability to express your thoughts and ideas most meaningfully is a critical skill. You have to come out through your communication.

Style is a by-product. When you consistently deliver substance through your communication, have a positive impact and be yourself, style evolves. Style is not the goal, but a by-product.

Purpose strengthens communication. People express themselves on many things that don’t matter. When you have a strong purpose, your communication gains focus and becomes more effective. Goal of our communication is to serve a purpose and have a stronger impact.

These are important lessons I have learned from people I have worked with. These are the same lessons I share with people I work with.

Whether you are into sales, technology, project management, teaching, training or mentoring – remember, in effective communication, substance comes first!

Join in the conversation: What important lessons you have learned in effective communication? What advice would you like to share with young professionals who want to become better communicators? Tell us in the comments.

Managing Virtual Teams and Communication: 6 Pointers

I wrote earlier about 10 Key Lessons in Managing a Virtual Team.

Here are a few more pointers:

  • Business is a contact sport and management is a social act.Lisa Haneberg said this in 2006, and it is even more relevant today when managers are struggling to get their geographically distributed teams aligned to project goals.
  • Understanding unique personal characteristics of individuals and then work the way through those differences to achieve the goal is one of the biggest strengths of a manager. One to one communication and contact with the team members is at the core of managing well. With increase in volume of work, the need to deal with larger teams, get more done in a distributed work environment – managers often compromise on this core element of managing. It only helps managers understand people, their unique ways of working, their communication preferences and their motivations. A sensible manager tends to get a lot of clues about a person by “listening” to their team.
  • Even with remote team members, don’t try to drive entire team as one unit that follows same set of rules. Don’t treat them as machines who would take instructions and get them executed. Team members hate managers who hide behind technology and push difficult decisions to team via emails and text messages. Be open and honest enough to share your perspectives in difficult situations. Team members have to sense that your intent is right.
  • Management is a contact sport – and it is a “context sport” as well. Managers are obliged to provide a context, a larger picture that helps team members in driving their actions. As human beings, we want to know the impact of our work, what problem does it solve, how it fits into a larger context and how it makes a difference. It is a manager’s job to fulfill this need. Technology can be an enabler, but is certainly not an alternative to one on one communication in the team.
  • Lack of energy in communication irks more than anything else. When on call with your remote team, ensure that you maintain energy in conversation and seek participation via open ended questions, eliciting feedback, facilitating and summarizing the information when needed.
  • As far as possible, try to build consensus before taking decisions. Team members will own the outcomes if they were involved in planning process. Not involving teams in planning and simply pushing tasks to them is a mistake that makes people dispassionate about the outcome.

I think the management abilities required to manage a virtual team are no different than the ones to manage any other team – but communication and collaboration takes a front seat when dealing with remote teams. It is important to be able to reach out to people and align them to the vision of the project/initiative.

Unless that is done, team members will never be able to think about how they can deliver quality in their outcomes.

Join in the conversation: What ideas would you like to add? What are your lessons in communication aspect when dealing with remote teams?

10 Key Lessons On Leading Virtual Teams Effectively

We live in times where more and more work is executed by teams that are geographically distributed. Leading a virtual team, fostering collaboration and binding them to common set of objectives is one of the key challenges for business leaders.

In most of the troubled projects I have seen, the real challenges were not technical/engineering ones but communication/collaboration ones. Having been a part of distributed team and having managed a few projects with virtual teams, here 10 most important lessons I have learned:


  • Share Leadership Responsibilities: Success of distributed team depends largely on leadership model. When team is distributed, leadership responsibilities should also be distributed. Command and control leadership model generally fails.
  • Foster Peer Leadership: It is even more crucial when the team is distributed.
  • Clearly articulate team goals and vision: It helps in aligning the team. When team is driven by the purpose, they are better equipped to take right decisions. The team should also know how their work fits into the larger picture.

