Monday, July 15, 2013

What's in a name?

I am sure by now you have heard of KTVU anchorwoman who read false names of the Asiana Flight 214 crew that crashed in San Francisco. In case you haven't, here is a complete retelling of the story thus far, complete with video. I was forewarned when I first saw the video on Friday night, as my Twitter feed indicated the names were "phonetically offensive." Who wouldn't be curious to see what that meant? The names are definitely offensive. As we now know, they were confirmed by an NTSB intern. It is unclear where they originated.

After I saw the video and picked my jaw up off the floor, I made a mental note to remind all my clients how important it is to practice all the words you will be saying in a speech event, but especially foreign names. Usually this is because they might be hard to pronounce, but it is also a good idea (as it would have been here) to make sure you are not saying something you shouldn't.  I have read that the anchorwoman in this case did not have time to read the names over beforehand because it was breaking news, and the names just appeared on her teleprompter. But whoever got the names and put them on the prompter should have had a clue that the station was being pranked. And now KTVU may be facing legal action. If only someone somewhere had read them out loud (which you would think is de rigueur for a medium that transmits content by reading it out loud) all this could have been avoided. I am imagining the "Really?!... with Seth and Amy" sketch now.

This incident reminded me of a story told to me by a client long ago. She was slated to give welcoming remarks at a charity event celebrating many generous donors, of whom a disproportionate number were aging male business leaders accompanied by glittering younger women. Though she meant to compliment them on their philanthropy, I believe she said it was good to "see so many philanderers here tonight." Oops!

The lesson is that if you know you are going to be saying a word you do not normally say, that may be a bit of a stretch -- like "philanthropy"-- you need to say it overandoverandover so that it slides off the tongue anytime you begin a word with "philan...." Anything less than thorough preparation can leave you saying something you most definitely do not want to say.  Just knowing the word in your head is not enough. You have to get it in your muscle memory, so that when you are in the spotlight, you don't slip into something that might come more naturally (but less appropriately).

And if you are ever on air reading up-to-the-minute-breaking news, make sure whoever puts the words up on your teleprompter has actually said them, for cryin' out loud!

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