Communications 1o1 is a free in-depth guide to creating communications that is clear and persuasive. Everything from strategy to messaging to framing.
Sometimes I imagine what a great comms course would be. Most college graduates learn more in their first month on the job than they do in four years of college. Colleges need to do better.
Like them, I have learned on the job. In my 15 years working in strategic communications and writing this blog I have refined how I think about communications and the role it plays in campaigns and organizations. This reflects my experience and the best content from the blog.
Some of this content is introductory, some of it is advanced. At the introductory end of the scale I share the process I use to develop a communications strategy. At the advanced end I look at cognitive linguistics and framing. And a lot that falls in between.
I recommend bookmarking this page and working through it a bit at a time. It’s a great resource for anyone who interested in comms whether it’s your core job or a line in your job description.
A good comms primer. Strategy, preaching to the choir, a super-church case-study, ethics in storytelling, and why research is essential to good communication.
- A step by step guide to creating a communications strategy
What you need in a communications strategy and how to create one that people will use
- Why you should be preaching to the choir
Organisations that preach to the choir have one advantage over those who don’t: a group of passionate advocates who share their story.
- What communicators can learn from Rick Warren and Saddleback Church
Rick Warren successfully built a following of 40,000 members from nothing. Lots of great lessons and ideas for communicators.
- How to tell stories ethically
Stories can be a wonderful tool for organizations and campaigns. But they must be told without doing harm to the people in them.
- Three ways research helps communication
Research is critical to persuasive communication. Here’s why.
Narrative and messaging
Narrative (story) and messaging has been the core focus of my work. It’s something that’s not well-understood — they are different and complementary.
- Why you probably don’t have a narrative
Campaigns and organizations often talk about having a narrative — very few do. Messages are not narrative.
- A step by step guide to creating great key messages
Key messages are a key part of public communication. This step by step guide will help you develop messaging that is memorable and easily shared. Includes five key message formats/templates.
How to be persuasive
Persuasion is at the heart of communication. Aristotle was concerned with persuasion in Rhetoric and articulated three modes of persuasion. There’s also a video from someone more contemporary — Dr Robert Cialdini.
- Know the three modes of persuasion
A primer on Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion: appeals to authority, emotion, and reason. Must-know for all communicators.
- Three ways to build authority
Of the three modes of persuasion a speaker’s authority is the most important. Things you can do to build authority and persuade your audience.
- Why you need emotion to persuade
Appeals to emotion are at the core of persuasion. Nine ways you can do it.
- Why you should limit facts and figures
Speakers who rely on facts and figures risk losing their audience. Aristotle’s third mode of persuasion, logos, is the least important.
- A quick look into the six principles of influence
We all use Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion intuitively. What are they are and how can we use them to communicate effectively?
- Write visually and inspire action using Monroe’s Motivated Sequence
Monroe’s Motivated Sequence is a persuasive speaking format. It’s a variation on the problem-solution format that is visual and inspires action.
Practical advice on how to make your writing shorter, clearer, and more persuasive.
- Rhetorical devices — index cards for speechwriters
Rhetoric is an essential ingredient in speeches, but missing from many. 38 common rhetorical devices to start using in your speeches and writing.
- The art of rewriting: write — walk away — edit
Our brains are great editors. The best thing you can do to make your writing better is to separate your writing and editing.
- If you do one thing, kill passive voice
The easiest way to improve your writing is by writing in the active voice. Passive voice hides the villain, the problem, and the solution.
- The press release no-one could read (and how to fix it)
Writing must be readable. A UN press release was filled with management-speak and was unreadable. The fix: shorter sentences, simpler language.
- How to use fewer words
Writing shorter can be difficult. Software doesn’t help. Here’s one exercise that will help you use fewer words without losing substance.
Framing — a core concept in communications
If there’s one thing that communications departments at universities are not teaching enough of, it’s framing. It can be a tricky topic to understand. Here’s a primer with case studies on some key issues: global warming, inequality, and healthcare.
- Know your issue? You also need to know how to frame it
Every word and every phrase evokes a frame. But what is a frame? A primer on framing and how your comms might be working against your own interest.
- One technique for dealing with difficult questions from journalists
Bridging is a well-known technique to deal with difficult questions. But journalists are onto it. Reframing is a better technique.
- Don’t Think of an Elephant! by George Lakoff
The best introduction to framing. George Lakoff tells us how conservatives have dominated every debate since Nixon and how progressives should respond.
- The Political Brain by Drew Westen
Drew Westen’s book is essential reading for progressives wondering why conservatives keep winning. Packed with theory and practical examples.
- Words that Work by Frank Luntz
Frank Luntz’s Words that Work is a valuable part of the toolkit for communicators. It’s full of great lessons in creating language that works.
- “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”
Words are easily forgotten, but feelings and emotions are seared in the minds of everyone. Understanding that is the key to better writing.
- Affordable Care Act or Obamacare? A lesson in framing
Barack Obama and Democrats broke a cardinal rule by trying to reclaim “Obamacare”: they used the language of their opponent.
- A language case study: ‘inequality’ and ‘opportunity’
President Obama’s “opportunity agenda” is a reminder that to get to the right solutions, you first need the right language. Framing matters.
- One message for Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections
A single message Democrats should run on in the 2014 midterms.
- Three things Democrats must do to win
They didn’t run on that message and were soundly defeated. Three things Democrats must fix before 2016 or it will be more of the same.
- Words that beat ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ — a guide
For people to care about global warming it needs to be made relevant. My guide shows the language that’s simple and uncontroversial.
If you work in communications long enough, you’ll be involved in a branding project.
- What’s the difference between branding and marketing?
What can we learn from Apple Nike, and Virgin? We can see the difference between branding and marketing, and why we need both.
- How one organization rebranded, changed its name, and achieved greater clarity
Rebranding can be a long, fraught process. This is how one organization rebranded, what they managed to achieve, and what they learned.
I’ve written a lot about advertising, but if you know what makes a good ad and how to brief your ad agency, you’ll be fine. Both covered here.
- How to brief your ad agency
Too many ads have no chance of being effective because the brief is poor. Here’s how to deliver your ad agency a clear objective.
- All great ads have a single idea
Great ads have a single idea. A single idea makes them memorable. Analysis of two car ads — one appalling, one brilliant.
I hope you find Comms 101 useful. It will always be here so bookmark it and come back to it. I believe that once you’ve read this content and understand how to apply it, you’ll be a first-class communicator. Enjoy!