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Jun
11

Authentic conversations – the currents of communication

I found myself crying today during Anna Maria Tremonti’s presentation to Currents – the national conference of the Canadian Public Relations Society. I cried several times, in fact. Tremonti is the host of the CBC Radio program The Current and the name of her session was “Answer the damn question!
 The tussle for truth, perspective and credibility in journalism.”
Tears? I have allergies…
So how did this hard-hitting journalist make me, a hardened former journalist, cry like a teenager at a Twilight movie? She did it by telling stories about past interviews – stories about topics that touch me personally. You see, I’m a mother who’s been living with two grown sons who’ve each manifested serious mental illnesses in the past two years.

So when Tremonti described how Monique Lépine, mother of the mass murderer Marc Lépine, agonized if she had been a bad mother – I could understand Monique Lépine’s guilt ­because I’ve been asking myself the same questions.

When she talked about David Boyd, whose bi-polar son was shot by police while in the throes of a psychotic episode, I could imagine his pain – I’ve had the same fears that ignorance and fear might some day lead to a tragic outcome for one of my sons.

And so it went, story after wrenching story of the memorable times when a person spoke from the heart (with me sniffling and wiping away tears and trying to pretend I had allergies!)

Sincerity connects – authenticity builds empathy

“It can be difficult for people – and especially politicians – to speak from the heart but when they do, it becomes unforgettable,” said Tremonti. “The people we remember are the ones who speak to what they actually believe.”

It turns out I wasn’t the only one weeping like a tender-hearted viewer of a Hallmark movie. That’s because you don’t have to have a direct connection with a speaker’s topic to feel empathy for them. Authenticity creates the connection. Tremonti’s point was that public relations professionals and their clients should set aside their fear of tough questions and allow authentic voices to speak out – and that in fact there’s a responsibility for decision-makers to do so.

“It’s not always easy to put yourself in a position to answer questions but it’s worse not to answer the question,” she said, reassuring us that the media’s gloves don’t come off when the interviewee says “good morning” but rather “when you don’t answer the question – when you try to take it off topic.”

Tremonti’s award-winning track record includes covering major international stories such as the break-up of the former Soviet Union, the war in Bosnia and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She has dodged bullets while riding in armoured cars and interviewed militia leaders – one of whom had two rocket launchers bookending his living room couch like a pair of wonky floor lamps.

Without questions we can’t have democracy

“Because I’ve worked in places where people aren’t allowed to say anything or ask questions, I’ve come to believe that without questions we can’t have a democracy,” she said.

“That’s why we all need to keep talking. Public relations professionals and the media don’t necessarily need each other any more – there are lots of ways to get information and lots of ways to give information.

“But there are also lots of ways to misunderstand each other. And that’s why I think we should keep the conversation going and why I think you should answer the damn question!”

 

2 comments

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  1. Erin Anne Beirne says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Stephanie.

    Clearly, Anne Marie’s talk impacted a lot of people, judging by the quantity and quality of the tweets during her session. Reading your post helped me pull the tweets together into a cohesive bundle, so I was able to benefit from it even though I wasn’t able to be there in person.

    So, again, thank you!

    ea/

    1. Stephanie Slater says:

      I’m glad you found this helpful, Erin Anne. We had a lot of laughs, as well as a lot of tears, during Anna Maria’s talk. I really liked her observation about the negative mail she received after a controversial interview with Henry Kissinger. It included allegations such as “Communist slut!” She said: “I was really hurt. I am not a communist!”

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