What if you don’t feel qualified to speak about a particular topic but it’s your job as the school or district communications person – or you’ve decided to make it your job? Perhaps an opportunity has presented itself – you see a gap in a service at your school or on any of your communications platforms. Alternatively, it could be that no one is talking about a particular topic that needs to be addressed. Or you’ve been asked to handle a problem that has surfaced – maybe it’s that information is missing – someone has asked a question but no answer presently exists. You ask yourself the obvious next question: What is needed in this situation? A poster? A website? A town hall meeting? Clearly, you need a plan and fast!
One relevant example comes to mind. Our collective experience this past year has turned the general population into pandemic specialists…COVID-19 came at us from left field. The world went from having spotty knowledge about infectious viruses and their increasingly virulent strains to being fully briefed and equipped with masks, hand sanitizer and the ability to size up and keep 2 meters/6 feet apart from others with just a glance. As the person who disseminates this kind of information, you’ve had to keep abreast of COVID-19 developments, ready if you’re asked about new strains, accepted protocol, and the emerging new science about vaccinations this school year.
That’s just one example of where you’ve had to grow your expertise on a complex medical topic. How would you handle a request for expert content on other unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable topics?
The list of areas needing expertise could be many but have no fear, you’re a rock star and can be trusted with any topic that comes your way!
You step up and you embrace the challenge, even if you’re not an expert in any of these topics! Before you race off to get started, take stock of what you bring to the table – your resourcefulness and experiences. Then use this list of best practices for creating expert content, even if you aren’t yet the expert you need to be. With your confidence girded, you’ll be equipped and ready to generate helpful content on just about any topic.
The topic may feel overwhelming or the expectations may be especially high – no matter what, though, you know you’re up for the challenge because of these 3 facts:
To be an expert is about being trusted. Start by thinking about similar problems you’ve faced in the past. Maybe you don’t have the expertise usually needed for the problem you face, but you’re trusted as someone who is unflappable in the face of stressful situations. Consider what you bring to the table. You have credentials and experiences that you draw from to solve problems. You know how to research a topic and you will consult experts as needed. You’re a great communicator and know how to distill a complex subject into simple terms that everyone will understand. Your confidence will get you started and your skills will make it possible for you to complete your mission. You are trusted as someone who will get the job done!
You not only know your audience but you also care about them! You know they need the information you have to share. You listen to and understand the needs of your audience. It is because of the work you have completed in the past that you have confidence in your ability to meet the current task head-on, even if you feel out of your depths with the topic…at the moment. Your value to your audience grows each time you step up to a challenge with an appropriate course of action. You’re able to make the connection for your audience between the information or solution you’re providing and the problem they have, even if they aren’t aware yet that it is a problem.
Your research skills have been honed over time and they have served you well in the past – they will serve you well again. You know the value of doing a thorough job researching a topic until you have grasped the essentials and can formulate a solid foundation of knowledge. You’re prepared to reach out to experts and consult them for their insight, wisdom and advice. You’re skilled at distilling the research into a simplified message that will help your target audience. You’ll anticipate your audiences’ questions and will answer them. You are a trusted member of your school team and the go-to person when situations like the one you face arise.
In other words – you’ve got this! Use these best practices to help get you started on the right foot.
With your confidence bolstered, you’re ready to use these steps to guide your efforts from start to finish.
Before you sit down to begin writing the content you need, establish a clear goal for your work. What is the desired outcome? Take into consideration what the expectations are for the expert content. Has someone defined that for you or do you need to establish it for yourself? Have the kind of conversations at the outset of your planning process that make it possible to execute your plan to the satisfaction of all interested audiences. An added benefit to this step is it will make it easier to stay on task and focused on achieving your goal.
Consult as many people and other information-rich resources as your timeline will allow. Develop a database of contacts of people you can reach out to when you need help, adding notes to each entry about their particular areas of expertise and availability. Keep your database secure but accessible, and remember to update it routinely, adding to and deleting contacts as needed – you’ll feel more confident if you decide to share it. Remember to cite or thank contacts, either formally or informally, if you use their expertise. For example, a colleague in a communications role in another district may have content they’re willing to share on a similar topic. A note of thanks or credit for the help is always appreciated. By reaching out to others, you’re acknowledging an important community available to you, that you don’t work in a vacuum. Besides, involving others opens opportunities for you to reciprocate the favour, to help others when your areas of expertise are needed.
Your database may include these kinds of people and other helpful resources for information and fact-checking:
If you’ve already set realistic parameters for the kind of information you plan to collect before the writing begins, you’ll find it easier to stay on track and to build up a foundation of knowledge – expertise if you will – on the topic at hand. Collect information from a variety of reliable sources so that your perspective is balanced. Your research should include consultation with trusted and respected community members with a broader knowledge base than yourself. Use Google judiciously, being wary of sites that are marketing something rather than informing and fact check when in doubt. Once you have a handle on the topic and possibly the first draft, return to those you have consulted-with more expertise than you-to discuss what you have learned.
It will be tempting to jump from taking notes to actual writing as you’re completing the research phase. Instead, take time to map out a plan for the writing period with section checkpoints, word count goals and topic deadlines. If you’re crunched for time, do this step concurrently while you’re conducting your research.
Once you’re ready to write, don’t let other projects get in the way – of course, this is much easier said than done. Here are a few tips to help you stay the course:
- “The information provided on this site is not intended as medical advice; please consult a doctor…” or
- “The author assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site.”
Once you’ve completed the job of matching the content to the communication platforms where it will be available, remember to build in a feedback option. At this point, you’re ready to hit send or publish or print. Your expert content then will be delivered to your intended audience. Prepare for reactions to your message and even increased attention – both positive and negative. How will you handle both? Feedback is helpful because it lets you know if you achieved your goal. You’ll want to collect the feedback you receive; it may be important qualitative information to share with others. Respond to it if appropriate. It certainly can help you improve your efforts in the future.
When you step out of your comfort zone, your skills and confidence grow. Creating content in a subject that is unfamiliar or even uncomfortable may push you in a new direction, but it also may begin to grow your “expert” quotient in the eyes of others too.
If your efforts at solving this one problem are effective, you may find your expertise is in demand. Rarely is an effective and successful communication campaign of any kind a one-and-done. Be prepared… you may become the go-to person for similar or completely different kinds of “expert content” for future information campaigns. That’s called job security!
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