Trust and Empowerment

  • Lack of trust is one of the biggest killers in a virtual team environment. They way you manage the team tells a lot about how much you trust them. People will back off the moment they feel that they are not trusted.
  • Don’t get insecure: When a team is away, leaders tend to get insecure and start micro-managing. They just push decisions to their teams, rather than involving them in the decision making. This works against building a culture of trust and empowerment.
  • Be human – people in your virtual team are still human beings who possess a set of important skills, who carry a self-esteem and who are emotional. You can treat them as “resources” or treat them as “human beings” – that choice makes a lot of difference.

Effective Collaboration

  • Even in virtual teams, face to face communication is very crucial. The best way to start a project is to have entire team interact with each other on a one to one basis. Even in virtual setting, it is important that team members know each other well.
  • Establish formal and informal communication rituals to stay constantly connected with the team. Technologies like real time/video chat and phone calls really help in establishing a two way dialogue where people can freely express themselves.
  • Provide clarity to all team members on roles, responsibilities, protocols and basic expectations on communication, deliveries and quality.
  • Have a system that provides clear status of the tasks and results of each team member’s efforts. Central management systems helps everyone stay on the same page. These systems can also be used to automate a lot of communication and collaboration.

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Join in the conversation:

Have you been a part of a distributed team? Have you led a virtual team to deliver results to your customers? What best practices would you like to share?

Leadership and Maintaining a Positive Outlook

Conversations are at the core of good leadership and how/what a leader communicates reveals the personality of the leader.

A few years back, I was facilitating a discussion between the project leaders. The goal was to identify the opportunities for improvement in processes. Within first few minutes I knew that the conversation there was not going in the right direction. Most participants, who were leading projects, only talked about their war stories and problems they faced so far. The were too focused on symptoms and effects of a problem, but not enough on the root cause.

It took me some effort to get them to focus on solutions. But I learned a couple of things:

  • Effective leaders maintain a positive outlook. Sure, there are problems that need to be tackled head on. Negative discussion about the problem should only be limited till the problem is defined. Once a problem (i.e. root cause) is known, there is no point in singing about the problem on and on. Focusing on solution helps leaders maintain a positive outlook.
  • Effective leaders focus on the end. The purpose should constantly occupy the mind space of a leader. All ‘activities done’ and ‘problems solved’ during the project are means to an end. But sometimes, leaders get so engrossed in the means, that sight of the end is lost. People who meet the objectives are the ones who constantly keep those objectives in front of them.
  • Effective leaders are intentional in their conversations. They know the impact of each word they speak. They are conscious about the messages (implicit and explicit) they deliver through their conversations.

I read this on Twitter recently – conversations are the currency of leadership. Here are a few questions every leader should ask themselves when in a conversation:

  • How is this conversation helping me drive the desired performance/results from people in my team?
  • How effectively does this conversation transfer the knowledge required to perform?
  • How is this conversation strengthening the alignment of people to the goal, and helping me build relationship?

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P.S: Blogging was slow in first half of December – a month to slow down and retrospect, to think about all that happened in last one year, to be grateful about new connections, new opportunities and new insights through this blog. Stay tuned for more posts and round-ups coming up in the last two weeks of December, as we prepare to say Good Bye to 2010!

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Have a GREAT start into the week!

10 Pointers to Build Comfort Within The Team

It pains to see teams where people work on a common goal but don’t get along well with each other. We work in teams and knowing how to get along well with others is extremely crucial. So how do you get along well with others and establish required comfort? Here are 10 broad pointers that may help.

  • Reiterate Objectives: They need to be communicated often to stay focused as a team.
  • Don’t boast: People don’t get along well with someone who constantly boasts. Make sure that ‘keeping them informed’ doesn’t sound like boasting.
  • Listen and be genuinely interested: You can either do transactional communication or seek to connect with people.
  • Ask open ended questions: Open ended questions not only foster great discussions but also allows you to know the other person.
  • Be firm and polite: In disagreements, be firm and polite. There will be situations when you have take a stand or suggest improvements. Do that with grace.
  • Have fun: Be cheerful. Celebrate together. When working with the team, be cheerful and make things more interesting that way.
  • Don’t talk small: You have a goal to achieve as a team. Don’t let that focus dilute with small talks and gossiping. It drains the energy! Beware!
  • Motivate others: Motivate others to raise their game. Be generous when praising. Acknowledge that sincere effort. Say ‘Thanks’ often.
  • Be the benchmark: People take more clues from your conduct, than from words. Make it a great conduct. Be the benchmark when it comes to quality of outcomes.
  • Keep your promises: When you keep your promises, you demonstrate integrity and build lot of trust.

