Does personalisation have a place in EU policy communications?
People who love it think it humanises dry, technical material. Those who don’t find it cloying unscientific and self-indulgent.
Many aren’t sure what it even means.
All the above have a point.
However, personalisation does not have to be about sharing intimate details of your life. You don’t have to make yourself the centre of a TED style story if you don’t want to. Not everyone should, or needs to, be an Instagram star to advance the interests of their work.
And frankly, in Brussels, it’s usually better if they aren’t.
What does personalisation actually mean?
However, personalisation isn’t just for the politicians.
For me (see what I did there?) personalisation is about adding a viewpoint that supports your policy message by showcasing your experience and credibility in that area.
And the importance of that was identified over 2,300 years ago by Aristotle. In Rhetoric (The Art of Persuasion) he talked of the importance of ‘ethos’ or ‘character’.
The art of being yourself
It is possible to be more personal AND talk seriously about policy on behalf of your organisation. The two are not mutually exclusive. There is an art to doing this well, as people with high functioning bullshit detectors are capable of sniffing out fake or fluffy behaviour that adds nothing.
This means that you shouldn’t add a series of bland statements beginning with ‘I think’, or ‘I believe’. Personalised policy communication is not a set of affirmations. It has to bring an extra dimension to what you are talking about that makes people sit up, listen and (crucially) take you seriously.
For example, over the past two weeks I have heard two CEOs (one Italian, one German) use the following phrases in a policy context:
‘I still remember the excitement I felt the first time we visited the (manufacturing) site.’
‘I worked in China for 15 years, so I have seen first-hand how fast the country is growing’.
Then there’s Frans Timmermans, whipping his phone out at COP 26 to show a picture of his baby grandson to fractious delegates who were struggling to come to an agreement. (As a heads up, he will only be able to get away with this once before it starts to feel like a gimmick).
As one of my trainees said yesterday morning: ‘Sometimes I think Timmermans is the only Commissioner who is actually a human’.
I couldn’t possibly comment.
To sum up
You don’t have to tell self-absorbed fluffy stories to have a more personal style of communication.
It simply means demonstrating why you, as the speaker, are worth listening to and taking seriously in your own right.