Op­tics of cru­cial speech could have been bet­ter

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Business - NI­CO­LAS TRINQUIER BRIAN GRIF­FIN news­room@mm­times.com

STATE Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech on Septem­ber 19 was one of the most watched of her ca­reer. After the speech, her words were re­ported and an­a­lysed by pun­dits around the world. What was not an­a­lysed to nearly the same de­gree were the op­tics of the speech, the vis­ual as­pects of her pre­sen­ta­tion and what they said to Myan­mar and the world.

Op­tics has gained a place of pri­or­ity in pol­i­tics in most of the world. Some lead­ers seem to pay as much at­ten­tion to the op­tics of events as they do to their ac­tual state­ments. How lead­ers ap­pear to be en­gaged vis­ually is not of mi­nor im­por­tance. The back­ground, the peo­ple around them, the lan­guage on the ban­ners, and the gen­eral scenery all in­flu­ence pub­lic per­cep­tion. World lead­ers, and their po­lit­i­cal han­dlers, con­sider the op­tics.

And op­tics could also be a valu­able tool for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) to cement their point of view and rep­u­ta­tion in Myan­mar and abroad.

While none of us can imag­ine the mas­sive pres­sure the State Coun­sel­lor and the NLD face each day, we can see op­por­tu­ni­ties for her, her team and the NLD to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively to all of their au­di­ences by us­ing op­tics ef­fec­tively.

Fol­low­ing are some of the take­aways re­gard­ing the op­tics of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s ma­jor an­nounce­ment last week.

Stag­ing Let’s go to the set­ting of the State Coun­sel­lor’s much-an­tic­i­pated speech. She stands alone, a slen­der per­son on a mas­sive stage. There are rows of gi­ant Myan­mar na­tional flags flank­ing her. In front of her is a large podium and be­hind her is a plain wall draped in ma­roon. De­spite be­ing adored by mil­lions of Myan­mar peo­ple and revered for her staunch be­lief in peace and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, on this stage, she ap­pears alone and as a sin­gle voice.

Sup­port­ers In pol­i­tics – and most im­por­tantly while de­liv­er­ing an im­por­tant speech – lead­ers should al­ways sur­round them­selves with peo­ple. By us­ing a hu­man back­ground, it sends a pow­er­ful mes­sage of sup­port and strength. Few politi­cians in the world have the do­mes­tic sup­port that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has, and her mes­sage would have been ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cated vis­ually if she had been sur­rounded by key rep­re­sen­ta­tives of her gov­ern­ment, lead­ers of in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions, and most of all, ac­tive sup­port­ers. This would have con­veyed a state­ment of author­ity, hu­man­ity and in­clu­sion.

Au­di­ence Dur­ing the tele­vised speech, when the cam­era panned to the au­di­ence, a cou­ple of things stood out. First, the au­di­to­rium was filled with what ap­peared to be of­fi­cials and me­dia. The front row com­prised VIPS from Myan­mar and abroad, who had their own tables and bot­tles of drink­ing wa­ter. Be­hind them, were more rows with too many empty seats. The de­ci­sion to de­liver the speech in a closed-door venue at­tended only by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ists was op­ti­cally in­ad­e­quate. It would have been bet­ter to in­vite sup­port­ers to at­tend. Though invit­ing jour­nal­ists helped am­plify the speech’s reach, ask­ing sup­port­ers to at­tend would have es­tab­lished her party as a pool of cheer­ful and sup­port­ive par­ti­sans. It would have sent a pow­er­ful vis­ual to the rest of the coun­try and the world, re­in­forc­ing her rep­u­ta­tion as an ac­claimed, fa­mil­iar and trusted leader.

Op­er­a­tives The 30-minute ad­dress was the start of en­gag­ing in a con­ver­sa­tion with Myan­mar cit­i­zens, the af­fected peo­ple and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. It now needs to be com­ple­mented with an on-the-ground en­gage­ment strat­egy. The po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tors sup­port­ing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would be well-served to com­mu­ni­cate on the ma­jor is­sues, and they would do a great ser­vice to their coun­try and to the legacy of their leader if they gave more con­sid­er­a­tion to the op­tics of her en­gage­ment and what they mean to the de­liv­ery of her mes­sage.

No doubt, some peo­ple will say op­tics are su­per­fi­cial. Some may say it is only the words and deeds of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers that mat­ter. But even the most hard­ened skep­tics must agree that we are vis­ual crea­tures, and ap­pear­ances do mat­ter. This es­pe­cially rings true in our at­ten­tion-span-starved world, where many just take a few sec­onds to digest in­for­ma­tion be­fore pass­ing judg­ment. Re­call the re­ac­tions of Ge­orge Bush in the wake of Septem­ber 11, 2001: he made a point of vis­it­ing mosques. This was to not just to de­liver a speech, but, more im­por­tantly, to con­struct a pos­i­tive image of him­self for peo­ple around the world to wit­ness. Bush wanted to en­hance the op­tics of his words and ac­tions.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has so many qual­i­ties that have earned her ado­ra­tion at home and re­spect abroad that she de­serves a chance to fix the is­sues in Myan­mar to­day. Given all the tri­als and tribu­la­tions she has been through, she de­serves some pa­tience, but her com­mu­ni­ca­tions team needs to put her in a place to suc­ceed, and op­tics are a vi­tal part of that suc­cess.

The State Coun­sel­lor will de­liver many more im­por­tant speeches in her time, and her team would be do­ing Myan­mar a favour by seiz­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties to pro­vide her with the op­tics she needs to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively.

State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speaks in Nay Pyi Taw on Septem­ber 19. De­spite be­ing adored by mil­lions and revered for her be­liefs, on this stage, she ap­peared alone and as a lone voice. Photo: EPA

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