TEAM stands for “Together Everyone Achieves More” – but that is only possible when the team gets along well with each other. Understanding of these fundamentals goes a long way in building remarkable teams that deliver!

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Book Review: Everyone Communicates, Few Connect

A few weeks back, my friend Becky Robinson at Mountain State University gifted me with a copy of John C. Maxwell’s latest book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”. The book, as the title suggests, is all about establishing meaningful connections to build great relationships at work and in personal life. The book introduction says,

“Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate with them in a way that increases your influence with them. And the ability to communicate and connect with others is a major determining factor in reaching your potential. to be successful, you must work with others. To do that at your absolute best, you must learn to connect”

It was interesting to note the difference between “communication” and “connection”. I learned that communication is about content and connection is about relevance of that content and how it is received by others. Connecting with others is more than just transactional communication. It is about seeing others as human beings, understanding them, their energies and establish a deeper connection.

I have observed that all great “performers” are great connectors too. A singer has to understand the taste of audience and sing accordingly. A trainer has to connect with participants. An actor has to truly connect with the character being played. A blogger has to connect with the readers. An organization needs to connect with the customers.

Ability to build meaningful connections is the first step towards engaging others and building an influence. Connecting with others accelerates learning and spreads the ideas.

Maxwell’s book offers useful ideas for connecting with a group, connecting one-on-one and connecting with audience. The book does not offer any ground breaking ideas – we all know that we need to connect effectively. Still, the book does a GREAT job of outlining and reinforcing the fundamentals of connecting through explanations, stories and action points at the end of each chapter.

If you are a leader, an aspiring one or a professional who wants to make a big difference, this is a great book to pick up and read.

Have a GREAT week ahead!

Communication lessons from U.S. President Obama’s Inaugural Address

Inaugural address  was a great opportunity for U.S. President Obama to communicate with his countrymen and restore their faith a difficult time. He seized this opportunity brilliantly with an elevating speech.

It was one of the best speeches I have heard in a long time. It left me with some very important lessons on communication and writing and hence this post.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston at Syntax Training blog has done a brilliant analysis of the speech and here are a few excerpts from the post:

  • Number of words: 2414 (according to Microsoft Word)
  • Number of words per sentence: 21.4 (Microsoft) or 21.9 (my calculator)
  • Number of times “I” appears: 3
  • Number of times “we” appears:  62
  • Number of times “my” appears: 2
  • Number of times “our” appears: 66
  • The President’s speech includes not one “however,” “moreover,” or “in addition.”
    Sentences with passive verbs: 10 percent (Examples: “The capital was abandoned”; “It must be earned.”)

Here are some of the important lessons on communication that I could extract out of the speech:

  1. Communication is all about packing a lot of meaning into a few words. Speech and sentences were not long, but very meaningful. Same applies to writing as well. Brevity is the key in all business communication. Some write for the sake of writing and some write for communicating. You get the point.
  2. President Obama painted pictures with usage of words and right expression. People were hooked when he spoke because he added feelings into each and every spoken word. This is very important public speaking lesson too.
  3. From a management standpoint, his speech was a progressive and inclusive one. Note that he used “We” and “Our” more than “I” and You”.  He used words like “unity of purpose”. People only relate to words when they are inclusive. He also used positive words like “hope”, “ambitions”, “confidence”, “reaffirm”,  “greatness”, “prosperity”, “freedom” etc.  Bringing out issues and pointing towards them is important but communication has to be solutions driven.  People easily relate with whatever is progressive and hopeful.
  4. He did not use any junk into his speech. He was speaking with utmost clarity (of thought and words) which created the impact.

All in all, a great speech. Did you follow his inaugural address? Any thoughts you would like to share?