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Ann Christiano is a professor at the University of Florida and created frank – an event bringing together communicators for social change. Stepping outside of her comfort zone when it launched, Ann shares how frank came to be and perhaps, a future shift in the way of the working world.

In this episode, Ann talks about the importance of community events, how to build partnerships with others and being your most authentic self at work – and how that impacts others.


  • Social change communications
  • Building a destination for community
  • Intersectionality and confluence of activists and journalist
  • Remembering your passion and why you followed the path in the first place
  • How to create a large-scale event from scratch – what to consider to make it happen
  • Letting others help, create something better than you could have done on my own
  • Does excitement reduce credibility at work? People want to have the opportunity to feel what you feel and want to be a part of that
  • Difference between being this highly controlled individual versus being your best self
  • When more people buy-in to the energy and see others being their best self, change happens
  • The possibility of the new way of work
  • How to become a change maker






headshotAnn Christiano is a public relations professor and the Frank Karel Chair in Public Interest Communications in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. She has three goals:

1. Establish a curriculum in public interest communications at the undergraduate and graduate level.

2. Build community among those already working in the field.

3. Establish public interest communications as a new academic discipline, and identify the science and scholarship that defines and powers the field.

Ann curates the Frank gathering at the University of Florida, which brings together more than 300 journalists, scholars, activists, funders and other movement builders in Gainesville each February.

Before she joined UF, Ann developed communications strategies to support the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s investments in mental health, reducing violence, and bringing recess back to playgrounds throughout America.

She was the University of Florida’s 2014-2015 teacher of the year.

Melissa Anzman (00:00): This is the launch yourself podcast with Melissa Anzman episode number 27, featuring Ann Christiano.

Melissa Anzman (00:08): Hello, hello, and welcome to the launch yourself podcast, career, business, and brand advice to help you be seen, make an impact and deliver at your maximum potential. And now here's your host, Melissa Anzman.

Melissa Anzman (00:28): Welcome to the launch yourself podcast. I'm your host, Melissa ans men. Today, we will be chatting with Ann Christiano and is a public relations professor and the Frank Chorale chair in public interest communications in the college of journalism and communications at the university of Florida. She has three goals. One establish a curriculum in public interest communications at the undergraduate and graduate level to build community among those already working in the field and three established public interest communications as a new academic discipline and identify the science and scholarship that defines and powers the field and curates the Frank gathering at the university of Florida, which brings together more than 300 journalists, scholars, activists, funders, and other movement builders in the Gainesville, Florida area. Each February, before she joined us and developed communication strategies to support the Robert Wood Johnson foundation's investments in mental health, reducing violence and bringing recess back to playgrounds throughout America.

Melissa Anzman (01:39): She was also the university of Florida's 2014 to 2015 teacher of the year. I'm so excited. She's here, please. Welcome. And to the show, I'm so excited to have you here because your story and what you do is so unique. And it was so interesting to me that I just, I was so excited to have you on. So if you could I'd really like for you to walk us through what, what you'd like to talk about today and sort of to put that launch in perspective, we define here at launch yourself a launch as that moment in time when you've decided to make your career business or brand bigger, when you sort of gone outside the normal path. And with that, I'd really like to welcome you, to share your experience with us today. I'm excited to have the opportunity to do that and excited to talk about that moment. It's not one that I revisit very often, but I'm here at the university of Florida, which was in itself a major transformation for me coming out of the foundation world, where my job was part of a large dynamic group of people giving away $500 million a year and coming here where the resources were significantly more scarce and realizing that I was in this position

Ann Christiano (03:00): Of having to build a new academic discipline from the ground up and essentially take what so many people are already doing in practice and help young people learn that at the undergraduate level and have the opportunity to choose that as a path. So I came here five years ago to do that. It was a, in many ways a rude awakening, but also a moment of profound authenticity. And usually, so you seem to go together indeed. And so okay. I came here with three goals. The first was to build a curriculum in social change communications. The second was to find the science and scholarship that was out in the field that people in practice should be paying attention to. And the third was to start to connect all of the people who were already doing that work, but never knew what to call it and didn't have a real place to connect with other people.

