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.
Even before the pandemic, the most sought after advice from Social Impact Studios was for guidance on “Messaging.” Even during times when things seemed certain, the challenge with finding the “magic words” was always there. Humans like to work with language – even though it can never seem to capture what we really want to convey. We frequently feel that our message may not be clear and/or that it may be hard to deliver consistently. It’s a love/hate relationship that keeps us entwined and probably always will.
Add to that equation a frightening health/economic crisis plus a chaotic and confusing media landscape and it’s easy to see how we can get stuck.
On today’s Weekly Communication Support Zoom, I shared my own process for finding the nugget of truth that is the core of our messaging during the COVID-19 crisis. What’s surprising about the current message is that it reveals a truth that has been there all along. When times were not so stark, we layered it with extra elements. We had that luxury. Now, when every word counts, it’s more important than ever to connect messaging to active, dynamic energy – which has always been what engages people the most.
Find the dynamic catalyst that is driving your work. Those are exciting ideas or needs you feel compelled to support. What is calling you to keep doing what you are doing? THAT’S what should be at the core of your messaging right now.
Anyone who knows us, knows that we encourage the use of a consistent “Message Catalog.” There’s no need to reinvent your core language – nor should you just to be “fresh.” Your Audiences have a lot going on in their lives. It’s your responsibility to make information clear and consistent so others can easily tap in to your mission and work any time – during any circumstance.
When I’m feeling the need to tinker with my Message, I typically go back to my Message Catalog and look at the one-line starter. Is that enough? Did I just get bored with it or is there really something that is missing for the current moment? For Social Impact Studios, our one-line starter is: Social Impact Studios is a creative hub for engaging people in issues and culture. (Sometimes we add “important” issues when we aren’t talking to fellow activists just to be super clear…)
Well, that’s fine for giving you “just the facts, ma’am.” It tells you what we are, a little about how we work (creative hub) and the outcomes of our work. Our name starts the message too, and that, hopefully, conveys some sort of engaging energy (Social Impact!). In our case, our one-line starter is also our Mission Statement because that’s a best practice for keeping things clear and simple. But is it really a core truth about what we are doing right now? It would be easy for me to rest on an assumption that by including words like Social and Impact and creative and issues, that I’ve done all I can do to invite you into my “big idea” and hopefully you’ll be inspired to jump in.
And that, right there, is the reason that slogans exist.
It’s not just to freshen up and sell the latest product, but because people need more than just the same-old explanation of your existence to be inspired enough to keep taking action. You still need a one-line explanation that is clear that you highlight consistently. But dynamic ideas engage people beyond an understanding of what you do.
My next “go-to” is typically at the other end of the spectrum. If my one-line starter is telling you “what” and a little bit about “how,” then the direct opposite of that more mechanical information is “why” – otherwise known as the VISION!
Sometimes tapping back into your Vision is what’s needed to round out your messaging. It’s a start. Too many well-meaning communicators boil down inspired vision to just the information (see one-liner above). By their nature, Vision Statements are really broad, though. And I personally think the best ones carry an idea that isn’t the domain of just one person/organization. Really good Vision language should cross over proprietary ideas and join everyone in a unified “YES!” At Social Impact, our Vision Statement is: We believe a healthy, happy, peaceful world is possible and worth creating together.
While that may be uniting and inspiring, it’s a bit TOO big sometimes to be shared as a “big idea.” Vision language is great to rallying people to aspire to something that may seem impossible. And it’s a sure way to reignite your energy when you are wondering how the day-to-day is going to make any kind of impact – especially in these times of overwhelm and difficult news.
What is really exciting you right now? It doesn’t have to be an inspired, visionary idea – it might be a barrier you see that needs to be overcome. It might be an injustice that is compelling you to act. It might be a deep emotional feeling that permeates everything you are doing right now. If you are still working (paid or otherwise), then you are part of the effort to keep hope for a better future alive. Even if you feel like you are just keeping your head above water.
For me, this COVID-19 time stripped away all of the extra layers and helped me hear loud and clear what I think is most needed right now. What we need now are advocates, leaders, and champions who can boldly engage people in important social issues and changes. The issues aren’t going to do that alone, no matter how strong the messaging is. From that a-ha moment, I am easily able to translate that into a clear Message that drives everything we are doing right now at Social Impact: Removing the barriers to fearless communication & action. Once I had that idea clear in my mind, everything became easier to talk about, respond to, and do. It’s dynamic and relevant and true to what I believe.
Ideas Can Feel Messy
Because they are. Kristin Muller, Executive Director of Peters Valley School of Craft shared some great perspective on the stages of the creative process. See the video for her great explanation below. It’s important to recognize that what makes ideas compelling is also what makes them feel unstable and scary to share. That’s exactly why they are so engaging, though. They carry an energy that is beyond your own control and that’s what drives people to take notice – and hopefully jump in alongside you.
In Messaging, you don’t have to prove the viability of the idea to go to a concrete outcome. Sometimes the idea alone is the valuable part of the process. Knowing that can be very freeing and give you more room to invite others to be part of the exploration with you.
Today we talked about how ideas might have been overwhelming before. We could get lost in the details and talk ourselves out of taking action and sharing the story of our ideas before they even start. This time of resilient adaptation, though, is giving us an opportunity to see how we can rely on ideas to get through the difficulties. And to consider other people’s ideas and reactions to ideas in ways that push us to create real solutions – for whatever work we are doing. It can make our day-to-day more exciting and do-able when we think about it that way.
Energy is what engages people. Messaging should convey energy, rather than thinking that messaging generates energy.
If you are unsure about your “Messaging” during this time, look for the dynamic catalysts and ideas that drive what you are doing. What keeps you moving forward and what are you thinking about that? THAT’S what should be at the core of your message right now.
Ideas can be messy. Being authentic is more important than having everything in a tight “elevator pitch.”