Carole Farrar continues her series on communication with parents.
We have probably all at some time sat in a meeting, attended a presentation or taken part in a workshop and wished we were elsewhere! For busy parents, there is little worse than the feeling that you are wasting your time. However, with careful preparation, group communication can work very well and parents can get the right messages in the right ways.
Purpose and outcome
Before you hold any meeting with your parents you need to consider why you want to have it. Think about what purpose it will serve and what will be the most effective method of achieving your goals. Good group communication must have a clear purpose. This may be to:
- give information – for example, about dealing with headlice
- consult – perhaps about the services parents would like to be able to access through the setting
- generate ideas – for example, for fundraising activities
- gather information – such as feedback about how the setting might improve its induction and transition procedures
- educate – perhaps about the importance of play.
Intended outcomes must be carefully thought through to ensure the most effective organisational model is chosen. For example, will a ‘hands-on’ workshop get your message across better than a formal presentation? Do you need all of the parents present, or does the message only affect some groups? Would it be best to meet during the session or would it be more appropriate to an evening meeting.
Well planned meetings can be a very effective way of achieving two-way communication. At best, they can provide fantastic opportunities to consult, gather information and generate ideas. At worst, however, they can leave parents feeling confused, resentful and none the wiser!
Even if your meetings are fairly informal, they should still be well planned to ensure they achieve their intended outcomes. It is important to:
- be clear about the target audience so that material is appropriate and no one is asked to give up their time unnecessarily
- prepare an outline of what will be covered in the time available
- choose a sensible time for the meeting – the end of a session may often be more convenient than an evening
- provide a comfortable venue, with refreshments and consider offering crèche facilities
- give adequate notice, and keep to your published start and finish times
- avoid jargon
- the person who is managing the meeting should make sure that everyone has chance to contribute
- issue a simple evaluation proforma so you can see what went well or what could be improved
- any action or feedback resulting from the meeting should be communicated to stakeholders as appropriate.
Presentations are an excellent way of getting information across. Again, careful thought needs to be given to
- objectives (why)
- audience (who)
- content (what)
- timing (when)
- environment (where).
The most successful presentations appeal to all learning styles, and parents, like children, will take in information in different ways.
To ensure that participants are able to process information effectively try to include:
- pictures, graphs or film for visual learners
- speech, question and answer opportunities for auditory learners
- handouts and resource samples for kinaesthetic learners.
It is also useful, as a colleague once advised me, to: ‘Tell them what you are going to tell them (brief outline of session), then tell them (give the presentation) and finally tell them what you have told them (sum up)’ as a way of ensuring your message is understood and remembered!
Giving a presentation can be a nerve-wracking experience – even for seasoned professionals! To help counter this, think the session through carefully – and even rehearse. Collect resources in advance, check equipment to make sure that your projector or PowerPoint display is working, and don’t forget to check that it can be seen from all the seats you have set out. Think about where you will stand so that you don't obscure the view and have a back-up plan in case of technological difficulties.
Other tips include:
- speak clearly – ensure you can be heard and your resources can be seen by all
- maintain good posture, confident body language and try to make eye contact with a few friendly faces
- be enthusiastic and build in appropriate humour
- include anecdotes to bring information alive
- provide support materials
- keep it simple and concentrate on the message rather than yourself
- try to relax and don’t forget to breathe!
Afterwards, don’t forget to thank everyone for attending and let them know how to get further advice or information. Remember to ask for evaluative feedback.
Above all, be open, friendly and show you value the interest of your parents.