Communications Lessons from the State of the Union

Podium lectern with two microphones and United States flag in baackground

Many American companies have faced ferocious attacks from populist politicians in recent years. They could learn a few things from how President Joe Biden responded during his State of the Union.

From a media standpoint, it was quite impressive the way he dismantled disinformation, redefined the debate and used the shouts from the gallery to paint stark contrasts. These are skills and strategies that will be useful both for politicians and executives as politics becomes more polarized, dragging in more brands to the mudslinging.

Tackling Disinformation

It is becoming increasingly difficult to tell truth from fiction. During his speech the President employed several effective tactics for tackling disinformation. 

First, he did not try and disprove the lies. Doing so only drags you into an inescapable rabbit hole. Instead, President Biden's retort of “Those are the facts; check it out” allowed him to use a strong, simple phrase to call out misrepresentations of the facts. Piling on by conducting a live poll of Republican lawmakers on national television; he forced them to take an uncomfortable position on cutting key programs in Social Security and Medicare.

Making Policy Personal

Too often, commanders in chief and chief executives make issues about a lot of numbers and theories that don’t really resonate. President Biden made those numbers personal.   

He looked into the camera and addressed those who may feel left behind. He addressed their worries about their children moving away, due to a lack of opportunities—a powerful way of making a connection with his audience.

Setting an Agenda

The Administration has played defense for much of its first two years in office. Biden was able to reframe the agenda for the next two. He used the popular bills passed in the last Congress not as a cause for celebration but as a path forward—imploring those gathered before him to “finish the job.”  Using words like “pride” and “dignity,” the president challenged Republicans to do more than just block, but to build.

The aggressive antics of several lawmakers, standing, shouting and screaming at Biden, did not play well to viewers watching at home. It helped to illustrate how extreme some have become and provided an ideal opportunity to demonstrate statesmanship. 

A key takeaway for companies dealing with aggressive activists is that, at times, it is best to stand back and let them do their thing.

Brett Bruen teaches crisis at Georgetown University and served as President Barack Obama’s director of global engagement. He is president of the Global Situation Room.