In June I traveled as a Legislative Fellow to Kyrgyzstan through a cultural exchange program. It was an extraordinary trip.
Pondering this trip as a public relations program, thought I’d share some insights.
A group I volunteer with nominated me in January to be part of the program. Come February I had not officially heard. I won’t bore you with the back and forth emails. Let’s just say it took several emails, nothing ever “official”.
Rule one: if you are hosting a program formalize a communication program to assure you have a welcome.
As days passed for the June event, I’d get random emails. Often with cryptic instructions, if any. And with very little turn around. I’m a very flexible person. I rarely enjoy details and can wait till the last minute, but I gotta tell ya, this was pushing it for me. I received an email on the 9th requesting me to send my visa to get to its destination by the 11th. Without really explaining what would happen to my visa once it arrived and when I’d get it back. I trusted in the process, but most people wouldn’t.
Rule two: save yourself the headache. You MUST communicate reasons WHY you want something. Rule three: Consider that not everyone is standing by email to read your missive–provide time for planning. And did I mention you need to explain to people why you want what you want and what you’re going to do with it? Yeah, do that.
I’m not exactly a world traveler. I’ve lived in England on a US military base; gone to Paris for a week; crossed the Mexico/USA border for six hours and ventured to Canada to two provinces. I knew nothing about going to Kyrgyzstan. The program director provided a conference call but gave limited info about what to expect. Callers asked about culturally appropriate dress, getting local currency, medical issues and received answers. We also were assured other information was coming in the packet prior to departure.
The “packet” turned out to be a very limited PowerPoint with only weather information and nothing really substantive. I felt frustrated with the very limited info. I didn’t even know what questions to ask. When I returned home and couldn’t exchange the currency because of its rarity, I realized I should have asked how and when to return the currency.
Rule four: anticipate every step of the journey for your group-getting there and returning. Make sure your materials start from a zero information educational basis. Don’t assume every person as done something similar. Yes, search engines can provide tons of information, but it doesn’t help answer the likely questions that address your program.
The trip was amazing and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The coordinator assigned to the project did a great job herding 7 adults. At the end she asked for a quick response evaluation about the project, with a promise that a thorough evaluation would be sent.
Rule five: deliver an evaluation. It’s been 3 weeks since I returned. I’ve had more time to process, if only they asked for my suggestions. Of course I could send them unasked. But it’s the clients who don’t forward insights on their own that you have to worry about.