What the Oscars Can Teach Us About How Words and Actions Matter.

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<span>What the Oscars Can Teach Us About How Words and Actions Matter.</span>
Bottom Line:

We need to understand that words matter, and actions need to back up those words. The Oscars are a good example of this.

five Oscar trophies

Every year, the Academy Awards airs in late winter (this year, it is March 10). For non-movie lovers, this is the annual event held by the United States-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to present its Academy Awards of Merit, better known as the Oscars. The awards are given annually to "honor outstanding artistic and scientific achievement" in motion pictures. 

About 40 years ago, the Academy Awards had a problem - two problems, actually. The first was that there was a long gap between the announcement of the nominations and the awarding of the famous statuettes. The Academy needed something to fill the gap between the two events to keep interest in the awards. The second problem was that the Academy was being criticized for encouraging competition rather than honoring excellence. After all, the movie industry spends millions each year on campaigns to win the votes of Academy members. It often resembles a political contest rather than a process of honoring artistic and scholarly achievement in film.

The Academy addressed these problems by making three rather small and subtle changes that, in my opinion, have gone a long way toward addressing both problems. First, the Academy holds an annual Nominees Luncheon a few weeks before the awards ceremony to honor all the actors, directors, and other film artists who have been recognized for their work by virtue of being nominated. At the so-called "Oscar Luncheon," all the nominees are seated randomly, rather than all the nominees from the same films sitting together. This results in A-list actors sitting next to sound designers, top directors next to makeup and hair stylists, etc. It's not people sitting in their teams (the movie they're attached to), it's artists and craftspeople mixing together to celebrate that film is a collaborative medium. And everyone there is honored. The big event of the luncheon is not the presentation of the awards, but the "class photo. One by one, the nominees' names are read aloud and displayed on the big screen, and they walk up to take their places on stage. Everyone manages to squeeze in before the official photo is taken. Then they cheer and everyone goes off to wherever they are going. 

Nominees for the 96th Oscars / Richard Harbaugh/A.M.P.A.S. 

The second change is in the way the award categories (other than the one for the entire movie) are called. It has gone from referring to them from "best" to "outstanding achievement," as in a change from "Best Actor in a Leading Role" to "Outstanding Achievement by an Actor in a Leading Role." It is a very subtle change - from best to outstanding - but its impact is great. The word best is typically used in a comparative sense to rank or order things, to indicate the top of a hierarchy based on some criteria. It is a word that should be used in contexts where there is a clear and definitive evaluation leading to a clear preference. The word outstanding, on the other hand, focuses on the exceptional nature of something, emphasizing its distinction and prominence without necessarily implying a direct comparison or ranking. Both denote something of high quality, but one does a better job of focusing on the work.

The third change is what is said when the envelopes are opened. It used to be "And the winner is..." and now it is "And the Oscar goes to ...." The former emphasizes the recipient as the "winner," which inherently suggests a competition or contest in which there are losers. The latter softens the competitive edge by focusing on the distribution of the award rather than the act of winning. In essence, "and the winner is" emphasizes the competitive victory of the recipient, while "and the award goes to" focuses more on the act of receiving the honor, which can subtly shift the emphasis from competition to recognition.

The Oscars are not a clear and definitive assessment of performance. They are not comparing individuals who are all making the same movie. The verdict is a choice open to personal likes and dislikes, bias both conscious and unconscious and subject to factors that may or may not actually be relevant. There is a lot of grey area that creeps into the decision-making process. What I like about these changes are that they acknowledge and actually embrace that grey area. And they do that by understanding that words matter, and actions need to back up those words.  

black and white clapperboard

Words and Actions Matter

We here at Destinations International (DI) have long talked about how words matter and how actions need to back up words. In politics, words matter, and those words need to be chosen carefully. If we are going to be successful in changing the narrative around our industry it means talking to stakeholders in a way that is simple, emotional, and connects their values to your organization. It also means using words that people recognize, understand, and use themselves. 

DI conducts an annual analysis of political discourse on related topics such as economic development, neighborhoods, public safety, education, and other public goods, and finds that many of the same key words are repeated by political leaders when they speak positively about them. Political leaders are known for constantly testing words and phrases, so we know they found these words resonated with their constituents, our residents. To position our mission as a shared value in our community, to make our efforts a public good, and our target organizations a public asset, we need to use the same words and phrases. This is the thought process behind the creation of the Tourism Lexicon.

The purpose of the Lexicon is to help destinations frame the rules of effective language. Framing is about making sure we set the terms of the debate with our language and ideas. Here are some basic rules of language from our industry briefing, The New Tourism Lexicon, to ensure we're communicating our messages effectively. 

1. Keep it simple

If you don't speak the language of your audience, you won't be heard by the people you want to reach. When it comes to effective communication, small beats big, short beats long, and simple beats complex. Think about how simple the change from best to outstanding is. Or how simple the phrase “And the Oscar goes to…” is.

2. Say it. Repeat it. Say it again

Finding a good message and then sticking to it takes extraordinary discipline, but it pays off. Remember, you may get tired of saying the exact same thing over and over again, but many in your audience will be hearing it for the first time.

3. Provide context

Without context, you cannot establish the value of a message, its impact or, most importantly, its relevance. Far too often, leaders in our industry tout the benefits of tourism and destination promotion without providing a broader context. We offer "solutions" without attaching them to an identifiable "problem," and in such cases those solutions seem meaningless. Think about that annual class photo the Academy has created. It puts celebrating “everyone” in a visual context. You see the large number of artists and craftsmen.

4. Credibility is as important as philosophy

The words you use become you, and you become the words you use. If your words lack sincerity, if they contradict accepted facts, circumstances, or perceptions, they will lack impact. This is why the Academy’s luncheon, the way they seat people, the plaques that are handed out and the picture taken is so important. It is the proof that they are celebrating outstanding achievement. 

We all know the positive impact our work has on the communities we represent. But it is important that when we explain our impact - how we say it and what people hear – conveys that positive work. We need to talk about how destination promotion is a public good for the benefit and well-being of all. It is an essential investment that no community can afford not to make without damaging the future economic and social well-being of the community. Simply put – destination promotion is a catalyst for community vitality. And the work of destination organizations and their professional staff is necessary. It is very important. 

About the Author

Jack Johnson

Chief Advocacy Officer
Destinations International

Jack manages the overall public policy operations at Destinations International including member advocacy education and training, development of destination tools and best practices, coalition work with peer organizations, industry research and related public affairs activities. Jack is a 2021 Smart Meetings Magazine’s Catalyst Award winner and one of Successful Meetings’ 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry in 2018.

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