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‘Modern-day chroniclers’ hone skills at Fall Forum

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — Defining purpose, identifying an audience, solving problems and sharing calls to action were all key topics at the Baptist Communicators Association’s (BCA) third annual Fall Forum.

Held this year at the North American Mission Board’s facility in Alpharetta, Ga., the Fall Forum brought communicators from across the country together to hear about and present topics on storytelling, reaching diverse audiences in a variety of media formats, responding to today’s challenges in Baptist life, and offering the appropriate calls to action.

Judy Bates, BCA professional development coordinator, served as the emcee for the event, welcoming guests, and introducing each presenter who delivered a “TED Talk” type of presentation. Bates is head of the Mission:Dignity department at GuideStone Financial Resources in Dallas, Texas.

Award-winning photojournalist Stanley Leary, who serves as an expert in corporate communications and a consultant for Chick-fil-A, challenged attendees in person and online, asking, “What is your purpose? What are you doing for your audience? People are busy. For them to stop and take the time to read your story, they want to know they’re going to get a problem solved.

“One thing you need to understand is you’re a problem solver, not just a communicator,” Leary said during the Sept. 23 forum.

Writers must identify their audience, grab their attention, keep them engaged, and make them the hero, he added.

Charlotte Spivey, supervising multimedia producer for GuideStone Financial Resources, was an online presenter and focused her presentation on videography.

She emphasized providing engaging content, using humor and emotion, and making videos brief.

“The best practice for keeping your videos the right length is to keep it short,” she said. “After two minutes, viewership takes a dive.”

For a website, the goal is under two minutes, and 90 seconds is even better, she said. Facebook videos are best at 35 to 45 seconds, making them easily shared.

Spivey echoed Leary’s comment about a call to action. “What do you want your audience to do?”

“Your video has a purpose, and you must keep that in mind throughout.”

Former International Mission Board missionary Marc Hooks, currently serving as director of communications and associate missions director of Collin Baptist Association in Fairview, Texas, said, “As Baptist communicators, we are modern-day chroniclers of our faith.”

Future generations will look at what we’ve done in our present day and use that to inform their future, he said.

Hooks shared about Pray4everyhome.com, a nationally recognized prayer ministry tool Collin Association developed using a database of people in neighborhoods throughout the U.S. Those who sign up on the free site receive the names of 100 neighbors, broken down in increments of five a day, for whom to pray.

Hooks said that prayer walking is wonderful, but as a former IMB missionary, when he knew he was being prayed for by name on his birthday, it was special.

The goal is that every household in the nation prayed for by name. So far, nearly 1.9 million prayers were logged into the system and there are over 12,000 praying neighbors.

Mike Ebert, NAMB’s executive director of public relations, spoke about maximizing a leader’s impact and effectiveness.

Ebert emphasized knowing the leader represented, taking advantage of time spent with him in various situations, and understanding there are moments that being a communicator can mean being a ministry partner and a co-strategist.

The communicator’s role is amplifying the impact of a leader’s focus through words, understanding him or her, learning their style, being trustworthy, honoring the office, knowing the “big picture” of the organization, telling stories well, and having an action-oriented communications plan.

Ebert, referring to a David Ogilvy quote regarding the famous Greek orator Demosthenes, said, “You really don’t want people to walk away and say, ‘Wow, he’s a great speaker,’ or ‘Wow, that’s a great point.’ You want them to walk away saying ‘Let us march!'”

John Ambra and his wife Teresa reach over half a million people with their cooking blog, “Can’t Stay out of the Kitchen.” They use their love of cooking to share the love of Christ.

If you want to start a blog, John said, during a video presentation, think through things ahead of time, and know your audience, and what you want to say to them, he advised.

John urged would-be bloggers to learn from the journey of others, and discussed several other blogging tips: designing a template, keeping content backed up, engaging the audience, generating traffic, being regular, and being authentic. He noted patience is also important. It took more than four years to get their blog firmly established.

Amy Van Vleck, senior corporate communications editor at GuideStone Financial Resources, in a video presentation, gave some practical advice about using metaphors to help liven up communication — especially information or topics that have to be covered repeatedly.

She suggested listing three key messages, pulling out three key words and searching these key words on Google images to find photos that create these mental pictures. This can help provide metaphors, preferably in a theme, to be used in the writing and graphic design.

Adam Covington and Matt Miller, communication directors for Southwestern Seminary, shared 25 tips they’ve learned in their 25 years in the communications industry. It was a fast, sometimes funny, list that included practical tips such as, “Love the city where you live, or move to a different one,” “Even the Lone Ranger had a sidekick,” “Commitment is easy to break but a calling is irrevocable,” and “Integrity matters.”

The men both agreed there is a time to put down the camera. Sometimes people need you as a believer who will cry or rejoice with them.

The final presenter, Lori Johnston, co-owner of Fast Copy news service in Athens, Ga., shared about turning to and relying on the next generation.

Johnston said the ministry was “born out of prayer.” She and her husband were incredibly busy journalists but not finding a work/life balance. “We prayed about how to grow our business and have time for our church and for mentoring others,” she said.

By working with students at the University of Georgia, where Lori teaches, the couple was able to provide more workers for themselves, but also an opportunity to shape and mold a new godly generation.

Johnston said there’s a great opportunity to teach young communicators the knowledge to write and make videos, to be leaders in the workplace, and ultimately, to be a great example of Christianity through their workplaces and lives.

Throughout the conference, hundreds of people tuned in on Facebook Live and now, the conference is available in segments on the BCA Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/BaptistComm).

The 2017 BCA Fall Forum will be at GuideStone Financial Resources. BCA is a professional organization of communicators. Learn more at http://www.baptistcommunicators.org.

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  • Sharon Mager