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 this week’s meet-up that may help you navigate what’s most important to communicate now.
Being creative right now seems like a stretch.
At bare minimum, most of us are feeling disconnected and uncertain, which can make us feel uninspired to do just about anything. At deeper levels, many of us are sad and grieving the loss of so many people, our social connections, and the life we were used to living.
During this week’s Communications Support Zoom, we heard different creative challenges that people are facing:
- “It’s hard to stay creative when we are communicating about the same single programming that we have to offer weekly during this time of social distancing.”
- “It’s hard to conjure up creativity when you are just feeling so sad and know that everyone else is too.”
- “I have more creative ideas than ever during this time, but my challenge is making them happen when there are more critical things to tend to.”
- “It’s hard to keep energy up among partners or staff/team during this time. I see the value, but so many people are checking out.”
- “I have waves of creativity and other times when I’m not feeling it. I don’t know when those 2 extremes are going to surface.”
- “I’m not sure about the best way to communicate since our audiences have different needs from each other. I find myself just doing a lot of what I’ve always done, but not sure why.”
You probably relate to one or more of these. I know I do. During this week’s session, I shared 3 main tips that can help boost creative action when you need to.
We often think that creativity is about making something unique. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be “inspired” to create something from scratch and totally different from anything anyone else is doing. If you are feeling that inspired, great! Follow that muse and get to work.
But if you, like me, aren’t always struck by a lightning bolt of inspiration at the times when you need it, you might need a little help to have that a-ha moment. As a designer, I’m always doing that. Looking at how people solve problems visually, pinning my favorite examples to a Pinterest Board, and/or keeping a journal of ideas. You never know where or when something is going to give you a spark that you can run with to your own creative breakthrough.
“The only thing new is you finding out about something. Like, nothing’s really new, but you reinvent it for yourself and find your inner voice.”
Similar to the challenge in Tip #1, we often think that we have to be creative on our own. We want to come up with cool ideas and make them reality as an expression of our own perspectives, talents and skills. Again, if you are inspired to do that as an artist, leader or just good ‘ole human, that’s the power of creativity working through you, so go for it!
However, if you are feeling uncertain or blocked to be creative – especially on behalf of an organizational or business Mission – then tapping into collective creative experience can help you break through. An added bonus – it will probably provide a creative solution that speaks more universally to your audiences because you are thinking about your subject from different perspectives.
During this week’s session I shared another tool from our Public Image Works method: the Creative Brief. A Creative Brief is a tool that professional creatives and teams of creatives use to plan and document ideas so there is a central touchstone from which to create (and evaluate how well concepts and drafts work to achieve the goals established). This is a great tool to use with a group for brainstorming. It comes after you are clear about what you are trying to promote and before you start developing creative Messaging, Visuals or interactive Experience.
Bringing people together for creative exploration is also great organizing and can deepen engagement. When people are asked for their opinion and creative input – not just when things are tough or when you need to ask for money – they feel valued as individuals and that’s a key part of engaging any audience more deeply.
ASK THE AUDIENCE
One sure-fired way to understand what will speak to people creatively is to ask them to give you insights or to test something before you use it. People often hesitate to test ideas or ask for creative feedback ahead of time because:
- People are afraid of rejection. Asking for others’ opinions can feel very scary. The key to being able to navigate that hesitation is to detach your own ego from the equation. Remember that you are developing communication for something bigger than you. You are communicating about a Mission or a need that the audience has. If you don’t ask that audience what would be most interesting to them, you are missing a key bit of information to make your communication as effective as possible.
- People are concerned that there will be too many competing feedback ideas or that people will “vote” for something that they don’t think is the right creative solution. Here’s the deal: TESTING CREATIVE IDEAS IS NOT AN ELECTION. The purpose behind testing and asking your audience is to get a sense of how they understand your creative idea. That’s it. People have all sorts of opinions for different reasons. They might just hate purple…The point of testing is to give you information and get a glimpse into how others are making sense of something you are about to put out into the world. It’s the leader’s (or team’s) job to make decisions based on that information. It’s about what works to connect to the goals of the communication, not a popularity contest in and of itself.
- People are concerned about “leaking” creative before it’s ready to go out. There are lots of ways that you can get creative feedback without letting the cat out of the bag. Rely on trusted insider Stakeholders, develop small go-to teams of testers or just reach out to small handful of people who directly represent the audience you are trying to reach and call to action. Be explicit that you are TESTING and that what you are sharing is confidential. People love to be on the inside and you can give them a shout out AFTER you have decided the creative solution if they were among the people who helped you refine it.
- Never test anything that you don’t want to use.
- Test through survey or BCC. It’s not advised to open up conversation between testing participants because they can sway each other’s opinions.
The best way to get motivated when you are not feeling it is to have habits and tools in place already. We all have had that experience when we just don’t want to do the dishes or brush our teeth. And we have definitely have had the experience where we don’t want to speak publicly or make a video because we are scared, or at least doubting our abilities. I rely on designed systems, practices & tools to get me through those times. Here are some examples:
- That Mike Watt quote I shared above? It’s already in my e-mail signature because I have a practice of changing that inspirational quote monthly. It fit the theme, so I didn’t have to look far. #InspirationFromOthers
- Speaking of this week’s theme: “How to be creative. . . when are you aren’t feeling it” . . . that came from a regular practice too. Each week for our weekly team meeting at Social Impact Studios, we pick one of our many Core Values to really focus on. We have an extensive list and it’s hard to keep them in the front of mind all the time. So, many years ago I added this practice to our weekly agenda. A value is chosen either at random or because I, as the director, think we need to put energy toward a particular way of thinking and acting as a whole team and social enterprise. This week, I intuitively chose: “Foster a Collective Creative Experience.” When it came time to choose the theme for this week’s Communication Support Zoom, I turned to that value and explored how it might relate to these COVID-19 times. Easy.
- The tools I’m sharing each week from our Public Image Works method represent designed approaches too. We don’t have to rethink the wheel each time we need to be creative. We can just use those tools and focus more of our energy on the real work, which is to call people to action to support important issues & culture. The less we have to belabor our creativity, the more different stories we will be able to tell. And using them in a sequence helps us uncover more nuances that make for more interesting results:
I was happy to be able to share some great opportunities for creativity from Noah & Mica Scalin at Another Limited Rebellion. They have created some really helpful approaches, prompts and resources to stay creative no matter what kind of work you do. Learn more about them here and sign up for their one week Creative Sprints resource here.
This week we are also making the recording from our session available. We will grow the playlist on YouTube over the next few weeks, but I hope that you will enjoy seeing and hearing from the folks who are participating and bringing their own wisdom to this collective creative experience!
Get inspiration from others. You don’t have to be divinely inspired to create something completely new.
Engage other creative thinkers to expand perspectives. Broaden your view by including different viewpoints on your creative work. Working together on a creative approach is also good engagement practice.
Rely on designed systems, practice & tools to help you be creative when you’re just not feeling it. Communication can’t always wait for your inspired moment. Sometimes you need to help it along so you can get on with your real work.
RESOURCES WE REVIEWED:
- Public Image Works: The Empowered Method Behind Our Work
- Action Plan Clarity Tool
- Promotion Planning Tool
- Creative Brief
- Creative Sprints from Another Limited Rebellion
- Inspiration: https://www.storiesfromthepandemic.com/stories
- Video recording from this week’s session