Friday, November 19, 2010

The silent game

I have a pretty good track record of being the least quoted PR person ever. It's not that I am hiding from reporters in a cocoon of silence under my desk. No, that is just for mid-afternoon naps.

Really, I just prefer to connect reporters with a faculty person, student or administrator. Not to sound trite (too late) but that just makes for better stories. It always did for me, anyway...

So I was a little surprised when a reporter called me Friday afternoon INSISTING to talk to me.

"Let me get you connected with the dean or president to answer these questions..." I said.

"No, I would prefer an answer from you today..." he said.

Ok, I'll bite.

"Well, why was [policy X] not a part of the campus PRPs earlier..."

"There was no need for it before [situation Y]" I said... and then silence.

There was tactic they taught us back in the old newspaper 101 days where the reporter was supposed to ask a question and then remain silent for long periods of time. The hope was the person being interviewed would get so uncomfortable by the silence over the phone that they would being spouting out confessions and quotes and secrets that implicated them in the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby... or some other terrible travesty against humanity.

Don't get me wrong, the silent treatment works. I've used it many times (even in person) and found sources will give up just about anything if I stay silent long enough...

The reporter fired off his second question - a yes or no question. And then we sat in silence. That's when I saw what was going to happen.

My cell phone was sitting next to me on the desk so I pushed on the clock app and started timing the silence.

How long would this go on? How long could I keep the phone at my ear before one of us... either of us... said ANYTHING.

It was brutal. Was he thinking? I checked what song I was missing on Pandora since I did not have the foresight to push pause quick enough.

Was he organizing his thoughts?

Was he going to hit me with something big? Did he have some compromising photos of me he was trying to arrange before describing them over the phone?

My gawd what is happening?!! Just ask something!

2 minutes, 47 seconds and 14 tenths of pure unadulterated silence later I blinked.

"Well, guess I better hit the old dusty trails..."

Almost three minutes... and then I caved.

Maybe next time.

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