The point of the lecture was to help communicators understand the concept of messaging. Although I think most of us know what that is by now, even to the point of excess, it is helpful to have a very seasoned, qualified and intelligent federal communicator break it down in a logical and step-by-step manner.
Prof. Shane incorporated concepts from Chip and Dan Heath's book Made to Stick, and she used a live example of dense government-style writing to show what many of us do wrong.
Professor Shane's Most Important Quotes
- "Helping the American public is our ultimate goal."
- "Just because we're communicating doesn't mean we do it well."
- What is the desired outcome?
- Who do we need to engage to make that happen?
- Once they're engaged, what do we want them to do?
- Why should they care -- how will this action benefit them?
- Where will they see your message - use multiple channels
Key Point #2 -- Nobody Believes the Government, So You Will Have To Prove Yourself
- The audience has to believe that you are offering a credible source of information, but trust in government is at a historic low.
- Implicit assumptions like "we're the government, we don't have to establish our authority" or "you have to trust us" don't work; actually they are counterproductive.
- Feds do not seem to understand just how much the public mistrusts the government (during the event, as I was live-tweeting, someone jokingly responded - "let us know if they attempt to brainwash you").
- Simplifying, even oversimplifying, is fine, but you need to balance that with copious amounts of open data, well organized.
- Don't insult the public by treating them like they're stupid.
Key Point #3 -- If A Tree Falls And Nobody Hears It, The Tree Did Not Fall
- Speak in the language of your audience.
- Keep it as simple, clear and focused as possible.
- If nobody understands you then you aren't saying anything. Too abstract: "broad mission area."
- Focus on a benefit to them, e.g. educate parents about emergency readiness -- they want to protect their children.
- Offer a fun fact, e.g. "did you know that..."
- Information has to be repeated 15 times to be remembered.
Key Point #4 -- You're Probably Turning People Off By Making These Common Mistakes
- Unfocused multiple messages
- Trying to include every single piece of information
- Too much data and not enough of the human element
Key Point #5 -- What Motivates People Is...People
- It's often about emotion and identity, not just self-interest.
- Focus on humanity - e.g. the problem exists on a large scale (data); here's how this person's life was transformed.
- Fear only works when immediate action is needed, e.g. evacuation; don't do fear and anger as a default.
- Think in terms of storylines - "David and Goliath," innovative/creative ways that agency helped solve a problem.
Key Point #6 -- We Don't Control The Media
- The media isn't automatically interested; it takes work to get them to pick up a story.
- We live in a "sound bite" society -- people have a short attention span and you're competing against many other sources of information.
- Tie your communication to something they care about, e.g. "federal employees are an early warning sign" when it comes to potential disasters.
- Tie your story to current events, e.g. sexual harassment awareness and response.
- Lawyer's job is "to keep us on legally safe ground" (Prof. Shane)
- Communicator's job requires different skills - "move people to act" (Prof. Shane)
- "Everyone thinks they're the best communicators. Especially the lawyers" (Prof. Shane)
- Audience comment (W. Aaron French, on Twitter): "Battling this [attitude] is my professional work."
- Another audience comment: "The lawyers think that they know everything"
Key Point #8 -- It Is Impossible To Read Some Of These Dense Government Documents (Even The Summaries)
- No sentence from the federal government should be a paragraph long. (Me)
- A press release should not read like a dissertation. (Me)
- Audience comment: "Why didn't the really important things get bullets?"
Notes & Disclaimers
- This is not a complete summary. I could not stay for the entire event, but live-tweeted as much as I could (see hashtag #FCNTRNG). For the sake of accuracy, I've tried as best I can to indicate who said what. The categories of information are mine as are the sub-headers.
- Personal opinion only. As you read this, please keep in mind that event attendees do so in our own personal capacities, not as representatives of our agencies.
- Public event. No secrets here; the event was live-streamed.
Public domain. See disclaimer; all opinions are my own. Photo by TeroVesalainen, CC0 Creative Commons, via Pixabay.