Friday, October 28, 2011

Your Career and You: "Rule Number 1: 'Write It Down'"

“Of all the things in life I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”

I was walking back to my office at Curry College last week when I caught up with a student who, interestingly enough, chose us as her place to study in part based on a mock class that I taught and in which she was a participant.

I say “participant” because, when you come into one of my classes, you kind of get sucked into the whirlpool and become an unwitting member of the conversation whether you planned to or not. Well, she did, and we had a ton of fun!

But…back to our chance meeting. She had been planning her spring semester classes and had tentatively signed up for my “Principles of Public Relations” class.

After some exploratory chatting, though, she and I both agreed that perhaps she should take another course first, “Introduction to Mass Communication,” in which she could get an overview of the whole “world” of communication and better identify where her interests lie.

Her parting words have stuck with me ever since: “I’m getting so much good advice from everyone. I really should start writing things down.”


So we had just spent an invigorating 15 minutes parsing her nascent communication studies, and my carefully-considered advice will most likely have floated past the ozone layer before I’m even out of sight.

We’re all busy. We all have three more things on our respective plates than any sane human being could hope to accomplish in his or her allotted lifespan.

Stuff gets lost in the shuffle. Good intentions fall by the wayside.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. In just three words, there is a remedy. Write it down.

I’m not offended if you ask me to hang on a sec while you find a piece of paper and a pen to jot down a note. In fact, I’m impressed that you are engaged enough and interested enough that you want to make sure you capture the essence of our conversation.

But that “capture” isn’t going to happen unless you take the proactive step of recording the information.

That “memory” that you’re so proud of is going to bail on you, and you’re going to be left with that uneasy feeling that something is missing. You can’t remember what. You just know it’s missing.

I tried for a very brief period carrying a miniature tape recorder (you do remember tape recorders, don’t you?!?) so that I could capture thoughts, ideas, recommendations, etc., for future use.

The exercise was simply too weird for me. Talking to myself…or in this case, talking to a machine…didn’t work.

So I started carrying a pocket-sized notebook and made sure I always had a pen…just in case.

Can’t tell you how many times I pulled that puppy out to jot something down…and then referred to it later on.

It’s the mark of a professional to be attentive to detail, which includes capturing information and ideas as they arise…not trying to “reconstruct the scene of the crime” hours…or days…later.

So consider this conversation today as the first step in your professional evolution.

Then, put yourself in situations where you are having conversations that are valuable and filled with information you need to move ahead.

Then…write it down!

"I remember the way we parted,
The day and the way we met;
You hoped we were both broken-hearted
And knew we should both forget."
Algernon Charles Swinburne, "A Match" [1866]

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Your Career and You: “Passion is the Un-Secret”

I’ve just returned from my usual invigorating experience at the Public Relations Society of America’s International Conference where 3,000-plus PR professionals and PR students converged on Orlando to learn, network, and get inspired.

I did all three…very well. Not much sleep as a result, but a TON of contacts, new  ideas and information, and “energy boosts.”

Teaching as I do at Curry College, where I ride herd over the undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, and at Regis College, where I teach graduate courses in the Organizational and Professional Communications area, and PRSA programs and conferences are mandatory in my opinion.

Why? Because I must…not “should”… I must…be at the top of my game.

Why? Simple…my students depend on me to introduce them to and help them become reasonably knowledgeable about or proficient in the communication tools and tactics that they will be required to bring to an employer’s table after graduation.

So I spent a boatload of time over the past few days soaking up the collective knowledge of some of the nation’s leading communicators.

“Social Media Policy” with Deirdre Breakenridge and a panel of social media gurus. “SEO and Social Media Marketing” with Lee Odden.  “Regaining Trust amidst a Crisis” with John Deveney. And “Leading Communication Teams to Success” with my friend Rear Admiral Vic Beck, Vice Chief of Information for the US Navy.

General Session speakers included CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, social media wizard Chris Brogan, and idea generator extraordinaire Peter Diamandis.

My take-away from every single event was the blatant enthusiasm that each speaker projected in his or her presentation. The overriding sentiment was total and complete passion for public relations as a means of communicating with stakeholders and building relationships with them that will lead to understanding and support.

I also had a chance to chat with some of the Public Relations Student Society of America members who were attending their own awesome conference and getting just as excited about their respective futures as I am now, have been for centuries, and will continue to be for eons to come.

I’ve said it a bazillion times. “Passion is key if you really want to make your mark in this world.”

Most of us can learn the “tricks of the trade.” We can become, as I often discuss in my PR classes, “public relations ‘technicians.’”

And that’s okay to some degree. We need people who can organize and micro-manage events of all sizes. We need folks who can take written copy and turn it into eye-catching print or online material.

But we also need those of us whose forte’ is interacting with others and persuading/convincing them to embrace our employer’s or client’s reason for being.

And that requires an extra skill that these other folks either don’t have or haven’t figured out how to exhibit…a passion for what we represent.

In my own case, it’s a simple matter of “get out of my way; I’m on a mission” when I’m talking about my employer or my profession.

As one young lady commented when I started talking about my love for public relations and, now, public relations education… “My God, you really do believe in what you do.”

Yep. I do. And my hope is that you, too, will embrace the essence of your own chosen career field and will become a card-carrying, rabid disciple with the mission of helping others understand and support you and your client/employer.

