Strategies & Tactics

Clearing the Path: Leadership Advice for Emerging PR Pros

January 3, 2019


Communication and self-confidence are timeless cornerstones of success. Here are 10 tips for developing those skills, so newcomers to the PR profession can thrive and become leaders in our quickly changing world:

• Know how to connect PR metrics to business outcomes. Professional communicators mustn’t be intimidated by statistics and numbers. After all, bosses — and clients — want us to demonstrate our knowledge and interest in business outcomes. You must be able to connect your work and communications campaigns to revenue. Learn how to formulate hypotheses about the impact of your work and follow up with visually appealing one-page reports that include supporting data and next steps.

To get noticed, show stakeholders that you respect their time — and that you took the time to extract important highlights from your communications metrics. Rather than just bringing a binder stuffed with spreadsheets to a meeting, break the data down into easily understood visual nuggets such as charts or bar graphs. Busy executives appreciate this practice — called data visualization — because the brevity and clarity it provides helps them glean insights and ask follow-up questions. Be prepared to respond with supporting information. Another benefit of data visualization is that it helps you develop your own critical-thinking and oratory skills.

• Practice self-awareness. Too often, leaders mistakenly believe they are communicating with respect and kindness. Introspection often reveals this belief as self-deluding. Left unchecked, it can poison the performance and behaviors of others.

In its book “Leadership and Self-Deception,” the Arbinger Institute, a management-training and consulting company, posits there are two kinds of people: those who are “inside the box,” and those who are “outside the box.”

“Inside the box” types have distorted views of themselves and others. They treat people as objects that don’t have feelings. This absence of empathy and emotional intelligence reveals itself in subtle signs of disrespect, such as brusque responses or lack of eye contact. When two “inside the box” people try to communicate or negotiate with each other, a positive outcome is unlikely.

Conversely, “outside the box” executives are thoughtful, considerate and attentive. They treat people — including strangers — with kindness.

• Be curious.
As television journalist Diane Sawyer says, “Wake up curious.” Get out of bed every morning with a renewed sense of excitement for what the day will bring. This childlike trait will serve you well throughout your life.

Remember that people and stories are not always what they appear to be. Your willingness to ask questions and listen to uncover what lies beneath will give you fresh perspectives and enthusiasm. When you approach every day with an open mind and heart, you also bond emotionally with people. That’s the beauty of being human. 

• Avoid “time traveling.” There is immense value in being fully present and engaged. My mantra is: “Wherever my feet are, my head is.” Learn to control the relentless internal chatter that can turn people into “time travelers,” lost in the past or anxious about the future. When we quiet our minds — as in meditation, mindfulness or yoga — we stop depriving ourselves of whatever lies right in front of us.

For example, if you daydream during a meeting with a prospective client, then you’ll likely miss something that could have helped you land the contract. But when you’re fully present and listening, you’ll ask quality questions and connect with others on a deeper level.

• Cultivate your public-speaking skills. Savvy leaders feel comfortable talking to small groups or packed auditoriums. Forget the excuse that you’re an introvert; if you aspire to be a leader, get out of your own way. Start speaking up at meetings, on video calls and at networking events. Pay attention to successful presenters and note their styles, charisma and delivery. Also dissect the performance of subpar speakers and why they fall flat. Developing your own public-speaking techniques requires practice, trial and error, and a thick skin.

• Craft powerful introductions about yourself. A business acquaintance who owns a tech-marketing consultancy recently told me that for years she was humiliated because she — and her company — had an identity crisis. “I have an MBA, but I couldn’t explain to people what I do,” she said. I coached her to find the right words to describe herself and her business, in the right order, at the right time, for the right audiences.

Intriguing introductions spark curiosity and move conversations forward. Make yourself memorable and compelling so folks will hire you or refer business to you. If you find yourself in an elevator with the CEO, what will you say? Be prepared.

• Offer meaningful comments online. Yes, people do want to know your opinions. Prerequisites for writing a thoughtful comment (as opposed to the generic “Great post!”) are that you take the time to read the other person’s statement, think about it, formulate an opinion and add to the dialogue. When we comment on social media posts, we improve our own outreach, along with our writing and critical-thinking skills. Above all, we invite differing opinions and open ourselves to new perspectives and ideas.

• Understand the fine art of charisma. Charisma is defined as magnetism, charm, allure and appeal. Charismatic people have a lighthearted sense of humor that draws others to them, both online and in real life. They also have an uncanny way of building rapport, trust and influence. To cultivate relationships, remember that your presence affects your prosperity. People must know who you are and what you do. If there’s any doubt or confusion, they will go elsewhere, probably to your competition. Does your personality need refining?    

• Know when to shut up. My grandmother — who lived to be 95 years old — wasn’t educated, but she was a wise woman. She gave me one of the most important communication lessons I have ever learned.

When my husband and I got married, my grandmother told me: “Know when to speak up and when to shut up.” I soon realized this sage advice applies outside the home, too. Not every remark, question or comment that someone makes requires a response. Silence is often more powerful than words, and can keep you out of trouble.

• Develop positive daily routines. Human beings are creatures of habit. Successful people stick to schedules that prime them for success. Many executives wake up early and incorporate exercise, meditation or reading into their daily routines. Oprah Winfrey says she jots down what she’s grateful for in a “gratitude journal,” and that this simple habit has changed her life. Nurturing your physical, emotional and spiritual growth every day will help you develop a positive attitude that leads to your success. Ask anyone you admire and respect about their habits, and they will undoubtedly share similar regimens.

Susan Young

Susan Young, CEO of Get in Front Communications, is an award-winning news reporter, PR entrepreneur, storyteller and speaker. She is the manager and facilitator of Communication Nation on Facebook.


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