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The sporting attractions of the London 2012 Olympic Games have all now crossed the finish line and we are left with just memories of sporting icons Usain Bolt, Sally Pearson and Michael Phelps and music stars Paul McCartney, One Direction and the Spice Girls.

However as the Games finish up for another four years, what can we as communicators learn from the Olympics as a whole and from the performances of the athletes that can lead us too to communication gold?

Well unsurprisingly the Olympics confirmed social is not "the new fad", it is just another way, and perhaps most recordable way of sharing opinions, thoughts, excitement and sadness. There were 150 million Olympic related tweets during the 17 days of the Games. Sports wise there was no bigger star than the Lightning Bolt, with Usain Bolt’s races generating more than 80,000 tweets per minute. But who needs sports at an Olympics when you can have Sporty Spice and all her friends? The Spice Girls' performance generated an astonishing 116,000 tweets per minute! (Huffington Post)

And so in the spirit of social, I took to the web to see what communication lessons could be taken away from London 2012:

  • Dig deep and tell the stories (blog)
  • Find unique ways to attract attention (PR Daily)
  • Be authentic, communicate and listen to your audience (blog)

Despite the best efforts of their extensive social media guidelines,  the IOC failed to realise that you can’t control social media. That is something we can all learn from. NBC in America also learnt the lesson of delaying the telecast of key events to fit in with its primetime schedule. This meant many, having already heard the outcome online and lost the ability to share that ecstasy in real time, took to venting their frustrations instead.

Apart from the odd Aussie swimmer who didn’t handle defeat well, most athletes at the Games showed the appropriate balance of media training – engaging and sharing stories, thanking families and coaches while not coming off as robotic or programmed. It is easy, looking at someone like Bolt to see his charisma on display, but it important to note that this came across as natural for him and not forced or rehearsed. Done by the wrong person this could have seemed arrogant or contrived. As communicators we too can learn from this and know when to provide guidance for spokespeople – and when to let their natural character show through.

I think importantly however, the Games also showed that greatness in any activity doesn’t just happen. For an athlete to even get to the Games it takes years of training – and that doesn’t stop when they qualify or win a medal. It is daily and ongoing. Athletes use coaches and mentors and try new approaches in their unending quest for improvement. As communicators should we be asking ourselves "are we still learning and training in those areas in which we wish to excel?"

James Howe – IABC Victoria, Treasurer