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Greta Thunberg PR communications lessons

Image source: Anders Hellberg [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Communications professionals can learn much from a 16-year-old Swedish girl with pigtails. Greta Thunberg captured the world’s attention and energized a worldwide movement against climate change.

She first gained attention when she skipped school to hold a solitary school strike outside the Swedish parliament to demand action against climate change. A photograph of her went viral on social media and initiated the Fridays for Future, a worldwide youth movement. She’s spoken around the world but is best-known for delivering an inspiring speech at the United Nations Climate Change Summit. In what’s called the Greta Thunberg effect, her actions influence the chances of advancing environmental proposals and the popularity of politicians.

Communications professionals can learn these lessons from the young climate change activist.

Be Clear, Simple and Consistent

Make your message as simple as possible and repeat that message consistently day after day, week after week, year after year, recommends PR veteran Sara Price, founder of Actually. Thunberg is crystal clear about her purpose. In every speech and every interview, her message is the same: “You are ruining my future. We are out of time. We need to act now.”

“Her passion is clear and it has helped her overcome depression, speak without nerves at events that most of us would find terrifying and garner priceless media attention,” Price writes.

Communicate with Poise and Emotion

Communications professionals, especially those at nonprofits involved in serious social issues, can learn much from Thunberg’s UN speech. She emphasized key words and phrases to drive her point home, unlike many speakers who read from a teleprompter. She held eye contact with the audience, point out presentation experts at Duarte. She didn’t smile once, even after applause, emphasizing the gravity of her message. She cited numbers but didn’t overwhelm listeners with complex data.

Perhaps most importantly, she displayed contagious emotions — at times, angry to the point of tears. “Great speakers give audiences permission to feel something by showing the emotion themselves,” the Duarte experts say. “She teared up, you teared up. She’s fired up, you’re fired up.”

Paint Pictures with Vivid Words

Thunberg speaks in short, simple sentences with words that deliver a powerful punch. At the UN she said: “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean.” The phrase “other side of the ocean” describes the great distance she traveled, explains Nick Westergaard, chief strategist at Brand Driven Digital.

Don’t simply edit to make something shorter, Westergaard urges. Look for stronger words that paint vivid pictures in the hearts and minds of your audience.

Embrace Corporate Social Responsibility

Hundreds of companies, online and brick and mortar alike, chose to support the Global Climate Strike. “These companies displayed a purpose that is consistent with the demands of a generation that is concerned with environmental awareness and betterment,” states Sven Klingemann, research director at the Reputation Institute. “Sharing and addressing the concern strengthens both consumer connections and the brand itself.”

Research shows that many consumers, especially millennials and younger people like Greta Thunberg, prefer to purchase from corporations with strong reputations and shared values.

“More than ever, employees are looking to join companies with integrity and a strong purpose so that they can be a part of a positive culture, Klingermann says, noting that Reputation Institute research shows that 66% of employees want to work for companies with strong reputations.

Bottom Lane: Greta Thunberg has become the face of climate change activism due to her authentic emotions and forthright communications skills. Communications professionals at both businesses and nonprofit organizations can learn from her example.