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Dialogue is the key to global understanding

Sir Trevor McDonald


Hear my story
View of a television studio through a camera lens
TV studio


Sir Trevor McDonald is one of the most respected figures in British broadcasting. Born in Trinidad in 1939, he started out in print journalism before joining BBC Radio in London in 1969. In 1973 he joined ITN, where he became the face of The News at Ten and, later, ITV’s 10.30pm news bulletin. What is less well known is that, from 2001-2006, he was also a governor of the English-Speaking Union.

I became involved because I’ve always loved language. My job has always been as a communicator, so the use of language has been desperately important to me, but to be successful in any industry you have to be able to communicate and to listen.

Listening is something Trevor is particularly passionate about. ‘I think the key to being a good communicator, strangely, is the ability to listen,’ he says. ‘I interview people to try and understand who they are and what they’re doing in their countries. No matter how much you read about a place or a situation, there is always something more to learn when you get there. And dialogue, talking to people and listening to them, understanding what their life is like, understanding their hopes and fears, is absolutely key to any kind of international understanding.’

A group of primary school pupils (a boy and three girls) sitting around a table and playing debating games for students
It’s essential to listen to people regardless of what you think of their opinions. The ability to live in a society where you can freely disagree with your friends and yet maintain that friendship is one of the key principles of living in a civilised society.

Sir Trevor’s own experiences, interviewing everyone from Nelson Mandela to Saddam Hussein, have taught him to appreciate and acknowledge a diversity of viewpoints and opinions – ‘I remember being in the Middle East during one of the wars against Iraq and it was stunning to learn how they thought terribly, terribly differently from us about what was going on’ – but he is keen to emphasise the wider application of these skills.

‘We are now living in a much more diverse world where we encounter people of different cultures, different religions and different races,’ he says. ‘The ability to get on with them, to understand them, to be able to communicate and to be able to listen, wherever these people come from, wherever they may live, is essential.’

Three primary school pupils (a boy and two girls) sitting inside a classroom.

How you can help

Do you believe dialogue has a key part to play in global understanding? Our debate and public speaking programmes and international exchanges promote a broader, deeper understanding of the world and encourage cross-cultural communication and friendship.

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