Communicating in a Post-Truth World: 10 Strategies to Make Sure You are Heard

Communicating in a Post-Truth World: 10 Strategies to Make Sure You are Heard

So you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole where up is down and alternative truths trump facts.  It’s a challenging time – science and facts are under fire, a new lexicon is developing that normalizes “un-truths”, and people have a limited appetite for information that challenges their worldview.  How do you inform people about important issues and advocate in this environment?

Spend the time honing your communication skills so your organization can not only effectively advocate, but emerge as trusted source of information in this confusing landscape.

First things first, take a deep breath – you are not alone.  We’re all grappling with this strange time.  The cultural pendulum is constantly swinging, and eventually it will swing back to a more balanced space.  But until then, here are 10 practical strategies to make sure you are heard in this post-truth world.

  1. Identify your audience:  You are unlikely to sway your polar opposite, but you may find allies in that middle gray area.  Know who your “gray audience” is – understand their priorities and how they like to get their information.  Make it your business to understand what makes them tick and what they value.
  2. Understand what works:  Tailor your messages to answer the age-old question: what’s in it for me?  What’s the value for those you’re trying to engage?  Not what you think they should find important, but what they feel is important.  Here’s a reality check – no one cares what we think, they only care why what we do is important to them.
  3. Build consensus:  Regardless of who you are communicating with, find a point of common ground.  Work backwards to more and more basic and universal “truths” until you find something that you can all agree on.  From there, it’s baby steps to gain agreement on more nuanced issues. Don’t try to take huge leaps – you’ll lose your audience. Pick your path carefully: slow and steady is the goal.
  4. Galvanize your base:  Engage individuals with easy to implement calls to action and provide tools to help them participate in the process.  Build momentum and make folks feel valued and valuable to the cause.  A coordinated base can amplify your message far more than an ad campaign can.
  5. Pick the right spokespeople: Studies have shown that in times of trouble the most important communication element is the messenger, not the message.  If people relate to and trust a person, they trust the message.  If they they feel like a spokesperson really “gets” them, they are more likely to seek that spokesperson out for information.
  6. Be collaborative:  Have a conversation – a true conversation.  Don’t talk at but talk with.  Don’t focus on how you’re going to respond. Instead listen, invite dialogue, and be respectful of differences.  The point is to change the frame in which we communicate, not to “win the argument.”
  7. Engage your allies:  Get on the same page on messaging with your partners and like-minded organizations and speak with one voice.  An organized coalition is far more powerful than a single voice.
  8. Keep it real…but respectful:  Nowadays there is little interest in political correctness.  But there is a lot of middle ground between PC and PO’d.  Use a carefully developed but authentic voice. Never, ever sink to name calling, hyperbole or histrionics.  And when attacked…don’t escalate, don’t engage.
  9. Keep it tight and memorable: People have limited attention spans, especially on issues they don’t necessarily embrace. Boil your message down to its most concise. Be consistent – people need to hear the same thing at least five times before they remember it.  Make your message memorable so it sticks.
  10. Invest in your people:  Make sure everyone is on the same page.  Train everyone on interpersonal and strategic communications, even those who won’t be  in the public eye – all it takes is one cell phone set to record to make an informal remark a painfully public mistake. Remember, one misstep can very easily undo 20 perfect steps.

The bottom line is: PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. Build your strategy, plan for different scenarios so you can quickly respond and redirect. Success is not a happy accident – it’s the result of well thought out plans.  

These may be strange times, but strange times can also usher in opportunities. Not all organizations will be prepared to engage in this new world order. Spend the time honing your communication skills so your organization can not only effectively advocate, but emerge as trusted source of information in this confusing landscape. If you want to learn more about how Devi Partners can help position your organization to be a thought leader in a post-truth world, contact Amy at amy@devipartners.com.

About the Author:

Amy has close to 30 years’ experience in strategic communication and risk management. As Principal, she provides expertise and technical assistance in strategy, communications, research and evaluation to nonprofits, governments agencies, and other organizations.
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