CS Live 2023: Collaboration at its finest

Five locations. Nine volunteers. 15 presentations. Over 1,200 attendees.

We knew that this year, we wanted to do things a little differently for Civil Service Live. We wanted to showcase the skills and knowledge of our profession, while giving non comms professionals tips on how to write well.

In a communications role, we often see writing that needs improvement and we are normally the ones having to make the improvements. Wouldn’t it be nice to see good writing that needs little to no improvements?

That is what our superstar team of Government Communication Service (GCS) members set out to do.

Volunteers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Government Finance Function (GFF), Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), Home Office (HO), Department for Education (DfE), and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) stepped up to the challenge. The challenge of creating a simple but engaging 45 minute presentation and the challenge of presenting to large groups of people (for some, this was the first time).

The presentation, Build your writing skills with the Government Communication Service, was created to give civil servants timeless tips to have more impact with their writing. It is formed of three tips:

  • Put the most important information first, with clear ask or call to action.
  • Use short sentences. 11 words, no more than 20 words if you can and vary the length.
  • Write more like you speak and avoid jargon.

And was backed up by evidence and research along with real life examples of bad writing versus good writing. There was an opportunity for the audience to get involved by either shouting out alternative words to words such as require, ensure and additionally or rewording an out of office sentence to write more like you speak. It was fun but valuable.

Why did they do it?

As a former member of the GCS team, I was very enthusiastic to talk about best practice for writing.

Stephanie Hill, UKHSA

I volunteered because I have previously worked with the GCS on a branding package, and I think the GCS learning resources are fantastic

Nathan K, GCHQ

It’s no secret that I’ve wanted to present at Civil Service Live for years. When I joined the HMRC Direct Customer Comms team in 2020 I quickly realised we had something special to offer and needed to share to colleagues across government.

Georgie Helps, HMRC

How did it land?

We got great feedback across all 15 presentations.

  • “The best session I attended today”
  • “Keep pushing that message out”
  • “I learned very practical tips”
  • “As someone who’s very passionate about communication styles, and the actual appropriateness of an informal style (!) I believe Georgie and Dawn would be excellent presenters at one of our Lunch & Learn sessions”
  • “I was so engaged by the session I forgot to give the presenter her 5 minute warning!” CS Live volunteer

The best bits were the questions and answers sessions that followed, with some sparking controversy around the use of emojis! And the team always stayed behind to answer even more questions.

What can you do?

Register for CS Live replay and watch the video of Georgie and Dawn delivering the session in Glasgow to brush up on your own writing skills.

Join us on 14 September for our GCS Call to hear from the HRMC team who created this presentation to hear about what they have been doing across government to raise the standard around writing skills.

And you can also raise the standard in your own organisation. Please use the slides and presenter script to deliver this presentation within your own teams or wider.

I would encourage people to present. In real life it is very different from online and it pushes you to develop your public speaking and collaboration skills.

Stephanie Hill

We’ve since run the session for 60 HMRC comms colleagues over MS Teams and it was really well received as a webinar.

So our advice, whether you’re looking to share the recording in person or virtually, is to try and imagine you were all there with us in Glasgow. Pause the recording when we set a challenge or exercise and discuss it amongst yourselves before pressing play again to get the answers. Chatting through the interactive elements as a group is a great way to share ideas and work out who your fellow word nerds are!

Georgie Helps

Thank you to all those involved…

David Ewing
Stephanie Hill
Andrea Breau
Kathryn C
Russell Smith
Dawn Christie
Georgie Helps
Nathan K

Presentation writer:
Laura Carus

Tiffany Meyrick
Hayley Higgins