As a government communicator, I wear many hats. One of those is helping the Census Bureau connect with stakeholders. Whether it’s speaking at a data conference, answering questions from local media or talking to stakeholders, there are many employees who represent the agency in public. Often, agency leaders are the ones conveying the Census Bureau’s vision and its overarching mission because they live it and lead it every day.
One thing I’ve learned, though, is that not everyone is comfortable with speaking, writing or connecting with the public. It’s understandable—communicating can be hard, especially when it comes secondary to your work. And not everyone understands the importance of putting themselves in stakeholders’ shoes and thinking about how to best connect with them.
My advice to other communicators? Make sure your agency representatives are fully prepared whenever they connect with stakeholders, whether in person, online, on the phone or in writing. We have to remember that not everyone has been trained in communication the way we have, so they might not think of audiences the same way we do—as customers. Our colleagues may also be closer than we are to the topics our agencies deal with, whether that’s safety standards, health research, transportation policy or economic statistics. We can help them take a step back and approach issues from different stakeholders’ perspectives.
Preparation means equipping your leadership with what they need to successfully connect with stakeholders and make the best use of everyone’s time. For example, make sure your leaders:
Know Who They’re Talking To
Is your colleague going to speak to folks in California, or New York? Are they speaking to policy makers, or health professionals? Understanding each audience they address will help your agency’s leaders offer relevant information that those particular stakeholders care about.
When Census Bureau leaders are presenting a report to members of Congress, say, or giving a speech to population researchers, I gather relevant information on each group of stakeholders, such as their geography, demographics, current news and events. Then I put together a brief audience profile that helps my colleagues understand what’s important to the audience
Understand How Stakeholders Use Your Products
Pull up analytics about how people use the digital tools and services you offer, including your website, online tools and applications, newsletters, and social media channels. If you have products that are popular among the particular audience your leader is addressing, focus on those analytics.
Look at qualitative information, too, such as online comments, tweets, and reviews of your products and services. With quantitative and qualitative data in hand, you can present your leaders with a narrative about what stakeholders already know about and consume from your agency, what they’re interested in, and even their perceptions of the work you do. And always encourage your leadership to seek input from stakeholders on how products or tools can be improved.
Know What Your Audience Wants and How They Want It
Now that it’s clear who makes up the audience and how they interact with your agency, you can help determine what information they’re interested in and how to best present it.
For example, if I was preparing a Census Bureau leader to speak to a group of economists, I would recommend a traditional presentation using numbers and charts that explain data and trends. But for a group of college students majoring in economics, I would recommend presenting the same content in a completely different way, such as talking about how to access it from our APIs or showing the data on a Census Bureau app. We want to inform students and also recruit them by dazzling them with our technology and dissemination platforms—facts that should be part of the audience profile.
Often, communication needs to come from the top, and when that’s the case, you want your agency’s leaders to be well prepared to understand and respect the time of the audience by presenting relevant information using an engaging format or platform. Leaders are extremely busy running the rest of the organization, but it’s important to keep the lines of communication open between them and the public. It’s the best way to remember who we work for and to learn what’s important directly from them.
Jeannie Shiffer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.