How to change conversations about internal communication

How can you start to change conversations about internal communication in your organisation?

This was the topic I tackled at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Inside conference on Tuesday, which had the theme #ChangingTheConvo. Committee member and Treasurer Martin Flegg @MartinFlegg has blogged about the reason behind the theme via his own website.

I’ve been asked to share my talk with readers of my blog, so this article will guide you through my session.

If you missed the conference, see this article for my blog by Matthew Batten, @CommsGuyMatt, Director of Communication and Engagement at the Diocese of Llandaff, which is part of the Church in Wales. Thanks Matt for sharing your key takeaways.

I love this pic below of my friend and the opening keynote speaker, Chuck Gose @chuckgose on stage at the conference. It was so good to have you over here in the UK Chuck, thank you to Social Chorus for making it happen.

Conference picture credits: Tynesight Photographic Services.

Defining the conversations
Before we start, and if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know this is something I talk about a lot… Let’s define the difference between internal communication and internal communications.

This slide below was actually meant to be in my presentation on Tuesday, but the tech wasn’t quite working. The comfort monitor in front of me was blank (which is why I kept turning around, which I never normally do) and it skipped four slides. But keeping calm and carrying on is what every Comms pro does, right?

Here’s the definition…

I started my session by sharing a personal story about imposter syndrome and mental health.

Seeing as my topic was HOW, I then used the word to guide our conversation.

I broke my talk down into:

  • Hearing
  • Outcomes
  • Walking the Walk.

1) Hearing: What is and isn’t said in your organisation.

I talked about the conversations when it comes to all things internal communication/s related. I highlighted comments I hear frequently when conducting qualitative research for my clients…

I also talked about the importance of us hearing what isn’t being said, referring to one of my favourite quotes from management consultant Peter F. Drucker.

Sometimes the reason we’re not having the right conversations about internal comms is due to barriers. I challenged attendees to try and answer these questions for their company.

We then looked at internal narratives and Imposter Syndrome and I played audio recordings of fellow IC pros detailing their thoughts on it. I talked about the work I’ve done over the past four years to focus on my own mind and mental health.


I defined Imposter Syndrome using the following quotes from Clare Josa, who is an authority on the topic and has a fantastic new book out called Ditching Imposter Syndrome. I recommend checking out her website for more info. Thanks Clare for giving me permission to reference your work this week.

2) Outcomes: Getting intentional.

If you’ve been to one of my Masterclasses or team training days, chances are we will have talked about getting intentional.

This is my magic formula, or secret weapon as I described it on Tuesday. I bear this in mind when planning any form of communication. Why? If you don’t know the answer to at least one of these questions, you can’t possibly measure.

In other words: If you don’t know what you intend to achieve, how will you know when you’ve done so?

I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. If you listened to the first episode of Katie Macaulay’s The Internal Comms Podcast in January 2019, you’ll have heard me talking about her book, Becoming, which is stunning and I thoroughly recommend it.

I highlighted this quote of hers during my talk and shared an example of failure in my own life, where it took me years to achieve the outcome I’d been striving for.

We examined outcomes further (or the so what as I call them). I talked about the need to not talk in terms of outputs, e.g. issues of employee magazine or number of stories on an intranet, but what your intended result was. For example: “As a result of this event/story/campaign, we have achieved XYZ.” 

3) Walking the walk: role modelling what good looks like.

During my work with Comms teams and in my Masterclasses, I ask practitioners to define internal communication. This came up in the Q&A  session Helen Deverell @HelenDeverell hosted with me after my talk too.

I was asked what happens if different people in a company define IC in different ways. I said that was the point of defining it – you need to be consistent in how you talk about internal communication and internal communications. What does good look like? If that’s too hard to answer, what does bad look like?

For example, your positioning statement about the Comms function on your intranet should reflect the conversations you have in reality with your stakeholders. How do you set out the stall? How do you describe the purpose of internal communication and internal communications? How is it then consistently communicated through the way you recruit, promote and induct employees?

I believe the purpose of internal communication isn’t telling people what to do, it’s to create a shared understanding and meaning. Only then can employees align themselves to a company’s purpose.

The role of internal communications is to help employees know how their work helps you cure more patients/sell more widgets/transport more people – whatever the purpose of the organisation is.

It shouldn’t matter who I ask from your Comms team, you should all say the same answer when it comes to defining internal communication, its role in your organisation and how the internal communications support the business objectives.

I closed my talk by reflecting on the fact what happens inside is reflected outside, both in terms of our company culture, but our mental health and wellbeing too.

My final thought was from the wonderful Maya Angelou: When you know better, you do better. After all, it’s why we go to conferences and invest in our professional development.

Following my talk, Helen posed her own questions to me and curated the conversations in the room via Slido.

Well done to Chair Advita Patel, Vice-Chair Helen Deverell and the whole CIPR Inside committee (pictured below) for your time and efforts in organising the conference. It felt like a refreshing experience to focus on changing the conversations about internal comms, moving away from the clichéd conversations and being honest about a range of important topics.

L-R: Advita Patel, Sara Tehrani, Katie Marlow, Jenni Kampf, Marsha Van Moorsel, Trudy Lewis, Martin Flegg, Debbie Aurelius, Sam Butterworth, Daniel Holden and Noel Armstrong.

Conference picture credits: Tynesight Photographic Services.

Did you attend the conference? What were your takeaways? What are you going to do differently as a result of what you heard? As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or you can find me on Twitter @AllthingsIC.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: How to write a speech.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: Hire me as a speaker for your event.

Learn about Internal Communication with Rachel

The dates for my remaining Masterclasses for 2019 are all on my website. Your investment is £599 +VAT per course. Nonprofit organisations and CIPR and IoIC members can benefit from a 20% discount. See the monthly Masterclasses page for all you need to know.

Are you new to internal communication? If so, my upcoming Internal Communication Masterclass on 29 January 2020 is for you. It’s taking place at the All Things IC Hub in London and is suitable for people working in internal communication who are looking for a confidential space to learn, ask questions and air their challenges and ideas.

Perhaps you’re fairly new in role or have found yourself responsible for IC. Or maybe you’ve never studied comms before and would like to learn more. This is the course for you.

(If you’ve been working in comms for more than five years, the Strategic Internal Communication Masterclass on 11 February 2020 will suit you better).

You’ll leave with practical skills and confidence to:

  • Understand the role of internal communication
  • Know what the different communication channels are and how to choose
  • Combine theory with practice
  • Know the latest trends
  • Understand planning, strategy and stakeholders
  • Know what’s working and how to make the most of what you have (measurement).

What’s it like to attend a Masterclass with me? Read blogs by Advita Patel and Jenni Kampf.

Upcoming courses are:

Further reading: What it’s like to attend a Comms Director Mastermind.

Thank you for stopping by


First published on the All Things IC blog 12 October 2019.


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