Ann Christiano (04:00): And so I had a pretty good, good sense of how to do the first two things. And there were lots of people here at the university of Florida who were happy and excited to help me do that. Most people, if you go and ask them for advice will say yes, of course, thank you. Thank you for asking. But the third one, connecting all the people who are in the field, who didn't identify with any particular profession was just stymied me. I just didn't know how to do it. I didn't know where to start. I didn't know how to find them or reach them. And so first I thought, well, you know, we need to create a website and I'm like, ah, if there's no community there, the website's not going to be something that anybody finds particularly useful. I thought, well, I need to go out and present a lot.

Ann Christiano (04:47): Like, well, nobody knows who I am. So I wasn't really getting a lot of invitations to go and present. And so there was a colleague here who is actually somebody who I've known for 15 years and Oh gosh, not 15 years, 20 years. And yeah, he said, you know, we need to start organizing a gathering of people who work in this field and inviting them to come to Florida and, and, and maybe create the first conference for people who are working in this field. And I'm thinking to myself, that's really funny because I know how hard it is to get to Gainesville and how hard it's going to be to attract people here. I'm thinking, right. I love your idea. And that would be so awesome if it could work, but of course it never would, but I really like you.

Ann Christiano (05:39): So I'm going to keep indulging you in this idea. And he said, no, no, no, no. And he said, I think that if you asked the people who you used to work with to come to Gainesville and help create this thing and invent this thing, I bet you would get a lot of ideas and I bet you could create something that's really different. And and I thought, well, I have to try. I have to at least try if he's so convinced that this will work and the people will come. And that people believe in this idea to take their own time to come and help. I have to, I have to honor that I have to trust that. And so in October of 2013 I invited 25 people who I deeply admire who had come here to university of Florida to say, how do we build a place, a destination for people who work in social change communications, where they work, where they will come every year and they will be renewed and they will get new ideas and we'll have this real sense of community and people will be really excited to be here.

Ann Christiano (06:46): And so it was extraordinary because here are all these people sitting around a room in the basement of Weimer hall. And I'm like, how is this even possible? I'm looking around the room at the extraordinary brain trust that's assembled. And and people are so generously sharing their best ideas. And so you know, we talked a lot about, well, what do we call this thing? What do we call this gathering? That's evolving. And dear friend of mine said, well, it's called Frank. Of course, what else would you call it? And that is that's exactly right. So it was one of those moments where I really had to, to trust the opportunities that people saw around me and trust us that they, they felt like this was something that we could really build together.

Melissa Anzman (07:39): I love that. And you know, what's so interesting to me in what you have done with Frank and continue to do. It's an ongoing thing, even though you have that, you know, sort of once a year event is your tagline. You're obsessively connecting people who speak for the greater good. And what is so interesting to me about that versus, you know, 10 years ago, maybe is this area is so important. Now this is sort of what all of our, you know, millennials, for lack of a better word to, to call them. This is what people are really wanting to do. They want to make a difference. They want to connect. And you've sort of brought that together in a way that makes sense for them. You know, you've, you've taken it into the community and connection piece that I think was greatly missing for so long in that community. Right.

Ann Christiano (08:31): You know, what's fun about that too. And I'm, I'm glad that you said that because one of the things that I really love about when people see that headline, they really see themselves in it. And one of the things that makes the Frank gathering so special and the, the Frank community that's evolving from that is the, this is a word that I learned in my new academic life. Intersectionality of all of it is a very academic

Melissa Anzman (08:56): Word.

Ann Christiano (08:57): And it's one of those words that I would have sneered at six years ago and absolutely embraced now because Frank has become this, this confluence of activists, journalists, and people who are just world-class strategists like the met pitchers of the world scholars, and you mentioned millennials, students are really important part of this community and that confluence of personalities and perspectives really creates a lot of energy. When you see all these people come together, they come together as equals. And with this real openness to one another, you actually see it at the gathering just in how alter, how people walk. You know, they walk with their arms at their side, instead of their arms crossed. They walk looking up and out rather than looking at their phones. It's, it's, it's marvelous to see it. But one of the, one of the things that really drives that is the incredible energy of our students.

