Are You Talking But Nobody Is Listening?

As professional communicators, our goal is to be completely understood.  We talk. We write. And, we show.  It’s that “show” part that can sometimes be the most effective way to get our message across in the short amount of time people are willing to give us.  In some cases, our audience is not really paying attention – they’re just too lazy to change the TV channel.  In the political arena, it’s that 30-second television ad (and even the 15 second shorts) that can make or break someone’s political career.

Don’t Just Say It – Show It

Just take a look at some fascinating research findings in the political arena that are directly applicable to emergency public information, public relations, public perception and marketing.   According to research done by Dan Schill, political candidates must communicate their information quickly and efficiently because:

  • Sound bite lengths have decreased from 43 seconds in 1968 to just 7.7 in 2004
  • Examining political campaigns from 1992-2004: Sound bites accounted for 14.3% of election coverage while image bites comprised 25.1% of coverage, with candidate-focused image bites averaging 25.8 seconds per story in 2004

There’s been an increasing importance placed on the visual above all other forms of political communication because of it’s effectiveness. Visual symbols are the most dominant mode of learning and neurologists have found that images play a central role in developing a sense of self and consciousness.

  • People believe what they see more than what they hear or read
  • When the visual and verbal message are in conflict, viewers have difficulty remembering the verbal information
  • The visual messages dominate other messages when presented simultaneously

Visuals can quickly communicate the full spectrum of emotions—anger, fear, warmth, pity, guilt, sexiness, and humor. According A. Mehrabian’s study “Non-verbal communication”:

  • 93 percent of emotional meaning is communicated nonverbally

hilary_clinton_marcn_flickrEven Hillary Clinton media advisor Patrick Halley summarized the role of visual in politics and the image bite:

“Ours is a very visual business, and it’s driven by the television set, the most powerful weapon in politics. As a result, no politician worth her salt ever stands behind a podium and talks about the need to stimulate economic development. She goes to the gate of the closed factory and addresses a crowd of union workers who have lost their jobs. You use the visual imagery to tell the story and get the point across.”

Michael Deaver (Deaver & Herskowitz, 1987, p. 141):

“You get only forty to eighty seconds on any given night on the network news, and unless you can find a visual that explains your message you can’t make it stick. VISUALS. I am sure the purists, who want their news unfiltered and their heroes unrehearsed, gag on the word visuals. But in the Television Age, it hasn’t happened, or at least it hasn’t registered, if people can’t see what you see.”

Don’t Miss This – Build Your Own Visuals with a Free Resource

visualizationNow that you know how important the “visuals” are when communicating, in the next blog post I’ll show you a website that you can access for free that creates magical moment we live for: transforming numbers (data) into an entirely more understandable image.  You will be able to view and build interesting facts and statistics on interactive visual charts and get access to more than 59,000 publicly available data sets.  This means you can use official data (or your own) without having to search all over the place for the facts and figures.

Political images courtesy: Flickr marcn

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