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3 Communication Strategies That Make The Bill And Melinda Gates 2021 Letter So Compelling

Every year I look forward to the Gates Foundation letter because Bill and Melinda Gates are serious students of communication. They use a variety of writing and delivery techniques to make complex information easy to understand and compelling to read.

The 2021 Bill and Melinda Gates letter delivers data-driven information about the pandemic in an engaging way. Engagement is critical because if people don’t understand science, they’ll be less likely to act on the information.

  1. Use simple language. Real simple.

Most experts try to impress people with how much they know. They use big words and arcane jargon that few people outside of the field can understand.

Effective communicators like Bill and Melinda do the opposite. The more complex the topic, the simpler the words they use.

For example, I ran the entire 4,523-word letter through a software tool to measure the readability of the text. It returned a grade of 11. That means the average high-school student should be able to read and understand it.

Here’s the remarkable finding. Bill uses even simpler language when he’s explaining the most complicated science in the letter.

Bill includes a short video to offer suggestions on how to prevent the next pandemic. The text to the video returns a grade of 4. This means the reader needs a grade level of 4 or above to read or understand what Gates is talking about.

“We can get ahead of infectious-disease outbreaks,” Bill begins. “We also want to get treatments out far faster next time.”

One promising treatment involved monoclonal antibodies. It’s an enormously complex advancement that is time consuming and hard to manufacture.

Bill explains the concept in just one sentence:

“These are manufactured antibodies that grab onto the virus and disable it, just like your immune system and can reduce death rates by as much as 80 percent.”

Readability also means keeping sentences short. Short sentences are more memorable. The sentences that are being quoted frequently from the letter are among the shorter ones. Short, but they speak volumes:

“We are writing this letter after a year unlike any other in our lifetimes.”

Melinda writers that “my major focus has been calling on world leaders to put women at the center of their COVID-19 response.”

“In addition to shining a light on so many old injustices, the pandemic will unleash a new one: immunity inequality.” Immunity inequality is “a future where the wealthiest people have access to a COVID-19 vaccine, while the rest of the world doesn’t.”

2). Choose familiar metaphors.

Bill Gates focuses on how to prevent future pandemics. “First, we need to spot disease outbreaks as soon as they happen, wherever they happen,” he writes.

If the virus turns out to be super infectious or entirely new (novel), Gates recommends that a group of ‘first responders’ spring into action. He uses a metaphor to explain:

“Think of this corps as a pandemic fire squad. Just like firefighters, they’re fully trained professionals who are ready to respond to potential crises at a moment’s notice.”

And just like firefighters are constantly training, these responders need to regularly run “germ games” that simulate a real-world outbreak, adds Gates. “Just as war games let the military prepare for real-life warfare.”

Our brains process the world in metaphor. Choose analogies that make the complex more concrete.

3). Share stories to support data.

“One of the things I’ve missed most over the last year is traveling to see our foundation’s work in action. I have photos all over our house of the women I’ve met on these trips. Now that I’m working from home, I see their faces all the time,” writes Melinda.

Melinda Gates believes in the power of storytelling because stories, she once said, “open our hearts to a new place, which opens minds, which often leads to action.”

Melinda often uses real stories of real people to support her arguments and data.

For example, Melinda makes the argument that “If governments ignore the fact that the pandemic and resulting recession are affecting women differently, it will prolong the crisis and slow economic recovery for everyone.” During her discussion, Melinda shows photos of the women whose stories she tells.

Melinda captions one photo: “This is a group of women I met in Indonesia in 2017. That’s Ibu Suparti holding the tablet.”

Data provides information, but stories reach the heart.

The 2021 Gates Foundation letter is worth reading in full to get a better understanding of the Covid-19 pandemic, the lessons scientists have learned that will save lives in the future, and practical advice on how we can prevent an outbreak from turning into another global disaster.

There’s a lot of information in the letter, but thankfully Bill and Melinda make it easy to understand.

By Carmine Gallo - Senior Contributor, first published at https://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2021/01/27/3-communication-strategies-that-make-the-bill-and-melinda-gates-2021-letter-so-compelling/?sh=712c80537443 January 27, 2021