Tuesday night, about a week and a half back, was the last contest for the Democratic primaries. Barack Obama gained enough delegates to win the Democratic Party’s nomination and after we heard speeches from John McCain and Hillary Clinton, we heard Senator Obama deliver his speech.
While I was watching Senator Obama’s presentation on CNN, I wanted to know what the other channels were broadcasting at that time. After doing some channel surfing, I found the event broadcasted on CNN, MSNBC, and the FOX news channel. However, as I was flipping through the channels, I became aware of slight differences. All three were covering the same event live: Barack Obama speaking to a crowd of some 18,000 people in Minnesota. Yet, there were subtle differences that impacted my impressions of the event.
I flipped back and forth between the three news channels to see if I could pinpoint these differences. And the faster I flipped between the channels, the more noticeable the differences became.
Before I identify my observations, I have to make this caveat. In spite of what we hear from the network anchors that they are they have the best team on network television or that they are fair and balanced, we know that FOX news leans more toward the politically conservative side while CNN has a penchant for the politically liberal.
Besides, if you’ve taken the any of our sales courses, you’ll immediately see that descriptors like “best” and “fair and balanced” are claims, not facts.
Now, here’s what I noticed.
Senator Obama’s speech covered on CNN and MSNBC somehow seemed more vibrant, louder and more “alive”. The same event covered on FOX, however, seemed somehow subdued, less “in your face”, the applause less energetic. It was the difference between a CNN rock concert and a FOX poetry reading.
That’s when my NLP training kicked in and I asked myself, “These are my impressions. What specifically do I see and hear? What is the difference between the three channels that’s causing this difference in impressions?”
The event covered on CNN and MSNBC had Barack Obama filling the screen. From the second button on his shirt to the top of his head, he filled the screen. Switching to FOX, Barack Obama had to share the screen with his audience as a backdrop and a good chunk of the lectern. He looked smaller and more distant.
Switching back to CNN and then to MSNBC, I noticed that the colors looked more vibrant and saturated. The reds, greens, blues all stood out. There was a lot of contrast between Senator Obama’s jacket, his white shirt and his blue tie.
Switching to FOX, the colors looked less vibrant and more muted. The picture looked like it had less contrast and was less sharp. The colors were less saturated and looked a little closer to gray.
Then there was the sound quality. Switching to MSNBC and then to CNN, I heard Senator Obama’s voice sounding loud and very clear. The applause sounded sharp, crisp and had a snap to it.
Switching to FOX, the volume of Senator Obama’s voice was lower and sounded more muted. The applause was duller. The high frequencies were taken out, almost as if the signal was being passed through a low pass filter, (for all of you engineers out there).
I went to several TVs in the house, a small portable Toshiba, a large flat screen Panasonic with the 5.1 surround sound system, and the system I have in my computer with headphones (to bad I didn’t have the analyzer up and operational). All gave me the same result: The picture on CNN and MSNBC (which could have been the same live feed) was either cleaner or enhanced while the picture on FOX was subdued and muted.
Now regardless if you believe that this is a function of equipment malfunction, FOX using outdated equipment in the field, or intentional signal manipulation, there is something to take away here.
When I trained for my NLP Practitioners certification, we learned about sensory submodalities and how the brain uses these submodalities to encode information about the world around us.
I’m sure everyone has heard Anthony Robbins run through the mind experiment on his Unlimited Power tapes. If you haven’t, it may be worth a trip to the library. I’m not sure that they are still in print.
Anyway, he guides you through an exercise of taking an image in your mind, making it bigger, brighter, clearer and noticing the impact it makes on how you feel. Then taking that same image, he guides you thorugh making it smaller, duller, fuzzier and noticing how the impact changes.
For most people, making an image bigger and brighter in their minds makes the object more important and sometimes more alive. Making the image smaller makes the object less important and less relevant.
Then there is the impact that color makes. Visualizations that are colorful and vibrant often make images more alive and important while subduing the color or even making an image black and white will decrease its impact.
Auditory submodalities also play an important part in how information affects our perceptions. Sounds that are loud with a wide dynamic range and a large frequency mix leaves a bigger impression on us. Muffled sounds that are quieter, have a smaller dynamic range and a smaller frequency mix leave less of an impression on us. We perceive them as insignificant.
So, what can we do with this?
Well, for one, the sales experts encourage us to stand up and not to sit down when speaking on the phone. This has the effect of allowing the sales person to use the entire power of their diaphragm when speaking giving the voice more power and a wider frequency mix. When sitting down, the sales speaker can’t use all of the power of their diaphragm to their advantage.
And if you happen to be on a videoconference call, remember that the bigger and closer your image is, the more of an impression you will make on your audience. Just make sure that you don’t get so close to the web cam that your audience can count the freckles on your nose.
Then there is a whole industry that has sprouted around the impressions that various colors make and the effect that colors have on people’s perceptions.
If you are a public speaker, here is something else to keep in mind when you are speaking to your audience. Use stories and anecdotes that have very descriptive and vibrant language. When we help our clients put together presentations in our programs, we encourage them to bring out the details, the colors and the texture for this particular reason. It makes an impression in the minds of the audience. It gets their attention and holds it. And as a speaker, a sales rep or as a marketing person, keeping an audience’s attention is just as important as getting it in the first place.
So, do the news channels intentionally modify their raw signals to manipulate your perceptions? Only the news network techs know what’s happening behind the cameras.
But if you want to make a favorable impression on your audience and communicate effectively with them, use language and visuals that make your imagery bigger than life and more vibrant. You may be surprised at the results.