Creating Messages that Resonate: What Words to Rioters Can Teach Strategic Communicators  

An American flag waves in a breeze

By: Elise McGlothian—


What does it mean when the President says, “Go Home. We love you. You’re very special” to the rioters trying to tear down the U.S. government?


This was the question I posed on my personal Facebook page, alongside anxiety, as a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol Building. Earlier that day, CBS News Anchor Norah O’Donnell made a similar comment pointing out how that statement continued to fuel those who had aligned themselves to the erratic 45th president of the United States.


Many will argue (myself included) that the 45th president of the United States is not a great orator. His speech pattern is frequently made fun on Saturday Night Live; moreover, he has appeared increasingly asinine over the valid results of the presidential election – especially when in the camera’s view or via Twitter. Yet, a mob stormed the capitol and proudly raised his campaign flag because he encouraged them to do so. Although he has alienated half of the country; he still finds a way to directly connect with his “fans,” (i.e. white supremacists). His ability to create a message that resonates is undeniable, even if only a faction responds. To be clear, the current president is using this ability for self-serving reasons: aiming to keep the presidential office despite the majority of Americans who believe he should resign.


As strategic communicators, we evaluate the methods and language used by effective speakers to learn how our clients can communicate more effectively with their audiences and reach new ones. Orators who give memorable speeches have several things in common:


1. They embody a sense of leadership among their audience

2. They are reflective of the current circumstances and opinions of their audiences

3. Their words mean something special to those listening

4. Their words rally people together


While not exhaustive, this list highlights some commonalities I frequently see emerging.


Hopefully, the Biden-Harris administration will be successful in bringing our divided nation together. Next week, most of us will virtually watch the historic inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to the second highest office in the country. It’s been said countless times, but their (rightfully won) election will make Harris the first woman, first Black, first South Asian and first graduate of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to be elected to this position.


VP-elect Harris has proven time and time again that she knows how to deliver a message that resonates. On November 7, 2020, Kamala Harris made her first speech as a Vice President-elect. In that message, she inspired hope, paid homage to those who came before her, and motivated younger generations when she said, “Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before.” She reflected on the current circumstances of her audience, rallied people together, and embodied a sense of leadership among listeners. Her words meant something and were far from the self-serving dialogue coming from the 45th president. We can expect this upcoming administration to set the tone of servant leadership, and fill us all with hope on January 20, 2021.


On January 18, 2021, the National Day of Service for the Inauguration of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will celebrate and honor the spirit of Martin Luther King, Junior. The two will join millions to lift up communities and serve our neighbors. In the hopes of uncovering what the legendary civil rights leader would have thought of the past year – and past week – I began to read, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.” In the book, Dr. King considers how advancement works:


“First, the line of progress is never straight. For a period, a movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the path bends. It is like curving around a mountain when you are approaching a city. Often it feels as though you were moving backward, and then you lose sight of your goal; but in fact, you are moving ahead and soon you will see the city closer by.”


The racial progress we’ve achieved since the election of President Barack Obama has been full of twists and turns (the election of his predecessor is proof of that.) Yet, on January 20, 2021, our country will have reached a milestone worth celebrating. Even if we don’t reach King’s providential “city,” it will, hopefully, be in closer view.


So, what does it mean when the president says “Go Home. We Love You. You’re very special”? Unfortunately, it means that the president knows what his audience wants to hear. It also means that the president knows who he is leading, what their opinions are, and how to move people to act, even maliciously. As the culmination of his presidency has revealed, messages can resonate for good or for bad. For communicators working in the social justice arena, the contrast between the current presidency and a future one is a reminder that our words have power, and we can use that power for good.


About The Author

Elise McGlothian

Elise McGlothian


Elise thrives when creating a positive social impact through communications. She has a passion for equitably relaying information and moving people to support organizations tackling critical social challenges – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about Elise.