Precision in verbal engineering
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"So communicate plainly what you are trying to do in science, and who knows, you might even end up understanding it yourself." Professor Stephen Hawking giving advice to young scientists in his BBC Reith lectures
When a man responsible for what must be some of the most complex thoughts in history says, “communicate plainly,” is it time to reconsider how you express yourself?
Hawking adds, tongue in cheek, “…you might even end up understanding it yourself," - advice to ensure one’s communications are not so burdened with technical verbiage or lost in a jungle of jargon that their gravitational pull exceeds that of the black holes about which Professor Hawking writes so eloquently.
Stephen Hawking is a rare: he has a brilliant mind, but does not allow the complexity of his thoughts to create an impenetrable cosmic fog around what he says.
One must have sympathy for those who apparently fall into that trap. Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway recently excoriated the chief executive of Deloitte Global, Punit Renjen, for the gobbledegook she concludes his New Year email to staff contained.
Her headline, “Anyone in possession of even a normal IQ would wonder why they were working there,” impugns intelligence of Mr. Renjen and those who work for him.
What Ms. Kellaway, with her usual zeal, has done is to highlight the impact of writing that is poorly thought through. The examples she quotes from Mr. Renjen’s New Year inspirational message appear not only to have the opacity, but also the ubiquity of dark matter making them inaccessible to the audience aimed for.
All too often sailors, golfers, and indeed lawyers and accountants, not to mention holy men, communicate in code. They preserve their exclusivity or promote their scarcity by delivering pronouncements with the impenetrability of Einstein’s theories.
But obscuring the mysteries of the sea, the golf links, the contract, balance sheet or a holy book, instead of communicating them “plainly”, is counter productive.
Obfuscation does not add value; it does not make the “brand”, accessible to a wider audience.
Professor Hawking suggests it may even end up with the would-be communicator making fools of themselves by not appearing to understand their own field.
Financial services and capital markets lexicons have mutated from straightforward instruments like equities, bonds and funds to a new and complex nomenclature. New terms have had to evolve to describe the constellation of derivatives of the underlying, galaxies asset-backed securities, risk management tools in the credit and debt markets, as well as a universe of investment vehicles, private equity funds, venture capital funds, hedge funds and investment strategies.
The financial world is complex. The language of bankers, stock brokers, wealth managers, credit analysts and the like has been obliged to embrace new terminologies. But the market specialists are not always the people with the time and the writing skills to communicate to the desired audience.
FinanceWriter is commissioned to write annual reports, annual reviews, thought leadership papers, speeches, new websites or blogs, we demystify complexity through the use of language and tone of how we write.
We don’t take Professor Hawking’s injunction to “communicate plainly” so literally that we use boring prose! We aim to use lively, engaging language in a tone of voice that allows non-specialist to appreciate the import of whatever is being communicated whether they are finance professionals or, retail shareholders.