Ann Christiano (09:57): One of the best compliments that I ever got about what we're building here is chip Giller who founded grist organization that I deeply admire and respect said, you know, I came to Frank the first year because you had this amazing speaker lineup. And I couldn't wait to hear these people. And I really wanted to connect with the speakers, but what I took from what I took away with this incredible renewal for my own work, because of the energy of your students and the passion that they brought to this, and that's, what's bringing me back is, is it that refilled me? And that made me remember my own passion that made me remember why I followed this path in the first place. And, and and it's so exciting. We had some times, if people look at something that's largely student run it's like, Oh, well, we can't have very high expectations after all it's student run. And with so much fun about this is that it's so much better and so much richer because the students are so engaged. We have close to 200 students working on Frank last year. And they, it, students can't be derivative. They, they only have new ideas, right? And so that creates this really authentic experience that, that you can't have any place else.

Melissa Anzman (11:20): I love that and have so much good stuff there. I got goose bumps. When you were talking about, you know, the energy that comes from it. One thing that I'd love for you to walk us through is, you know, there's great thing is created. You went forward with a little faith in some nudging to create this in person event. But as we all know, as from a launch perspective, that just doesn't happen overnight. So could you maybe walk us through sort of how you went about that and maybe some of the roadblocks that you went into and, you know, not, but more in an overview as to, from this idea, how did you get it into reality? Okay.

Ann Christiano (12:00): Well, there were lots of logistics. One is that I, or not, sorry, there were lots of challenges along the way. And one is the things that I had to learn and had to retrain my brain to, to think of new ways, because I learned in the process that everything that seemed to be a barrier, everything that seemed to be a failure really was just a point where I had to pause and wait for the better thing that was coming. And and I, I have a metal desk and it has a lot of dents in the top big hug from me banging my head against it.

Melissa Anzman (12:42): Okay.

Ann Christiano (12:42): Because I would start down a particular path and discover Oh, well, you want to have this gathering. I wanted to make sure that this gathering didn't happen in a conference center. And I was like, okay, let's do it. We have this beautiful cultural arts Plaza here at the university of Florida. Let's do it. There, let's have people in the performing arts hall and in the art museum and in the natural history museum. And this is going to be really great. And instead of having people go to restaurants or caterers, we're going to have food trucks pull up and it's going to be this really neat thing. And in spaces that people don't usually encounter. And as I reached out to the different people who manage those spaces and they're like, Oh right, you want the space for three days. Yeah. That's just never going to happen. You can't do that. Like, well, what are we going to do? Where are we going to go? And I'm a dear friend the year before had done a similar gathering in downtown Gainesville and used this beautiful historic theater as his conference center. And instead of having people go into breakout rooms, he's like, well, let's just use the coffee shops. Let's use the bars. And he said, and you've got to take a look at this as an option. And I was like, no, that will never work

Melissa Anzman (14:00): No way. What are you thinking? Crazy silly.

Ann Christiano (14:04): Does he, he's like, just come down, just look, look around. And I did. And, and I saw what he thought. I saw the experience and the opportunity that we could create. Cause every time you go to a conference, you end up spending all the time in the hotel, you never see the light of day. And I began to see that we could create an experience where people would barely be in their hotel rooms except to sleep and, and how that sense of place would give the whole thing so much more meaning. And so that was one thing. Another was just trying to figure out, you know, how do we how do we stop this thing? Because we recognized that it was incredibly labor intensive. And so there were lots of people in the field that were, you know, ready to jump in and help us get speakers and recruit people to attend. But just how do we make it happen? How do we get all the pieces into place? And, and there were lots of students who are coming forward and saying, let me help you. I can help you. I have a lot of skills, like, and I was like, well, I don't know, this is kind of a big responsibility. And I realized, wow, I'm really kind of being a jerk here.

