Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Who are the top plain-speaking government officials?

Speaker coach Claire Duffy asked for our help in finding videos of government officials discussing rules and laws clearly.  I'm still hopeful our readers have more ideas, but in the meantime, here are three that caught my eye and ear.  In each case, I tried to err on the side of anti-spin, instead preferring to help Claire's search for clarity and explanatory speaking:

Nigeria's former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, describes in this TED Talk how citizens and government are working together to call out and stop government corruption. She also focuses on economic reforms, and the opportunities to invest in women's businesses to support African economies.  This speaker uses concrete data and descriptions--listen to how she dryly describes how change in dealing with corruption took this country from 4,500 landline phones to 32 million GSM lines "and counting," making it the second telecommunications market after China.  Add to that a little more dry humor, and simple, straightforward language and she unties a tangled knot of issues, something any good government speaker should do:

Claire's looking for government officials who can speak directly to the citizenry, and here's a great example on video of Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm reading citizen emails about health care reform and answering them in terms of what it would mean for the state--which has among the highest rates of unemployment in the U.S. currently. Granholm's a master of the gesture, but also of plain language. Better yet, she directs these comments to "you," connecting herself to the audience. A low-jargon treat.

At my former agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's administrator, Lisa Jackson, also keeps it simple in her terminology. I know firsthand how complex regulatory language can be; here, in an Earth Day appearance on David Letterman's show, Jackson stays out of that swamp and keeps her comments at a level anyone can comprehend, without erring in fact.

I know for certain there are more examples of government communicators making themselves clear about laws and regulations. Please, share links to your examples--preferably on video--in the comments!