Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Who Cares About Drowning?

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on January 29, 2014

They aren't listeningDo most people understand that they need to care about drowning, that it concerns them? I don’t think so, and I think it’s the biggest obstacle to our ending drowning.

How often have you realized that someone not only doesn’t know that drowning is a problem, but really doesn’t care?

The most common reaction I hear in our field is shock, “People should care! Drowning is a serious issue!”, and all too often, derogatory explanations about why their message is not heard or their great advice is not acted upon, “They just don’t care….they don’t get it….they don’t understand…they don’t really care about their child….” Rarely do I hear, “the message isn’t getting through, what do I need to do to change how I am communicating?”

One of the greatest challenge for anyone, in any field, is to communicate in a way that makes people outside the field understand. It is also one of the most overlooked barriers to communicating effectively. Have you ever gone to the doctor, barely understood the diagnosis, and were reduced to Googling frantically to understand what is wrong with you? Or had car trouble and all you heard from the mechanic was, “the x and the y are torqued against the z which is causing the a to q…that will cost you $3000”. Huh? The professional understands what they are saying, and they forget that everyone doesn’t talk the same language – of medicine, of mechanical operations, of legal terms, of financial markets, of any area that requires education – including water safety. The vocabulary is different – foreign – and so are the concepts, unless someone teaches you the basics. People forget that not everyone understands what they understand.

Last week I wrote about the importance of understanding how your audience thinks and what motivates them.  This is the first step. Whether it’s attracting big money, getting the attention of teenage boys or reaching busy moms, you have to understand their concerns and speak their language.

The next step is understanding their starting point. We have some amazing campaigns that teach valuable water safety messages, but we have skipped the first step, explaining why people should care enough to hear the messages. We haven’t made it clear that drowning happens, at epidemic levels, to people from all walks of life.

No one understands why they should care about drowning. And it’s our responsibility to explain.

Think about that the next time you launch into a lecture. Maybe the first question should be “what do you know about drowning?” or “when you hear the word drowning, what do you think?” Find out what they know so that you understand whether you need to start with the most basics, the preschool curriculum, or you can launch straight into your PhD version of education. For your preschool-level curriculum, my rule of thumb is, if a young child or a grandmother can’t understand what you are talking about, you need to use more common words and change your explanation.

There is an exciting initiative coming up in February that has peeled back the layers and is starting with the basic, “drowning happens”. We all need to support and promote this exciting event, and if we work together, we can make drowning a trending topic. Stay tuned for more information closer to the time – but in the meantime, don’t just start lecturing, find out what your audience knows, and start educating at that point.

Don’t assume. Ask.

Click here to Tweet ‘People only know drowning is an issue if we tell them. http://bit.ly/1b8iaCY @Rebeccasavekids #stopdrowning’

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