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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Real-Speak vs. Government-Speak

"Bueller? Bueller?" Screenshot from Ferris Bueller's Day Off - bored student listens to Ben Stein as teacher. Via YouTomb

Today we saw either the coolest or most unsightly thing.

A deer tried to jump an iron fence and ended up hanging on a spike by his neck.

My daughter grabbed her phone, took a photo, and posted it to Facebook.. So many comments!

·      Some people thought it was funny.
·      Others, tragic that anybody thought it was funny.
·      Yet other people coolly assessed that they thought the whole spectacle was cool.

Maybe you think that dead impaled deers are disgusting. And that it’s sad.

But what’s undeniable about the aftermath is the ALIVENESS of the Facebook conversation.

It was how people sound when they talk in real life. It made me want to read more.

Contrast this with the majority of government writing.

It is written to pass muster with a panoply of specialists.

·      Lawyers
·      Policy experts
·      Subject matter experts
·      Public affairs specialists
·      Somebody’s friend who just happens to be there

Everybody wants to weigh in, and does that make the end product readable? Engaging?

Add to that the fact that you can speak in plain English sometimes, and still say nothing.

Many a communicator has thrown her hands up in frustration at the beautiful prose they penned, turned muddy and un-engaging by a committee.

Personally I’d like to see more direct government-to-public conversation.

·      Transparency means – you share.
·      Social media means – you engage.
·      Real writing is not just read, but understood and responded to, if only internally – from person to person.

Right now authentic communication, let alone conversation, is not at all the government norm. Nor in most institutions—except perhaps the most incredibly advanced ones, like Google.

Many are the communication classes I’ve taken. Many.

But the best teacher of all has been my mother. (She always tells me, “Write the book. Write it!”)

When the writing is good my mother says, “Great.”

When it’s turgid she says, “I don’t get it.”

If my mother can’t understand the stuff I write, then it isn’t really writing.

As Jim Carrey said to Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,

“Constant talking doesn’t mean you’re communicating.”

Good writing reflects good thinking. It’s straight like a pin, direct. And it’s hard to create a good second impression.

It’s not that government is any different from the rest of the world; it is that there is so much more at stake.

The lives of its citizens, the functioning of the social order – is that enough?

Good luck!