by Steve Adubato, PhD

After a half-century being a fixture on our television screens, at the ripe young age of 80 Regis Philbin is stepping down from his regular morning gig on ABC. What’s amazing is that Regis has been successfully connecting and communicating with audiences of all ages for this long, which begs the question, how has Regis done it? What communication skills and tools does he possess that explain such unprecedented success in this highly competitive and fickle mass communication medium?

Consider the following, which translates to the rest of us who must connect with our respective audiences regardless of our chosen professional field:

  • Passion and genuine enthusiasm. Regis is 80, but every morning he’s been there with a smile bursting at the seams like he had been shot out of a cannon. Regis has tremendous energy and wasn’t afraid to show it on the air. It’s a funny thing about energy. If a speaker or communicator has it, he or she can transfer it to the audience. That’s what Regis did. He energized both his studio audience and millions at home. Having passion for what you do and how you do it is a key to succeeding in any field.
  • An ability to poke fun at himself. Regis wore funny hats, got into ridiculous costumes and joked about his idiosyncrasies including his over exaggerated way of expressing himself. Regis was in on the joke, and sometimes the joke was on him. He didn’t take himself seriously, which helps your audience feel more comfortable with you and your presentation. Too many professionals are too darn stuffy and serious to the point where they make us uncomfortable. I’m not suggesting you be a clown or a comedian, but even in business, the ability to laugh at yourself and the circumstances around you is an important and valuable leadership trait.
  • Being real. Like him or not, and most like him, Regis was himself. I had the opportunity to meet him in the mid-80s both on the show and after an appearance he made in New Jersey. He was exactly the same, whether the camera was on or off. Others tell the same story. The key is to be comfortable enough with yourself to know that being a great communicator isn’t about putting on an act or trying to communicate in a fashion that is inconsistent with who you are at the core. Whether you are a CEO, a manager, a principal, or a talk show host, having the same persona in public and in private (with some obvious exceptions) is more important than many people think.
  • A keen interest and curiosity in others. There are smarter and better informed broadcasters than Regis Philbin, but that doesn’t make them great communicators. Being the smartest kid in the class doesn’t ensure you being the most successful business person in the future. Regis knew enough, but didn’t have to know more than you. In fact, his desire to know more…his curiosity…has been essential to his interviewing style. There is a lesson here for the rest of us, which is it’s about THEM, not YOU. It is about a desire to know and understand more about your audience than it is about showing off and saying; “Look at me…I know more than you.” I know it sounds simple, but the smartest communicators are really the ones who don’t have to tell you how smart they are and are smart enough to know that they don’t know it all.

Like millions of Americans, I congratulate Regis on a job well done. He has been a great communicator who has connected every day for a long time. We can all only hope that at 80 we can be as engaging, relevant and real as Regis. I can’t wait to see what he does for an encore.