Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the UK Debate: Social Media Effects Old Media in a New Way

In watching the BBC UK political coverage on the night of the debate, it occurred to me that a more interesting precedent was being set than the televised candidates together talking.

It also reminded me why I created my business -- people can understand how to listen and respond in theory without much skill at actually doing it. I help clients transform presentations into conversations people want to continue. In the case of the debate, they needed a hand. Change is challenging for everyone.

Before the Debate, and Because of It . . .

Channel 4 News
offered two ordinary voters the opportunity to confront representatives of the major parties live on television without notes, scripts, or rules. Not only that, Jon Snow facilitated challenging questions from the ordinary voters and pushed the politicians to answer.

Really A Big Deal?

It's not new to have ordinary voters interviewed on camera outside the studio -- and it's not new to have experts argue with an anchor or each other. But it IS new to find a real discussion going on, live and unedited, between non-experts and the people who they might elect.

This would not be possible without Twitter. National news in Britain has been "taking email" and quoting Tweets for ages. Supposedly from the horses mouth, perhaps the News management felt that live people in the studio would offer the same sort of information.

Acceptance of Social Media allows people to talk face to face. New media makes old media possible again.

Of course, Tweets, email, and canned interviews are selected for very specific effect and to underline a pre-determined point. You don't actually know what people will do if you put them with other people in a room together. Even with facilitation, you don't have complete control.

The effect was rather fun. The two voters were aware of the candidates' positions but couldn't believe a word. The expert (yes, there has to be an expert somewhere) who joined them had an explanation -- people in Britain are engaged in politics but not in the main political parties or with the candidates.

How much better market research could you possibly get as a candidate? Polls and Twitter (and other social media) are all hearsay. Live human beings reacting candidly on camera (and without TV prep) is really all you have to know.

The results in the candidates' response (again) demonstrates why my business is booming: people have a very hard time breaking bad habits and in listening. Here you had a chance for political representatives to offer proof of concept -- and all they had to do was demonstrate that they heard their constituents.

Change hit the candidates, and they couldn't adjust. They were televised -- everyone could see them not acknowledging the views of people on whom they depend for their jobs. Voters didn't have to guess anymore whether they were heard -- they could see that they weren't.

Not Restricted to Political Life: Business Life is Rife with Non-Listeners

This is not an issue restricted to politicians. My much less well known business clients struggle with it every day.

Too often, it's hard for people with an agenda to listen. It can feel threatening to show you hear others' perspectives. Worse, sometimes it simply not occur to them. But you need to be able to at least fake it effectively.

Demonstrating that you hear when someone speaks is only the beginning. But it IS essential to any further communication. This all might sound obvious, but my business clients struggle with the same issues.

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