“22 Minutes of Doublespeak”
Press conferences are becoming less common, reserved only for the most severe situations that typically involve public safety and wellbeing. Public relations practitioners have moved away from this tactic for a variety of reasons, but the one most relevant to this assignment is unpredictability; there are too many variables that threaten control, flaws in approach are too easily exposed, and one misstep can cause the entire communications strategy to collapse.
This press conference featuring John Fennebresque, the UNC Board of Governors, is a perfect example. As a public relations practitioner who has planned many similar activities, I did not gain a great deal of insight from the tactical errors that he made with messaging, presentation style, tone, etc., although they were certainly entertaining. Rather, my learning came from evaluating the experience using a different lens, Berger’s ideas about social construction of reality. It provided a much broader, multidimensional view of not only what happened, but why. Although Fennebresque’s personal characteristics and delivery certainly contributed, they did not cause the press conference to flop so spectacularly. The reason was the Board’s failure to account for the broader implications of its decision and how it would be interpreted. With more attention to, for example, an honest and forthright explanation as to reasoning for Ross’ departure and the traits the Board wanted in its next system president, there is no reason why another press conference in the same circumstances could not have achieved very different, more positive results.
This assignment required a crash course in video editing. Fortunately, iMovie is very intuitive, and even a dinosaur like me could learn to use it in a relatively short period. The greatest challenge, once again, was figuring out how to render myself on screen in a way that would keep the viewer engaged and not scrambling for the “stop” button. Fennebresque was the star of the show, and he didn’t disappoint. It was not hard to find clips from the press conference that represented his collective “uh oh” moment. Getting the hang of editing in iMovie took some time, but the process was actually fun (when I wasn’t making mistakes and cursing). I particularly enjoyed coming up with other visuals to augment the narration, such as photos and screen shots of news coverage. The overall learning will definitely come in handy in the future, in my studies as well as work and personal life.
Competition for resources, rather than cooperation, characterizes far more of human existence than we care to think about. Thus, it should not have been surprising to conclude that the capital positions of individuals and organizations can be a major factor in developing strategic communications. Bordieu’s Theory of Practice presents a framework for analyzing the types of capital involved, who stands to gain or lose, and other considerations in a given scenario. Through this lens, relevant power dynamics, perceptions and motivations emerge, giving the professional a cleaner view of the target for the communications planning process.
My skills and experience as an audio technician are certainly limited, so this assignment demanded focus on structural elements that would enable understanding of the complex concepts involved. From beginning to posting, I had to pay attention to every detail of production, including finding an interesting “hook” to engage the listener, using interesting but translatable language, providing sufficient background and explanation, and delivering a thorough but concise exploration of the theoretical elements in the time allowed. It wasn’t easy to do in eight minutes or less. Hope the instructor has mercy on my fellow students and me.
Perhaps the biggest challenge was rendering my voice. It tends to sound monotoned. Since the production budget did not allow hiring a professional narrator, I confronted this challenge by focusing on inflection, tone, pace, and pronunciation — characteristics that you don’t ordinarily think about unless you’re preparing to give a speech, which I don’t do that often. It sounded better than expected, but the listener’s tolerance likely would have dropped dramatically had the recording gone much longer than the final 7:06 minutes.
Recording takes a surprising amount of discipline, but modern technology generally, and Apple specifically, made it a little easier to navigate. After the audio recording app that I downloaded failed, I defaulted to the basic voice memo function on my iPhone. The resulting recording might not have been of audiophile quality, but it was good enough. Plus, the app allowed me to edit the recording as I went, meaning I didn’t have to re-record the entire presentation when the inevitable flub happened (which was more often than I will admit). I was generally surprised and pleased with the end product. But a more skilled audio technician, such as the average third grader with an iPhone, would probably find it pretty elementary. Onward to the video project in a couple of weeks!