Training Experience

Most training participants counted this opportunity among the highest quality, most interactive and most useful training sessions they have experienced.

Mission Impact

Most organizations say that communications plays a role in achieving impact. Some partly attribute specific mission-related accomplishments to participation in communications training. In these cases, it appears that training occurred at an opportune time: right before or in the midst of an important transition. “[Communications] definitely did [play a role in achieving a mission-related objective]. Sometimes on the defense. We’re working to explain what’s going on and what’s at stake, and we’re reframing the issue,” said one training participant. “I would say [training has affected our impact]. It certainly has given us strategy and tools. It helped us become more effective… keeping messages simple, being visual, questioning cognitive biases, developing communications based on research,” said another.

Leadership Buy-in and Support

With very few exceptions, interview subjects reported that their organizational leaders are highly supportive of communications. Leadership support of communications appears to be a baseline requirement for the application of lessons learned in training; however, unless the leader her- or himself attended training, training participation generally was not linked to changes in leadership behavior relative to communications. “[Our leaders] support communications. They allocate funds, and also time and energy. I can’t think of any obstacles,” said one training participant. “Training reinforced that communications is essential, whereas I’d been thinking of it almost as a luxury,” said an executive leader who participated in training.

Capacity

With some exceptions, organizations said they were somewhat to significantly limited in their communications efforts by inadequate staffing and monetary resources. However, many credited training with giving them a new understanding of the value of communications, which, in turn, led them to increase their communications budget relative to their total budget, hire new communications staff, contract with communications professionals, or all of the above. “Our major deficit has been having a staff person focus on communication strategy. I push the staff, but there is resistance in terms of scope of work and individual job descriptions,” said an executive leader participating in training. “I think that the influence of the training… the tipping point came after I identified a funding source and brought in a consultant to do an internal audit and assessment of our communications and to create the communications plan,” said another training participant.

Measurement

Measurement practices varied greatly, with some organizations measuring communications effectiveness extensively and others operating primarily through intuition—though many were taking advantage of the availability and ease of common web-enabled measures. Very few of those interviewed believed that training influenced their practice of measurement; many said they do not recall whether measurement was part of training. “For the newsletter and the website, we do the usual analytics and compare the use of them over time,” said one training participant. “I’m not sure there was a lot in training about measurement. It was more on the strategic side—not much regarding metrics. We may need a part two of communications training that would focus on measurement,” said another.

Materials

Communications materials submitted ranged widely in purpose and quality. Though some indicated that training’s primary value was improving their skills for creating communications tactics, such as presentations and websites, few organizations with successful communications materials indicated that training was a great influence. Training content on PowerPoint presentation was most highly regarded, though none among those interviewed chose to submit a presentation for assessment. Those who did link training to improvements in communications materials suggested that training occurred at an opportune time in the development of those materials. “[Training] on presentations, storytelling, websites, speeches—that was all hugely helpful. [To our surprise, the presenter] put up our old website as a bad example. We took his advice as we were in the midst of redoing our website,” said one training participant. “Training helped me shape my organization’s presentations. Personally and for my program I took presentations to a new level. This was easy to apply immediately,” said another. “We were in the middle of a web redesign—a lot of what we learned went into that web redesign,” said a third training participant.

Messaging

While many training participants struggled to share a set of key messages during the phone interview, the communications materials they submitted revealed adequate to strong messages conveying their identities, goals and activities. A significant focus of training and the Smart Chart, messaging coursework received very positive reviews. “I think we’ve gotten a lot of traction with our messaging about _____. We see the field doing this more. Also, _____ seems to be a big topic, a central conversation. Our tagline has been a great messaging tool—we have a theory of change in our tagline,” said one training participant. Another said, “I don’t have a clear sense of [which messages work]. I am not sure our priority areas are working. People tend to latch on to the one they know the most about and they don’t see the full picture.” A third said, “Messaging was [the] most relevant [part of training]. We have a greater appreciation that our messages were far too complex and we needed to simplify and change our language.”

Target Audiences

Many organizations have a developed sense of their target audiences and approach communications with these audiences in mind. Training content on target audiences was consistently described as highly valuable. “Based on the audience, we will tweak the updates we provide and change the call to action,” said one training participant. “The whole idea that you have to… put yourself into the shoes of your key audience members, think about how your message will be received by them and how you can tailor it to be better… Training sharpened our focus on this and helped me develop some real skills,” said another.

Communications Planning

Too many organizations pursue communications with little or no documentation of communications planning. Though some described training as useful to their communications planning, none of the plans submitted included a completed Smart Chart—the communications planning template used during training. “We do whatever we can do [relative to communications] in a project area, but there is no overall organizational communications plan,” said one participant. “Planning and strategy, target audiences and messaging—these [training topics] were extremely helpful,” said another.