Communicating Trust – and the NSA

Communicating Trust - Images from TED 2014

The NSA blew it, and Ed Snowden changed minds. What a difference communication makes!

We were lucky to take part in TED 2014 last week. Of all the ideas shared, the most conversation-spurring topic was privacy: Do we want it? Do we have it? Is it eroding? Are we okay with that? What is the threat?

The team at TED surprised everyone by introducing an unannounced speaker: Edward Snowden. Appearing from a remote location in Russia, Snowden engaged in a real-time conversation with TED’s Chris Anderson via video robot. It stunned the audience.

Following a recent video-appearance at SXSW, Snowden took full advantage of the TED 2014 stage, clearly articulating his POV on privacy, whistleblowing, secrecy and constitutional rights. And – unlike the video footage of Snowden we had seen when he landed on the Top 10 Worst Communicators of 2013 list – Snowden showed confidence and graciousness, smiling (and even laughing at times) through his remarks. His remote presence had strong eye communication, an earnest sincerity and persuasive, listener-focused point of view – all elements that made us want to like him.

(Keep in mind we are keeping politics and content aside in this blog – for we know if you are ardently biased against a communicator, you’ll never like/agree with what they say!)

Following Snowden’s appearance, the NSA elected to respond on the TED stage in a remote video interview with Chris Anderson, as well.

We, of course, approach it from a communication perspective.

While it would have, indeed, been a missed opportunity had the NSA not accepted the chance to address the leading minds, innovators and technology activists on the TED stage in response (and rebuttal), the interview was a marked contrast in effectiveness, doing little to fuel trust or change opinions.

NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett was amazingly counterproductive to the NSA cause. Setting the tone from his opening line, his behaviors are not consistent with what he said (saying “thank you” and “happy to be here,” without showing a smile or lightness). He also has 6 “um”s in that first sentence, followed by 80 more in the next 10 minutes. It’s painful to hear his responses – especially the first 20 seconds of his answers where he is halting, thinking – getting his thoughts together and detracting from the entire experience. But it wasn’t just the non-word abuse that lost us.

He almost seemed soulless with his monotone voice and lack of facial expressions. Stiff as a board, he didn’t show energy or humanity in his tele-presence. He didn’t appear motivated or interested – certainly not to answer the TED questions – and that absolutely could have (and should have!) come across through his behaviors. What’s worse, he had many telltale eye darts, urging the audience to wonder just what he was covering up.

Now, we understand regulations prohibited him from giving more detail on some aspects  (just like many of our clients in industries like finance and health care have compliance and regulatory limitations). But had Ledgett looked directly into the camera, with a light presence and energy in his voice, we would have been more willing to take him at his word. And although his content might have been good for supporters of the NSA, he wasn’t going to convince anyone who was neutral, or change anyone’s mind. (Like this audience member’s tweet indicates).

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: People buy on emotion and justify with fact.

That means, it’s not just the words you say that matter – it matters how you say them. You own the experience you create. The fixes that Richard Ledgett could have done – should have done – are simple.

Trust is built through emotion, through positive associations. Consider your listeners. Always. Show your human side. Be compassionate, and remember that you don’t always have to be serious to be taken seriously.

Don’t fall into the NSA trap (no pun intended).

 

Images in this post are from www.TED.com.

 

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