Co-Author: Catie Carreras
On June 13, I had the opportunity to virtually attend the Society for Health Communication’s 7th Annual National Summit for Health Communication. This year’s theme, “The Intersection of Clarity, Creativity and Equity,” was weaved throughout the interactive workshops, panels and sessions. The summit covered topics such as the role of storytelling and framing in public health, digital and social trends in health communication, centering equity and an audience-driven approach in health communication, misinformation, what today’s teens can teach us about the future of health communication, and the role of health communication in climate change.
The integration of ChatGPT and other tools that PR professionals are learning to use and use with integrity was a key topic of conversation. The introduction of these new technologies has changed the way we communicate and has many communications professionals asking provoking questions about how and when to incorporate these innovations into our work. The keynote session, “Trends in Health Communication: How They Impact Our Every Day,” included a rich Q&A where participants were able to share their own experiences with and hesitancies about using these technologies and why it’s so important to approach these tools with clarity, creativity and equity.
Of particular interest to our work at Vanguard was a session titled, “Communicating the Value of Public Health: The Role of Storytelling and Framing.” The panel, which included leaders Jhirma Alexander from Public Narrative, Mark Miller from de Beaumont Foundation and Dr. Carmen Valdez from the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin, explored how these tactics can be used to advance health equity, uplift underrepresented voices and shift the public health narrative.
Here are some of the key takeaways from that session that may be applied to your own work as health communicators:
- We all know that what we say matters, but how we say it is equally essential. We must be aware of the words we use, especially when communicating about challenging topics, and know what to leave unsaid depending on the circumstances.
- Defining terms and creating key messaging can be helpful to eliminate assumptions. Creating a glossary of key terms can be helpful in aligning the language of health professionals, communities, journalists and researchers. It also can be beneficial to create key messages that are tailored to your audiences. In the same vein, using clear communication is crucial; avoid jargon and buzzwords by writing in plain language to reach patient audiences when discussing research.
- Once you have drafted messages, remember to test them with your audiences to ensure they are relevant, compelling, and culturally engaging and appropriate. Receiving feedback directly from your audience helps to ensure that what you are saying is based on the truth and not assumptions.
- We must tell stories with compassion. Having empathy in health communication is necessary but not always sufficient; you can still do harm while trying to do good. Showing solidarity is better — focus on being there to listen, offer support and invite someone to tell their story if they feel comfortable. Elevating the voices of those doing the work in our communities or experiencing the impacts of particular issues through storytelling is a powerful tool to create change.
- Find trusted messengers and credible influencers. When addressing mis- and disinformation in public health, we must find trusted messengers and credible influencers and leverage relationships with those in authority. Include the perspectives of those in the community deeply impacted by the issue.