June 30, 2015
Here’s a word you may never have heard of. It’s the one-word answer to crafting the perfect speech or the perfect PR campaign.
The word is “kairos.” It is the ancient Greek term for “the perfect moment.” It’s the elusive slip of time when the speaker is perfectly in sync with the audience, their mood and their needs.
Abraham Lincoln found it at a military burial ground in Gettysburg, Pa., in 1863, his words and delivery catching a nation’s yearning for meaning and peace.
FDR held it in his 1933 radio talk to a frightened nation explaining with reassurance and clarity why he was declaring a bank holiday.
Closer to PR, if more prosaic, Johnson & Johnson found that kairos moment in 1982 when it quickly withdrew 31 million capsules of Tylenol from store shelves after seven people died from the pain killer – the moment a corporate nightmare became heroic.
For the Greeks, “kairos” was a kind of time. Time could be the chronological time we know – before/after, the temporal highway that marks our days. It could also be kairos (care-os), not a shadow on a sundial, but that very real moment of perfect alignment, when the iron is hot.
It is not easy to catch such lightning. What is so astounding is that the Greeks recognized that such a moment exists and might be found.
While PR campaigns may not call it kairos, they, too, seek that moment. They find it when the event – be it a press conference, or a downtown marathon, a legislative lobbying effort, a political campaign or even a news release – is at one with, in tune with, hits the bull’s eye, rocks with, connects with, the intended audience and the simpatico message.
Little Kairos Moments
Gary Wells, Dix & Eaton’s director of media relations, and his staff have little kairos moments whenever they match a client’s need via a story idea to the needs of a reporter – and thus to her editor’s sense of what the publication and its audience need at that moment. The stars align. A kairos moment.
So kairos is a neat word. So neat it has a god – Kairos – a wing-footed sprite holding a scale to weigh the moment, who arrives in a flash and vanishes as quickly. Here’s the moment – don’t miss it.
“Kairos” is the answer to the perfect speech or campaign in that it keeps you on your toes: “Am I asking all the right questions about my audience, message or situation? Can I find all the pieces of the puzzle?”
When you find kairos, you are golden. The paradox is that you can’t know the golden moment until the speech finishes or the event launches. The gods can be helpful, but you had better ask the right questions.