Lesson for Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek- Know Your Audience

Every week, Global Strategy Group’s Tanya Meck joins a panel of liberal and conservative political strategists on “Capitol Report” – a weekly show that airs on Fox CT on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. Tanya shares her political savvy and showcases her communications expertise while throwing punches at her rivals and looking fabulous doing it.


(Photo Source: Florida Today)

This week on “Capitol Report,” the cast discussed the backlash “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek has received over his treatment of a 12-year-old from Newtown, who made a spelling error during a special kids’ edition of the game show.

Thomas Hurley III was penalized for misspelling “Emancipation Proclamation” during the “Final Jeopardy!” round. When Hurley spelled the word “emancipation” with an extra “T”, Trebek said he “misspelled it badly” and the judges ruled his response incorrect, causing Hurley to lose $3,000.

The entire “Capitol Report” panel seemed to be in agreement – a very rare occurrence – that although knowing the correct spelling of a word is VERY important, “Jeopardy!” is not a spelling bee; give the kid his money! After all, in past episodes others have been granted correct answers even when they had misspelled their answers.

Interestingly, the backlash – most of which has occurred on social media- was not because Trebek corrected Hurley, but because of the tone used when he addressed the young contestant.

So how could have Trebek avoided all of this? Tanya’s take on the issue is simple: communicators must know their audience.

The foundation of all communication builds upon the communicator being aware of their intended audience and taking an appropriate approach in crafting and delivering a message. Too often, individuals and companies find themselves in a public relations quagmire because they did not consider how their audiences might perceive the message the communicator hoped to covey. In addition to considering what the message says, how the ideas are expressed – tone – is extremely important.

Had Trebek taken into account the fact that he was hosting a “kids edition” of “Jeopardy!”, perhaps there would have been special consideration given to the age of the contestants and their skill (and spelling) level. Even if penalizing Hurley was unavoidable, what we can learn from Trebek’s misstep is that communicators must not only take time to think about what to say –but also how to say it.

To view the full broadcast of Capitol Report, click here.

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