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Effective Communication
Communication Skills

Effective Communication

The purpose of communication is to get your message across to others clearly and unambiguously.

Advocacy Tool

Tool 22. Audience Analysis
This tool will help you analyze your audiences

A communication plan should also be developed (with tailored messages to persuade chosen target audiences through selected channels), which will include:

  • The 'Ask'
  • Messages
  • Primary targets and secondary targets
  • Methods of delivery (messengers or channel)
  • Stakeholder communication (including feeding back of advocacy progress and successes)
  • Communication and liaison with allies

You need to be clear on your targets and channels before deciding on your tailored message. Remember that policy-makers (particularly parliamentarians and high-level bureaucrats) are bombarded with information. How can you make your message more relevant and memorable?

Formulating a straightforward, persuasive message is the key to organizing an effective advocacy campaign. The message is the theme of the campaign.

The main elements of your advocacy message should be:

  • A statement of the problem? Why you are lobbying.
  • Evidence - include statistics, comparisons etc.
  • An example – give a face to the problem (with an example or case study).
  • A call to action. Demonstrate a clear solution, and say what action you are asking from your audience (the ‘ask’).
  • The benefits of action and the impact of doing nothing.

The One-Minute Message

Statement + Evidence + Example = Action Needed

Keep It Short and Simple (KISS)

  • Try to keep messages as short and simple as possible.
  • Be direct, straightforward and memorable.
  • The job of the campaigner is to translate complex policy messages into simple and emotive messages.
  • Have recognizable sound bites, if possible in the campaign name/slogan/logo etc.

Ideally, there should be only one main point communicated or, if that is not possible, two or three at the most. Do not loose impact by weakening or complicating your message. If in doubt, test your message with a representative of your target.

Adding Impact to Messages

  • Develop a strong, clear message and stress its urgency
  • Tie your message into urgent political and social concerns
  • Repeat your message through a variety of channels and messengers
  • Creativity helps- use humor, metaphors, popular expressions etc.
  • Communicate in pictures too - ‘One picture is worth a thousand words’
  • A banned advertisement sometimes gains more publicity then a placed one!

Do not just send your message and then forget about it! If it does not receive a positive response, reinforce your message. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Re-send the message but in a new way: Do not bombard your target. Try asking others to write along the same lines, or bring in new information or angles, referring back to your original communication. If you agreed to follow-up on any aspects, restate your message when following-up.
  • Deal with any problems: If your target raised any concerns that could hamper progress, then find out the answers to these and deal with them (e.g. providing evidence, costs, pilot projects etc.). It may be necessary to involve new experts to deal with these.
  • Raise the profile of the issue: Organize media coverage or rally grassroots, celebrity or expert support. Start a petition or postcard messages to reinforce support for your ‘ask’.

Communication Skills

The ways in which messages are communicated make even more difference to their impact than their content. The following tips may help.

Written and Telephone Communications

There are a variety of written communications used in advocacy, The following are the most commonly used communications.


  • Research Report: This will be a lengthy and detailed report of your research on your issue. It should be presented well so as to enhance its readability and credibility.
  • Policy Report: This is a lengthier version of the policy or position paper (see below), and includes some of the research evidence and case studies. A research report may be lengthy (e.g. 30/40 pages) and would be expected to have a shelf life of at least a couple of years (i.e. it remains useful for that time).
  • Policy or Position Paper: This paper outlines your position on the issue. It is submitted to your target (either as part of a consultation process or after meetings). It should be as short as possible – between one and four pages long, but preferably a maximum of two pages (as policy-makers are too busy to read lengthy documents). It should start with a brief summary (including your ‘ask’). It will also summarise the problem and your proposed solution – as below – and should contain:
    • Your contact details
    • Brief information on your organization
    • An overview of your coalition/alliance and its membership, and its mission
  • A good policy paper should:
    • Define and detail your policy issue within the current policy framework.
    • Outline the possible ways in which this issue can be addressed. (the policy alternatives)
    • Assess the probable outcomes of these options based on evidence from the current policy framework
    • Give a strong argument why your preferred alternative (policy recommendation) is the best possible policy option

Briefing Note

A briefing note is written for your allies, to provide background on your advocacy issue in order to ensure that those working together on this are able to ‘sing from the same song sheet’.

