Each Wednesday at 10am EST, we host a Weekly Communication Support Check-In to share best practices and discuss with each other how we are communicating differently (or the same) during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some notes from the last two meet-ups that may help you navigate what’s most important to communicate now.
Planning is Part of Communication
We humans are wired to communicate. We do it without thinking, so it’s easy to jump into communicating without much of a foundation. But planning can make all the difference in how easy, clear and effective your communications can be.
When we think about “planning” – especially from an organizational perspective – it can feel daunting. Ideas of year-long strategic planning processes come to mind. Overwhelming details can make the idea of it seem really hard. But, it doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated to do well. The key is doing it.
Design-thinking – the act of thinking backwards from an ideal outcome – can help you accomplish specific aspects of your communications, but planning is the most important first step. It confirms what you know and what you are willing to do – and most importantly, gives you a base that helps you feel confident and hopefully inspired to connect with others about what you have to say.
Bonus outcome: looking at your Plan through the lens of communicating it to others can help you get clearer yourself. When you have to make something understandable, you find out right away what’s real and what’s just marketing-speak.
So, how do you plan anything, including communications, if you don’t know what the heck is going to happen? During these times, we are acutely aware that the only certain thing is uncertainty. But really, it’s always been that way. We have some confidence that our plans will move forward and that things that have happened before will happen again – and most of the time they will, but that’s not guaranteed. During times of stability we still plan, assess and adjust plans. Why? Because there is something at the core of each of our work that is dynamically connected to society and external forces that we do not control.
It’s not really different now. There may be more commonly experienced uncertainty. But the core of your work is probably still the same as it was before COVID-19. The medium that you need to use to accomplish your Mission may be changing or unclear, but the ideas that you uphold and protect at the center are probably still the same or similar to what they were before.
That’s what you need to communicate always, and especially now.
The base of authentic communication is truth. You can only ever communicate what you know. This can take the guesswork out of communications during uncertainty because you start with just what you know.
Now that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate an aspiration. If you hold a core truth of an ideal, then it’s true that you believe in it. You can communicate that truth just as rightly as you can communicate what you consider facts and figures. The key to communicating aspirations is to be clear that they are YOUR truths. That you are inviting others to join you in realizing them. If you do that, then you don’t have to worry about whether they have been realized or not in the moment.
Focus on what you DO know, not what you don’t know for sure.
During this week’s Communication Support session, I shared a tool from our Public Image Works method that was designed to help people be clear about their Action Plans. I believe it can also be used as a tool to start the Communications Planning process overall, giving you a framework to be clear about what you DO know about your organization, program and needs right now.
The good news is that it is very simple – just 4 questions. And the even better news is that these are the same 4 questions that are on the minds of the “public” when they receive your communication. By answering these questions for yourself, you are also laying the foundation of the most basic information that your audiences want to hear and will move them to action.
- What is your PURPOSE? Why do you exist?
- What are your current TOP PRIORITIES. Keep it to 3-5
- What is your biggest LONG TERM GOAL
- What is your most urgent IMMEDIATE NEED
It’s also important to recognize that people respond differently and to one of these more than the others, typically – so it’s good to cover all of these bases.
Once you have a clear understanding of the 4 main ingredients, you will have a much stronger foundation from which to plan actual communication during these uncertain times. It makes it much easier than jumping into the details first, which can be rudderless and overwhelming.
During last week’s Communications Support session “Doubling Up Communications as Programming,” I introduced and shared the Public Image Works Promotion Planning Tool. This format can help move you from the 4 core things you know now to applying it to specific communication and different audiences.
One of the biggest pitfalls I hear from purpose-driven communicators is that they think first about the need for different strategy, tactics and messages for all their different audiences before they have figured out what links all of those audiences to the one organization/business/independent creator. Yes, you need to package your Message in different ways for different audiences, but the core should be the same. You just don’t have the time or energy to be fragmented in too many different directions. And guess what, that’s not good for your Public Image either. The #1 thing you need to achieve through communication is a connection to you – a deep, loyal, caring connection. The action you are calling people to do is what makes the delivery unique.
The Promotion Planning Tool comes AFTER you have clarity on the 4 main questions above.
In our session, we discussed how this tool could be purposed during these changing times to also plan direct programming that furthers your Mission through communication. We are in a unique time when we still have full access to communication channels during a crisis. In many ways, that’s the only thing we have for doing our work. Because the Promotion Planning tool is designed to help you think creatively and expansively about all communication channels, you might find yourself having breakthrough ideas about new and creative ways to accomplish your Mission now – while you are figuring out how you will respond in the unknown future.
Planning is PART of communication. Work in even a little bit of time to lay the foundations. Using the 4 Action Plan Clarity questions can help you get grounded for any communication.
Focus on what you DO know, not on what you don’t know yet. Aspirations that you firmly believe in count as things you know.
The #1 thing you need to achieve through communication is a connection to you – a deep, loyal, caring connection. That is one message. The action you are calling people to do is what makes the delivery unique.
Use communications planning for multiple purposes. Cross over with other kinds of work/departments like programming, fundraising, etc. so you are developing cohesive singular approach to communicating with audiences during this noisy time.
RESOURCES WE REVIEWED:
- Public Image Works: The Empowered Method Behind Our Work
- Action Plan Clarity Tool
- Promotion Planning Tool
- Sendspark Video
- Special Thanks to Shannon Turner for sharing her StoryMuse wisdom on storytelling. Check her out!
- Example of written/verbal storytelling interconnection: https://mailchi.mp/4f632ed3f4a8/keeping-it-339537?e=8726424029
- Jo Carson