Speech of the Month, August 21 - Lyse Doucet
The news coming out of Afghanistan was appalling, but Lyse Doucet's telling of it was awesome
I’m ashamed to admit it but I haven’t always been a Lyse Doucet fan. She first entered my consciousness in the mid noughties and, being a dullard, I couldn’t get past her accent. I couldn’t place it and because of that it felt alien and irritating.
But as the years have slipped by and I’ve watched her report from war-torn Syria, bombed out Gaza and chaotic Kabul, I'm very aware of the class act she is. The way she switches effortlessly into Arabic when interviewing people in wretched circumstances, the confidence she projects in male-dominated cultures and way she blends authority with compassion commands awe-induced respect. More power to you, Lyse!
Here’s a clip of her reporting from Kabul airport.
And here’s why I rate her so much:
She knows what she is going to communicate
Doucet is honest when she says she can’t answer the question about whether it’s realistic for everyone who wants to leave Afghanistan to get out before the end of August '21, but that doesn’t mean that she stops speaking. Rather, she continues to speak for almost two minutes. This is because she’s already decided that what she’s going to communicate is the desperation of the Afghan people. She describes the crush at the airport, the SOS messages she's received, the tears, the gut-wrenching feeling of not wanting to flee one’s country but sensing impending doom. Through this, we get a sense of the panic and the ticking time bomb that these people are experiencing.
This a great lesson to us all. Know what you want to communicate before going into a meeting or an interview. Don’t wait for the right question to come up to say it. But the trick is to bridge properly; make sure you address a question that was posed to you before you deliver the message that you came to deliver.
She communicates emotion without emoting
Having seen Afghans desperately try to board flights, Doucet has clearly been moved by what she witnessed but she doesn’t parade her compassion centre-stage. Imagine Zoe Ball or Alex Jones swapping places – admittedly that does require an imagination pole-vault – but they wouldn’t be able to resist emoting and, in doing so, they’d upstage their subject. Doucet never does this; she always places the limelight on her story and its subjects by suppressing her own feelings.
She looks constantly into the camera
Most of us know that when we’re speaking on a video call we should look into the lens of our device. Good. But what often happens - and looks a bit shabby - is that we relax and look around our office, living-room, shed etc when we’re being asked a question (especially if the questioner doesn’t have his camera on) and then we deliver our response to no clear target.
Doucet, in the clip above, probably can’t see the newsreader she’s speaking to yet we still get the impression that she’s talking to him and us because she constantly focuses on the camera. Do the same on your video calls.
Her reporting is brilliantly visual
In answering how Kabul has changed from all her previous visits, Doucet talks about the view from the airport. How in 2001 it was dark, there was nothing surrounding it. Then came the billboards advertising mobile phones, next the billboards of Afghan politicians encouraging citizens to vote and then billboards promoting patriotism. As she mentions these boards, we conjure mind pictures. She leaves us with a blank image to fill – what will the billboards look like from now on, will there even be any? Because our imaginations have been asked to work, we’re all the more engaged with the story.
We often show audiences actual pictures, which are great if we need to clarify how a product will look or work, but follow it up with a mind picture that will force the audience to conjure how using the product will feel. Do it and you'll make a much deeper imprint on the audience's mind.
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