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Thank the section for Interpersonal Communication and Social Interaction for the invitation. Thank the chair Dorthe Refslund Christensen. My lecture focuses on communication competence of politicians, which I have studied for the past 20 years from various perspectives. The subtitle ”From public speaking to live-tweeting” indicates that I will have a sort of historical perspective.
-Public speaking skills have always been one of the key abilities of politicians. During antiquity, public speaking was heavily emphasized in the birthplace of democracy and rhetoric—ancient Greece. We can say that speaking skills have always been important for politicians.
The rhetoric of politicians still draws a lot of attention around the world. From my personal experience, I can say that I have many times been surprised at how well our top politicians speak in front of a live audience. The era of public speaking started in antiquity but still continues. Our empirical observations also support this.
In our study we also noticed this. We analyzed four newspapers during a six-month period and collected all evaluations and descriptions concerning the leading Finnish politicians We also interviewed the leaders of all parliamentary parties, for a total of 8 party leaders. In the interviews, they seemed to think that these skills are basic requirements and obviously essential in the political field.
Good public speaking skills were highly valued. We can say that there was an era of public speaking when it was the most important form of political communication.
In recent years, communication competence in regards to the media has become more and more important for politicians. Parties have always been very quick and clever to learn how to reach voters in the best possible way. Therefore, they have also educated politicians for that very purpose. Earlier politicians had to deal only with newspapers But television has profoundly increased the significance of communication competence among politicians.
Statements of understanding media logic, media functions and its role and influence in publicity. Political leaders should not believe that they can manipulate the media to their advantage and somehow guarantee favourable publicity for their party or favourable images of themselves. All party leaders agreed that media skills are highly relevant in their work. Many of them had observed that the importance of media skills has grown in recent years.
I want to raise this special communication context, because it has had a strong influence on how the communication competence of politicians is studied. The debates have established a prominent role in political campaigning nearly everywhere. In many countries, the debates are the most followed events of election campaigns. TV debates are widely studied, and the research indicates that how the candidates communicate (both verbally and nonverbally) during these events is crucial.
- The television debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. It was seen that Kennedy won the debate because of good communication / performance. Nixon was seen to fail. The debate showed that communication really matters in television. It was a turning point in the importance of politicians’ communication skills. It wasn’t until 16 years before the next presidential debate was organized.
Developed by William Benoit. Widely used theory in the research of political debates. Developed for the US presidential campaigns. The theory is based on rhetorical perspective. Main point: The campaign discourse is instrumental, a means to a desired end. The desired end is securing enough votes to win the election. Attack = Candidates may attack their opponents by addressing their undesirable character or policy position. Defence = If a candidate decides to respond to attacks. Acclaim = Candidates may acclaim their positive characteristics or their policy position. From the perspective of communication competence, the central skills are attack, defence and acclaim. However, I have noticed in my studies that the theory does not fit the Finnish debates, because: We rarely have any direct attacks Acclaims are rare.
- However, according to my studies, competent performance during televised debates may be strongly influenced by culture.
The era of mass media and especially of television seems to continue. The media have grown important enough in societies to influence nearly all fields. In politics, the media have a very profound effect. Therefore, one speaks about the ‘mediatization of politics’.
Nowadays, mediatization of politics is the most studied area in political communication. Mediatization is sometimes seen as a theory, and sometimes it is not. It is argued that many features of political communication have changed because of the media. From the perspective of politicians, it is seen that they adapt to the logic of the media. They begin to think about the best way to achieve publicity through the media. They modify their messages to fit well with the media.
Personalization is seen to relate closely to mediatization. It is seen as a part of mediatization. It is also seen as a process, a development. It means that the persons and their characteristics are growing more and more important than their parties. Personalization emphasizes the significance of communication skills of politicians, because it emphasizes individuals and their characteristics. This also means that communication skills are continually growing more important in politics.
Van Aelst, Sheafer and Stanyer have defined personalization more carefully. In their definition, personalization consists of two dimensions. These are individualization and privatization. Individualization = Focus on individual politicians as central actors in the political arena. General visibility – means visibility of all individual politicians. Concentrated visibility – visibility of a limited number of political leaders. Privatization = a shift in media focus from the politician as occupier of a public role to the politician as a private individual, as a person distinct from the public role. Personal characteristics relate to political traits. Personal life means non-political characteristics.
In my latest paper, I studied privatization of politics during the recent presidential election in Finland. Here are the presidential candidates and their spouses from the second round of the election. As you can see, there was a straight and a gay couple. As a result, the media were extremely interested in the spouses and reported on them a lot. I analyzed what was written about the spouses and their relationships. Concerning the theme of this lecture, I noticed that the candidates needed competence on how to disclose and protect their privacy. The spouses also needed media and communication skills. For example, they gave many interviews and took part in different television shows.
I have talked about public speaking and media skills, but interpersonal communication skills are also important for politicians, so we shouldn’t forget them. Even though they are seldom emphasized in prior literature. They are also less studied. However, they are important inside politics e.g., in negotiations and co-operation with other politicians as well as in encounters with voters. - They should be studied more in the future.
Here is the table from the article which I have already alluded to several times. Its main areas are oral communication, including both public speaking and interpersonal communication, and media skills. The party leaders also spoke on leadership communication, although it was not evaluated in the media. The main reason this table is here is that it concerns the new challenges. The data were collected between 2008-09 In the interviews, new technologies were mentioned only 3% of the time. Newspapers were mentioned only 1% It mainly concerns use of e-mail. It is stressful to cope with so many e-mails. The situation has changed; there are no more questions about e-mails.
