Communications is acquiring fresh importance. On the one hand, people are hungry for information. On the other, the amount of available information is growing. And finally, the number of channels and technologies to reach societies, communities, and individuals has become richer than ever before.
There used to be a time when communication meant writing for newspapers and magazines, working with television or radio and being part of advertising or PR. But today, the role has expanded to mean communicating to individual customers, employees, administrations, regulators, and governments in all kinds of places such as offices, public events, malls, stores, hospitals, airports, sports events, conferences, trade fairs, etc. To do this, communications professionals have a wide choice of platforms that include traditional media (periodicals, radio, television, cinema, outdoor media), mobiles, websites, social media and dynamic digital displays in public spaces.
Look around you and you’ll notice that effective communicators are successful people – those who have self-confidence, good interpersonal skills, are aware of their environment, know the facts and are familiar with their target audience. We think of them as skillful, energetic and creative. These are essential traits of a good communicator.
Every individual who wants to build a career as a communications professional must ask five key questions:
Can I live a 24X7 life? Communications is not a 9-to-5 job. The nature of the profession requires you to be constantly alert, constantly absorbing information and storing it for later use, being in touch with people and teams so that you are always in the ‘loop’ and making sure that you are always available. In today’s world, it is impossible to tell what will happen where and how it will impact you. Being ready 24X7 to deal with communication needs is the key to success.
Can I consistently acquire new communications skills? In the old days, writing skills were—by and large—the cornerstone of a good communicator. This extended to building relationships with a variety of communities–customers, media, partners, suppliers, professional guilds and associations, government officials and even competition. Today, essential communications skills including blogging, microblogging, using social networking tools (including video) acquiring a strong understanding of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), embedding messages in practically every action online and offline, and being able to figure out the implications of converged media. Being able to write well continues to be a foundational skill. Practice it.
Am I a shameless sponge? One of the least discussed traits of a good communications professional is innate curiosity. From Day 1 in the profession to the day you retire, you must remain shamelessly and tirelessly curious. Communications professionals cannot afford to stop being curious–an attribute that helps them stay on top of any situation long before the situation demands it. The curiosity should not stay limited to the news or to developments within an organization. It should extend itself to everything –from politics to sport and from business to science and philosophy. A communications professional cannot afford to stop learning.
Do I have focus? The most effective communicators know that their messages must have focus, they must be sharp and clear, they must be evocative and relevant and they must have a single core purpose around which everything else is structured. If people can see where you are taking them, they will follow. They rarely want to follow those who go down confusing paths, or those who don’t know where they are headed. And successful communications means ensuring people follow.
Am I passionate about the things I communicate? If you are not passionate about the subject, it will show. You may as well write a short notice or memo and circulate it. But if you have passion, it will show. Your speeches, press releases, presentations, words and actions will engage people, force them to think and drive them to action, not just keep them informed. That is the difference between a communications professional and a great communications professional: the first is happy passing along information, the second doesn’t stop until the target audience acts in desirable ways.
Bonus point: Do I have a sense of humor? There is an old saying, “If you can make them laugh, you can make them buy”. This is very true of communications. If you have a sense of humor, chances are you’ll have people eating out of your hands. People who know me will surely related to this. Humor is a great way to ensure people stay engaged, become amenable to your point of view and ultimately allow themselves to be influenced by your words and philosophy. Humor is the final frontier of communications—and that is why only a few can use it well. Humor does not mean publishing jokes on the corporate website or Tweeting funny one-liners. It means having a powerful sense of values, a genuine point of view and the humility to see that you can still be wrong. The real challenge with humor is to know when to use it and when not to. In most cases, people are too frightened to use humor because they think it will make them look “unprofessional”. But that is the very reason why those who use it stand out as exceptional communicators.
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