It was a lovely Wednesday morning of 5th September, 2013 in Washington DC. With temperature at an average of 19o C and wind at an average speed of 14 km/hr, the weather was judged to be friendly by both residents and visitors. Amongst the newest visitors in town was few United Nations staff from the field offices. They clutched their tablets and laptops jealously and with overtly expressed eagerness to get to the training centre ahead of schedule. They were eight nationalities, eight persons from three continents but with one mission: To sharpen their strategic media skills and get properly orientated in the procedures of the Department of Public Information (DPI).
“The training was interactive and helpful, thanks to DPI;” “All the sessions were professionally handled and the presentations, very enriching;” “The training was timely, engaging and participatory;” “It was an eye-opener.” These were few of the comments by the participants at the end of the training and orientation programmes, organised by the Department of Public Information (DPI) on 4 – 12 September 2013 in Washington DC and New York for newly appointed UNIC officers and some headquarters staff members.
Facilitated by Mr Moncef Bouhafa and Ms Erika Casajoana, of the Centre for Development Communication (CDC), the training on Strategic Media Skills (SMS) for Senior Managers held on 4-5 September, 2013 in Washington DC, started with the participants stating their expectations at the training. The participants expected that at the end of the training, they would be better equipped to manage any crisis; be more professional in handling media interviews; and be further strengthened to optimise the power of the social media to disseminate information; among others.
In his presentation on Communication Strategy, Boncef identified five components of a Communication Strategy: Audience, Behavioural, Messages, Channels and Evaluation. These he also referred to as the Five Management Decisions. He particularly laid emphasis on strategic thinking which he noted must reflect a system perspective; the strategic intent; intelligent opportunism; thinking in time and ‘What if’ thinking. Participants were reminded of the 7 Cs of effective communication: Command attention, Cater to the heart and the head, Call to action, Clarify the message, Create trust and Convey a consistent message. ‘In doing these’, Boncef emphasized, ‘you should be mindful of your verbal (Content), visual (Body language) and vocal (Tone of voice) messages you are passing across.’
In addition to the presentations in Strategic Communication, Crisis Communication, Using Social Media and Lobbying and Public Relations, the participants were also taken through extensive coaching sessions on handling media interviews. Erica, the Chief Coach, was in her full elements, providing real-live aggressiveness of a ‘hunter’ journalist in a situation of emergency. Each participant was recorded on video as Erica played the role of a journalist while each recording was analysed. The video interviews were repeated twice to determine if participants improved on their first performance. Sure, they did.
Describing her experience during the interview coaching session, the Headquarters’ representative, who is the Chief, Programme Support Section, Information Centres Services (ICS), Ms Danielle Loff-Fernandez said, ‘It is very revealing and quite enriching.’
The training continued in New York with series of induction sessions and further training which included the Competency Based Interviews (CBI); Performances Management and Development (PMD); and Video Storytelling and Social Media which was held at the CUNNY Graduate School of Journalism. To give the participants a robust orientation experience, teams from the Information Centres Services (ICS), the Knowledge Management, Strategic Communication, Education Outreach, UN Radio, UN TV, Department of Peace and Security, Partnerships and Africa Section, all took turn to engage the participants. The CBI training was another practical session in which every participant had to demonstrate understanding the CBI process and procedures in a mock recruitment interview. Of note were the misconceptions about the CBI which the facilitator, Dr Danny Mallonga, identified as: that all the candidates have to be asked the same questions; that you must ask a gender question; and that there must be a note taker during interviews, among others. He pointed out that these were not based on CBI. Participants were introduced to eight core competencies such as Communication, Teamwork, Planning and Organising, Accountability, Creativity, Client Orientation, Commitment to Continuous Learning and Technological Awareness; as well as six managerial competencies: Leadership, Vision, Empowering others, Building Trust, Managing Performance and Judgement/Decision-making.
The popular maxim that says, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected’ seemed to be in the minds of the NIOs and Directors of UNICs at the training when they, as if on cue, expressed their commitment to improved productivity on return to their duty stations.