There were two separate yet similar news stories in the past 24 hours which are important for communications directors, and anyone with a public profile, to note:
2. French actress Catherine Deneuve denouncing a 'puritanical' overreach of the #metoo campaign against sexual harassment and declaring it 'vigilante justice'.
My post isn't about the journalistic ethics of showing dead people on video, or passing judgment on Harvey Weinstein and his ilk, or their accusers. Nor am I equating Paul's gory video with Deneuve's defense of the "right to pester".
It is about my observation of how unforgiving people (read: internet audiences, sponsors) have become for every mistake, not just the unforgivable, but the little ones, too, and the impact this has on people who are in the public eye.
Instant gratification has turned to instant vilification.
You end up feeling compelled to add disclaimers whenever you write or say anything, even to disclaim having an opinion, let alone voicing it, lest someone takes offense. You end up feeling like you have to overexplain yourself, to make absolutely sure that there is no room on the part of the reader to interpret (not to say, to read malicious intent into, or to misinterpret) your point.
The very fact that I feel I have to preface my post with a disclaimer is indeed a sign of the times.
Natalie Wolchover wrote a short but brilliant article on why everyone on the internet is so angry almost six years ago, but it still holds true, and gives interesting insights into this phenomenon.
The point I want to make for senior business leaders in the public eye is this:
One strike, you're out. There is no room for error. As a public speaker, you are walking a tight-rope, with hypersensitive online audiences ready to pounce on every slip-up, every comment with unintended meaning, every miscalculation.
Formulating what you are going to say in public, whether to staff, on stage, or to the media, is more important now than ever.
PS: If you do make a slip-up, there are ways to calm the waters. But that's a topic for another post.