- New communication technology has gradually influenced the skills needed by politicians. Social media especially requires new competencies. At the moment, social media is a real challenge for politicians. There seems to be a wide range in how well they use this tool for tasks such as campaigning. During the few past years, Twitter has risen to become an important forum for political discussion. For example, live-tweeting is an interesting new form of political communication through which traditional communication channels such as television debates are coloured.
Facebook and Twitter seem to be the most important social media for politicians at the moment. But new applications are appearing all the time. For example, Instagram and Snapchat are growing. So far, the political power of social media has been rather low in institutional politics, but it is definitely growing. Importance of interactivity is a real challenge for politicians. It may be difficult for older politicians to learn this new kind of interactivity with citizens.
Party leaders themselves could not take part in the live-tweeting because they were on television. But their assistants did it on their behalf. The opponents were also dissed. My latest study shows that live-tweeting during a television debate may create very different impressions of party leaders.
If this era of public speaking and mass media is compared to Ong’s theory in orality and literacy, some similarities can be seen. ‘Primary orality’ refers to thought and its verbal expression within cultures ‘totally untouched by any knowledge of writing or print’. So it means the time when public speaking was the main form of political communication. ‘Print oriented time’ indicates the beginning of printing: for example, the time when the printed word was most important. ‘Secondary orality’ is essentially a more deliberate and self-conscious orality, based permanently on the use of writing and print. It is the time of television and radio. We have all lived during this secondary orality. The question is whether we are moving into a new era because of social media. Is this time different from secondary orality? What can we call this time?
Here I have described the main idea of this lecture. The required communication competence is becoming more complex. More and more skills are needed. Therefore, communication professionals are needed to help politicians. In conclusion, the importance of communication competence in politics is not decreasing. Instead, it is increasing all the time.
Communication competence and new challenges for politicians: From public speaking to live tweeting
• Development of rhetoric
• Public speaking is seen as an essential skill for
• Communication competence is seen as
important for politicians
• Evaluations and descriptions of public speaking
skills were mentioned most often in the
• 37% of all mentions of communication skills.
• In an interview of party leaders, public speaking
skills were mentioned briefly (18%).
• “It is clear that if you have a good command of
rhetoric, it helps a lot.”
• Must have something to say.
• Politicians are too often:
• Verbose, nonspecific, rambling not fluent
• Lacking openness, colour and charisma.
• Positive characteristics: plausible, charismatic,
“Voters are watching politics through persons. A
charismatic, quick-witted leader is a great help
for a party” (Aamulehti, 1 June 2008).
Era of Mass Media
• From public speaking to media skills.
• Parties began to teach politicians how to
communicate with the press.
• The newspapers were for a long time the
• Gradually radio became important.
• From the 1960’s, television has been the central
Almonkari & Isotalus 2012
• In newspapers 41%
• Understanding the role of media: 22% of all
mentions of communication skills
• Relations with journalist: 6%
• In interviews 36%
• The biggest class of communication skills was
• Relationships with journalists: 14%
• Understanding the media: 6%
The television debates
• They have been studied a great deal.
• The most studied oral communication situation in
the political context.
• More studied their effects on voters.
• The US presidential elections have been
Functional Theory of Campaign
Three types of discourse:
• The Functional Theory does not fit Finland.
• Isotalus & Aarnio (2006)
• In Finland, it is more a question of agreement
• Discourse is oriented to past, present and
• Television has emphasized the communication
competence of politicians.
• Nonverbal communication is central in
• Image of a politician is important.
• It has been predicted for 20 years that the role of
television would diminish in politics.
• There is hardly any evidence for that.
• It is still a central medium in politics.
Mediatization of Politics
• Describes the changes (process) of political
• Emphasizes the influence of the media in this
• Strömbäck (2011) considers mediatization of
politics as a multidimensional concept that
includes distinct yet interrelated dimensions.
• One of the dimensions focuses on political
actors and the degree to which they are
governed by media logic or political logic.
1. It refers to a stronger focus on candidates or
politicians instead of parties, institutions or
2. It claims that it is not only individuals per se, but
their personal non-political characteristics that
assume greater relevance.
• Describes the growing
importance of the persons in
• Adam & Maier (2010):
• This is an often forgotten dimension of
• However, it is important for politicians:
• When dealing with other politicians (negotiating)
• Connecting with the voters.
Social media is a challenge for
• In Finland:
• First websites in the 1996 European
• All candidates had websites during the 2000
• Facebook appeared in the 2008 local election.
• The 2015 Parliamentary election was called the
Facebook & Twitter
• Importance is growing.
• Appearance of new media: Instagram,
• Weak correlation observed with activity in
social media and success in elections.
• Political power?
• Needs new skills.
• Importance of interactivity.
Results on live-tweeting
• Party leaders’ assistants or active members of
parties tried to influence impressions of party
• Impressions based on live-tweets changed a lot
between party leaders.
Timo Soini – spiritless
Alexander Stubb - favourite
Paavo Arhinmäki - bully
Ong’s theories in Orality and Literacy
• Primary orality
• Print oriented phase
• Secondary orality
• Are we living in the new phase?
• Digital interaction?
Needed communication competence of politicians
Interpersonal communication skills