Communication Advice from Vin Scully

The world recently lost one of its best human beings when Vin Scully, the radio voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers for 67 astounding years, died at the age of 94. Note that I said the world, and not just the sports world, because Scully’s impact and influence on all humankind went far beyond stadiums and areas. 

I was privileged to become aware of Scully when the Dodgers were still located in Brooklyn before moving to the West Coast; and I stayed aware—and in awe of him—even though the Dodgers were the traditional enemies of my Yankees and Giants. So when he died, I pored over all the glowing tributes written about his magic. Unsurprisingly, I found that most of the laudatory comments were about his communication skills—that offer three valuable lessons for everyone.

Jason Gay, a sportswriter for the Wall Street Journal, wrote about Scully’s voice, “You really need to hear him. Hear the sound, the enthusiasm, the melody that made Scully’s honey-covered voice the music of endless baseball summers.” 

Of course, one would expect that a professional radio announcer would have a “honey-covered voice,” but it was the way Scully deployed his voice that made him special: his commentary was on point but sparse. Rather than fill the air with endless chatter, meaningless digressions, infantile inanities, vain attempts at jock humor, or, at best, statements of the obvious as most of today’s broadcasters and color commentators do, Scully stopped talking and let the crowd noises—whether excited cheers or murmuring chatter when nothing was happening—fill the air.

Lesson one: pause.

Ann Killion, a sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about Scully’s consideration for others: “When I was a young reporter, I went through a door in the Candlestick Park press box and ran right into Vin. I could smell him before I bumped into him: crisp linen shirt, citrusy aftershave. He smelled like he broadcast: pleasant, professional and perfectly in control. I was too shy back then to introduce myself. Can you simply introduce yourself to a larger-than-life legend? To a sports icon? He apologized, though I had run into him. Of course he did. He was such a gracious man.”

Lesson two: be gracious to your audience. Fill your presentation and their minds with information that is meaningful and beneficial to them.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Scully defined his technique: “I don’t announce,” he said. “I have a conversation.”

Vin Scully learned his unique style from his mentor, Red Barber, the radio voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the predecessor organization of the Los Angeles Dodgers. An even earlier influence for Mr. Scully had to be Ronald Reagan, whose origins as the Great Communicator go back to the early 1930s. Mr. Reagan was a sports announcer at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, where his job was to sit in a studio and describe the play-by-play of Chicago Cubs baseball games from a telegraph ticker tape, as if he were in the ballpark, projecting himself across time and space and, by extension, into the homes of his radio audiences. Then and there, Ronald Reagan learned the art of being conversational.

Reagan to Barber to Scully—a triple play of consummate conversationalists. Make them the role models for the secret to your success as a presenter. 

Lesson three: consider every presentation as a series of person-to-person conversations.

This blog is an excerpt from my book Presentations In Action published by Pearson. Also check out my newly released Presentation Trilogy—Presenting to Win, The Power Presenter, and In the Line of Fireavailable on Amazon and other retailers.