There’s a time and a place for everything. But the best time for policy briefs is not six o’clock in the evening at the end of an all day conference. And the best place for policy briefs is not at a cocktail party, and certainly not floating on the surface of a hotel swimming pool.

Let me explain. I was at a three day conference recently, held at a very nice hotel in an African capital city. At the end of a long day spent in air conditioned ‘break out’ rooms and a cabaret style ballroom ‘plenary’ with no natural light, we were all looking forward to the cocktail reception. The reception we were told would be held ‘pool-side’ at the hotel. So at the end of the final session, we freshened up, slipped into something more comfortable and headed down to the pool for a well earned cocktail. The sponsors of the event had put up pop-stands to display their logo and corporate branding: great idea. But they had also put out tables at the entrance to the reception covered with piles of policy briefs: not such a great idea.
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I was one of the first to arrive. So I was there to witness the ultimate conference ice breaker. A gust of wind swept through the hotel, catching the piles of policy briefs and lifting them high into the air, only to then liberally distribute them all over the hotel swimming pool. Sometimes it can be awkward to start talking to people at a cocktail party, especially before the cocktails have kicked in. But not at this cocktail party. Everyone was chatting, cracking jokes and making friends, all because of the policy briefs floating in the swimming pool.
Policy briefs can serve a function but they are just one solution to one very particular communications challenge. Policy briefs are often as boring as the long research reports they were designed to replace. Earlier at the conference, while waiting for the break-out sessions to begin, they would have been good to pick up off a chair and skim to pass some time. But at a cocktail party? All they were good for, was breaking the ice.

Next time, try a box of hats, a photo booth, a close-up magician, a spoof TV crew or just a really, really funny speech.

Richard Darlington is Head of Strategic Communications at Well Told Story

Follow him on Twitter: @RDarlo

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