Universally Missed

Poor Steve Harvey. He’s the subject of a million jokes after his huge gaffe at Miss Universe last week. 

If you missed it, Steve mistakenly awarded the title to Miss Colombia instead of the rightful winner, Miss Philippines. An agonizing minute or so passed before he explained his error, causing reactions that ranged from gasps to applause (from Filipinos) to outrage (from Colombians). Kudos to Harvey for owning up to the error and apologizing. He showed the card with the finalists on it to the camera. And that’s where, I believe, the problem started. Just look at this card.

Iindex card shows first and second runner up in small print to the left and at the bottom far right, the winner's nameThat’s not how you lay out something for a host to read for the first time, live on air. You put it all in similar type. You keep it in a row. If the first two names are aligned to the left, then the third should be as well. It’s ridiculous.

It brought to mind a young radio newscaster I was asked to coach a few years ago. Her boss was at his wit’s end with her. He couldn’t figure out why she always sounded so scattered despite having lots of time to put her newscasts together. At first, I couldn’t either, and then I asked her to copy and paste her newcasts into a document and send them to me.

“I print them”, she said. “Do you want to see them?” Indeed I did.

This woman would choose, say, five news stories to cover in a morning. She would write three versions of each in a row, and then print the pages. Then she assigned a colour to each newscast and colour-coded the stories with a little mark of pink or yellow or green or whatever. So instead of just reading the news, which itself is enough of a challenge, she was also trying to remember whether she was in the pink or green hour, and shuffling papers to find the corresponding stories. It was INSANE. I told her to write each newscast in its entirety and use one at a time. No more colour-coding. No more shuffling around trying to find what’s next. When you’re on the air, live, you shouldn’t have to make so many decisions. It doesn’t have to be that hard. You lay it out clearly and then just follow along once the mic is live. Otherwise, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Steve Harvey had to miss the last hour of rehearsal before the pageant, and some say that if he hadn’t, he would have seen the card, known how it was arranged, and not made the error. Perhaps that’s true. But the card is poorly designed regardless of what Steve did or didn’t do. That’s not how professional producers prepare material for hosts, I assure you. It has to be foolproof.

And the newscaster with the colour-coded stories? Even after being advised of a better method that would allow her to concentrate on (and smooth out) her delivery, she refused to change her ways, and was fired. There’s just no saving some people from themselves.

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