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2_1_DiscoverBenelux_22_Oct_2015_Scan Magazine 1 30/09/2015 20:48 Page 60

Discover Benelux | Business | Columns



Want to learn how to take drugs in Amsterdam? TEXT & PHOTO: JOSIAH FISK

It’s a trick question. I’m talking about the boring kind of drug: prescriptions, and about the new drug instruction icons from the KNMP, the Dutch pharmacists’ association. According to the KNMP, a quarter of Dutch residents have difficulty reading and understanding the instructions that come with medicines. So the need for better communication is real. And icons are an obvious candidate. A good icon not only gets the message across quickly, it transcends language and literacy barriers. Good icons are also eye-catching and space-efficient. Most of these icons, pictured, work well. The ones in the top row are a snap: 'don’t take with food', 'take three times a day' and – well, I’ll let the last one speak for itself. But other icons in the set seem less clear. The first one on the bottom is clearly about heartburn, but is that what the drug treats, or is it a possible side effect? The still-life of fruits left me buffaloed: suitable for vegetarians? (Wrong: it’s trying to say the drug contains extra vitamins.) And the last one is just bizarre. At first I thought I was supposed to hold the phone up to a very odd-looking ear. That didn’t seem right, but looking closer only yielded the conclusion

that I should hold the phone up to a snake drinking out of a bowl. If I saw a snake doing that, I’d hold up my phone all right, but only to take a picture. You don’t see that every day. Eventually, I figured it out. It means 'call your pharmacist'. The snake and bowl is a reference to the famous Bowl of Hygeia symbol and are used by the KNMP as their logo. And yes, I had to look that up. So should the KNMP have looked for better icon designers? Not really. The designs themselves are excellent. The problem is with the assignment. There are many concepts, even some very simple ones, that no icon can get across. And some of those concepts were in this assignment.

Make the message yours What do a European commissioner, a Swedish junior minister and a director of a large German multinational have in common? Answer: they’re all people I’ve worked with for whom good communication is critical and yet who were all failing to make their public messages their own. The first two were, as often with politicians, delivering speeches written by civil servants and then wondering why they got a poor press afterwards. Bureaucrats may be good on the technical detail but they’re not famous for dynamic communication. Whatever they were writing wasn’t being produced with the unique voice of their bosses principally in mind. The net result each time was a text read aloud by the politician to his victims without any articulation of the convictions or personality of the speaker. Speeches like this fall flat every time. In my private sector example, the situation was even more critical. My client’s job was on the line because of her failure to defend her patch at senior level. When I asked her how she prepared her

60 | Issue 22 | October 2015

boardroom presentations, she said she only had time to go through the slides designed by her PA in the taxi on the way to the meeting. Once again, she was failing because she was delivering someone else’s message, not her own. In all three cases, we worked out a new plan which went something like this: 1 Tell your scribes your objective. Encourage them to challenge you but don’t let anyone forget that it’s you, not they, who will actually speak the words. 2 Send them away to produce a first draft. 3 Rehearse this. Does it reflect your vision? Are you getting your key messages across in your own voice? No? Send it back for reworking. 4 Second rehearsal. By this time you should have something close to what you need. Get the tweaks made and now you’re ready to wow them out there. Few politicians or business people have their own professional speechwriters. It’s fine for the

Josiah Fisk is the head of More Carrot LLC, a clear communications company with offices in Boston and Luxembourg.


rest to delegate the preparation of speeches to others but you must always remain in control of the process. I’m happy to report that, whatever my contribution, the minister prospered and the board member kept her job. As for the commissioner, I’m expecting great things from him – in his own convincing voice.

Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, now based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally:;

Discover Benelux, Issue 22, October 2015  

Promoting Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg.

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