Secretary of State George P. Shultz isn't quite ready to challenge President Reagan for the title of "the great communicator." But Shultz has borrowed one trick from his boss's Hollywood bag of show-business techniques: he's delivering his speeches with the aid of a TelePrompTer.
The secret got out during Shultz's just-concluded 10-day European trip. His visits to six countries included major speeches in London and West Berlin. On both occasions, reporters -- long accustomed to Shultz's hunching over a manuscript on a lectern and droning through the text in a monotone -- were startled by the sight and sound of Shultz suddenly coming across with the pizazz of a television anchorman.
His eyes swept authoritatively over the audience; his voice sounded stronger and more commanding, and the number of drooping heads among his listeners was noticeably fewer. His performance seemed even more impressive when viewed up close on TV.
Later Shultz confided to reporters that he had been spurred to seek a new image by his wife, Helena -- or Obie, as she is generally known.
"She told me, 'George, your speeches are so dull they're putting people to sleep,' " Shultz said.
He then consulted Norman Cook, an old classmate from Princeton and a retired NBC executive.
Cook said, "George, I like you a lot, but your wife is right."
At Cook's suggestion, Shultz began using odd moments to practice with the TelePrompTer, a mechanical device that unobtrusively projects the speech on a screen, under the tutelage of Bernard Kalb, the State Department spokesman and a veteran of more than two decades in network television.
Shultz made his first solo run with the TelePrompTer in a San Francisco speech on Oct. 15. A second attempt had to be scrapped because of technical problems. When the London and Berlin speeches were scheduled, Kalb dispatched an assistant to Europe to set up TelePrompTer arrangements in both cities.
The results, Kalb feels, were so successful that he's now waiting for the opportunity to "wow them in Washington."
In Romania, the hectic, country-a-day pace of Shultz's schedule caught up with him and Kalb in what looked like an audition for the "George and Bernie Show."
As Shultz was ending a news conference before leaving Bucharest, Kalb interrupted to say, "I think the final question should go to a journalist from . . . " He hesitated and, after what seemed a moment of fierce but elusive thought, concluded the sentence by saying, " . . . a journalist from this country."
"It's Romania, Bernie," Shultz said. "We're in Romania."
"Yes sir, I know," Kalb replied. "I think the last question should go to a journalist from Romania." Shultz pointed at the crowd of frantically waving reporters -- and called on the Japanese correspondent of a Tokyo newspaper.
On the Budapest leg of the trip, Shultz struck an impromptu blow for the latest campaign of the American Medical Association.
As the American and Hungarian delegations were seating themselves around a conference table in Hungarian leader Janos Kadar's office, Kadar offered Shultz an ornate silver cigarette box.
"It's very nice on the outside," Shultz said. "But what's inside isn't good for you."
He turned to Rozanne L. Ridgeway, his assistant secretary for European affairs, who is a heavy smoker. "That's for Ambassador Ridgeway," he said pointedly.