Good communications skills change hearts and minds, win over naysayers, convince financial backers and motivate colleagues. In the social sector’s unoriginal veneration of business plans and policy prescriptions, it is all too easy to forget that the five Cs of social change are Compassion, Community, Courage, Competency and Communications.
Writes Michael Bungay Stanier in End Malaria: “It doesn’t seem fair that an idea’s worth is judged by how well it’s communicated, but it happens every day. So it comes down to this: If you can communicate an idea well, you have the power to persuade. The enemy of persuasion is obscurity.”
If you want me to read your blockbuster social change idea, there are a few tactical suggestions for avoiding obscurity and the delete button:
- Satirist Will Rogers heckled, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Make a good first impression with good grammar and a whole lot of re-writing.
- I’m a slow reader, so get to the point quickly. Write like a journalist. News articles first begin with what you absolutely must know and then provide additional information in descending order of importance.
- Are you feeling alarmed and frustrated – even panicky – by a sense of moral emergency, a sadness that the “invisible poor” are off the political agenda and that class, gender and race partitions drag on? Save your sputtering outrage. Tell me in simple sentences what you’re doing about it and how I can help.
- Tell me a story. No, not a heartbreaking story of destitution and misery followed by bragging about your accomplishments or your innovative plan for overcoming injustice. Tell me your story, and how it informs your vision and values for a better world. Before I engage with your theory of social change, I want to figure out if you and I are on the same team.
- Heed the advice of former White House Press Secretary and journalist Bill Moyers: “When I left the White House I had to learn that what matters in journalism is not how close you are to power, but how close you are to the truth.” (From 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century)
Advocating for social and economic justice is a love affair. Like all matters of the heart, it demands hearty communications.
– Jonathan C. Lewis, Host/Founder, Café Impact (original blog at Huffington Post)