It will include:

  • Facts, arguments, the ‘ask’ and messages.
  • The main aspects of your strategy, including any relevant policies and ways of working, your objectives, and agreed tactics.
  • ‘Sound bites’ that can be repeated.
  • Other aspects that will be helpful to allies such as: demands that are: non-negotiable.
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and how to handle any difficult issues.

It should be as short as possible, or have an accompanying Annex contained less vital information.

Fact Sheets

Fact sheets can be used as a guide to the issue. They can be used for either targets or allies.


Letters are frequently used to make representations to decision-makers on a particular issue. Although other means of communication (such as e-mail, fax or telephone) are becoming more common, if you are contacting a high politician or official, it is always preferable to write formally.

Letters should be brief (preferably no longer than one page) and persuasive. They should:

  • Contain the main elements of your advocacy message and request the policy maker to take specific action.
  • Use organizational (or coalition/alliance) letterhead
  • Be sure to get the name, title, address and other details correct
  • Ask for a reply – and include specific questions
  • Never use a threatening tone – be courteous
  • Ensure that the letter arrives well before any vote/decisions
  • Always say ‘thank you’ for any meetings, help, advice or action

Letter-writing campaigns are also used to demonstrate popular support for an issue. These can either use a stock letter (which uses the same version for all letters – with just the sender’s details added), or a list of ‘points to make’, that can be incorporated into individual letters by supporters. Individually drafted letters have more impact with policy-makers, but the extra work in crafting an individual letter may deter some supporters from writing. Elected policy-makers will pay attention if a large number of people write to them on an issue. However, the simpler (and less individual) the means of representation, the less weight they will give these.

Telephone Calls

If it is not possible to meet key policy-makers, telephone communication is another option. The telephone can be used to convey the advocacy message, and can be followed up by written communication (indeed, any points of agreement must be confirmed in writing). It does not lead to the same level of personal relationship that face-to-face meetings can provide, but is preferable to writing alone.

Telephone calls should be brief and persuasive, and need to be thoroughly prepared and rehearsed.

Telephone campaigns (where supporters are asked to call policy-makers to request for action) can also be used to demonstrate public support for an issue. However, they should be used sparingly, as they may irritate and alienate policy-makers.

Other Communications

Depending on your target audiences, you may want to produce other materials aimed at them. These might include posters, leaflets, videos, etc. When you produce a piece of communications material, you should always aim it at a particular target audience and be clear about its purpose in your advocacy campaign.

  • Face-to-Face Communications: Where the policy maker is receptive, face-to-face meetings are probably the most effective way of advancing your advocacy campaign. Their main advantage is that they enable you to build a personal relationship with your targets. The opportunities to meet with decision-makers are usually very rare. Therefore preparation (and practice) is essential to make the most out of limited time with decision-makers.

Advocacy Tools

Tool 38. Communication Tips for Public Speaking or Negotiating
This tool gives advice on verbal communications.

Tool 29. Effective Meetings
This tool provides advice on meetings.

  • Making Presentations: Presentations can be an effective way of influencing others on your issue. But you need to ensure that you make the most of any opportunities to present your case. When planning a presentation, the following need to be considered:
    • Your purpose
    • Your audience (and how best to reach them
    • Length of talk
    • Key issues to cover
    • Talk structure (Beginning, body and conclusion
    • Other activities which can be included
    • Balance
    • Use of audio-visual equipment
    • Whether questions will be taken and, if so, format and timing

Advocacy Tool

Tool 39. Making Presentations
A tool that gives advice on making presentations, including preparation, presentation and talk aids.

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