Melissa Anzman (15:21): As you work at the university of Florida, it kind of compounds that. Right.

Ann Christiano (15:25): And I was thinking, gosh, you know, I, I need to respect the fact that people are coming to the table and offering their abilities because they have genuine abilities and I need to trust them and let them go and do those things. And and stop being such a jerk who thinks that she's the only one who knows how to do anything. And and that was really kind of humbling. And to be able to say, Oh, you, you want to be the person who's gonna identify potential speakers and, and reach out to them and help them prepare. And, and you're 19 years old and okay, you do that. Cause I think you're going to be awesome at it. And just, and having that trust and finding sort of the right balance of mentor and coach and, and trusting somebody who wanted to do something well to let them go and make their own mistakes and ultimately do something really extraordinary. That was far superior to anything I could have done

Melissa Anzman (16:27): That. And, you know, I feel like all of we've all hit that wall before of, you know, I gotta do everything myself. I know best. It's just easier if I do it. I mean, I, at least I've fallen into that trap. And it's so great to know that when you do let go a little bit, when you are able to incorporate the people who are really passionate about the same thing that you are in, they come up with just the most amazing results that you can never have imagined. So I'm sure you saw sort of your original ideas grow and blossom by letting go of the reins a little bit.

Ann Christiano (17:00): Yeah. And, and the other thing I learned a lot from too is, you know, in my last job, it was, if you got really excited about something, people kind of saw you as being a little bit less credible, because if you were excited, you obviously weren't really evaluating the real challenges and you weren't really being sanguine about it and you need to just be more sophisticated and nuanced about it. And so I tried very hard to contain the enthusiasm I felt when I saw a great idea or when I had the opportunity to work on something new. And what I discovered coming here and being in this leadership position was that I had to show my enthusiasm. I had to put it out there and I realized that people want to have that opportunity to feel what you feel, that they look at that and they, and they get excited about it.

Ann Christiano (17:56): And they want to know what it is that makes you lit up from women. And, and they want to be a part of that. And they want to help make that work and, and your own enthusiasm idea. And for an idea, isn't something that pushes people away. It's something that really draws people in. And it, and it took me a while to recognize that and to get over my fear of showing how I felt about anything like, Oh, is it, if I made there's something made me mad that, that I could say, Hey, this is really making me mad right now. This is really pissing me off. And that when I said that's people, they would help me fix it. Oh, wow. You know, like being, there's a big difference between being this sort of highly controlled individual and being my best self and being my best self meant, letting people see who I was and how I felt about things.

Melissa Anzman (18:56): Oh my God. I love that. And it's so true. I think, you know, in a more corporate environment and, you know, there's, there's definitely ranges of corporate, so I'm not saying it across the board, but the mentality is so different and that, it sounds like you were able to finally become who you truly are, right. Your authentic self and how much that created and shaped Frank. I don't know if you would have had the same results or the same engagement or the same opportunities had you sort of stayed behind the wall, so to speak and, and been unattached to it and passionate about it.

Ann Christiano (19:31): Well, I a, I don't, I think you're right about that. And but, but what's so neat about that is that I'm just one person. And so when everybody who is part of making this happen starts to do the same thing and does do the same thing. The that's why this thing has so much energy. That's why people are so drawn to it and feel this deep desire to return to it because they do have that opportunity to come to a, a place where they're, where they are their best selves. They feel their best selves. And they see other people being their best selves

Melissa Anzman (20:05): Mhm and what a joy to be able to provide that for people. And also, I think back, I have a younger sister who is full on millennial and you know, she always says to me, Oh, I want to work somewhere. You know, that has meaning, and I want to do something that has meaning. And I think what she really means is yes, I want to make a difference in the world. And as one person can, but also I want to be me work and it, and, and you've been able to not only as one person make that difference and create a culture of that, you've sort of started the change that everyone's so excited to grab onto, but you've also, you know, coupled that with making a difference. So it's, it's, it's the best of all worlds coming together and really what I would hope to be perhaps maybe down the road, the new way of work, right? The new way that we're able to connect and deliver and do, and, and move forward with that because you need to be able to bring your best self to work in order to get the best work out of everyone. And you've shown that by doing that on your own, you've created sort of that chain effect

