In Age Of Attention Deficit Disorders, FMs Need Shorter Budget Speeches. Here’s How To Do It

In  Age Of  Attention Deficit Disorders, FMs Need  Shorter Budget Speeches. Here’s How To Do ItFinance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman outside Parliament before presenting the Budget for 2019-20. 
Snapshot
  • Everything that’s there in the budget document need not be read out by the FM. Post-budget, there’s enough time for analysts to mine for details and present their views.

As budget speeches go, Nirmala Sitharaman’s second budget was not particularly long, though it gave us the appearance of being so as she could not complete reading out the last couple of pages.

Excluding the annexures and the content segments, the total wordage was just over 13,300.

However, there is little doubt that it still seemed excessive to most listeners. Something ought to be done about it.

For starters, let us understand why speeches tend to be long and tiring.

First, Finance Ministers are expected to make announcements for a wide range of political stakeholders, which means even minor things tend to get highlighted.

Second, the ministries which contribute to the speech demand that their own schemes should get mentioned in the speech. This means even inconsequential items get bunged in.

Third, there is the finance minister’s own need to hold forth and make the most of his or her day in the sun.

But if budget speeches have to become more focused and less boring, here are some alternatives.

#1: It may be okay to put everything in the written speech, but it is not obligatory on the part of the FM to read every word. She can skip reading out large chunks and take them as read. For example, was it necessary for Sitharaman to mention all the 16 major initiatives on agriculture when the top four would have been enough? The rest could be left for the media and analysts to pick up from the budget papers. In company annual meetings, chairmen seldom read out their speeches. They take them as read and focus on answering shareholders’ questions most of the time.

#2: If the idea is to give many ministries more air-time, it is not necessary that their bits must be read out in the speech made by the FM. There is no reason why various ministries, apart from the Finance Minister herself, should not hold pressers explaining the details of various parts of the budget after the speech is done.

This would be the best of both worlds. Many ministers and ministries would get their share of media exposure, the media would get lots of things to report on, and the finance minister can focus on the big things that need to be read out and emphasised. Right now, the big initiatives and the forgettable ones are being clubbed together in one long two-hours-plus monologue that tests the FM’s energies and the listener’s patience.

In today’s world, where many people are developing attention deficit disorders (ADD), the last thing we need is a speech that drones on and on.

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