engaging in a different field... literally

Engaging, listening and talking is a key comms skill. For the Welsh Language CommissionER this involves standing in a field - literally. In our first bilingual post we look at what engagement looks like for an organisation where cultural is a key element.

by Gwyn Williams

I’m sure we’d all agree that for effective “engagement” to happen it is much better for us, the communicators, to go to our target audience, rather than the other way round.

That’s why the Welsh Language Commissioner attends three large annual events in Wales giving over half a million people the opportunity to stop by her stand, to say “hello”, complain, suggest, demand, propose, enquire, insist and every other word that the thesaurus can come up with!

The common factor with all three events is that they are all held in fields. The Urdd Eisteddfod is a cultural competition for 7-25 year olds and alternates between north and south Wales every year attracting around 100,000 visitors over six days. The National Eisteddfod also alternates north/south but when the Urdd is in the north, the National is in the south. Again a cultural festival, but in addition to the main singing, recitation and poetry competitions on the pavilion stage, a wide range of “fringe” events happen on the event field. These range from lectures on science, law or art, through to panel discussions on the influence of social media on politics, the Miners and the LGBT community, the challenge posed by dementia for our health service and so on. Over 150,000 people attend over the 8 days.

The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show is what it says on the sign – but this is the biggest agricultural show in the UK. On a permanent site near Builth Wells, for one week a year it explodes into a celebration of everything rural. With 270,000 visitors over the four days, in addition to the agricultural and country community it is popular with town and city dwellers. It is also popular with politicians – the UK Prime Minister and UK Secretary of State for Food and Rural Affairs were at the show this July for the second year running. Naturally the Welsh First Minister and Deputy Minister for Farming and Food are regular visitors, as are any AMs or MPs with any rural voters in their constituency (and in Wales that means a large number of them!).

So what does “engaging” in these fields really mean? It means long days – the Royal Welsh Show starts at 8am and our stand closes at 7pm. It means taking wet weather clothes and sun cream – everyday. It means not really knowing what the next question or statement is going to be. “You’re not doing enough”. “You’re doing too much”. “You should be doing something else”.  It means knowing where the nearest toilets are (for you, your staff and members of the public that think that’s why you’re stood there). It also means having your corporate preconceptions questioned. It means explaining from first principles why you were set up, what you can and can’t do and why, even though that is a good idea, we can’t really, legally or morally do that. But most of all it means smiling, nodding, listening, explaining and talking to people. Or as the jargon has it “engaging”.

Gwyn Williams is Director of Communications at the Welsh Language Commissioner.