Make Your Words Ring

Public affairs issues can be complex, which puts the burden on you to make your points clearly, crisply and persuasively.Communicating about a complex public issue is difficult enough without complicating the challenge with a welter of words. Crisp thinking, lean language and engaging tools are better suited to this public affairs job.

The key is to put yourself into the shoes of your target audience and frame what you say so it anticipates and answers their questions and explains why they should care.

It is tempting to write everything you know rather than zero in on significant benefits to your audience and the larger community. Your audience most likely is uninterested in a college lecture on your subject. Give them your research-tested key messages, while offering easy ways to access deeper information for those who want to know more.

You should edit what you write for clarity and ensure your words pack a punch. Passive voice, convoluted sentence structure and technical jargon impair the ability of your audience to understand what you mean. Meet your audience more than halfway by using active verbs, relevant metaphors and straightforward sentences. For example, convert "Downstream water quality has a requirement that we treat the sewage first" to "Downstream water quality demands treating sewage first" — five fewer words, much clearer message. 

Effective communications extend beyond prose. Think in terms of visual communications, with images, infographs and video that add depth of meaning, context and a personal face to your words. A well-designed chart can package your points in a familiar format.

The best communications will miss their mark if they aren't conveyed in channels where your audience pays attention. Select the best mix of channels to reach your audience, sustain their interest and maintain contact. Special-issue websites are usually part of the mix, but they are under-utilized without tools that push people to find and click on the website. Those tools can range from promoted social media posts to door-to-door outreach in a specific neighborhood.

For many public issues, people aren't content only as spectators. They want to interact, voice concerns or ask questions. Smart public affairs professionals take this into account and leverage the interactivity their communications generate. In today's environment, openness to dialogue is a credibility-building must. 

One of the biggest failures in public affairs communications is not asking for support. Can you imagine a salesman forgetting to ask for a sale? Yet many issue-specific websites and other communications tools overlook asking people to express support while providing a convenient avenue for them to do so.

Busy people aren't just waiting around to listen to you. You have to get their attention, make your points persuasively and give them a meaningful way to respond. The best guide you have can have is don't waste people's time with lazy, sloppy communications. Take the time to make your words ring.