If asked, most executives will say that clear, compelling communication is essential to the success of their enterprise. The reality is that this is an area where so many organizations fall short. It’s not because they don’t try and not because they don’t have the right words or the right approach; rather, they haven’t figured out how to make it happen.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a bold organization that has reshaped health in the United States by taking on tobacco, tackling childhood obesity, and now, embarking on the ambitious goal of creating a culture of health.
Evidence of RWJF’s ability to foster conversations and introduce ideas through their communications abounds.
As RWJF President and CEO Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey and Fred Mann, VP of Communications, observe in Making Ideas Move, our series produced in partnership with Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Policymakers responded. Educators responded. Industry responded. Even the White House responded.” Read their piece, Bold but Flexible: How to Effectively Share Your Vision.
- Engage parents early and often. They’re the ones who care most deeply about their children’s education, and should have their voices heard in the policy process.
- Offer solutions to the problems you’re addressing. Urgency is needed, but so is a positive attitude toward correcting an issue.
- To win support for your ideas, be concrete when explaining the changes you want to see. Abstractions won’t win new supporters.
Network peeps: as many of you know already, I’ve been chief conference maven for the Communications Network for several years running. Starting last year, and for reals this year, I have gratefully passed on the maven scepter to our fabulous new Executive Director, Sean Gibbons, who proved with last year’s conference that he can bring the substance and the dazzle when it comes to great content. And with this year’s conference in San Diego, Sean is already unveiling great speakers, with still more exciting developments to come.
Despite having passed the torch, let me be clear on one thing: I still care. I am still deeply invested in putting on a great conference. I got involved in the conference planning to begin with because a) I like my fellow Network peeps so much and I want you to get something of value from this conference and b) I wanted to spare you the indignity of yet another badly-planned conference.
So here are the commandments we try to follow when planning the Network conference—and we have a particular interest in drawing your attention to the last one:
- Go after the most interesting, entertaining, relevant speakers you can find. Don’t always look for an obvious connection to strategic communications—look for the big ideas, the poetic speakers. Diversity—of opinion, age, ethnicity, background—really matters.
- Pay attention to everything, big and small. Like, plenary speakers are one thing, breakout sessions are another, but you also have to pay attention to the production values, the food, the networking time, the reception venues, etc.
- Make the content good, and promote the heck out of it. We know there are so many conferences you could be attending, and that you have huge limits on your time and travel budget. So we’ve got to remind you ahead of time what you’ll be missing if you don’t show up.
- Be transparent that suckitude will have consequences. We do everything we can to ensure that speakers and session presenters will shine. We watch speaker videos if they’re available. We schedule planning calls and let speakers know that they’ll be speaking to an audience of communications professionals, who seem like the least likely group you’d want to see you bomb. Despite all this, we lay some eggs from time to time—but it’s not for want of trying.
- And the last commandment I’ll share today? THIS IS THE ONE I NEED YOU TO FOCUS ON, FOLKS. Rely on your smart, enterprising (did I mention scintillatingly attractive?) Network colleagues to bring us their best ideas, stories, and experiences for breakout sessions.
So, yes: this post about the commandments of conference planning? Really my unsubtle way of encouraging all of you to get busy on submitting breakout session ideas. The deadline is May 11, which feels like tomorrow, frankly, and while we know that many of you are busily fermenting your ideas in your brains until the very last minute, we’d like to see the trickle of proposals we’ve seen so far start to look more like a stream. We’d like to think you don’t always need a contest to submit a great breakout session idea.
If you submit great breakout session ideas, others will, too. And that will increase our chances of learning something valuable at this year’s conferences that will help us do our jobs better. (Example: the session on behavioral economics and the analytics presented by Bully Pulpit helped me get off to a running start with my very smart digital marketing colleagues at EDF, where I work.) So learn more by doing more. Bring us your best ideas.