Engaging the Disengaged
“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.”
(W. B. Yeats)
Effective communication is arguably the most important of skills. Without it, the probability of business, political or personal success is greatly reduced.
One can scarcely imagine forming a relationship of virtually any type without being able to communicate effectively with the other party.
In business, building the best widget counts for little unless you can share your success with the world and convince them of their need to use it.
In politics, even the best policies need to be effectively explained to the electorate.
That is why so much money is spent by political parties on focus groups, messaging consultants and various other pollsters. These professional communicators help shape the exact words and phraseology used to communicate with the voters, as well as helping to devise policies to satisfy voter whims.
Over the years it has grown into quite a science (or should I say ‘an art form’?).
The manifestation of the ‘research’ can be seen every time a new phrase is regurgitated ad nauseam by the Labor backbench. ‘Moving forward’, ‘working families’ and the ridiculous rhetoric of ‘it’s about trust’ are just some of the slogans to emerge from the workshops.
The stupidity of the last one is highlighted by the fact that it lasted less than a day after being uttered by the public’s least trusted politician, Julia Gillard.
Labor naturally accuse the Liberals of sloganeering too. However, there is one big difference between the two approaches. Labor use their slogans to hide from any substantive policy debate whilst the Coalition use their focused sound bites to highlight hopeless government policy.
Mantras like ‘stop the boats’ and ‘stop the waste’ are memorable and accurately depict some of Labor’s policy disaster zones. It’s little wonder the Labor hierarchy hate to hear them.
In the broader context, tight and memorable policy one-liners help advance the cause of awareness but do little to foster broader discussion amongst the electorate.
It seems to me that an increasing number of voters are completely tuning out political messages, aside from during the weeks leading up to an election.
The number of people I meet who have little or no interest in politics is astounding. Most cannot tell me who their local member is or even in which electorate they live. Many have no idea how the parliament works and also have a clear disdain for the politicians who work within it. That is unless they have seen them on one of the tabloid infotainment shows like The Project, Sunrise or Today.
It seems that the fusion between entertainment and news is becoming the most effective means of getting your message across. Voters appear more distrustful of the sanitised political talking points being run at morning doorstops and prefer instead to hear (and see) their representatives in a less structured setting.
Indeed, the traditional political communication tools appear to be increasingly ineffective. Letter box drops, direct mail and listening posts don’t attract a lot of attention any more.
Yet the viral email, video or humorous television appearance appear to resonate with the new tech savvy electorate.
These more personal forms of communication make our politicians seem more ‘human’ and approachable than the sterility of canned messages.
In this day and age of cynicism about politicians, people want representatives that can identify with their circumstances and communicate directly with them while maintaining a passion for serving the public.
Breaking down the communication barriers isn’t always easy. It means trying new and innovative ways to stay in touch. We can’t all be on television every day but it is possible to be on someone’s iPad, smartphone or in their inbox regularly without the filter of the mainstream media.
At least that way there is a chance for politicians to engage with the increasingly disengaged citizenry who are rather disdainful of the stage-managed sound bites that politics currently provides.