WSJ: What’s in a word? Company grades Yellen, Fed chiefs communication skills

Exciting to see our analytics in the Wall Street Journal!

What’s in a word? Company grades Yellen, Fed chiefs communication skills

By Victoria McGrane

One of the most important jobs of the Federal Reserve leader is public communication, and much ink has been spilled assessing Janet Yellen’s abilities and challenges ahead in this area.

Quantified Communications, an Austin, Texas, communications-analytics firm, took a different tack. They measured the Fed’s incoming chairwoman’s skills against her predecessors – Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker – in three categories that matter a lot to audiences: clarity, credibility and confidence.

The results? Ms. Yellen came in as the second-highest scorer on clarity and was No. 1 in the credibility category, and ranked last on confidence.

So how does all this work, exactly? Quantified Communications created a tool that analyzes the language of a statement – whether text, audio or video – and breaks the language down into various components. The tool, built using psychological research, then scores those components in 80 different categories. The raw score for each category is then compared against the company’s database of more than 24,000 other people (and a total of 168 million words) to get a comparable ranking of communication effectiveness.

The company uses its tool to assess clients’ communication abilities and help them improve.

For the Fed exercise, the company took confirmation hearing opening statements from Ms. Yellen, Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Greenspan. They couldn’t find one for Mr. Volcker so they used an opening statement from a press conference, said the company’s CEO Noah Zandan.

Here’s how the Fed team stacked up.

On clarity: None of the four were particularly clear by Quantified Communication’s system.
Volcker scored 45.3%
Yellen: 39.4%
Greenspan: 31.1%
Bernanke: 24.7%

On credibility:
Yellen: 76.2%
Bernanke: 66.6%
Greenspan: 46.1%
Volcker: 44.9%

On confidence:
Volcker: 96.1%
Greenspan: 87.3%
Bernanke: 84.8%
Yellen: 71.8%

Even though Yellen scored last in this category, she was still above the database average.

The company also analyzed the statements to see how many years of education a listener would need to understand them – using what is known as a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test. Under this metric, Ms. Yellen was the most understandable of the bunch. (Communications for a wide audience should generally be at the 7th grade to 8th grade level – so a score of 7 or 8, Mr. Zandan said. The company’s database has an average of 11.4)

1. Yellen: 12.8 – so a listener would need almost 13 years of school to fully understand her statement, and would need to be a high school graduate.
2. Volcker: 14.6
3. Greenspan: 15.9
4. Bernanke: 18.0

Here are links to the statements of the four Fed chiefs the company used: Yellen, Bernanke, Greenspan, and Volcker.

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