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Never, Ever, Ever Lick a Toilet Seat, and Other Things I Learned Last Week

The first piece of advice in my headline comes from my four-year-old son, who randomly chose this wisdom to impart on his babysitter. To my knowledge, no one in my household has done such a thing, especially now that I have a toddler who is helping me maintain some basic ground rules.

Beyond these family lessons, last week’s National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC) Communications School provided me (and many others) with all kinds of useful knowledge to take back to the workplace. For the next few weeks, I’ll share tidbits of information that was shared in the various workshops and pre-conference sessions. First up, crisis communications and leadership, courtesy of media expert Dr. Joe Trahan:

Quick Tips for Crisis Communications
• Do not disagree with policy on record with the media (sounds elementary, but sometimes media questions can subtly hint at flaws in your policy. Be aware.)

• Create “dark sites” (crisis-related web pages created in advance and kept offline until a crisis hits) that have basic information for a variety of crises. Once it hits the fan, you’ll have the ability to quickly post relevant information. Along those lines, have several tweets related to each, as well as a one-page summary fact sheet.

• Get your “top dog” (president, director, etc.) out in front of the crisis early. Make sure they are visible.

• Know your plan for mobilizing staff, but also know your plan for letting people go as you transition to normal operations.

• 3 C’s of media interviews: Control (always maintain it!), Competence (only talk about what you know) and Concern (demonstrate it!)

• You need one hour of prep for every minute of airtime.

11 Essential Ingredients of Leadership Gumbo

1. Knowledge: publics, goals, mission/vision, etc.
2. Accuracy: of all information that comes in and goes out.
3. Training: cross train all employees to do someone else’s job.
4. Response/Leadership: a leader must love their people. Listen to them, overlook their shortcomings. Voice your support and enthusiasm for them.
5. Information & Ideas: Reward creativity and candid comments.
6. Nothing Held Back: Maximum disclosure and minimum delay.
7. Access: Do you truly have an open door or is it just talk? Leadership by roaming – walk around and talk to your employees.
8. Resources: Do you have the right communications tools to reach all of your audiences?
9. Internal Audiences: What do they want? Recognition. Say “thank you!”
10. Teamwork: Everybody has a role and they must contribute as a whole.
11. Authority: Who is going to speak for the organization?

Who else learned something?

Advanced Social Media
Aileen Horgan of Granicus, one of the exhibitors at the conference, summed up some really cool tools for advanced social media and web technology in her Connecting Government blog. The presentation on free web 2.0 tools was conducted by GovLoop’s Andrew Kzmarzick and Meagan Dorsch of the National Conference of State Legislature.

How Important is NAGC?
NAGC Professional Development Director John Verrico learned that some people will go out of their way, and overcome both financial and physical challenges, to attend this conference and further their professional development:

As members of the National Association of Government Communicators, we have an idea of how special an organization this is. The professional development and networking opportunities are unsurpassed. We learned at last week’s NAGC Communications School that others also recognize the importance of what we do – so much so that nothing would keep them away.

Several speakers traveled long distances to be there, without any reimbursement for their expenses. The few paid speakers we had cut their rates by significant amounts, in most cases, cutting their normal fees in half. Peter Tork wrote a special performance just for the NAGC President’s Reception. One of our panelists had major surgery the week prior to the School and postponed a high-level meeting at the Pentagon in order to attend.

Parule Basa-Barua, one of the panelists in the long format media panel, showed up Thursday on crutches. She had tripped on a sewer drain and injured both her ankles the evening before her presentation. She was in a great deal of pain, but did not want to disappoint us so she bought crutches and forced herself to come be part of our panel. We learned afterwards, that her injuries were more severe than she thought. She finally went to the hospital Friday and discovered that both her ankles were fractured! Wow! As much pain as she was in, she insisted on showing up!

That’s how important NAGC is!

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