Effective communication skills are essential for anyone who wants to implement change. Communication has been embedded in the IFSTAL curriculum since the programme’s launch and was the topic for day two of the 2020 online summer school.
After a roundup of the previous day’s sessions by IFSTAL Lead Academic Barbara Haesler of Royal Veterinary College (RVC), the first session focused on understanding your audience. Communications consultant Eleanor O’Kane reflected on how we need to step outside our own circle to really think about our audience: who are they? Which language(s) do they speak and understand? How much time will they have to engage with us? How can we be memorable? To show how choosing the right language and medium play a big part in landing your message, the participants were tasked in groups to consider how they would engage with four very different audiences, including schoolchildren and academics.
Ideas for engagement ranged from using real food, giving out foodie fridge magnets and running cookery classes to more traditional methods such as presenting graphs and PowerPoints to show the range of tools available when communicating with specific audiences.
Working with the press
Media collaboration can be an important way to amplify your message – that was the advice of Amy Jackson, Director of specialist communications agency Oxtale. An experienced communications professional, Amy took the students on a whistle-stop tour of the media world. She encouraged the students to see the press as an ally and imparted tips for being interviewed. Her presentation highlighted the need to go forth with a strong message, an engaging story and – ideally – some media training.
Storytelling plays a large role in engaging audiences, even when communicating serious messages to serious audiences. The final session examined how to distil the message and offered inspiration for finding creative ways to tell your story. It was timely advice considering the deadline for submitting the final 5-minute presentations was looming.
Engaging across sectors
Though it might not feature in her job title, communications is part of the job for Angela van den Berg, Commercial Manager at the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). In a short video interview Angela, an IFSTAL alumnus, explained how systems thinking and connecting with audiences over the things they care about enhances WRAP’s role as a catalyst for economic and environmental action. With WRAP engaging with a wide range of stakeholders including Government, businesses and communities, so skills in systems thinking, collaboration and communication really matter.
A short break for lunch and, for the students, it was on to the afternoon project sessions, where they could put their enhanced communication skills into practice.