As a sixth grader, Kristina Keneally relished the few moments she had to interview Delbert Latta, a U.S. Representative from Ohio’s 5th Congressional District who was visiting her classroom.
Keneally’s father stood in the background with a video camera and recorded the exchange, her first on-camera moments. At that age, Keneally had no idea that those few minutes of public speaking experience would give her a glimpse of her the future.
When she became involved in politics years later in Australia, she admitted that as a junior minister, the prospect of giving interviews and staging press conferences terrified her. Yet those first few moments in front of the camera ultimately prepared her. Keneally found that her best performances came when she was speaking in front of a live audience and when the stakes were at the highest, whether it was being a visible politician or advocating on behalf of Australian basketball.
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The 45-year-old who grew up in Whitehouse and played soccer and basketball at Notre Dame Academy became the first female premier of New South Wales in 2009, then in 2012 took over Basketball Australia as its CEO. Politics, she said, is now in the rear-view mirror. Returning to sports administration could be a possibility, given the right opportunity. But in transition, she’s found a new medium. Keneally recently made her first foray into live television in a stint as a panelist on Studio 10, an Australian morning talk show that discusses everything from current events to celebrity gossip.
“The immediacy, particularly of live TV, to be able to convey and talk to voters, and to be able to use a range of communication tools such as facial expression, body language, as well as your words and the tone of your voice, those are all important tools for politicians,” Keneally said last week during a Skype interview. “They translate, though, into other career opportunities and once I left Basketball Australia I was looking to do something intellectually challenging and allowed me to be with my family in Sydney but was also fun and enjoyable for me. TV ticked all of those boxes.”
Laura Gallaher, the head of the English department at Notre Dame who taught Keneally, remembers Keneally as an active member of the school’s community who had a presence academically, athletically, and socially.
“I always thought of her as being confident,” Gallaher said.
“She always sat in the front of the classroom and it fit into my mantra of ‘always sit in the front, and don’t be afraid,’ and she was a confident student right from the start. She had a very diverse group of friends and she was a unifying force. She always had the sense of, how do we get this group to be a part of something important?”
Years later, when Keneally went into politics and sports administration, she found that part of her work fascinated her — her engagement with people from all walks of life.
“Pretty much everybody has some interesting aspect to their lives that you would never guess, unless you sat down and talked to them,” Keneally said. “The people who would come into my elected office, I would have Holocaust survivors, members of the Stolen Generation — the Aboriginal people stolen from their parents — people who migrated to Australia from Vietnam escaping the war, people who invented things, people with great sporting achievements and were now in their 80s! Everyone’s life story is interesting, and it’s about taking the time to sit and talk to them.
“It’s something I love doing and something I get to do more in my media role.”
In that respect, Keneally appreciates the engagement aspect of working in television — whether it’s inviting viewers to join the conversation or interacting with people through social media — her Twitter account, @KKeneally, has more than 34,000 followers.
“I’m trying to draw a viewer into getting their interest in the kind of story we’re trying to tell and get them to come along and not only feel like they’re part of that conversation, but with social media, to get them to become a part of the conversation,” Keneally said.
Politics, she said, is similar because of its interactiveness. But, Keneally said, laughing “l’m no longer responsible for the things I’m talking about!
“I can more freely speak my mind without having to be concerned about, how am I going to have to defend in a year’s time the position I’m taking?”
As part of the working media, Keneally gets to ask questions of her own instead of being asked questions.
“Sometimes I know, as a former politician, the question they don’t want to be asked,” Keneally said. “That comes from having sat on the other side of an interview.
”You know what it’s like to be in that role, and you know the one question you don’t like to be asked. That’s a bit of fun!”