JARGON BUST: Remember to speak plain English and 21 other pieces of advice for people starting off in public sector comms


Have you ever wondered what piece of advice you’d share with someone starting in public sector comms?

Some of the finest minds from Police, fire, central government, NHS, ambulance and local government put their thinking caps on.

A thread in the wonderful Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group chipped in with some pearls of wisdom.

Great if you are looking to start in the public sector but also handy if you’ve been around for a while.

Being able to write is just the start

“Good writing skills are good to arrive with – but more important is attitude: an interest in people and the services your organisation delivers, proactivity and determination are essentials.” – Bridget Aherne.

“Keep asking questions. Mostly why?” – Esme Yuill.

“Find a few folk in your working life where when faced with a difficult situation ask yourself what would they do right now. What would they say? How would they react?” – David Grindlay.

Savour your successes

“At times it’ll feel like you can’t please anyone. Save every thank you and remember that those actually represent the silent majority who do appreciate your organisation and what you do.” – Lisa Potter.

Listen in jargon but speak in plain English

“To avoid the jargon, first you must learn the jargon. Sometimes you need to make a real effort to understand what internal projects and messages mean, so that you can translate that into something that makes sense to the public.” – Paul Darrigan.
“Maintain an inability to understand council speak. You’re the filter between the complex bureaucracy of the council and the real world that everyone else inhabits. Keep it that way.” – Richard Wells.

You’ll need pen and paper always

“Don’t go anywhere without a notebook and pen.” – Matt Barnard.

You are serving the public

“You chose to serve the public and make a difference to people’s lives when they need you the most. Don’t ever forget that.” – Kate Pratt.
“Always remember that you and your family use public sector services – put your *insert family member here* in front of the content, controversy, idea or emergency to help figure out angles, value and the ‘so what?’ factor.” – Joy Hale

Change is constant

“In our case the only certain thing you will experience is uncertainty.” – Kathryn Hall
Never assume anything.” – Eilidh Murray
“Suspend disbelief so nothing will surprise you.” – Heather Turner
“Perspective, perspective, perspective. It could always be worse.” – Joanna Richardson

Don’t jump in immediately, take your time

“Spend a lot of time listening at first so you get to understand what makes the project/team/organisation tick. And there’s no such thing as a stupid question.” – Tim Ward.
“Hold back to learn about the Politics with a big P and the politics with a little p before you plough in. Find the people who really get things done and make allies of them – look behind the job titles.” – Kelly Quigley-Hicks.
“Give clear and honest advice.” – Nick Price-Thompson

The personal skills you’ll need

“Patience is a virtue.” – Ian Mountford
“You are not in control of other people, but you are in control of your attitude. Is your colleague annoying, or are you just taking them the wrong way? Are they nit-picking at your work to annoy you, or are they detail-oriented and conscientious? – Suzanna Arnold-Fry 
“Respect yourself as a professional even if some areas of the organisation don’t.”  – Philip Harrison
“Never lose your sense of humour. You will need it.” – Natasha Agombar
“Be nice. Good relationships matter and no one wants to work with an arse.” – Kathie Litchfield.
If you can’t embrace ambiguity and love it like your best friend, public sector comms is not for you. – Glyn Walters.

Know you are part of a network

“Use your professional organisation and peers for support and to keep up with best practice and to test ideas – it will strengthen your confidence in your professional abilities. This is important because championing good comms often involves some pushing back under pressure, which takes nerve and being sure of your ground.” – Claire Robson

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