As if this were not enough proof that PR and positioning preparation were not of vital importance, I also proved to myself the old adage that the doctor is always his own worst patient. In my case, the spin-doctor.
My answer to the question, without due pause and consideration, was that of course fees would have to be raised but that the British government's raising them from around three to nine thousand a year was maybe too abrupt and should have been meted out over a lot more time. Walking away, I suddenly realized what my answer should have been: that the dramatic rise in fees would ultimately be a burden on the British economy, for the higher fees will be more costly to the economy than keeping the fees lower. It will discourage many young people from attending university, thus putting thousands of less qualified people into the job market. For the ones who choose to pay, it will shift the burden from the government to the students themselves or their parents, which would then affect lending institutions, which would then come back again to the economy when the lending institutions are forced to turn away applicants. In the end, even though the opinion I expressed was not completely wrong, the more considered answer would have been better.
But in the end, this is not about my opinion on the fees. The question here is: how do we prepare ourselves for the impromptu questions which can sway the balance of how others perceive us?
Even the simple question like "Where are you from?" is problematic for me. I tend to answer it in a number of different ways. I am from Iowa, because I was born there. I am from Serbia, because I am living there. I am from Rome, because I spent my formative years there. I am from London for different reasons altogether. All are true enough. But essentially the truth is tailored to the one receiving my answer.
As this is a frequent and popular vox pop question, I have many of the answers ready to hand as well as their variations. For example, to some people I say I am from near Chicago - just because so few foreigners know very much about Iowa, and, in Serbia, Chicago is seen as a Serbian city and therefore well known. And it is true in a relative sense, although my birth city is further from Chicago than Belgrade is from Sofia or Skopje or Budapest.
Similarly, the question "how are you?" can be tricky as well. In 99% of cases, the one who asks is rarely interested in how you really are. It is mostly a conventional question: how-are-you-I-am-fine. And when you decide that you need to give the straight answer and discuss you ambiguous feelings at the moment about how you feel, the other guy generally gets uncomfortable or stops listening. Or (worse of all) they take the opportunity of your openness to tell you how they are - and you never asked or wanted to know. Here, a judicious use of the vox pop can be the difference between a pleasant conversation and wanting to hang yourself with your shoelaces just to be free of the experience.
Every day and all the time, people ask us questions. By our answers, we shape their opinions of us and therefore the whole process should be looked at very seriously. But when the questions asked and the answers given are going to be written down or televised or broadcast in some way, the need for reflection is increased one hundred fold.
Follow therefore my advice and not my example. The idea of public relations is not to mask the truth but rather to package it and present it in a way to be best presented to the ones who should be listening. And while a great many people may think spin-doctoring and PR is about telling lies, I answer that it is about telling a reflected and considered truth, one that cannot be twisted and turned by the unscrupulous.
About British fees, I have left the impression that I agree with the hike. In reality, I do not but I accept it and think it could have been done more humanely. But the truth is that I do not agree.
And no one twisted my words but me!