TELEVISION CHANGED THE RULES - You Are the Message - Roger Ailes, Jon Kraushar

You Are the Message - Roger Ailes, Jon Kraushar (1995)


Television is a controversial medium. Some people think it’s good. Some don’t. Much has been written about how TV has changed the way we view the world. What I’ve learned firsthand is that television has also changed the way we view each other. As a result of TV, people today expect to be made comfortable in every communications situation. When someone speaks to them, they want to relax and listen just as they do when a TV professional entertains them in their living room. So when you and I communicate, we are unconsciously judged by our audience against the standards set by David Letterman and Dan Rather. You may think that’s unfair, but that’s the way it is. You don’t need to be as funny as Letterman or as confident as Rather. But you’re expected to be at least as comfortable, knowledgeable, and to the point as any good guest on a television show. In our subconscious minds, the style that’s acceptable on television—relaxed, informal, crisp, and entertaining—has become the modern standard for an effective communicator.


Today we’re all tuned to receive information much more quickly, and we get bored in a hurry if things slow down. The video age has sped up our cognitive powers. We get to the point faster. Because we’ve become accustomed to video editing, our minds skip ahead. When I started in television, programs had longer segments than they have today. Videotape and its editing process have tightened up not only television but the way we communicate. This has contributed significantly to making us a more impatient society. We’re often too glib when we shouldn’t be. That’s why sometimes changing your rate of speech, your movements, or how quickly you get to the point can help you gain control of a situation. People who watch the evening news see entire South American cities collapse under earthquakes in sixty seconds or less. So if you’re just talking for sixty seconds, you’d better be good and interesting.


Images help. If you can see a picture in your mind and describe it, others will stay tuned in. For example, a number of my clients are chief financial officers (CFOs) of large corporations. The truth is, when one CFO speaks to a group of other CFOs, the material is not exactly “Saturday Night Live” in style. That’s not a criticism of the speakers. It’s just that there’s a lot of statistical data that have to be used in any financial presentation. We’re stuck with it. The trick is—whenever possible—to go beyond the deadly abstraction of numbers and relate what you have to say in a way that brings the numbers to life.

Businesspeople can be remarkably adept at expressing technical ideas in a creative way. Look at the language describing corporate takeovers these days. Terms like “poison pills,” “white knights,” and “shark repellent” put life into discussions of highly technical business maneuvers.

There are many interesting ways to communicate facts and statistics. For instance, if speakers can paint word pictures, as opposed to just using words, or can use emotionally charged, intriguing words, they’ll be more interesting. If you’re talking about imported oil, for example, instead of just quoting how many tons of oil come into a country every day or every year, you might say, “That’s enough to fill every football stadium in this country ten times over.”


Whether you’re a lawyer presenting a case to a jury or a businessperson making a presentation of some kind, the techniques of television apply to what you’re doing, in terms of brevity, quick cut, pacing, visual reinforcements, and colorful language. We’re in a headline society now and we need to realize this, whether we think it’s a good thing or not. In today’s society, long-winded people will soon be as extinct as the dinosaur. You have to be punchy and graphic in your conversation—at least some of the time—to hold people’s interest.

Here are some quotes. To the left of each quote I’ve composed a deadly version of a lively thought.



The two leading ways to achieve success are improving upon existing technology and finding a means of evading a larger obligation.

The two leading recipes for success are building a better mousetrap and finding a bigger loophole.

—Edgar A. Schoaff

To construct an amalgam, you have to be willing to split open its component parts.

To make an omelet, you have to be willing to break a few eggs.

—Robert Penn Warren

Capital will not produce great pleasure, but it will remunerate a large research staff to examine the questions proposed for a solution.

Money won’t buy happiness, but it will pay the salaries of a large research staff to study the problem.

—Bill Vaughan

In this video age we’re all broadcasters. We transmit our own programs. We receive ratings from our audiences. We’ve been absorbed by the medium of television and now we are part of that medium. We can project comedy, drama, information, or news. We can write the scripts and deliver the parts. And we can move an audience to laughter, tears, or boredom. Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” I believe each person is his own message, whatever medium he chooses.