‘Stepping Out and Stepping Up’ at CommsCymru

Post by Alastair Flannagan, Communication and Engagement Manager, Contact Centre, DVLA

Friday 9 December 2016

Stepping out and stepping up, there’s a world out there!

It was the great English writer Samuel Johnson who said “people need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed”. Now my colleagues will no doubt say to me “forget the ratio Alastair, you regularly need a hefty dose of both”.

Well, at the recent CommsCymru conference in Cardiff, I got just that: a quality blend of the two, with some timely reminders and inspiring instruction. One thing I particularly like about conferences is being able to take away different aspects from the day that mean a lot to you and, if applied well, can have a real impact on your work.

So, what golden nuggets did I take from this event? I’ll sum up the reminders and instruction in terms of ‘stepping out’ and ‘stepping up’.

Stepping out

During the conference, I constantly found myself being reminded of the fact that there is a world out there. A world we need to regularly interact with to help us become more effective as internal communicators.

You don’t need me to tell you how busy our profession can be. However, there is a risk that we can focus so much on the demands of the role that we reach a point where we begin to justify a sort of self-imposed exclusion from the very people we are trying to reach. I know from experience that it is important not to allow ourselves to become, or feel, fenced in. There is a world out there and, as internal communicators, we need to step out and engage with it.

I was reminded of this from two perspectives:

Firstly, the conference reminded me of the value of stepping out to meet and network with others in our field. It had been quite a while since I last attended an event like this, and I quickly realised how much I had been missing.

Talking with, and hearing from, fellow practitioners about the challenges they face, successful communication initiatives and learning new communication skills was quite enriching. Put simply, I found it therapeutic, liberating and inspiring.

Secondly, step out and meet your audience. Alex Aiken, Director of Communications, UK Government, made this point very strongly. He reminded us of the need to get out and listen, to hear what people are saying, and use what we learn so we are talking in the language they understand.

Rob Dowling, Football Association of Wales (FAW), underlined this point with an inspiring talk about the success of the FAW social media campaign during the recent Euro 2016 football finals in which Wales did so well. A key factor was that the FAW ‘put the fans at the heart of the campaign’.

Stepping up

There was a clear call from Alex Aiken to step up as communication practitioners. He emphasised that “this is a professional discipline and that professional development and ambitious work plans are critical…we underuse and underestimate the power of ambitious goals for ourselves”. A range of other speakers then gave the conference some great ideas as to how we can step up as communicators.

We heard about highly successful communication initiatives from two Gold Award winners in the CIPR Pride Awards: Rachel Moss from the Wales Audit Office (WAO) and Lleucu Cooke and Sara Huws from the National Museum Wales. Rachel explained the journey taken by the WAO and how they achieved a key objective of making the organisation better at communication, and not just within the communications team.

Rhodri Griffiths, from the Office of National Statistics, showed us what makes a good infographic. This should be a visual story presenting information, data or knowledge clearly, with meaning, context and without bias. To round things off Emma Meese gave a highly entertaining and instructional presentation on how to create effective video content using mobile phones or tablets. She highlighted three good reasons for developing this skill, which are: convenience, cost and control.

I came away thinking that these are exciting times to be working in the field of internal communications, and the IC Space website has a wealth of practical guidance and tips on how to develop our skills as internal communicators.

Let us rise to the challenge to step out and step up as there’s a world out there.