Huge effort goes into crafting Throne Speeches and budgets. Based on my experience observing and testing reactions to these events over the years, there are a few rules of thumb that I would concentrate on, if I were holding the pen.
» Shorter is not only better, longer can really undermine effectiveness. Too long and no one knows where to look for the clip, find the big moment or idea, and the dramatic impact is nil.
» Too many items, too many priorities means too little takeaway for the average voter. If you have seven priorities fine, but better to talk constantly about only three of them.
» Sucking and blowing doesn't work. Sometimes governments signal an important, even provocative direction, only to follow it with a paragraph or two that is meant to soothe those who might be worried that it is too provocative. The net effect is usually either no impact on the audience, a sense the government isn't really taking a hard decision, or might not follow through. Those who like the provocative idea end up feeling underwhelmed or disappointed, those who don't like it feel energized.
» Process words are deadly. Phrases like undertake a comprehensive review, prepare a study, develop a plan, carry out a phase of consultation, all speak to the necessary work of government, but have pretty much no sex appeal. Fewer process words, more outcome descriptions works best.
» A chicken in every pot sounds fishy to voters. When governments run through a laundry list of goodies for each subset of our society, the ultimate impact is usually less than the sum of the parts. Everyone doesn't feel happier for themselves, and comforted that others are getting something too. They often feel more like there are no priorities, or the total bill is unaffordable.
» Self-congratulation is toxic in a good Throne Speech or budget. If good things happened and need to be noted, give credit to voters, or others, but don't ask for credit. It comes off as self-absorbed wheedling.
» There's a sweet spot between too much pomp and excessively casual in the staging. Finding it and conveying a sense of the importance of the occasion, and illustrating the professionalism and competency people expect ,should be the goal. Too much flowery language and landau's take away from the sense of relevancy to ordinary life, but experiments in deconstructing these events and making them more "in the street" have mostly fallen flat.
In the next day or so, I'll post some thoughts on how the Harper government speeches did against these tests.
(Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Pres)