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Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Members of the Virginia delegation discuss possible next steps after the United Methodist Judicial Council ruled the proposed "Plan UMC" for church restructuring to be unconstitutional during 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida.

Resources for General Conference Delegates

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Communications resource kit aims to equip General Conference delegates

By Natalie Bannon*

In the months leading up to General Conference, United Methodist Communications reaches out to annual conference staff to find ways to assist them in preparing delegates to tell the story of The United Methodist Church’s quadrennial legislative meeting. In 2012, one resource the agency provided was the “Equipping and Empowering General Conference Delegates Toolkit.” It was so well-received that United Methodist Communications is providing an updated version of this packet to annual conferences for the 2016 meeting in Portland, Ore.
 
This free toolkit includes a variety of tips and templates to help delegates comprehensively with internal and external communication.
 
“It is great foundational piece for me as a communicator to begin formulating a communications plan with our delegation,” said Kelly Roberson, director of communications for The South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.
 
Preparations start coming together about a year before the meeting for most annual conference communications staff. “So much happens leading up to General Conference that it helps to have a strategic plan in place, as well as a basic timeline of what you want to accomplish and when,” said Roberson.
 
The main goal for the Michigan Area United Methodist Church, according to director of communications Mark Doyal, is to make General Conference relevant to those in the local pews. “General Conference can seem very detached and a distant experience. It’s very important to connect local churches to what is happening across the country and that is our role,” said Doyal.
 
Traditional communications
The communications toolkit can help with tailoring that local coverage with templates for press releases and church e-newsletter announcements.
 
Doyal said his conference directs locals to national coverage at UMC.org while sending an e-blast publication filled with stories, photos and videos that tell the story from a meaningful context for those in Michigan.
 
The packet also includes tips for preparing delegates to become media spokespersons with pointers designed specifically for television, print and radio interviews.
 
Electronic communications
Blogs continue to expand with more people turning to them for a way to connect personally with those at General Conference. One annual conference that has seen success in blogging is the Pacific Northwest Conference. The toolkit can help users get started in both creating and maintaining a blog.
 
“We will meet with the delegates to discuss their goals,” said Patrick Scriven, director of communications for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church. “I’ve encouraged them to consider how they can share their stories in a number of ways. Currently, I suspect a few will write in advance of and during the event, and I hope we can complement that with short video clips.”
 
Those video clips will be shared across a variety of social media networks. Expect annual conferences to intentionally grow their online communities. 
 
“With platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, even those not able to be physically present at General Conference can feel immersed in the day-to-day events,” said Roberson. “We saw it in 2012 and we will see it again in Portland how the conversations certainly were not contained to just those delegates and guests in Tampa. Conversations were taking place by United Methodists all over the world in real time.”
 
Whether you’re social media-savvy or a novice, experts at United Methodist Communications have gathered the latest tips to help you grow your presence on each network.
 
For more information about the “Equipping and Empowering General Conference Delegates Toolkit,” and to download this free resource, go to www.umcom.org/gctoolkit.

*Natalie Bannon is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. For more information, contact Diane Degnan at ddegnan@umcom.org.