What the Briefings lack... thankfully 

This email is one of several that look at the UK Government's Daily Coronavirus Briefings on TV. If unfamiliar with the Briefings, a Government minister, and one, maybe two, scientific experts stand six feet apart at separate podiums – let’s call them the 'Briefers'. The Briefers each talk for a few minutes. They show stuff on a TV screen that’s near them. They answer journalists' questions.

Below I comment on what the Briefings lack. Granted, you’ve seen similar comments in previous emails but it's good to quickly apply them all to these Briefings. Let’s start:

No icons: when talking about protective masks, for instance, the Briefers don’t show a funky mock-up of a mask. Click here for my previous email that rips into icons.

No photos: no photos of nurses, hospitals, masks. And no ‘jungle’ photo to convey complexity (if confused by this 'jungle' remark, click here for another previous email). 

No infographics: OK, infographics are just about acceptable in certain limited circumstances – but these Briefings aren’t one of them.

No autoshapes: no faux circles-of-life (Fig 1), pyramids, Venn diagrams, etc. The Briefers thankfully have ignored any autoshape-lovers' input.

No business buzzwords: yes, I hear ‘exit strategy’. Fair enough. But I don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘facilitate’. (Do you use that word at home? Do you say: “Let’s facilitate the washing up”?) Which reminds me of a sentence in one of last year’s emails that was from a conference handout: "Firms are establishing a goal-oriented, cross functional program management plan to mobilise IBOR transition activities and developing a comprehensive roadmap for following prioritised initiatives." Take a bow, EY, the consultants that wrote it.

Not many long words either: the Briefers mostly use short, simple words. And the scientific experts are often Professors, I bet they know lots of long words they could use. But they don’t. Does that make them look thick? No. In fact it’s the other way round. If you can explain a tough topic in a way people instantly grasp, it impresses. You’ve such a mastery of the topic, you can cut straight through it in a way people get. As Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

No story-telling: or, rather, Story-Telling, a popular way to convey stuff that, apparently, needs certain ingredients. A situation, complication, resolution. A ‘relatable and likeable hero’ (maybe ‘flawed’ too). ‘Roadblocks’ that a hero overcomes to emerge ‘transformed’. An ‘inciting’ event that throws life out of whack. A ‘protagonist’ who digs deep and discovers truth. A ‘villain’ too – someone for audiences to boo and hiss. (I know these are the ‘ingredients’ because I’ve read up on it all.) Thankfully, the Briefers eschew such stuff and instead give us what we want: answers. As for Story-Telling, my book has a decision tree that tells you when it helps and when it hinders (did I tell you I’ve written a book?).

No bulleted script on screen: but how do we cope without them?! How do we stay engaged?!? I answer that briefly further below. In the meantime, as part of my ‘communicating’ series of emails I'd penned two pages on how to keep people engaged remotely – ‘teleconferencing’ – but hadn't intended to circulate it until next year. Given the recent boom in teleconferencing, I’ll email it out sooner. Stay posted.

To summarise, there's much that the Briefings lack. Thank goodness. Instead, the Briefers keep it simple - they talk. They use words. That's how they keep us engaged. Easy, really. Yet at work, we indulge in all this stuff - icons, photos, autoshapes, etc. We really do over-complicate things, don't we.

Next month, I look at Briefers' graphs. Again, with no political pops… I comment only on my specialist area, as Figure 2 shows. But as a sneak preview, here's something else the Briefings lack...

No pie charts: again, thank goodness. Unfortunately, newspapers show them... Figures 3 and 4 are two dreadful Coronavirus pie charts that appeared in the media. Enjoy. With thanks to James Fallowfield-Smith and Gary Peacock for bringing them to my attention.

Stay safe.

Clarity and Impact Ltd | +44 20 8840 4507 | jon@jmoon.co.uk | www.jmoon.co.uk

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