blog: 8 things we learned from commscampnorth

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by Grace Conlon and Rosemary Davenport

This post was a round-up of ideas that emerged from commscampnorth and was written by two Homes Endland attendees.

  1. ‘Unconferences’ work! CommsCamp is set up unlike any conference either of us had attended before. There’s no agenda and no planned sessions. We were a little baffled by this initially, but it worked really well. Dan Slee invites people to pitch sessions, you grab a mic and then attendees clap vigorously if they like your idea. There were 30 sessions in total across 6 rooms (and fortunately 30 pitches!). If you pitch an idea, you ‘host’ that session and facilitate the conversation. Essentially it means people get to talk about what’s on their minds and you can draw on the expertise in the room.
  1. It can be lonely at the top. I (Rosie) pitched a session entitled ‘What make a great Head of Comms or comms manager?’. It was really well attended and we picked up lots of tips. We heard how it can be lonely at the top, and you have to be prepared for that as you progress in your career; you have a different peer network and you have to learn personal resilience in a different way, which is worth preparing for. But the overwhelming sense in the room was that you don’t have to stop being yourself just because you’re more senior. We also covered how one of the best things you can do to help your team is either saying ‘no’ on their behalf, or empowering them to say no to unnecessary work – ensuring they can concentrate on priorities. We also heard tips on how to hear what your team need from you – anonymous surveys were hailed as a way to get honest feedback – and how ‘moving across to move up’ means you gain a breadth of experience. As you progress in your career, it was also noted that you do less comms – which is worth considering if this is where you want to get to.
  1. Developing audience insight is key. I (Rosie) went to a session on developing ‘personas’ for different audiences; essentially ‘what does the archetypal member of this audience look like’ to aid understanding. There was a lot of debate in the room about whether this was a useful exercise (as audiences are rarely just one homogenous group; they’re much more nuanced), but the broad thrust was that the more you dig into your audience, the richer your understanding will be and you’ll be better equipped to communicate with them. I asked about how people ‘banked’ their insight and shared across the team / org – someone from the Department for Education said they had a ‘Knowledge Hub’ that was easy to tap into.
  1. We’re all suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Well, maybe not all of us (honestly, well done if you’re not!) but the sheer amount of people attending a session about this (from the most senior to the most junior) indicated that there’s a real issue on this in our profession. The room speculated on why this might be – is it because there’s often a view in organisations that ‘anyone can do comms’ or ‘we don’t have proper jobs’? No-one could really put their finger on it, but there were great tips for managing it – and Clare Josa’s book ‘Ditching the Imposter Syndrome’ was recommended (one for the Comms book club!).
  1. Networking is brilliant. CommsCamp is excellent for linking you up with people in your (broad) area. Our LinkedIns have been going crazy since the event, and we’re following lots of wise new friends on Twitter. The event definitely highlighted to me the value of being candid and asking your peers for support. After asking the room in Rosie’s session for any tips or guidance for junior members of staff looking for development, I (Grace) ended up having a great conversation about a potential mentor relationship. It proved in short, you can’t beat a bit of strategic networking to keep bringing in fresh ideas and learning from a broad range of folk.
  1. Change is constant. I (Grace) pitched a session on ‘How to create positive engagement surrounding change and transformation’. Given that it’s a new area of work for me, it was a bit of a plea for people vastly more knowledgeable to provide me with some hints and tips as I dip my toe into the world of internal comms. It was fascinating to hear the shared experiences and similar struggles people have faced across different organisations. A shared feeling was that ‘change is constant’, things are altering and updating all the time, and without regular and suitable forms of communication staff enthusiasm can become diluted and engagement can become challenging. ‘Think about your audience’; have an understanding of how change and transformation will affect them. The further the change is from them and their drivers, the less engagement you will gain. Show staff how transformation will work for them and make their life better. Be honest; tell people the truth, if nothing is happening, tell them why.
  1. Managers are your greatest communicators, equip them with the right tools. Another thing I (Grace) learnt from my session on transformation was about which tools are best to communicate this type of message. A resounding response of ‘face to face’ echoed from across the room. When discussing this form of communication, we also shared the combined struggles we have faced as communicators when the tone of our messaging is dulled in Chinese whispers across an agency. How do we combat this and how do we make our managers into skilled communicators? Equip them with the tools – We shared tips about management conversation packs, slide decks and supplementary videos to relay key messages from senior leaders, along with testimonials from fellow colleagues to create the ‘peer voice’. With all this, we can make sure our messages are landing with the impact they need.
  1. Cake, Cake, and more Cake. A comms version of the Great British Bake Off. Need I say more?

Grace Conlon and Rosemary Davenport work in communications for Homes England.

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