Ann Christiano (21:16): Maybe

Melissa Anzman (21:19): Awesome. I'll let you know that you did take, but you didn't have to take all credit for it, but it's, you know, it's a, it's a smaller scale that have now created these ripples for the people who've attended Frank. Right. So you're creating little ripples in the notion of all these people who've showed up and had that feeling and felt the energy from it, which I think is awesome.

Ann Christiano (21:39): Well, it could also just be that I'm unfit for other work.

Melissa Anzman (21:44): I know. And give yourself some credit. I think it's fantastic. I think it's really fantastic. And, you know, yeah. I missed Frank this year and I didn't hear about it until afterwards. And I'm, I'm really bummed out by it, but what really struck me is the way that a few of my friends who either were in attendance or were participating online the way that they did speak about it. And it was very energized, it was very much a different type of conference. And so I think you've succeeded in that original goal of making it different. And, and what have you, how do you see that continuing on year after year? Do you find that, you know, each year you feel like you know what to do and it's a plug and play, or are you trying to do some changes with each conference year over year?

Ann Christiano (22:37): Well, it's funny because the people who are closest to me sort of roll their eyes every time they, they see me encounter a new idea and I was like, Oh gosh, here we go again. And they know not to make jokes about, Oh, well, we should do that at Frank because, you know, that's actually not a bad idea. For example, a friend of mine went to see Cirque du Soleil and he said, you know, I really, you know, I got some new open it, some ideas for the opening ceremony for Frank. And I was like, Oh, that's brilliant.

Melissa Anzman (23:07): So,

Ann Christiano (23:09): And so we went out and, and discovered that there's this really robust aerial dance community here in Gainesville. They're like, okay, we're going to have aerial dancers at the opening ceremony for Frank. And it was really cool. So people have learned not to make jokes around me. But I do think it's really important to keep revisiting what it is we're doing and, and to keep testing that it, that it feels fresh and it doesn't lose that vibrant a, it loves this story of there's the, the, the story that my priest told a church a couple of weeks ago, about how Jesus coming to town and, and the leaders of the town telling all of the residents to go and get wine from their homes and pour it into this vessel, into this large vessel so that they would have plenty of wine to drink when he got there and after everybody did this and poured their wine into the vessel, somebody tasted the wine and it was terrible.

Ann Christiano (24:10): And what happened was that everybody had either brought water or had brought stuff that had spoiled because they figured that because they were, you know, just giving one piece of a much larger whole that what other people would give would be so much greater, that it would make up for the poor quality of what they contributed. And I was listening to this story. Well, desperately time I could sit down, just sit down. And so I, I was, I was thinking about this, I'm thinking, you know, the way that Frank works is completely the opposite that everybody who's part of this growing network brings the best of what they have to make Frank better. So for example, I had this idea that I wanted to do a scavenger hunt one night in downtown Gainesville, that it would be really fun to get people out and playing with each other and connecting with each other and outside and, and exploring.

Ann Christiano (25:08): And and a friend of mine said, Oh, you should get the guy who does the Washington post hunt to organize that for you. I'm like, yeah. Okay. I'm going to be able to, how am I going to find that guy? So I was talking to one of my colleagues, who's a former editor of the st. Pete times about this idea. And he said, Oh gosh, you know Dave Barry's wife used to work for me at the, at the st Pete times. And let me see if I can reach out to him. So of course he emails Dave Berry, and they Barry's like, well, I can't do it, but the guy who actually writes it for me is this guy, Tom Schroeder, and here's his email address, and maybe he'll do it. So I emailed him. And of course he's completely thrilled to do it because it turns out that he's a Gator and graduated from university of Florida. Not long after Frank Corel did. And so it's just this like, Oh, I have this really interesting contact, Oh, I have this really interesting idea. Let me bring this to Frank, let me figure out how this would work within the context of Frank. And I don't know how or why that happened, but it's, it's part of what keeps it fresh is that everybody just keeps giving the best of what they have.

