Spitfire Strategies

A Case for a Communication Cleanse

Kristen Grimm

By Kristen Grimm

When I started my career as a communicator, I spent a lot of time stuffing press kits and blast faxing headlines to news rooms throughout the country and across the globe. Today, I envy people who simply post documents and infographics to online news rooms – or hit send on an email – rather than spending hours fighting with a fax machine. The point of this is not to say that I am old; it is to say that how we communicate – from the language we use to how we engage – is constantly changing. It is easy to get stuck in a communication rut (you mean to tell a story but data just spews out), have sacred cows (printed annual report anyone?) or know there are best practices your organization should follow – but you just haven’t gotten to yet.

If you’re reading this and thinking, that sounds like my organization – it’s time for a communication cleanse. Take stock of your current outreach efforts, get rid of the bad and create more room for good.

Start by taking stock with a communication assessment. Take a look at where your organization is going strong and where it needs improvement. Not sure where to start? Check out Spitfire’s SmartScan™. This free tool walks you through what it takes to be a strong communicating organization. It is a quick and easy way to determine where you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done and identify where you need to focus more attention.

Stop doing what isn’t working. Stronger communication doesn’t always mean doing more. Sometimes it may even come from stopping activities that aren’t getting you where you want to go. The SmartScan will help you spot areas where you are expending resources and not getting the results that you want. Messages that elicit eye glazes rather than a mobilized, motivated army of advocates; infographics that are beautiful but have been clicked on exactly five times (at least one of which was your mom trying to figure out what you do); spokespeople who are in front of the right people but saying exactly the wrong thing – these are all “communication toxins.” Use the SmartScan to identify activities that are sucking up your time or getting you off track without producing results, and then get rid of them. Create a “NOT TO DO” list. Then marvel at all the time you just freed up that can be put to better use.

Be open to new things. After you have purged the communication activities that aren’t working, open your mind and task list to trying new things. Follow someone brilliant and experiment with applying their ideas to your work. Develop new best practices in areas where you need to improve your communication efforts. I am currently focused on making sure the messaging I develop uses the latest information on how the mind works. This means paying close attention to cutting-edge gurus on brain science and their ideas for applying these insights to important social issues. Two of my favorites are @marklittlenews and @hiddenbrain.  

I also like to explore who is trying new things and sharing successes and failures. It gives me inspiration to do things differently, while also keeping me from making mistakes I can avoid simply by learning from others. Two good resources for this are MobLab and Aspen’s APEP weekly post SO WHAT.

And finally, get yourself and your staff the training needed to be stronger communicators. Lots of smart people out there, including the two sources noted above, offer a variety of training opportunities. Experts like Andy Goodman offer master storytelling classes. And here at Spitfire, we offer trainings on everything from messages that move people to giving memorable presentations to campaign planning that helps organizations post more wins than losses. To learn more about Spitfire’s training offerings, click here.

These three steps – taking stock, stopping what isn’t working and opening your mind to new approaches – can lead your organization to a whole new way of addressing goals and challenges and bring you a whole new set of communication wins to celebrate.

“This is a truly transformative program and there is no question that it is preparing leaders to be courageous communicators.”

- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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