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To support the goals of the Division, the Committee is launching a blog on the website to highlight existing utilities and programs across the state. This blog will provide valuable information on existing programs and highlight how more information on the programs can be obtained, thus creating an online database of water education resources.


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Can I Get An “Amen!”?

Posted By Karen E. Menard, Friday, December 8, 2017

Education Division – Consumer Outreach Committee Blog


All Things H2O                             December 2017 Issue





Can I Get An “Amen!”?


The recent North Texas Regional Water Conservation Symposium held at the University of Texas at Arlington consisted of a workshop on Monday, a networking event Monday evening, and the symposium on Tuesday. Co-sponsored by Tarrant Regional Water District, North Texas Municipal Water District, and Dallas Water Utilities, this was the 11th annual Symposium and my first time attending. Needless to say, I was excited as well as curious about all the buzz surrounding the event. Well, believe me, it did not disappoint.


The Symposium on Tuesday was a Who’s Who of Water. For me, the keynote from water icon George Hawkins of DC Water was a huge draw and simply inspiring. Anyone who has followed the DC Water transformation over the past 8 years knows what I’m talking about. Speaking to a room full of water nerds, George’s story and personal narrative did not fall on deaf ears. He focused on the five main issues he discovered after starting at DC Water:

  1. We deliver the most important service ever (of all time!)

  2. Our systems are in bad shape (think a grade of D-)

  3. Customers don’t know us (nor do we know them)

  4. Financial system was broken (not enough revenue)

  5. Water industry known as conservative (slow to change)

I felt like jumping up and shouting Amen! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! more than once. After all, he was preaching to the choir.


The entire Symposium was fabulous, and included wonderful presentations in the morning from Colleen Coyle of WFAA-TV and Eric Eckl of Water Words That Work, LLC. The afternoon session was entitled WATERTalks and was presented in a TEDTalk style. Presentations can be viewed here.

My real delight came from the workshop on Monday mainly because I was treading new water. As a water professional with a technical background, the thought of communicating to a lay audience about water is intriguing. Here are few gems I hope will inspire you…


Water Words That Work Workshop lead by Eric Eckl, Owner


People who work in the water industry make up only about 0.1% of the American population. This means that our technical brochures, detailed diagrams, and complicated rate methodology is, at most, understood by 1 in 1,000 people.

Sounds like Where’s Waldo to me.

We habitually put professional-level reading materials in front of the (mostly high school educated) public. And then - - when they don’t respond like we hoped - - we tell ourselves they don’t believe us, they don’t care, or they don’t like us.

The Golden Rule tells us that we should communicate with the remaining 99.9% the way our mechanics and accountants communicate with us! Other professionals don’t expect us to speak their language so why do we insist on using words like biodiversity, watershed, etc.?

Our outreach and communications efforts usually disappoint when we try to show off our knowledge and when we treat them as self-expression. We are most likely to succeed when we approach outreach and communication like we are selecting a gift for a loved one.

Make it all about them, not about you. Think about the photos they want to see and words they want to hear.

Healthy streams. Healthy community.

The Motivation Gap

“The difference between why you want somebody to do something and why they might want to do it. There is always at least some gap. They are much more likely to pay attention when our message evokes their motivations first - - and explains our motivations later.

Unspoken Ulterior Motives

Your audience almost certainly has unspoken ulterior motives that influence how they respond to your message. These are usually their expectations of others’ opinions.

The Environmental Message Method

1.Begin with Behavior

  • Behavioral messages (commands, requests, instructions, orders, etc.) are the easiest words to understand and remember.
  • First you tell them what to do, then you tell them why, finally, you tell them how.
  • Logos are usually the last thing the audience will notice and the first thing they will forget.
  • Knowing that small actions can make a big difference is very motivational.

2.Foolproof Photos

  • Eyes are the windows to the soul” The face is powerful. Most of our photos are butts and feet (easy to take), instead of faces. Get releases from people for photos and use stock photos.
  • Monkey See, Monkey Do” When others do the behavior, it legitimizes the behavior. Show photos of people doing the same behavior. Showing people installing a rain barrel is better than just a rain barrel on the side of a house.
  • Seeing is Believing” Before and after pictures are truly worth a thousand words, especially when the work is complicated.
  • Think about what you want first instead of crafting a message and then searching for the right photos.

3.Swap the Shoptalk

  • Stop using big words to communicate with the general public.
  • Write simply and concisely!
  • Again, water industry professionals are only 0.01% of the American population.

4.Insert the Words that Work

Replace shoptalk with these words, and a little goes a long way (one every paragraph):

  • Nature protection, pollution control, enough clean water, wildlife conservation
  • Future generations, healthy, family and children, safe, trends
  • Make a difference, doing your/my/their part, it affects you, what you can do, working together, save money
  • Accountability, corporations, choice, fair, balanced, planning ahead, responsible, freedom, investment, law

5.Tempting Testimonials

  • The opinions of other customers carry more weight than facts from the manufacturer. We are the facts from the manufacturer and people care more about the opinions of others than our facts.
  • It’s easier to toot your own horn, but it’s far more persuasive when your target audience vouches for you. It’s worth making a special effort to reach out to those you have successfully worked with in the past and ask them for a testimonial.

6.Review Readability

  • Readability is the science of measuring how hard or easy text is to read.
  • Messages with poor readability cause: frustration, irritation, and suspicion
  • Long sentences are harder to read than short sentences. Long words are harder to read than short words. Passive sentences are harder to read than active sentences.
  • The internet is full of free readability score checkers. Microsoft Word also has a readability tool and the higher the score, the better!

“A parting thought:

Rage against the elites’ is one of the major themes of American public life these days.

How much does the poor readability of our messages contribute to that?


About the Author:

Karen Menard is the Division Manager of Wholesale Services at Dallas Water Utilities. She is a self-proclaimed water nerd who began her career in the water industry over 20 years ago. She volunteers with the Texas Section AWWA’s Education Division and chairs the Consumer Outreach Committee. Karen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a Master’s degree in Environmental Management from the University of Houston – Clear Lake, and was recently accepted into the MPA program at the University of North Texas. She also holds double Class A Operator licenses from the TCEQ in both water and wastewater. You may contact Karen at or 214.670.5887.

Tags:  dc water  dwu  george hawkins  karen e menard  ntmwd  regional water  trwd  water conservation  water symposium 

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