Giving a 10-minute presentation on public relations for the sophomore career fair on April 28, 2015, at Rockwood Summit High School seemed like a good public service. But time spent narrowing the subject matter provided a clear focus on five points to serve anyone desiring to become a well-rounded communicator:
1. Learn to write
The world will always need good writers. Those who can write clearly, succinctly and accurately will be valuable to their organizations. Good writers will always be in demand.
The art of writing is rewriting. Critically evaluate every word, sentence, paragraph and page. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader and ask yourself if the story makes sense. If you are blessed, you will have college professors who will thoroughly critique your writing. You might shake your fist and curse them, but you will appreciate them later. Those types of teachers will enable you to meet the highest professional standards.
Good writers are good readers. Observe how authors use language, structure and style. Copy their style or approach as you write your stories. Take as many writing classes as possible.
2. Learn how to tell a story
A video production expert recently told a gathering of communications professionals their stories must have a beginning, middle and an end. The message was rudimentary for this audience of college-educated and experienced communicators.
But after reviewing some corporate videos, it’s clear too many skip the beginning and rush to the middle of the story. They start with emphasizing a sales or manufacturing process, product benefits or distribution and never establish a narrative with a clear beginning. Without a proper beginning, audiences struggle to understand the message. Or, an emotional statement is placed at the beginning and viewers must mentally reassemble the story to keep track of the narrative.
Good story telling is an art and must be appreciated and valued.
3. Learn to communicate with images or visuals
Each group of sophomores viewed my Twitter stream on my tablet and all agreed the updates capturing their attention were those with images. Photography, video and other images are critical to getting an audience’s attention and quickly sending an appropriate message. One knows a good billboard when they see it because they comprehend the message in about six seconds.
The combination of speed and art is becoming more important in social media. One must be highly critical of photography to ensure it tells the story and doesn’t distract. Charts and graphs must be simple and easy to understand.
4. Continually learn about social media and its long-term implications
Even though these sophomores are a few years from entering the workforce, they will possess a digital legacy with more information about them than any previous generation. Everyone must be cautious about what they share and how others will interpret their words and images.
All public relations professionals must continually monitor trends on social media and be aware of rapid changes in technology. For instance, brands were once welcomed by Facebook to spend huge sums of money to build communities on the social media channel. Now, they must purchase advertising on Facebook in order to communicate to audiences they formed on the platform. That resulted in a tremendous shift in strategy to reach the community built for Facebook.
5. Fast communication is good, but high-quality communication is better
One of the best training grounds for writers is to be a reporter at a daily newspaper. A common phrase heard in newsrooms is, “Get it first, but first get it right.” Today’s technology spreads information faster than ever before. However, distributing incorrect information will erode the trust your audience places in your communication. A journalism professor once preached, “When you make a mistake, it’s not one mistake but 40,000 mistakes or whatever the circulation of that newspaper.” Today, incorrect information on a Facebook post, Twitter update or website can be shared by millions of people in a matter of minutes or hours. Similar to the discipline of rewriting, covered in our first item, taking the time to review each fact will pay more dividends than correcting a story.
Thanks to all of the students who attended one of the six presentations.
No one asked about salaries.