Delivering the message in a way that people can hear. In a way that motivates them to take flight.
In our house we read a book called The Whispering Rabbit…a lot.
In summary, a sleepy rabbit yawns without covering his mouth and a bee flies into his throat and falls asleep so the rabbit can only whisper. A “community advisor,” he’s a groundhog, tells the rabbit that he must make a little noise to wake up the bee, “because a little bee does not bother with big noises.” The sleepy rabbit tries lots of little noises (my favorites: an egg, a bird’s wing cutting the air, a fireman thinking) until finally he makes the “small click of a bee sipping nectar from an apple blossom in an apple tree in full bloom.” With that the bee wakes up and flies away. And the little rabbit finally gets to curl up and go to sleep.
It’s a great book! My son loves it because we whisper part of the words and he laughs at the thought of a little rabbit covering his mouth with his tiny paw to yawn. I like those parts also. And I like the underlying message about saying things in a way that people can hear them. In a way that motivates them to take flight.
I think of that little rabbit often when I’m developing curriculum, working with community stakeholders, and doing training. I remind myself to be thoughtful about my message, how I deliver it, and the way I frame it in order for it to make sense. To make it matter.
Your message should above all be informed. By what and from whom depends on the audience/community. Gather your data through research on the topic and be prepared to cite your resources (hopefully you have more than one). Depending on the topic or community issue you’re addressing, resources can include statistics from reliable studies, experts in the field, community members affected in positive and negative ways by the topic/issue, historical and current political and social dynamics, and future policy and/or trend analysis. If you are drawing a conclusion be prepared to explain a logical connection between the data and your conclusion.
Frame Your Message Properly
Proper framing requires comprehensive research but understanding what it means to the people it touches is vital. Spend time thinking about the different groups or individuals you will present to and how they might connect to your message, how they might benefit, and how they might be negatively impacted. If you can, talk about your work with people from diverse backgrounds. Does it make sense? Does it inspire them, anger them, or surprise them? What questions do they have and how can you answer them? If you can’t answer them, what other data or people do you need to get input from? Go back and make adjustments.
Think About the Messenger
Consider who should deliver the message. Could, or should, it be done by or in partnership with a community leader, representative from the target audience, and/or other key stakeholder? Your delivery should be in partnership with your audience or group with whom you’re working. Allow for questions and answer them thoughtfully if you know the answer. If you don’t, commit to further research and follow up. Don’t pretend you know everything or know better than everyone else because 1) you don’t and 2) pretty much everyone hates that.
Putting it All Together
Proper framing is the sum of an informed message and thoughtful delivery. Framing an issue is important. Especially when it’s the issue no one wants to talk about. This is the place where you have to find solidarity and I’ll be honest, not everyone is going to get there. Give the group time to process together as a community so that they can make their own connections to the components that matter the most to them. Education is a tool and everyone uses tools just a little bit differently. People need time to practice in order to integrate information, tools, and practices so leave space in your training or meeting for the group to work with, puzzle over, and practice new ideas.
“Nothing about us without us” may seem obvious but it is so often overlooked in developing programs, curricula, and policy. If you skip out on gathering data from actual people and really, fully, openly listening to them, you run the risk of not having an informed message and/or delivering it in an ineffective or even destructive way, neither of which will have positive results.
The sleepy rabbit figured out the noise that made the bee think he was missing something and have to go toward it. So think of the rabbit, listen to community advisors, do your research, and find your tiny noise that will motivate your sleeping bee.
by Jessie Towne-Cardenas