Tips for Communicating Clearly and Simply
Probably the most basic rule of communication is to be easily understandable. Pretty basic, pretty obvious, but easy to overlook, especially when you have a complex case to make.
Once, I was talking with a politician about a complicated question of chemical use in aerospace, but he stopped me halfway through and asked me to repeat myself more slowly, because he wanted to note my points down. Apparently, he had been listening to a similar story a few days before, from another company and, although keen to help them, he had simply not understood what they were trying to say. And the written materials they left behind were equally as opaque to him…
I was really pleased with myself – my points were obviously clear, and I had found out that he wanted to help.
Where are all the Robots?
I was feeling less self-satisfied the next week while showing a minister around an aerospace factory making actuators - the mechanisms that make the flaps on aircraft wings go up and down - she was puzzled that the factory was not making robots as she had expected. I had assumed that her team would know what an “actuator” was and had not thought to explain the term beforehand. Luckily no harm was done and, after a hurried explanation, the minister was happy to keep looking around the factory, even if there were no robots.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the everyday terms you use have meaning to outsiders. Problems start with the laudable urge to use ‘correct’ terms and terminology. Take something as simple as buying a duvet – I have no idea what a TOG value is, but salespeople love to ask what TOG I am looking for in a duvet. Only when they see my puzzled expression do they point to one and say, “That one is good for the summer”.
In the lobbying context, this type of conversation has three big downsides – the audience do not understand you first time; they are made to feel like an outsider; or worse, possibly been made to feel a bit foolish. And they are certainly not going to enjoy that. But any or all of these reactions makes your job of striking up a rapport with a politician and getting a fair hearing for your case that much harder.
Tips for Keeping it Simple
Never assume the audience knows about your business or profession
Can you sum up your arguments in less than a minute using simple, every day, easy-to-understand terms?
Try explaining your arguments to a friend or family member and if they do not understand your points first time, stop and rephrase your arguments
Never assume that the audience has read your documents sent in advance of a meeting
When drafting, imagine you are writing for a general audience like a newspaper readership
When you cannot think how to rephrase a “correct term”, think less about the “how” and more about the “what” you want to say – don’t try to explain a TOG value, just say it’s a good duvet for the summer
Avoid going through long texts during a meeting – it is hard to bring pages of prose to life and they act as a distraction. Use images and pictures whenever possible.
Acronyms and Jargon
Once I had the pleasure to lobby for spacesuits – what a great subject, everybody wanted to know how they work. An easy task you would have thought, but my first problem was to persuade my colleagues to refer to them as spacesuits, not as EMUs. Spacewalks do not need the help of flightless birds, but an Extravehicular Mobility Unit.
When in Europe, if you use measurements make sure to use metric ones - pounds, feet and Fahrenheit will mean little to a European decision maker.
Overall, remember that you want your audience to easily understand your message first time. You do not want to be ‘translating’ your case while you are presenting it. You want them focused on your arguments, not puzzling over what you are saying.
Infamously, politicians live in their ‘bubbles’; but so do people in practically every profession and industry. And clear communication between ‘bubbles’ is a lot of what lobbying is about.
Darcy Nicolle is CEO of Political Solutions and author of “The Secret Art of Lobbying” the essential business guide to winning in the political jungle. Learn more