President Obama’s recent speech before a joint session of Congress last week couldn’t have contrasted more sharply with the rebuttal given by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. But the stark differences in style and political substance were only part of what set these two speeches apart. The other key difference was the choice of words and images they used to build a “reality” for the audience that they could easily comprehend, given the complexity of our economic difficulties.
When President Obama talked about our economic crisis, he was careful to put it in human terms, referring to real consequences like “the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope.” There’s no doubt about the personal heartache reflected in that simple image. And as always, the president is careful to use the inclusive (and blameless) “we” whenever he talks about the challenges that America must overcome.
While going up against a master speaker, Governor Jindal, roundly criticized for his delivery, must also take a look at the “reality” he created. It’s not surprising that as the chief executive of Louisiana, he would refer to Hurricane Katrina to make a point. But rather than discuss lessons learned from the tragedy in clear, human terms, he chose a somewhat confusing anecdote about bureaucratic indifference that only reminded everyone about the Bush administration’s failures in handling the crisis. From this misstep, it would have been hard to get an audience back on track, and he didn’t.
Regardless of your political persuasion, however we discuss complex subjects – like an economic crisis or a company’s intricate plans for survival in tough times – we must be sure to portray a reality that people fully understand and accept. Only then can minds be open to hear the important messages or directives you want to deliver.