WriteMark Plain English Awards founder, Lynda Harris, gave a stirring speech to a sell-out audience at the 2017 Plain English Awards. She encouraged us all to think bigger and do more. Here’s what Lynda said.
Twelve years ago we had the bold idea of publicly honouring those organisations that were really trying to make important information clear.
And it worked.
Not only do we have plentiful anecdotal evidence about the motivating effect of the annual Plain English Awards, but we also have a ton of great comments in the surveys we’ve done.
‘The Awards help motivate us to get it right for the people that need good information the most.’
It becomes very real when we see forms that are easy to fill out; contracts and conditions made straightforward; and vital healthcare information written in a reader-friendly way.
We love comments like these: ‘We finished by lunchtime what would normally take us all day.’ Plain English makes everyone’s life easier!
But a lot of the work has been done by not many people. Even though more organisations are producing reader-friendly publications, not enough people in those organisations understand the power of clear communication and its potential to transform organisations and lives.
The people who do understand often beaver away on their own or in a small group with little support. Often they retreat a bit and accept that there is only so much they can do.
That’s a huge opportunity lost, and and a massive consequence cost.
I have to admit I was in this frame of mind recently when I got a dramatic and unexpected dose of inspiration from two remarkable speakers. They shared an incredible story, which reminded me that if we believe in the worth of something, we can inspire others to join us and make something big happen. It made me think of the Marianne Williamson quote, ’Your playing small does not serve the world’.
I want to share a snippet of that inspiring story with you — with the not-so-secret agenda that I want you to realise you have the desire and the power to do more!
This is the story of 19-year-old Australian Daniel Flynn and his two friends, who came up with the audacious plan to end world poverty in their lifetime. They’d seen a documentary about children in other parts of the world dying every day from a lack of clean water. Their plan was to start a bottled water company, and use 100 percent of the profits to create clean water and sanitation projects where they were needed most.
Of course people said it was impossible.
Daniel said, ‘Impossibility is only someone’s opinion, not a fact.’
Most of the people Daniel pitched to, and plenty more besides, said, ‘It won’t work.’
Daniel said, ‘But what if it does?’
They started with $1,000 between them and zero experience in anything to do with business, overcoming obstacles of every sort, and asking Google ‘How to start a bottled water company?’
Eight years on, still in their twenties, they are running a very different and highly successful company with no investors, no shareholders, and no debt: a company that gives 100 percent of its profits away.
They have given $5 million to provide water and sanitation services for 441,530 people, and food aid for 124,737 people. They have humanitarian projects running in 18 countries.
And they did it through an unwavering belief in the good they could do, sharing that belief boldly and creatively. They built a community who believed with them. And they called their company ‘Thankyou’.
Listening to Daniel and his wife speak, I felt a new-found energy for everything I believe in. ‘If these young people can do so much, starting with nothing more than conviction, what can I do?’ And it’s stayed with me.
I thought of Margaret Mead’s words, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
Which leads me to ask a personal question. In your workplaces, under your influence — thinking of how you currently communicate with each other and give vital information to New Zealanders — what change do you want to see?
What if you were to multiply by 20 (or 100!) the positive effects of the documents and websites entered into the 2017 Plain English Awards? What would it take to do that?
The economic and social good that flows from a focus on clear, meaningful communication is easy to find — in fact, we wrote a book about it.
I’m hoping now that by borrowing some boldness from three young people who are changing the world in mighty ways, you feel inspired to advocate even more strongly for what you believe in.
To do that you’ll need to do something differently, to challenge the status quo, and politely shut your ears to detractors — I truly hope you will!