You Can DO This!

Publication1I had a moment of “Wow, they really get it!” excitement the other day in my “Introduction to Public Relations” class at The University of Tampa. We had had a guest speaker talking about her current, very cool job and how she got there, and the students’ interest was encouraging.

Lots of good questions indicated they truly wanted to know more about this unexplored territory known as “PR.”

Class ended, and everyone bailed…except for two students who made a beeline for the speaker, introduced themselves, and proceeded to excitedly ask questions and give some background on their own, as yet, not completely formulated plans for the future.

That’s the whole purpose of this exercise. I, as a public relations professional who has “been around the block” a few times, want to open the door a bit and show these up-and-coming communication professionals the variety of opportunities that lie ahead for them.

I also want to make it clear that it’s their responsibility to take the proactive first steps of asking questions and reaching out to those of us who, in one way or another, are able to give them advice and guidance.

These two folks did just that. They’ve both made it clear to me that they are interested in the career field that has been my lifelong passion. And I, in turn, have made it clear to both of them that that is why I’m here…to help in any way that I can.

The bottom line in all this, though, is my deeply-held conviction that, given the opportunity, you can do whatever it is that you want to do. Clinton Parks, my internship supervisor at the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Public Affairs Office, saw what he believed was my potential as a future PAO, and he did everything he could to help me get there.

The end result was an amazing out-of-the-gate opportunity to serve as the Public Affairs Officer for the US Army Intelligence School at Ft. Devens, Mass…an accredited institution with a combined staff/faculty/student population of 3,000. Unlike my peers in the internship program, I wasn’t an entry-level employee…I was the person in charge of the School’s public affairs (public relations) program!

And so it began…a 30-year career in public affairs/public relations, culminating in what has been the realization of a hope, expressed even earlier…teaching the next generation(s) of public relations professionals…sharing my own experiences and lessons learned.

Bottom line to all this? Don’t question your abilities. Shoot for the stars.

You Can DO This!!

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Don’t Second-Guess Yourself

Publication1I never fail to be amazed by people who, when something they planned goes kerfluey, spend the next two lifetimes beating themselves up about it. “Why did I do that?”…I should have done XXX.” And on and on and on….

Here’s a newsflash for those of you who are guilty of this. Life happens. Get over it.

Before you get all preach-y with me…I do understand. I’ve been there. I’ve spent countless hours moaning and groaning about some thing or other that jumped merrily off the tracks and made a royal mess of all my plans. In spite of everything, it. just. didn’t. work.

A wise…and probably burned out…salesman once wearily sighed to Margaret (my wife) after she had found yet another microscopic blemish in a table lamp that she was interested in buying: “Nothing’s perfect, little girl.” So very, very true.

I’m not saying that you simply shrug your shoulders and do nothing other than give up. What I am suggesting is that you learn from the experience and keep on keepin’ on.

“In his efforts to develop the lightbulb, Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 experiments that failed before finally hitting on the winner. When a reporter asked, ‘How did it feel to fail 1,000 times,’ Edison replied, ‘I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.’” (Wikipedia)

I’m not recommending that you should go to this extreme, but the world is certainly better off because Mr. Edison didn’t waste time second-guessing his efforts. More important, I believe, he refused to give up on something that he absolutely believed he could make happen. He just kept on trying.

So whether you’re in college trying to figure out just what it is you want to do or you’re out in the “real world” and trying to convince yourself…and others…that you are capable of great things, don’t second-guess yourself. If it feels right and you feel in your heart-of-hearts that you can make it happen…go for it!

“I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.” – John Keats, “Letter to James Hessey” [October 8, 1818]

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Why I Teach

Publication1I realized something recently as I wrapped up the first day of fall semester at The University of Tampa…I love what I’m doing!

I’m teaching two Communication classes this semester… “Introduction to Organizational Communication” and “Introduction to Public Relations.” In all my years back in Massachusetts, I had never taught Org Com, so this has been a new experience for me. I’ll have to say I’m not “in love” with the course, but it’s okay, and I’m kind of getting into the groove with it. The PR course, on the other hand…well, D-UH.

The students in both classes are pretty cool. It’s the first day, and I’m a relatively new face on campus, so they’re trying to figure out just what kind of teacher I’m going to be. Ditto on my side…I go through this every semester with new classes and new faces. The first day of the semester is like a first date… it takes a while for both sides to make up their minds about the future of the relationship.

But something happened at the end of the PR class that brought into focus why I continue to do this “teaching thing.”

For starters, I don’t get all academic-y in my approach to teaching. I don’t get googly-eyed about theoretical stuff…my focus is on reality…This is what happened…This is what we did about it…This was the result of our efforts.

So in my PR classes since the beginning of time, I’ve started from Day 1 with stories about things that I dealt with in my past life as a PR guy for various types of organizations. I give a little background; then I give the details of our actions. Then I circle back and emphasize that success was the result of some skilled PR folks doing what they do best…solving problems.

I then tell the class that this is what I’m going to do in this class. They’re going to hear about/learn about situations that threatened the ongoing success of an organization and then they’re going to be challenged to describe how they would handle the situation. Real life, real time problem-solving.

