Maybe you’re a video journalist, a professional communicator. Maybe you are a someone who uses presentations before live audiences as a means to an end. The suggestions that follow are for you.
This odd convention of having one person talk and many people listen…what’s it for? Information sharing? Influencing opinion? Making a presentation, a telecast or a video post is a fast way to get everyone within earshot to hear my point of view, to hear my information, my “facts.” But what if my information is shoddy, what if my “facts” are colored by opinion? What if my point of view is skewed toward something other than “the common good?” In that case, it’s a fast way of getting bad information to lots of people. We know that there’s a chance of getting incomplete or incorrect information when we watch television news, or hear a presenter hold forth. But we seem never to get enough of it. Why haven’t we given up?
TV News: We don’t just want it, we need it.
Recently there’s been a revival of a failed experiment from the ‘80s. It has to do with “good news” or what was termed a few decades ago, “happy talk.” Briefly, it’s inconsequential non-news showing “feel-good” occurrences such as someone being unexpectedly kind or decent to someone else. Of course there’s a place for human-interest, but it has to sound (and be) important.
We can only assume research projects are returning results that indicate people say they want feel-good stories. Since pumping these types of stories into the newscast doesn’t produce a dependable increase in viewers, it leaves some of us wondering if, after all, people like how it makes then feel to say they want more feel-good stories (whether they’re important or not), but after all they don’t watch more because of the inclusion of these stories.
See if this holds water: People are engaged by a news story for two reasons: The first reason is to mentally stay out of trouble, (“The robbery happened in what neighborhood? I’d better be super-aware when I go into that neighborhood or avoid it altogether.” “Someone got hit by a car crossing the street? I’d better talk to my kids again about staying off of their cell phones when walking or driving.)” The second reason people watch is to understand their place in the universe, comparing everything in the news to their own experience. If the story is funny: “They thought this was funny enough to air. Do I think so too?” On the other side of the happy/sad equation, seeing the story about the mother who kills her five children is engaging. It prompts the viewer to ask, “What makes me different from her? Under what circumstances (if any) would I find myself in her place?”
So TV news fulfills a purpose beyond entertainment or “company.” It gets involved in our understanding of ourselves and the place we occupy in the world. While we might hate the idea of anyone’s being a victim of crime, if it has happened, we can’t help looking and asking ourselves, “What if it had been me?”
Playing with this need that, as human beings, we all share, the storyteller who invests meaning in the story will fulfill the viewer’s need more completely every time. Facts, as discrete hunks of truism, are useless. It’s not until they are given a context by the way they are represented in writing and through the way they are visually presented by a person that they have meaning for people as an experience. So, anchor, they’re not buying your looks, they’re not buying your personality, they are buying “an experience.” Your looks, your personality, the beauty of the set are only getting you a chance to keep the viewer with you until you can make the story meaningful. If after having given you the chance, they are disappointed with the experience they are offered, it’s no wonder the viewer will respond with frustration and with the urge to find another storyteller.
My dad was born in 1918, the year WW1 ended. For him, as a kid, a terrific, memorable experience involved a rope swing over an irrigation canal in Aberdeen Idaho. Nowadays, for a kid, the same feeling, the same memorable quality, can only be had by a trip to Disney. We’re all hungry for “experience,” and satisfying that hunger for “an experience” (not just facts) in others is getting more difficult, not easier.
By Nick Dalley, Intentional Communication, Inc. [email protected]. All rights reserved.