Learn Communication Excellence from Who?

The Pyeongchang Olympics come to a conclusion this weekend, and NBC has announced that the broadcast team of Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir will host the event live along with the always solid Terry Gannon.

Whether you care about the Winter Olympics or not, this broadcasting team can teach us plenty about communication excellence. On the ice, figure skaters are nonverbal communicators after all.

I am a Geek for the Olympics. Every time they come around I talk like I might watch a few nights and then BAM. I get hooked. One minute I’ve never heard of some athlete competing in a sport I never think about, like biathlon, and the next minute I can’t sleep until I find out whether some shooter from Kazakhstan zeroed their sites well or not.

Figure skating is one sport I’ve watched since I was a kid. In the 1980s it was Scotty Hamilton and the Brians (Orser and Boitano) I most enjoyed. Kristi Yamaguchi and Katarina Witt were big then too. My family went to see the Stars on Ice exhibition when those legends would come through town. They introduced backflips to the sport. BACKFLIPS! On ice skates.

Since then, a couple skaters named Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir came along, made waves on Olympic ice, retired, and began careers as broadcasters. That’s @TaraandJohnny for you friendshippers out there.

High marks for these pros

If you’ve never seen these two in action or witnessed their fashion concepts, you’ll be in for a shock. Johnny proudly cites Cesar Flickerman from The Hunger Games as his inspiration, after all.

Admittedly, when I first started seeing them appear on TV a few years ago it felt like just another former athlete getting a bit of work as a fleeting correspondent. You know, they’ll pop up here and there for a short while and then drift off into the sunset of former sports stars.

So I was shocked to learn that they were the primary broadcasting team–along with the excellent Terry Gannon–for all figure skating events at these Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“Why did NBC replace Scott Hamilton!” I complained to my dog one night, but he doesn’t even know what a triple axel is.

The marks of a pro

So what is it about these lovable goofballs that has propelled them from doing skits to replacing Mike Tirico and Katie Couric for a closing ceremony watched by tens of millions of Americans?

Here are six ways Tara and Johnny demonstrate communication excellence.

1. Preparation

Quite simply, Tara and Johnny know their stuff. You cannot talk that intelligently and with that much insight without preparation.

2. Professionalism

Yes, you can have fun and be a pro! In fact, you should in many areas. They may be zany at times, but they work hard at their craft and look as comfortable as anybody under the lights and mics of television.

3. Passion

Lipinski and Weir don’t want to just call an event. They want to be ambassadors for their sport and bring new fans into the fold. We are thrilled when Nathan Chen lands six quads in one program because they are. And when four years of preparation vanishes in a moment, we feel the anguish because they do.

4. Clarity

One of the most impressive aspects of their broadcasting is how well they explain what is happening. They seamlessly describe the technical language of the sport, the complicated mindsets of skaters, and relevant recent history of the competitors. Not easy to do.

5. Economy of Speech

You can tell they studied Scott Hamilton’s decades of analysis, as Tara has said. They do not waste words or fill space better left to performers. Listen in and you won’t hear annoying “ums” or “uhs” or almost any wasted words. The economy of speech is so good.

6. Branding/Image

But what about all that flash and sizzle? Sure, the costumes may be inspired by the Hunger Games Capitol, but all the glitzy glamour is icing on the cake. Flamboyant personalities may have helped get people’s attention, and we can learn something about self-promotion and branding from them, but excellence at their craft comes first. Substance should come before style for us too, but be sure to bring some memorable style too.


We can learn these few things from this emerging partnership.

After having four years to prepare for these Olympics, it will be interesting to see what Tara and Johnny do with less than four days to prepare for the closing ceremony. And I’ll definitely be watching after South Korea put on the best opening ceremony I’ve ever seen. But they’re promising pros, so I bet they do a great job. Will be fun to watch but also informative and hopefully encouraging for anyone working to improve themselves as communicators.

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