Melissa Anzman (26:18): I love that. So work, we're coming up at the end of our time here, and I have sort of some typical last questions, but I'm going to ask you two of them. And the first is what would your advice be for someone who really wants to create an event to bring people and communities together? What's your best nugget of advice?

Ann Christiano (26:44): Don't be afraid to ask anybody for help. And one of the things that I've found was really hard to do at first was to go to somebody and say, Hey, would you be interested in being part of this? Hey, could you help out with this? And that was really scary because there's this idea that we have, that we have a certain number of chips with people. And we don't want to use up our chip. And what I discovered is that that's not actually how that whole equation works, that when you ask somebody to do something, to help you, that actually just brings you closer and you have more of an opportunity to work with them and to keep doing things together. So there's not, it's not as though we're all walking around keeping score like, Oh, okay, well, Maureen already asked me to do this. And so I'm not doing it again. And now it was, wow. I really love working with Sarah on that. And I can't wait to work with her again. And as long as you make those experiences for, for your partners, really beautiful and positive, it, you're not using up tips here. You're creating new relationships and giving them an opportunity to see the value of what they do in new ways.

Melissa Anzman (28:02): I love that. It's brilliant. And it is so true. We think that way. So I love the way you've framed that for us. And the second part of that question is if someone's listening to this and really wants to get involved in Frank and what you do, what would sort of your recommendation be to get started? Whether it's with Frank or with any type of action around social good.

Ann Christiano (28:26): Well, if you want to be part of the front community, if you see yourself in the front community, then you most definitely belong in the Frank community. It's a very self identified group of people and nobody's ever been wrong. So shoot me an email tweet at me or find me on Facebook love to talk and am always, I particularly love hearing from people who are way outside of my network cause that bringing that fresh ideas and fresh perspectives is so enriching. So that's the answer to that. And the second thing is if you decide that you want to make change I don't know because I, I have no idea how to answer that question because I've never seen myself as somebody who was a change maker per se. I have really specific goals and I'm really driven by those goals driven so much that I sometimes have to stop myself from speeding to work in the morning, but, but it's not, like I said, I never woke up one morning and said, I'm going to be a change maker. I just never, I just didn't, I don't know how to do anything other than what I'm doing. And

Melissa Anzman (29:43): And I don't know how to do, I don't know how to do it by myself, so I have to keep bringing other people into it. And and we're all changed by those experiences, right? So I guess the, that was a really long answer, but I guess the first thing to do would be to probably recognize that you already are, and that you are probably already having an impact far beyond everything or anything you can imagine just by trying to do what you do well every single day. That was a fantastic answer. And so before we go, if you could just remind everybody where they can find you online, I'll be sure to include it in the show notes so that they can do your click email, but maybe your Twitter address, you believe that people can get in touch with you.

Melissa Anzman (30:33): That would be great. You bet. I Tweet @aechristiano and my email address is achristiano@jlu.ufl.edu. Fantastic. Thank you so much for being on the show today and have a fantastic conversation. And I'm so excited to learn more about Frank. Thank you. That was really fun. Thanks for asking. I hope you enjoyed today's episode with Ann Christiano. I learned so much and I'm so inspired by everything that she does with Frank, and I hope that you learned as well that doing social good and communicating for social good has so many moving pieces and parts that you can actively become involved quite easily. If you'd like to get the show notes for this episode, you can go to launchyourself.co/session27. Again, that's launchyourself.co/session27. And if you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to subscribe on Stitcher and iTunes and leave us a great review until next time.

Melissa Anzman (31:30): Thanks for listening to the launch yourself podcast. Join the conversation at www.launchyourself.co.