Spitfire Strategies

Our curious week at frank

Each year, hundreds of social change communicators, researchers, students, authors and experts descend on Gainesville to come together and learn for frank. And anyone who knows the Spitfire crew knows we aren’t ones to miss a party, particularly one focused on communicating for social good. The theme this year was curiosity, and the speakers, small learning sessions (a.k.a. scrums) and casual conversations with experts from around the country left us even more curious.

Here are five sparks of curiosity we took away from this year’s frank gathering.

  1. Curiosity improves our work. Asking lots of questions and following the answers can lead us down a path that others haven’t yet explored. Perhaps you’ll discover a new way of looking at an old problem or a story that has yet to be told. Author and reporter Charles Fishman was curious about the Fiji bottle sitting in his hotel room – did the water actually come from Fiji? If so, what went into getting it to the U.S.? That initial curiosity launched a two-year exploration into our water system and inspired Fishman to write The Big Thirst, a book focused on our relationship with water. On the frank stage, Fishman described every question as “an opportunity for adventure.” He told the audience not to shy away from the question we’re too embarrassed to ask – it could be the one that takes our work to the next level.
  1. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Frank speaker and documentary filmmaker Ram Devineni wanted to educate young people in India about gender-based sexual violence to help shift the social stigma that pervades many Indian communities. While Devineni would typically pick up his camera to tell a story, he knew a documentary film would not get the attention of teenagers in India. So, he teamed up with graphic artists and writers to create Priya’s Shakti, a comic book featuring a new kind of superhero. Priya is a rape survivor who fights back against sexual violence and patriarchal norms. Priya’s adventures and message of women’s empowerment have taken on new life – there are now three chapters in the comic book series and they’ve been translated into multiple languages. Devineni selected an out-of-the-box communication vehicle that was perfectly suited for his target audience, helping his message reach teenagers around the world.
  2. Use your lazy brain… for good. Whether we like it or not, our brains are lazy. They take shortcuts and jump to conclusions. So we might as well lean in, try to understand the way our brains work and use it for good. That’s what we learned from Lisa Fazio, winner of the frank 2017 Prize for Research in Public Interest Communications for her study, Knowledge Does Not Protect Against Illusory Truth. The illusory truth effect is a tendency to believe information is true after repeated exposure. In other words, we’re more likely to believe, understand and recognize something as true when we’ve heard it multiple times – even if that information is false. In Fazio’s study, she found that repetition can even enhance an individual’s belief in a statement that contradicted their prior knowledge. As communicators, we can fight back by lifting up the most critical messages again and again and again. We can also use simple sentences that are easy to process, and choose designs that employ high-contrast colors and easy-to-read fonts – all of which help people believe information is “more true.” In short, we might not be able to erase all the fake news out there, but we can do our best to make sure the most important messages appeal to the lazy brain.
  3. Be you. No, the real you. Communicating as your authentic self is a powerful tool for reaching and moving your audience. The frank speakers who were themselves, who let people into their stories, were the ones we couldn’t stop talking about. Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, reminded us this rings true for our organizations as well, stating, “You can’t just be a brand of your words, you have to be a brand of your actions.”
  1. Be radically imaginative. Shanelle Matthews, director of communications for the Black Lives Matter Global Network, asked us to imagine a world free of oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamaphobia. Then, she pointed out we would all picture some version of the world that currently exists because that’s what we know. To fight today’s toughest challenges, we need to be radical in our thinking – in our curiosity and in our imagination. We have to ask why. Matthews drew us in by arguing that as communicators, we can no longer yell across the divide and expect to change opinions. We have a responsibility to share our experiences, to change understanding and be radical in our vision of and actions toward a better future.

Curious for more? You can watch all the frank 2017 talks here.

“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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