Simple vivid advocacy

I heard many talks at the recent Science meets Parliament event (see my previous post for a summary). The most memorable for me was ‘How to talk like a policy maker’ by Professor Hugh White from the ANU.

The part that stood out the clearest were his three tips for communicating:

  • Simplify, without distortion.
  • Be vivid, without being needlessly provocative.
  • Advocate, don’t polemicise (that is, only use arguments backed by evidence).

Prof. White noted that being simple and vivid is more important than being concise. This was a revelation to me and immediately rang true. I had always conflated the two concepts, but I see now how they relate. The overall goal is to communicate an idea. Doing so in a simple and vivid manner is likely to be successful. Being concise is one strategy for this, and although it can often work it isn’t necessarily the only way (and can backfire, if it leads to oversimplification).

Another piece of advice he gave, related to his third point above, is how to deal with criticism. Rather than respond to the critics, you should respond to their arguments. In other words, focus on the evidence, reasoning and ideas. (This is well known advice, of course, but it’s good to be reminded of it.)

Prof. White had many other things to say, and was immediately followed by talk from Will Steffen. See Nick Falkner’s detailed summary of their talks if you are interested.

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