Building a Bridge

Recently I’ve enjoyed the formidable task of helping the rector of my church communicate his vision. It has been a difficult process and, truth be told, I don’t think it’s finished yet. But it’s critical that he dig in and get it out there, for him to see the impact (or lack, sometimes) that these words have, to begin to offer a common language for our parish to use when talking about ourselves.

In the push to get this vision introduced, I had a conversation with a friend who doesn’t see anything compelling about this vision–and he was right. Parts of it are interesting, but the response to it has been underwhelming. “There’s nothing compelling about this. Where are the stories?”

I like facts. I tend to identify the who, what, where, why and how, communicate those as simply as possible and wonder why no one pays attention. Yet from the point of view of the person being communicated to, there has to be something compelling, something that communicates why this concept matters–and it must get their attention quickly, or they’ll move on. You may think since they’re a customer, a member, a donor, that they have already shown they care, and that’s true. But they are also human and if the gap between where their understanding lies now and where you’re standing is too great, they’ll figure they can’t get to where you are and move on.

What we need in these cases is to build a communications bridge from both sides at once. Start with what you know and and identify the details. This is probably your leadership’s side, the concept side. Then move to the other side of the chasm and show how these details have impacted a life. Putting a human face on your communications begins to build the bridge from the other side, from the side of your members, clients, donors.

The human story is what we use to make sense of the concepts we run into in life. I love explanations, but they are the middle of the bridge. They are where the facts meet the stories, where those last girders and cables are wrestled into place and tied down.

As communicators, our job is to build our communications strategy from both sides of the communications gap at the same time. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • From the leadership side, identify the details: who, what, where, why and how.
  • Identify the point: what concept, if missed, will make this communications challenge an automatic failure.
  • Craft a clear statement of the point, using active verbs and compelling language.
  • From the member side, identify a “poster child.” Is there someone in your group who already embodies “the point?” Get their story, their picture, and permission to use them.
  • Are there other visual examples of “the point?” Collect more pictures.
  • Are there more changed lives that illustrate “the point?” Gather more stories.
  • Is there a “credible witness” who can explain their understanding of the “the point?” This might be a respected leader, a client who became an employee, a life that has been improved. Get their story and as may pictures as you can.

In future blog posts we’ll look at planning a campaign from these materials, but you can begin by crafting the stories and pictures you’ve collected to draw your audience to “the point” in its simplest form at the end of the story.

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