There’s a whole world of stuff out there that needs saving, don’t you agree? Actually, you may not agree – and that’s fine… to an extent. If you don’t really care about something, odds are you’ve never had an experience to make you believe that something needs saving – or that there’s anything it needs saving from. But there are some things in this world that desperately need saving… and the message still isn’t getting across, you still haven’t had that convincing experience. What we need is a damn good messenger, but those with the biggest messages seem unable to to deliver them. The other day I saw this clip of Jimmy Kimmell talking about some really serious stuff, and almost instantly I was posed the question; “Why can’t NGOs communicate like that?”
Perception and Prescription
There is a disparity between professional Entertainers and professional Researchers – and this is not to give an excuse to anyone, but those people haven’t ended up in those fields randomly. Professional Entertainers naturally engage with us and hold our attention, though often they come down to a widely-encompassing level to do so and thereby become relatable to everyone. Researchers have got where they are by putting what bothers everyone else on hold & focusing on what really drives them, whilst accepting that it may drive only them. The rest of us, as we’re figuring out our own places in this world, look at these existing groups in order to find our own direction, using them as references. And they become perceptions that we’re comfortable with; building our beliefs, being given the facts. It’s why it’s such a shock when someone who we feel should be in one camp (eg. a politician or even president) dares to venture into another realm (say, of comedian); “…Comedy shows, I just don’t see the President going on one of those, they’re beneath his dignity [but above his approval rating]…”
(To be clear – I LOVE Obama on The Colbert Report.)
We communicate best when we have rapport and we build rapport best when we connect emotionally. That’s why it’s more attractive to listen to David Mitchell or John Oliver talk about climate change than ‘The White House‘, or a bunch of Scientists who we ‘know’ to have Vulcanly sworn off emotion in the pursuit of objectivity and fact. It’s ok for one party to err into the bounds of another, to stretch with ideas of the audience… but it’s a hell of a lot easier if you already have rapport with them.
For this reason, having an NGO try to entertain you is like seeing your teacher in the supermarket.
Most of the people involved in NGOs, research groups, or official societies are there because they have a deep, encompassing passion for what they do, and the rest of us – even if we have a vague idea that it might be important – don’t share that passion. We’d rather debate what colour this dress is.
Rapport & Credibility
What’s more important? To the majority (“People” I’ll call them), Rapport is a bigger seller than Credibility. NGOs may have high Credibility, but -odds are- low Rapport. To many people & entertainers alike, Credibility can be built with Rapport… meaning that we look to celebrities to tell us how to live our lives.
To Science, on the other hand, Rapport can come from Credibility, though to shoot too early for Rapport can devalue Credibility (somewhat Vulcanly).
To communicate really well, you’ve got to balance those both.
Now Here’s An Experiment:
Yesterday I got swept up by a grossing video of two of the most freakin’ adorable Red Pandas you ever did see, but there’s 2 versions of this video. Please take a look at them, and tell me which one you like most, and would send to a friend:
Both went live on the same day, yet at time of writing, Video A has broken 2.2 Million views, whilst Video B has just 2 1/2 Thousand. They’re both exactly the same video, probably shot on someone’s phone… but Video B has title slides at the beginning and end for The Cincinatti Zoo & Botanical Garden – which not only distracts from our immediate need to see cute Red Pandas, but also makes it more serious 😦
So to answer “Why can’t NGOs communicate like this?” I’ll suggest that it may be a combination of our (the audience) and their own perceptions as to what their role in things should be. And I’ll go on to ask “Should NGOs communicate like this?” if we need them to be all-credible experts on the world, and a greater rapport could cost them some of that? There is no question that what NGOs have to say needs communicating better… but maybe what we really need is great communicators to do it for them.
(Coming in a future instalment: Inspiring the communicators to talk about the right things…)