Ra Seung-yun says people are increasingly realizing how important communications skills are, but because they are in desperate search of better ways to do so. / Courtesy of Arirang TV
Rah Seung-yun, Korea's most in-demand interpreter and presenter, shares her ideas about the art of communications
By Jung Min-ho
According to a dictionary definition, art is an "activity or educational subject for people to look at and admire." For Rah Seung-yun, perhaps the country's most in-demand interpreter and presenter, her art is her words.
Rah's presentation on behalf of PyeongChang's bid at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) congress in 2011 in Durban, South Africa, where the sleepy Gangwon Province ski resort won the rights to host the 2018 Winter Games, was admired by a nation of red-eyed viewers.
Rah is now a transcendent personality, touted as the ''heroine of Durban'' and regularly appearing in print advertisements and television commercials. With her work with PyeongChang done for now, the 39-year-old has returned to her old company ― Arirang TV ― where she hosts the channels' longest running talk show, "Heart to Heart."
Rah, who first joined Arirang in 1996, considers the show a professional challenge in a country where the art of talk continues to be undervalued at all levels of social interaction.
"I left the company in 2005 so it has been about seven years since I emceed or hosted anything on television. But there are still a lot of familiar faces. So, I felt right at home," Rah said in a recent interview with The Korea Times. "It felt actually quite comfortable. It is an interview show, and I like having a good conversation."
The channel's most popular show has been on the air for 12 years, producing 2,270 episodes. Moving back into the studio after seven years outside of the broadcasting field, Rah said she does not want to steer the show too far away from its original format.
"But I want to shed more light on young people. I like it to be funny as well. Hopefully I can inject a little bit of wit and humor into the show," she said. "The main focus will be getting the audience to know the interviewees as people, really, not just their success."
Rah's Olympic-bid-winning presentation surely made an impact, making her name known far beyond the border and the English communications field.
Citing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and world star Psy's powerful speeches and interviews, Rah said fluent language skills are not necessary or sufficient conditions for becoming a good communicator.
"What makes a great communicator is having a clear message and conveying that effectively," Rah said. "The second part is about ‘how to' - the method. You have to communicate in a way that the audience does not have to work to understand the message. Make it easy for them to accept and remember it."
Consideration and listening are other key factors. When the focus moves from what listeners want to hear to what speakers want to talk about, "that's when we fail," she said.
"Some say listening skills are dying because there are so many channels. We constantly spew out stuff but we don't really pay attention to what people say."
By improving those areas, she thinks communication skills can be improved, noting that no one is born with such abilities.
As a diplomat's child, Rah spent a nomadic childhood moving to a different country about every three years. She said her early experience shaped her to be who she is today and who she wants to become.
"Meeting people from all walks of life made me a good listener. I was never an outgoing type. But I was always interested in their stories and learning about their lives," Rah said. "That helped me pursue this career."
Before the 1988 Seoul Olympics, people barely knew about Korea, and there was a strong want and need in her to inform people about "the great country."
"Korea's status has changed. However, one thing I noticed at PyeongChang was that people still have a very narrow view on Korea, like blind men touching parts of an elephant. The information they know is still lacking," she said. "That really drives me. I want to help to present a more rounded and whole, complete picture of Korea."
After she left her position for Arirang TV as a full-time reporter in 2000, Rah spent two years at M&A Boutiques as a secretary until she realized that was not the path for her. She then reunited with her ex-colleagues from Arirang TV for the 2002 World Cup as part of the international media team.
Through that successful event, she found her favorite vocation was in communications, and she set up an English consulting firm, Oratio, in 2003.
When asked about the prospects of the communications industry here, with a surging English education demand, she said the business has finally moved into the mainstream.
"There is a quote ‘leadership is selling and selling is talking,'" Rah said. "Everyone increasingly realizes how important communications skills are, ironically because there are so many more ways to do so."
Rah believes communications can be an art form, "when it becomes so great, like those of Winston Churchill, Barack Obama and Steve Jobs."
"What you say is only a part of the whole communications. It actually takes up like seven percent. It is how you deliver it, which makes a much bigger impact on the audience," she said. "Bringing communications to a different level is the ability to connect emotionally with the audience, like Kim Yu-na does with her music."