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Pick your target and aim: Effective communications

November 12, 2015

Some school communications programs throw tax dollars out the window. Not intentionally, perhaps, but that money is wasted nonetheless.

Those programs are failing to effectively target key audiences.

Identifying who needs to hear your message is only part of the communications process. You must also ensure that they receive and understand your message. That means embracing learning styles, and developing strategies that target each.

According to the Bepko Learning Center at Indiana University, there are three basic learning styles:

  • Visual: Learning is best accomplished by using objects that can be viewed, such as graphs, charts, pictures, or words.  Learning occurs in a closed environment without distractions.  Information that provides a big picture, and then focuses on details, works best.  Bright colors and large numbers also enhance the learning experience. Experts say about 65 percent of all people are visual learners.
  • Auditory:  Information is retained through hearing and speaking.  Often auditory learners prefer to be told information, rather than reading it.  Repeating information may also be important. This type of learner benefits from group settings, where information can be read out loud, discussed, and repeated in several different ways.  Music enhances the learning experience.  Experts say about 30 percent of all people are auditory learners.
  • Kinesthetic:  For this group, information is best learned through demonstrations, experiments, and field work.  Learners benefit from an explanation of how something is done, accompanied by an actual demonstration.  They also learn more effectively if engaged in physical activity while information is conveyed, for example, standing rather than sitting. Most kinesthetic learners are also visual or auditory learners. But those skills are enhanced by the physical activity.

Any information distributed by a school district must account for these learning styles or communications efforts will be wasted.  Say, for example, your district wants to implement a school safety hotline, where anyone can report an incident that may have an impact on student safety (vandalism, weapons, bullying).

A school board committee creates a formal program, establishes procedures, and selects a slogan and phone number.  It determines four key messages must be communicated: The purpose of the hotline, the type of information desired, how to report information, and a guarantee of confidentiality.  To ensure a broad reach, the group:

1. Creates a brochure and 60-second music video about the hotline. That appeals to students, the primary target audience. (Visual and auditory.)

2.  Launches the hotline at school assemblies, pep rallies, and sports events. It also flashes the phone number on scoreboards during breaks in those activities. Students and parents are also provided with brightly colored bookmarks, magnets, or stickers bearing the hotline number. (Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.)

3.  Posts the video on social media, and plays it over the school public announcement systems.  It also pulls still shots from the video for posters, and posts them in school cafeterias, gyms, on buses, and in public gathering spots, such as fast food restaurants. (Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.)

4.  Prepares a written announcement for parents.  The announcement is included in school newsletters, on blogs, websites, and in email communications. (Visual.)

5.  Utilizes civic communications vehicles to publicize the hotline, such as community meetings, websites, and newsletters.  (Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.)

6.  After six months, measures community awareness of the program, and retargets key audiences if necessary.

A communication strategy is not effective until every single member of the target audience has heard your message.  Embracing and planning for differing learning styles is the key.

Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach, Education, Policy
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