Posts Tagged ‘communications’

How curiosity and camaraderie can change our world

When I told a colleague I was heading to frank, the annual gathering of social change communicators and movement builders, she replied, “Please change our world for us.” That may sound like a very tall order — especially at this time in America’s ever-unfolding story — but it’s exactly what all of us at frank hope to do, each in our own way, every day.

I first discovered frank and the Public Interest Communications program at the University of Florida when I received a mysterious email that nudged me to request an invite to the 2015 gathering if I thought I belonged. I did, and I was delighted they agreed. It only took me about an hour at frank 2015 to realize I’d found my tribe. I knew there were other people who do the work I do, but I didn’t know there was a name for this emerging field, let alone an academic curriculum. I certainly didn’t know there was a time and place where we could all come together to inspire and learn from each other.

The frank 2017 gathering feels more necessary than ever. Although frank isn’t a partisan entity, the majority of the work attendees do is liberal-leaning: pushing for equality, fairness and justice for all, among other things. And the precarious position of the United States and the world right now makes the work we do feel particularly urgent; it makes the solidarity of like-minded souls feel like essential solace in troubled times.

I’m honored to be part of the frank 2017 steering committee, which includes some of the very best and brightest minds in social change communications. Heading into the 2016 election, we were already talking about how to make sure the view from both sides is explored in this year’s talks and programming, which all center around the theme of curiosity. But in our planning meeting just days after the election, we all recognized that we face a particularly daunting task in the “post-truth” era. How do we educate people — and mobilize them to act and evolve — when it seems a large segment of the American population no longer cares about the truth? During that meeting, I personally felt a sense of profound gratitude that I work in a field where my efforts can make a tangible difference.

A few weeks ago, frank asked us to submit our burning questions of the moment — what we’re curious about right now. One of my questions asked how we can motivate people to recognize and believe in facts in the post-truth era. Another pondered how we continue our work for social change in the midst of animosity, anger and aggression from both sides, without losing our equilibrium in the process. It’s not just about making the world a better place, but also taking good care of each other while we do it.

These are just some of the many questions I know my time at frank will answer. I’m looking forward to this year’s gathering not only for mission-critical information, but also for the camaraderie of others doing the same work I do. I’ll be reunited with friends and colleagues and will meet new ones, knowing we begin united by a mutual concern for the future of our country and our world.

I’m still pinching myself that the frank community has shoulder-tapped me to be more than an attendee. Two years running, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a speaker coach, helping world-class thinkers prepare remarks you won’t see anywhere but frank. If you’re not going to be at frank, you can catch the livestream or re-casts. Every speaker I’m working with has opened my mind and my heart to new ideas, and I can’t wait to watch them shine and to absorb what their fellow speakers have to say.

This year, I also have the honor of hosting a “scrum” — the frank version of a breakout session. I’ll be leading a group brainstorm about how to use storytelling strategically to educate and engage the public around healthcare topics, with protecting the Affordable Care Act as one pressing issue. It’s work I’ve been doing for years, and I’m excited to share it with my fellow franksters.

The frank motto is “Don’t settle for small change” — a lofty aspiration, particularly right now, when many American leaders would rather see us regress instead of moving forward. But I have faith. I have faith in frank and my fellow franksters. I have faith in the goodness of people, particularly as I see how they’re taking action to protect what already makes America great. I have faith that change is possible, even at a time when we may feel immutably stuck.

I’ll be sharing my insights and experiences at frank on Twitter and Facebook, and will surely have more to say here after the gathering. For now, suffice to say that I can’t wait to reunite with my tribe. I am infinitely curious to discover all the ways we can help each other do more good. And yes, change our world.

[Photo credits: Top image by LAF Lines Photography; photos from frank 2015 and frank 2016 by Amy Lynn Smith.]

The power of storytelling

I’ve always believed in the power of storytelling.

It started in my childhood, with fairy tales and fables, and quickly moved on to stories that were based in truth, like Little Women and the Little House on the Prairie series.

LAF_6314Even back then, I was most interested in stories that taught me something about real life, so it’s no surprise that I use storytelling to educate and engage in my work today as a healthcare and issue advocacy communicator.

Storytelling’s strength lies in its ability to draw you in, to capture your attention and hold it, to make you yearn to find out what happens next and see how it all turns out. Personal stories can bring humanity to even the most complex concepts, making them approachable and putting them in context that helps us learn and remember facts.

I was delighted to see these principles reinforced at the 2015 frank gathering, which brings together people like me who work in the field of public interest communications — people who “speak for the greater good,” as frank puts it.

Many of the presenters talked about the power of storytelling. Chip Giller of Grist reminded us that we all have stories — it’s a common thread of our humanity — and that stories strengthen our memories. Mark Little of Storyful told us he believes we’re in the midst of a storytelling revolution because social media lets us tell each other our stories directly.

Of particular interest to me was Brendan Nyhan, a political science professor from Dartmouth College, who spoke about why myth-busting usually doesn’t work — and why people cling to incorrect assumptions even more tightly when presented with facts. I’m a big believer in fact-sharing, but it can backfire because facts often challenge people’s deeply held beliefs. “Throwing facts and science at people isn’t the answer,” Nyhan said. So what is? In part, he told us that values and identity matter when you’re trying to dispel misconceptions.

The way I see it, nothing gets at the heart of human values and personal identity better than stories. And I think storytelling is the best possible way to gently communicate facts. I call it “take-your-medicine” storytelling — the story is the sugar that helps the medicine go down. And it works. I’ve been using it successfully for years to motivate people to improve their health and their lives.

LAF_5753Everything I experienced at frank will help me build on my skills and find new ways to use storytelling to educate and engage. In fact, some of it found its way into the presentation I’m giving at the 2015 Plain Talk health literacy conference.

In my session at Plain Talk on using storytelling to boost health literacy, I’ll be educating attendees on the principles of good storytelling. I’ll use examples like The West Wing, which is stellar take-your-medicine storytelling because it teaches people facts while entertaining them with stories of characters they care about.

Especially in healthcare, storytelling provides invaluable context that makes it easier to learn and remember information. It provides a framework for communicating even the most uncomfortable topics. It turns what might otherwise have been a pile of cold, clinical facts into a personal story of the human experience, which is something every one of us can relate to. Storytelling is one of the best ways there is to communicate complex topics with clarity.

We all know what storytelling is. It’s part of our everyday lives. But storytelling is something many people don’t feel confident doing themselves. I’m excited to have the opportunity to help others shape and refine their own storytelling skills — the seeds of which were probably planted in childhood. With the right guidance, everyone can use the power of storytelling to make their communications more meaningful and memorable.

Photos by LAF Lines Photography.

To change minds, just tell the truth

Nothing is more powerful than the truth.

Just ask Theresa. Her mind was made up in opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Well, it was until she read some of the ACA success stories I’ve been posting at Eclectablog.

DontTreadI didn’t embellish. I simply helped people tell their own stories of getting health insurance — some for the first time, others despite having a pre-existing condition, and often for less than they were paying before.

I let the true stories speak for themselves. And Theresa listened.

Then, she shared her own story. Because she wanted others to know the truth.

Read Theresa’s story at Eclectablog.

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