Yes, it’s the holidays, but for we communications folks, it was like Christmas all year with the foibles, blunders and sometimes exceptional victories behind the microphone. We gathered around the virtual fireplace to review a few of our most memorable moments in communications and why this was the year to end all years in message delivery. Gestures, expression, time, place, language, appearance and tone can all add up to impressive personal brand building or in some cases… annihilation.
The Trump campaign press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping
Because nothing says presidential like a landscaping company whose neighbours are a crematorium and a sex shop. Added to that, it was Rudy Giuliani’s first public appearance post-Borat. It was a hard year for the man formerly known as “America’s Mayor”. And we didn’t even mention his melting hair—or whatever that was.
Not all slips of the tongue are created equally. During an April press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a legendary gaffe while discussing the merits of wearing a mask. “It prevents you from breathing or speaking moistly,” Trudeau said. To his credit, he immediately followed up with “What a terrible image”, but the damage had been done. If Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships, this launched a thousand memes, and at least one song.
Public health officials as celebrities
Dr. Henry, Dr. Strang, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Arruda, Dr. Tam. In a most unusual year, it shouldn’t be surprising that public health officials have become household names. Day after day, these people have clarified, inspired, taught, cajoled, and yes, sometimes lectured. Their commitment to public service and willingness to speak hard, uncomfortable truths should be a lesson to communicators everywhere. Long live science.
A new definition of livestream
We’ve all lived on Zoom meetings this year, but we haven’t all learned the most important lesson: mute yourself!
This basic lesson was broken in the worst way possible in New Brunswick this year. It’s awkward when nature calls in the middle of a COVID-19 briefing and you’re the reporter who forgets to press the mute button. All of this happened during a late November briefing with Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer. Remember folks, mute yourself for safety.
Stay the blazes home
Maritimers can be folksy, and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil dropped one for the ages during his April 3 COVID-19 briefing. “Stay the blazes home,” a visibly angry McNeil told Nova Scotians. A predictable 2020 response followed, with the saying inspiring memes, songs, and ending up plastered on T-shirts and coffee mugs.
Did anyone else notice the liberal use of this saying—once reserved for drunk nosebleed seated sports fans? Politicians from Doug Ford to Brian Pallister to Joe Biden came to discover its effectiveness and, most likely in moments of sheer desperation, disrupted tense press conference questions to speak directly to the eye of the constituent.
The White House press secretary never shied away from providing the press with the questions they should be asking. Certainly, her confidence is to be admired, but her daily finger wagging and condescending style with media has become a signature.
The Cuomo brothers
We clocked a lot of time listening to these guys—New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and CNN presenter Chris Cuomo, the latter interviewing his older brother on multiple occasions on his show. Maybe it’s those accents, but the brothers from Long Island, with their two camps of fans, have both figured out how to navigate COVID-19 news and deliver with resonance. They won over many with their own brands of authenticity and the ability to get on the level with their public, particularly in the early scary moments of COVID-19.
The Ellen Degeneres apology
Rightfully so, the public has high expectations when it comes to apologies and related repair. Poor Ellen fell dramatically short on this one. From her smug inauthenticity in the delivery, to the “performance” undercurrent, to the light-hearted quirky comments that followed. She had a serious matter to address and failed on the landing. 1/10 from the Russian judge.
Kamala’s wired headphones
You could almost hear “hell yeah” from miles away as we witnessed the brilliant Kamala Harris chart her domination in the vice-presidential debate. Her smooth, assertive “Excuse me, I am speaking” became an overnight mantra and the ultimate example of proper and meaningful discourse. This was followed up by the post-run victory call to Biden—and showed us real heroes use wired headphones. A relatable, inspiring communicator who will take us to new heights in 2021.