ENGAGING WITH A MULTICULTURAL AUDIENCE THROUGH EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
By Tarek Al-Issawi. Since 2011, Tarek has held the position of Projects Officer with the New South Wales Police Force where he deals heavily with high profile issues and is the point of contact for the Force’s engagement with multi-cultural media. Tarek possesses a deep understanding of the Middle East and its politics, having spent over 12 years in war zones in the area.
“Excuse me, can you tell me how I can get a drivers’ license?”
The question was a familiar one and it came from one of the attendees of an event regularly held in southwest Sydney as part of an engagement initiative aimed at building a better understanding between communities and security organisations.
The gentleman asking was a newly-arrived refugee from Iraq. He didn’t speak any English and was finding it difficult adjusting to life in Australia. I provided him with as much information as possible based on my knowledge and on-the-fly online research. I gave him the information in Arabic, inquired about him and his family and wished him the best of luck.
This was his first time attending such a gathering. Community engagement, if you give it a chance, if you believe in its value, does not have to difficult or complex. The campaign was extremely simple.
Invite the community to a tea or a coffee. No agendas, no speech. Just a friendly chat with members of the community where you work. Get a group of people together in one location, listen to their needs and issues and treat them with the respect with which you expect to be treated.
As an organisation, we held at least one session a month since 2012, and it is still going strong. Attendance grew from about 20 people at the first instance, to over 200, as word-of-mouth spread.
I found that by showing desire, sincerity and persistence, we were able to reach out to the community, effectively engaging them on the issues that matter most to them.
Knowing the language of your audience certainly helps, but it is not as essential as a genuine desire to listen and understand. While you might not be able to meet the needs and answer the concerns of your audience every time, the fact that you’re taking the time to sit and engage with them shows credibility and willingness to help.
By showing empathy, emotional intelligence and a smile, you would be putting many anxious attendees at ease. This was, after all, a strange setting for many. They are embarking on a journey in a strange land, with unfamiliar language. Having offered the community the opportunity to talk about their needs and concerns, and tried to sincerely assist them to the best of your ability, you would have hopefully left a positive impression on them, and left them with a desire to further engage with you.