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Keep your employee communications simple

Posing with Ina Garten during her October 2010 book signing event at Sur La Table in Arlington, Va.
Posing with Ina Garten during her October 2010 book signing event at Sur La Table in Arlington, Va.
Susan C. Rink

Earlier this week, my friends and I – along with a couple thousand D.C.-area residents, waited patiently outside Sur La Table in Arlington, Va. for more than two hours to meet Ina Garten, The Food Network’s “Barefoot Contessa.” And it was worth every minute.

Garten – in town to promote her latest cookbook, “How Easy is That?” – is one of my favorite celebrity foodies.

Unlike many of today’s self-proclaimed experts, she never talks down to her viewers (that’s right, Alton Brown), she doesn’t slap her name on pet food products (yup, I’m talking about you, Rachel Ray), and she doesn’t overly-complicate her recipes with ingredients you can only find in a pricey boutique in Manhattan (what’s wrong, Martha Stewart – is regular honey not good enough for you?).

With Garten you get elegant food that is both visually pleasing AND accessible to the average cook. In short, Ina Garten keeps it simple.

I’m often asked how my culinary background prepared me for a background in the communications field. Believe it or not, there are a number of skills common to both professions. Creativity, attention to detail, and the ability to multi-task are just a few examples.

Garten’s culinary style is a great example of another skill equally important to chefs and communicators: the ability to deconstruct and simplify.

As employee communicators, we are often tasked with taking something unbelievably complicated – a new IT security policy for example – and breaking it down into terms that all employees can understand. We are handed a jargon-filled memo, along with flow charts and screen shots and asked to get employees on board with a process change.

Admit it – you’ve been tempted to take the path of least resistance and just push out that six-page memo from the CIO. But you won’t, because you know that this policy announcement is a prime opportunity to show how employee communicators add value to their organization.

We make these complex announcements easy for our employees to understand. We make it simple.

Just like Ina Garten, we make what seems to be a very complicated process or product more palatable to our audience. We take heavy, rich content and break it down into easy-to-digest bites.

Come to think of it, maybe I should start calling myself “The Barefoot Communicator.”

A big "thank you!" to the staff of Sur La Table at Pentagon Row who made it possible for us to take a group photo with Ina Garten. You folks are the best!

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