As I head to the frank gathering at the University of Florida, I have many reasons to reflect on learning.
Of course, there’s frank — “the gathering for people who change the world” — which I’ve attended for nine of its 10 years. Within my first day there nine years ago, I knew I’d found my tribe: people who are actively engaged in catalyzing significant social change. It’s work I’d been doing but wanted to do more of, and I soaked in every moment of the brilliant speakers, breakout sessions and opportunities to talk with people at all levels of the field of public interest communications.
Over the years, I’ve been increasingly involved behind the scenes at frank. At times, I’ve served on the steering committee and reviewed research prize submissions, but my most consistent and beloved contribution is being a speaker coach and, for a number of years, the gathering’s lead speaker coach.
As a speaker coach, I draw on decades of directing theatre and being a public speaker myself. I thrive on helping speakers shine onstage, but I greatly value what I’ve learned from every speaker I’ve coached. They’ve taught me fascinating things about the work they do, and the other lessons I’ve learned have been myriad, from helping someone overcome stage fright to knowing when to step back and trust a speaker’s expertise.
But my learning at UF doesn’t end with frank. That’s where I discovered the university’s online master’s degree program in Public Interest Communications. I’m graduating in summer 2023, and my experience returning to school after 30 years has been immensely gratifying. I already work in public interest communications, helping nonprofits, foundations and campaigns tell the stories of their work in a way that motivates others to act. But even when I took the required course in storytelling — my primary area of expertise — I intentionally brought an open mind and found there is always more to learn.
In every class, I’ve sharpened my skills and absorbed new ideas and insights from both my instructors and my fellow classmates. Part of the program’s appeal is that it attracts people of all ages from all over the world, making it a wonderfully diverse learning experience. And much like speaker coaching, the learning can be a two-way street. I was honored when I learned that a story I wrote for UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency)’s Innovation Service was on the syllabus for the Introduction to Public Interest Communications class.
Although I look forward to holding my diploma in my hands, I’ve been applying what I learn to my work after each semester. I’ve brought new ideas to my clients, inspired them to create value propositions, developed campaigns based on their goals that they can use if they wish — and sometimes, I’ve learned to think differently about how I approach my own work. I’m eager to bring all my knowledge to comprehensive campaigns in my ongoing mission to create great content for the greater good.
I have some idea about what I’ll learn at frank 2023. But there’s quite a bit I don’t know and I can’t wait for the delightful surprises frank always brings forth. I’ll spend the week there with an open mind that’s ready to absorb as much as my brain will hold — and there’s absolutely no question that I will learn something new every day.
Photo by LAF Lines Photography.