Whenever you are writing a story for the public, it is critical that you are abundantly clear on your commander's intent and how stories and messages are contributing to the desired end state. When the context of the message is misinterpreted, even in a subtle way, the results of the ask will be skewed. You can walk it back, offer an apology and try to put the toothpaste back in the tube but valuable time and trust will be eroded. Commanders expect military communicators to produce accurate, credible information that will lead to increased confidence in the Armed Forces and the legitimacy of military operations.
Communicating stories that align with commander’s intent is crucial to supporting the mission and getting your story to the right audience. Along with your own research, intent takes into account the target audience.
Commander’s intent is the description and definition of what a successful mission will look like. Military planning begins with the Mission Statement that describes the who, what, when, where and why, the 5 W’s, of how a mission will be executed.
Commander’s intent empowers initiative, improvisation and adaptation by providing guidance on what a successful conclusion looks like. Commander’s intent is vital in chaotic, demanding and dynamic environments.
When evaluating your audience, you need to be able to answer three questions: what is the point of the story, why is it important and who cares about this topic? Knowing these answers will not only make your story more applicable to the relevant actors, but will also help you assess sentiment and effectively capture changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors.
Commander’s intent is typically broad enough to align with a relevant story. Find the best angle that allows you to creatively tell the story to connect with your audience, answer a question, or solve a problem, while still aligning with your commander’s intent.
For example, if the commander’s intent is to make the base safer and problems on base include motorcycle and car accidents, you might write a narrative to address these problems. You could write the release of accidents that occur on base and what base security and the safety office are doing to prevent future accidents. You could present the facts, figures and statistics plainly. But a better approach is to start by answering those three questions: what’s the point, why is it important and who cares about this topic?
Lots of motorcycle accidents occur on and off base. People are in a hurry, trying to avoid traffic, or distracted. The point of the story is to address the problem and make people pay attention. It’s important because service members are the military’s most important asset. Part of a commander’s job is to keep people safe and protect the community. And the people who care are the motorcyclists, their family members and other drivers that share the road with riders.
Instead of listing the facts, figures and statistics try writing from a storytelling perspective. Consider interviewing an accident survivor or a driver who narrowly avoided a collision. A first-person account of a near-fatal accident will affect people on an emotional level. By weaving the facts, figures and statistics into the personal story, you can deliver the information in a creative way and satisfy the commander’s intent.
Or tell a story from the perspective of someone who caused an accident. Hitting someone doesn’t just impact the victim. Often the other person involved struggles with guilt and anguish.
Another option is to interview family members who lost a loved one in an accident. This shows the impact on the ones who were left behind. It can shine a light on the part of the story many people don’t normally see.
Or approach the story from a financial standpoint. Show the impact on the budget when insurance goes up after an accident or write about the average deductible from this type of claim. The cost of safety courses, available safety features and the cost of repairs after an accident are other things to consider.
Your responsibility as a storyteller is to understand your commander’s intent and your role in fulfilling it. This will ensure you tell your stories in a way that impacts knowledge, attitudes and behaviors to achieve your mission, while still engaging your audience.