Say What You Want To Say. The World Is Waiting.
Sometimes a slap in the face (or a less painful equivalent to the ego) is a great wake-up call. That's how I internalized the importance and power of good communication.
I've always loved words and writing, but I would often over think my writing in certain contexts. In a former life, when I was completing a degree in International Development, one of our initial assignments was to define "development." Easy enough? Well, in an effort to prove myself, I tried to sound as brilliant as possible with a super esoteric response that got me a, "See Me," from the Professor in our Department who was most focused on the quantitative impact of international development interventions. Basically, a person that I thought cared more about the numbers. In our meeting, he asked me to explain in words what I typed out. After explaining in simpler, more authentic terms, he said, "Well, why didn't you write that?" As I was leaving, he told me, "You owe it to the people you want to serve, to communicate in a way that they will understand." That has never left me. It's become essential to the way I view communications work. It's our responsibility but also a great privilege and opportunity to communicate effectively to the public around health and health care.
While there might be colleagues that reinforce the public stereotype of the apathetic government employee, we at the HHS IDEA Lab/Office of the Chief Technology Officer work with the opposite profile. We work with mission-driven teams from across HHS who want to solve problems that would improve the way we serve the public. They may need help in fleshing out the core problem and their ideas. They might need more leadership support, a space to experiment, and access to tools and methods that would help. But they are ALL committed to working smarter and more efficiently.
In my role as Director of Communications for two years and a newbie to federal government, I had the privilege of listening to and sharing out the work, insights and lessons learned from incredibly smart colleagues from across the Department. At first, I questioned my role. With all of these experts in their respective fields, what value could I add? Then one day, I found myself listening to a complex explanation of an immensely important project. That was just the beginning. I started to hear from more teams, more critical projects, more narratives that you had to ask questions and sit with more to really "get" as an outsider. And then, it clicked. I'm here to help translate. I'm a bridge.
It has been my observation that communications work and activities are often considered a tool and an afterthought. This is felt more strongly in some sectors than others. Yet with information coming at you today in so many different forms, with varying accuracy and at breakneck speed, I would argue that creative and compelling communication efforts that resonate with your audiences are even more critical. Is it important to share your work, idea or innovation with consumers, with the world? Do you want more engagement from the public? Well, communication is key to your success.
And if you agree, here are three key takeaways to remember:
Keep communication in mind from the beginning.
If you are working on a project where outreach and communications may be necessary at some point, integrate that into your thinking and approach from the beginning itself. Involve your communications teams and available resources (if you have them) so they can plan and get creative early. Identifying and understanding your goals, target audiences, key messages and desired actions in advance, might even influence the way you develop and implement your project.
Make it easy. Keep it simple. It's your responsibility.
We owe it to those we serve and support, to communicate in a respectful way that more people can understand. It helps to take a step back and ask yourself - how would I explain this to a family member or friend that has no clue what I'm working on? You might also consider stories that better illustrate the details and impact of what you are trying to convey. Visuals can be compelling as well as metaphors that have the power to create a visual image with words. E.g. This new platform will be the Facebook for X. In other words, do your best to make your words and work accessible. It's empowering for everyone.
Listen, be open and respond accordingly.
After you put out a blog or a tweet or a press release, use analytics and other feedback mechanisms to "listen," and get a sense of what is working and adapt and adjust your approach accordingly. As someone who enjoys communicating in different forms, it's easy to get caught up in trying to perfect or want to follow a particular prescription of what activities you should undertake. Resist the urge! Every other day, a different digital platform or tool to share, crops up. Stay flexible, experiment and let what you are hearing (using both qualitative and quantitative measures) guide you on the steps you take next.
Ultimately, your brilliant innovation, opportunity, idea, or message is just that - in lonely, isolation - without effective communication. I know that there are many powerful examples of improvement and innovation that are happening within the walls of this Department to better enhance and protect the health & well-being of Americans. I had the honor of helping to communicate some of them.
Let's share them more and let's share them well.