Nicola Willis is my Media Communicator of the Year

21 December 2022

Communicating economic policy to laypeople can be a difficult job and many finance spokespeople fail because they wrongly assume that Joe Public understands far more than he actually does.

How many times have you heard politicians use terms like ‘Fiscal Drag” or “Current Account Deficits?” Not many people know what these terms mean, so unless the audience is a group of economists or accountants, media spokespeople are best to stare clear of such language. It’s far better to use a basic definition of the term rather than the term itself. Even “Bracket Creep,” a better way than saying “Fiscal Drag,” is better explained.

Nicola Willis has shown that she understands this since becoming the Finance Spokesperson for the National Party. She speaks in basic language and often uses examples to explain her points rather than abstract finance speak.

One demonstration of this was when she outlined her party’s Social Investment Policy earlier in the year. Rather than explain it with all sorts of long-winded technical terms and numbers that would lose most viewers in the first five seconds, she used an example of how it could work with the Otago Longitudinal Study. People understand examples and media love using them in their stories because they are a concrete and relatable way to make a point. Abstract points and technical terms are not.

So many politicians fail to take into account the knowledge of their audiences, meaning that even if they feel that an interview was a success, chances are the audience left none the wiser. The best way to sum this up is through a quote from George Bernard Shaw. “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” In other words, it’s only communication if it registers with the intended recipient.

Politicians and other media spokespeople could learn a thing or two about this from Nicola Willis.

Filed under Media Skills

Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

Add a comment3 Comments

Reply margo | December 22nd, 2022 at 6:59pm
Nicola Willis may use 'plainspeak' but I have heard her interviewed on numerous occasions and she just will not answer the question that's put to her - in very plain language. There is always a very fuzzy off target response and mainly outlines what other parties (mainly Labour) have or haven't done with no clear policy of what National would do. They are a party that reacts to whatever is currently in the media rather than promoting clear policies of their own and Nicola Willis isn't helping. She is not an example I would hold up as a good communicator.
Reply Pete Burdon (Author) | December 22nd, 2022 at 7:22pm
Thanks for the comment Margo. I certainly agree that they need to start releasing their own policy. They have released a few but will need to release a lot more as the new year progresses. It's common for oppositions to wait until election year to do this. It's a good point you raise.
Reply Margo | December 22nd, 2022 at 9:12pm
My point is that to be a good communicator one needs to answer the question!

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