Working in retail, part of my job is to be friendly, polite and respectfully greet customers. I noticed that after just a few months of working, my social skills dramatically improved and the way I talk to people has changed in a positive way. Not just for customers – but also for most people I greet – I noticed that I normally open with something like, ‘Hey! How are you?’ I always make sure I maintain eye contact with the person I am greeting as well. When I am greeting friends or family it is much more casual and most of the time is just a more excited ‘hey!’, ‘hi!’ or ‘how’s it going?’ often accompanied by a hug. When I say goodbye to friends or family, I often say a prolonged ‘bye!’ such as ‘byeeeeeeeee!’. When I am signing off to customers, professors, or people I am not as close with, I normally say, ‘have a nice/good day/night,’ ‘thank you,’ or ‘see you later’. ‘See you later’ is a common stereotypical Australian term to say (Australia Plus 2015). In fact, so is ‘how’s it going?’ (Australia Plus 2015).
I deal with uncomfortable moments depending on the situation and who is involved. There are never awkward silences with my close friends or family as we are comfortable with each other and do not always have to fill silence with unnecessary conversation. When meeting new people or talking to people I do not know very well, I am quite confident at keeping the conversation going by making ‘small talk’ – ‘polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters…’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2016). Norrick (2010) suggests that ‘humor makes any story more tellable, even familiar stories, and humorous stories have characteristic patterns of participation…’ I, personally, do not consciously use humor to transition to a close unless the situation calls for it. Humor for me is also only used around people I know well enough that would understand the joke.
‘“Institutional talk” is that in which a participant’s institutional or professional identities are made relevant to the work activities in which they are engaged,’ (Drew & Heritage 1992; Ames 2016). In simpler terms, it is the way people interact within an institutional environment. Looking at institutional talk in detail, an example of different forms of it is evident in interviews – both news interviews and entertainment-oriented interviews.
Taking a look at an interview with Taylor Swift on The Ellen Show in comparison to an ABC News (US) interview with Malachi Love-Robinson who is under investigation for fraudulent behaviour, there are many distinctions that can be made. This specific video does not show it, but watching the interview from the beginning, Ellen introduces Taylor Swift by using humour at first and then revealing Swift’s success and telling the audience about her new album. She then exclaims her name and Swift walks out while the audience cheers. Swift was asked questions regarding her ‘deepest fear’. The way in which Ellen presented the interview – in a casual and fun way – led the audience to react by laughing and joking along. The questions were directed at Swift to answer and come across as her obtaining an irrational fear – all for entertainment purposes. There was no potential for conflict so this did not need to be managed. All disagreements were purely humorous ‘friendly banter’. This leads to the next point regarding humour being evident. This whole segment of the interview was definitely aimed at being humorous and entertaining for the audience and fans of Swift. The interview concluded with Ellen complimenting and reassuring Swift of her somewhat irrational fears while the crowd cheered in agreement.
A very different approach was taken in the interview with Malachi Love-Robinson. The interviewee in the ‘Dr Love’ interview is introduced using his name and revealing the criminal behaviour he has been committing alongside footage of his arrest. It then shows Love-Robinson in a room with the interviewer with the first question asked. He is asked first if he is an actual doctor – which seems like an attempt to immediately cause controversy or provide Love-Robinson with the opportunity to stand up for himself. The questions are quite blatant and to the point. The interviewer picks up on any contradictions Love-Robinson makes in his responses and sometimes even speaks over him. Humour was not evident until the end of the interview between the co-anchors and the interviewer when they joked about a comment made by the interviewee. The interview overall had many moments of conflict, however, it is evident that the audience would take the side of the interviewer in each instance. Love-Robinson walked out on the interview after he felt he was not being treated fairly.
As can be seen in both of these clips, there is an obvious difference between the institutional settings of both of the interviews. Ames (2016) states that research has revealed that understanding patterns and routines is how institutional interaction is made sense of and that once people are aware of these sequences of interaction, they are able to efficiently orient their roles in the conversation. Both Taylor Swift and Ellen DeGeneres are aware of their roles in the entertainment-oriented interview as well as interviewee Matt Gutman and Malachi Love-Robinson understanding the seriousness of their interview.
Watch the Taylor Swift interview here!
Watch the Dr Love interview here!
Interaction en Masse: Audiences and Speeches Reflection
Interaction en Masse: Audiences and Speeches discusses political speeches as a form of institutional interaction. It begins by examining applause and when and why people applaud others. Different speeches and different presenters call for different lengths of applauses. For example, a politician may receive a longer applause than an award nominee (Heritage & Clayman 2010). Applause is generated when the audience wishes to express their approval or affiliation with what is being said. ‘A burst of applause must involve a large number of people starting simultaneously,’ (Heritage & Clayman 2010). It is suggested that speechwriters leave gaps in their speeches for time for applause.
The chapter mentions the formats for inviting applause. These include; contrasts (contradictions, comparisons, opposites and phrase reversals), lists (three identical words, three different words, three phrases and three sentences), and puzzle solution (establishing a problem and offering the solution). Often, these formats are combined (i.e. combinations) to produce an even more effective invitation for applause.
Applause enhances the delivery of a speech, so it is essential for successful speechwriters to use these techniques in their speeches. By incorporating these key points in speech writing, this will increase the potential for its overall effectiveness in delivery.
Ames, K 2016, COMM12033: Speech and Script Lesson 5: Institutional Talk: study guide, CQUniversity e-courses, https://moodle.cqu.edu.au/pluginfile.php/293235/mod_resource/content/5/COMM12033_Week5_Mod.pdf
Australia Plus 2015, ‘Learn English: Aussie slang’, ABC News, 3 July, viewed 14 April 2016, http://australiaplus.com/international/2015-07-03/learn-english-aussie-slang/1465396
Chapter 18: Interaction en Masse: Audiences and Speeches in Heritage, J and Clayman, S 2010 Talk in Action: Interactions, Identities, and Institutions, Wiley- Blackwell, West Sussex, pp. 263-287.
Drew, P., and Heritage, J. (eds.) 1992, Talk at work: Interaction in institutional settings, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Norrick, N 2010, ‘Humor in interaction’, Language and Linguistics Compass, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 232-244, viewed 14 April 2016, http://ejournals.ebsco.com.ezproxy.cqu.edu.au/Direct.asp?AccessToken=95XIXI18XQDKEJZQQ9IQXU4QKXEU8X45DI&Show=Object
Oxford Dictionaries Online 2016, small talk, viewed 14 April 2016, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/small-talk