Brandon Lewis is the candidate for Great Yarmouth,
a barrister and Leader of Brentwood Council. He also runs a consultancy business on public speaking and presentation for politicians and describes here how he thinks we should get our message out.
In politics, perception matters. It can differ from reality, but if it is what the public believe then it is more important than reality. This is not because they are not interested in reality, nor because they have nothing serous to say or do. It is because the public understand and believe what they hear, which can be different to what we say. Frank Luntz (the American pollster) says in his book “It is not what you say that matters, it is what people hear.”
Think about Martin Luther Kings’ famous speech: “I have a dream.”
How much of it beyond those words can you remember? You may find it interesting to read the speech in full and see how much it differs from what you may have thought.
As politicians we need to give very careful thought to what we say and how we say it. A very small percentage of the words we use are fully heard by the people we talk to, most of what is understood is taken from our body language and tone of voice. We must make ourselves aware of that.
We need to remember how we process thoughts and more importantly how
others process their thoughts, in order to have a better understanding
of how our words will be interpreted by our listeners. Do we talk in a
matter that creates an image for people to recall? Do we leave them
with a feeling and an emotional response to what we have said?
Gustav Le Bon more than 100 years ago in his work “The Crowd”
understood this. He refers to the way to talk to a crowd of people; his
principles apply to a crowd in one room, or the crowd of people who
will be reading today’s newspapers in their homes, on the train and in
It will be useful for all of us to consider how we put our thoughts and
ideas across to people. In order to ensure our words have the right
impact, we need to ensure we use the right words and the right tone, at
the right time.
We will fail to deliver information on policies just by choosing the
wrong words. Councillors, MPs and MEPs only get elected when we get our
message across and then, if we get that right, we are allowed the
deliver on that policy. So, in actual fact, it is hugely important we
get this right.
We have to remember that everyone has a different experience of the
world and so may read things differently. If there is any ambiguity for
translation at all then some people will get different results in their
process of translating your words, think of Chinese whispers. When I
speak to groups about language technique, I use the example “the cat
sat on the mat”. Easy to picture, you might think. In reality, there
are many different ways each person could interpret those words
resulting in a different picture in every individual brain.
Too often in politics we get caught up in our own jargon. Especially
those in local government or quangos. We have RAs, CPA, RDBs, and a
whole host of other initials that some reading this will now and many
we talk to will just not care about, let alone have heard of or bother
asking definitions of.
To get our message across we must ensure that we use direct positive
language; people turn off to negative things. Think about the last time
you told a child not to touch something (you can just see them
desperate to touch it and the desperation grows the more you tell them
not to). Also many people find negativity a turn off, mainly because it
can infer that you have nothing positive to say and as such no policies!
We have plenty of positive things to talk about as Conservatives. Of
our party, our leadership, our policies and our local work across the
country, so let’s focus on that. Let’s focus on using the language of
today to do it and focus on doing it in a direct and simple manner.
People have ridiculed George W Bush for his language and the way he
puts a sentence together, some wonder how he won in 2004. That very
same language is a large part of the answer. For all the lack of
grammar that he may have, he does make a direct and simple message. We
can learn from that.
I have just spent a couple of weeks in Disney World, Florida. It is a
must visit for politicians. I cannot believe there is anywhere in this
world that has better mastery of getting a message across directly,
simply and positively as Disney. They have created a place where the
company itself has almost cult like status and much of this is the
style of communications they use.
Everything is simple, bright and colourful. Clean and direct and positive.
No longer do they say have a nice day, now it is have a magical day.
This gives a whole different connection on that day; think about it… it
is much happier and much more intriguing and the children love it!
Every message around the parks is as simple as can be. The simplicity
of the language used does not allow for interpretation, it is direct
and to the point. It is also always positive. Instead of “sorry for our
mess while we work” their signs say “building for your future
enjoyment.” In parts of the USA you will see signs around construction
by government agencies saying “building for our future.”
In summary: We work with words. Some politicians will think that their
role is to improve their community, their country or their local
resident’s lives and ultimately that is true. However, unless we
communicate how we will do that, why we will do it a particular way;
even why and if something needs doing at all, then we will get nowhere.
Someone else will be elected and we will be left thinking about our
great ideas that we never get to implement. By keeping it simple and
keeping it positive, we can win.