By Ian Yard-Smith, one of our Commtractors. Ian is a skilled communicator with over 20 years experience as a lawyer, manager, c-level executive and manager.
Communicating a message in plain English doesn’t mean dumbing that message down.
But not everyone understands that.
When plain English was gaining acceptance and the shift was being made to client centric services, I was at the start of my professional career. The resistance to plain English was significant. My colleagues and bosses would say things like “why should we have to dumb things down?”, “we can’t be precise and speak in plain English”, and worst of all “I’ve worked for years to know how to communicate technical and complex ideas, I can’t make them plain or simple”.
They completely missed the point.
Plain English isn’t about dumbing ideas down, and plain definitely doesn’t mean easy or not complex. It is about being precise and understandable, not technical and unintelligible! It takes real skill and experience to be able to make complex ideas easy to understand.
Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old then you don’t understand it yourself”. It’s a great quote and example of how to plainly communicate a complex idea. In saying this he established the basis of what has become known as plain English communication – you must be able to describe any idea, no matter how complex, in clear and simple terms. Only then can you show that you know what you’re talking about and only then will you be able to get your message across.
He could have said “in conveying the substance of your message you must ensure that it is readily intelligible to any person, whether that person has superior knowledge or education, or is significantly junior to you in age or experience. A failure on your part to achieve this, could lead those who are receiving your message to the conclusion that you yourself do not fully comprehend the basic tenets of what you are attempting to convey.”
That sort of sounds smart but would a six year old understand it? Would the message be clear? Would it be a quote that has lived on? Of course not.
Communication is about getting a message across to your intended audience – if you can look and sound good doing it then great.
A good communications specialist can help you get your message across, they can make it plain and simple to understand, they will know your audience, they can make the complex simple, and they just might be able to help you look good in the process.
Plain isn’t dumb, and simple is most definitely difficult – but well worth the effort.