It’s no “secret.” The secret is passion.

"We may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion." - Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, "Philosophy of History [1832]," Introduction

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Your Career and You: "Never...Ever...Stop Learning"

I’m gearing up for a marathon Public Relations Society of America commit- ment next week. Two days of PRSA Board of Directors meetings followed by a day-long PRSA National Assembly. Then three seminar-packed days of the PRSA International Conference.

When it’s all over, to use one of my favorite expressions, “my brain is going to explode.”

Why? Because I will have spent roughly one week in the midst of the collective wisdom, experience, and expertise of 2,000-plus public relations professionals from around the world.

Some of these people I have worked for. Others I currently am serving with on the national board. Others are friends I haven’t met yet.

And I will learn something from each and every one of them.

Sometimes it will be tangible “lessons learned” advice and information in the course of casual conversations and/or program-related seminars. Other times it will be the nuances of a remark or an action.

Whatever the case, I will have learned how to address a situation, solve a problem, or conduct myself as a professional.

Now if you’ve been following my posts and done the math, I’m not exactly a newbie at this business.

I’m a newly-minted, card-carrying, certified “senior citizen”….sort of like being 21 all over again. And, after having worked in public relations for something like 35-plus years, I’m now teaching the next generation of PR practitioners at Curry College as full-time Associate Professor of Communication as well as at Regis College as part-time Lecturer in Communications.

It’s a ton of fun, and both gigs require that I stay on top of my game…keeping current in the latest trends in public relations and making sure that I pass along that knowledge to the students who trust me to provide them with at least the basic skills and abilities they need to make their own marks in life.

Never stop learning” has been an ongoing theme in my writings and my classroom lectures. It comes from having “been there and done that.” It comes from having figured out that you’re only as good as those skills and abilities that you currently have.

This applies to “seasoned” professionals as well as to recent graduates who think that, having gotten the sheepskin, they’ve finished their responsibilities in the “student” arena.

Learning should be an integral part of your daily routine. Whether it’s in the workplace, where opportunities to acquire additional career-enhancing attributes usually are dripping off the wall, or on the homefront where new challenges pop up regularly, be proactive in enhancing your knowledge.

In other words, “learn from your mistakes.” Ask yourself what you’ve learned from your experiences, good…bad…or both.” Then ask what you would do differently the next time around.

Don’t get too cocky, though. Just because you “learned a lesson” this time is not your “get out of jail free card” for the future. Things will change...often.

The public relations profession…my home for the past umpteen years…changes seemingly by the day/hour/minute. Which means that you need to constantly be looking for and learning new things.

Which means you have to keep on the lookout for new trends, new challenges and opportunities, and new learning moments.

So my challenge to you is just this… “Never…ever…stop learning.”

“Leadership and learning are indispensible to each other.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Remarks prepared for delivery at the Trade Mart in Dallas [November 22, 1963]

Sunday, October 2, 2011

“It’s Your Life…How Will You Spend It?”

As much as I love to just dive in and get things done, once in a while I have to stomp on the brakes, slow it down a smidge, and remember the old “Rome wasn’t built in a day” thing.

When I actually do “slow it down,” I’m always fascinated by what’s going on around me and how some folks are living their lives and spending their time. On the surface at least, most seem to be enjoying themselves and doing some pretty cool things.

I see others, though, who seem to be bogged down, slogging from one day to the other without any motivation to perk things up a bit.

It’s easy for me to get reflective at this point in my career. Been there and done it. Had some great successes; had some equally catastrophic disasters. Learned from both extremes.

If you’re just starting out, the question of “How will I spend my life?” can seem overwhelming. You’re more focused on getting through school with minimal damage to your ego and grade point average. You’re hoping against hope that, two minutes after you accept your diploma and shake the college president’s hand, an awesome job opportunity will fall out of the sky and land in your lap.

For those of you who are a little farther along in your career, the question morphs into “What’s next and how do I find it?” You’re focused on moving onward and upward, snagging that great once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will validate your existence as a professional.

In both cases, the “end” is really just the beginning. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone in most cases, and there’s no absolute guarantee that whatever you choose as that next great adventure is going to work like you’re planning.

But that’s part of the deal. As I tell my students at Curry College, where I oversee the undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, and Regis College, where I teach part-time in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area, nothing is guaranteed in this awesome safari known as “life.”

But you have to be willing to take those chances, to try the unknown, to fall backwards with confidence into the waiting arms of your “buddy.”

This doesn’t work for everyone, and I’m not suggesting you should throw all caution to the winds as you plan for your future. You need to really get a handle on who you are, what you want from your career, and how you are going to achieve what, in your mind, is success.

How do you do this? You talk to people…your parents (yes, they actually do have a clue!); your teachers; your close friends (who actually have a view of you that others don’t…they’ve seen your up days as well as your down days); networking contacts (I’ve talked about this in at least one previous post).

It’s all about preparation…laying the groundwork and getting a handle on available resources that you can draw from. Yes, there’s work involved here, but it’s work that can and will pay off.

Hate to put it like this, but you don’t really have a choice. After all…when all’s said and done, it’s your life…how will you spend it?!?

"We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there." - Charles Franklin Kettering, "Seed for Thought: [1949]