Your audience's language

Economic Progressivism sounds like a difficult concept.

It sounds complicated but, like anything, it needn’t be.

Not if you put it in plain language.

Like anything it just needs explaining in terms your audience can understand.

Economic progressivism just means wealth redistribution.

Taking a bit more from the people who have the most and giving it to the people who have the least.

But to Americans that sounds like socialism.

And, particularly to Americans, that’s a dirty word.

It sounds like taking money away from people who’ve worked hard for it and giving it to layabouts who won’t work.

But Elizabeth Warren saw it differently.

She wanted to be elected Senator for Massachusetts.

She was a Democrat so, unlike the Republicans, she didn’t believe in massive wealth just for the few.

In America, the top 1 per cent has more than the entire bottom 90 per cent.

She didn’t think that was fair.

But she knew a logical appeal using numbers wouldn’t work.

It was cold and remote.

She needed to put it in her audience’s language.

So she explained it like this:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody.

"You built a factory out there – good for you.

"But I want to be clear, you moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for.

"You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.

"You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.

"You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, because of the work the rest of us did.

"Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea – God bless.

"Keep a hunk of it.

"But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along."

Suddenly everyone could see that no one got rich on their own.

Entrepreneurs could only become successful because of what everyone else had contributed.

If entrepreneurs were willing to take advantage of what everyone else had contributed it was only fair they help pay for other people to have that chance too.

Elizabeth Warren put it in her audience’s language.

Suddenly, it not only became understandable it became commendable.

It summarised the good things America was about.

Free enterprise and the chance to make a fortune, but also fairness.

Recognising who gave you the break and paying it back.

That’s something we all need to learn about communication.

Whatever we’re talking about, whoever we’re talking to, we need to put it in their language, not ours.

Not just make sure we explain it in a way that we think makes sense.

But make sure that they get it.

Shortly after making that speech, Elizabeth Warren was elected the first female Senator for Massachusetts.