Well, at the end of today’s introductory PR class, two students came up to say how excited they were about this opportunity to learn more about a possible career path that they had heard about but really didn’t know much about at this point.

I assured them that, by the time we completed the semester, they would have a pretty good idea whether or not they wanted to…as I loved to describe it at Curry College, where I headed the PR Concentration and taught most of the PR courses…“come over to the ‘dark side.’”

I also assured them that the world is absolutely NOT going to come to a screeching halt if either of them decided they really didn’t want to do this “PR stuff.”

We wrapped up our chat and, as I was walking out of the classroom, it hit me that this is exactly why I have enjoyed teaching for the past almost (Holy COW!!) 20 years. Public relations has been and always will be my passion. I’ve seen how organizations can truly benefit from well-managed PR programs. More important, I’ve seen how PR can help everyone inside and outside the organization gain a deeper appreciation for its existence. I have been allowed, as a professor, to share that experience.

And, in the end, I’m encouraging young men and women, all of whom I truly believe are going to be amazing successes, to find their own passion, whether it be public relations or social work or whatever. And I’m committed to making this happen.

That’s why I teach!

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Frustration…It Happens

Publication1It’s easy to say to someone, “Be patient. Things will get better.”

It’s a whole ‘nother thing when you, yourself, are faced with a situation…or a series of situations…where things just don’t go “right.” The people you’re dealing with seem to have been living in a cave for the majority of their adult lives, and the only word they’ve learned to say is “No.”

Welp…welcome to my past year. I’m going to keep specifics out of this for all kinds of reasons, but I need to get this out…to decompress a smidge.

I do still have a “fond” memory of having been told by a long-ago boss, “Kirk, we just don’t do things that way here.” This gentle nudge came as a result of my having exploded and ripped into another employee who had basically done nothing that I had asked him to do regarding an emergency situation that I was trying to handle the PR for. (Note: I later apologized to him for blowing up like that, and we remained friends for the remainder of my time there.)

Most recently, though, I have chosen to get involved in volunteer activities that I have, in previous “lives,” had considerable success managing. I foolishly assumed that this would be the case this time. Wrong!!

Got my knuckles rapped by several people for the way in which I went about things. Got “scolded” by a couple of the same. My gut-reaction was to end my relationship with this endeavor immediately….to figuratively stomp out, slamming the door behind me.

But then I cooled off and have decided that I’m going to make this damned thing work in spite of the resistance that I’m going to get. I know from years of experience that what I’m proposing to do has tremendous potential.

The “lesson” here, my patient reader, is that you’re going to run smack-dab into situations like this in your own future initiatives, either in a business environment or as a volunteer like me. You’re going to encounter people who seem to be dead-set on resisting anything that sounds even vaguely “new.”

Take a deeep breath, and let it out slooowly. Then charge ahead with your initiative. Believe in yourself and your ability to make good things happen. In the end, you will prevail.

Publication2“And many a broken heart is here and many a broken head;
But tomorrow,
By the living God, we’ll try the game again!”

– John Masefield, Tomorrow

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Disinformation versus Reality

(Note to readers: This is a copy of a “Letter to the Editor” of the Taipei Times that I wrote and was recently published. We hear so doggone much about “fake news” and “disinformation” and all that. What do YOU think?)

Publication1Much has been discussed in the media in Taiwan and the US regarding the seeming proliferation of “facts” that on the surface sound and seem true, but, upon further investigation, are just the opposite.

One term used to describe this situation is “disinformation,” a relatively innocuous term. A more extremist approach has been taken, on the other hand, by US President Donald Trump, who has popularized the description of (in his eyes) unfavorable media coverage as “fake news,” and he and his communication team have worked overtime to drive home the derogatory description.

While this attention-grabbing activity takes place virtually year-round, one particular time that the phenomenon regularly — and predictably — emerges is during political campaign seasons on every level from local to national government.

Certain political aspirants apparently feel that “anything goes” when it comes to what they either infer or claim outright about their opponents. Unfortunately an often unsuspecting, unquestioning consumer public accepts these individuals’ pronouncements as truth.

Looking back, as ready access to information expanded, citizens were presented with more avenues through which to ensure that they had the most current and, presumably, most accurate data on which to base their decisions. They felt reasonably comfortable with this situation because they knew that, at that time, media outlets had as part of their organizational structure editorial “gatekeepers” whose responsibilities included ensuring that the information being communicated was verifiably truthful, impartial and beneficial.

Entry into the 21st century has brought us, as news consumers, a plethora of avenues — most particularly social media platforms, but also increasingly vocal and partisan traditional news outlets — for accessing information, many of which are “unencumbered” by gatekeepers.

This is not to say that we are being subjected at all times to intentional untruths. Rather, we are faced today with the additional responsibility of conducting our own fact-checking to ensure that what we read, see or hear is accurate.

For older generations, this is an unfamiliar responsibility. As I so often have told my students for nearly two decades, I vividly remember when my grandmother would make a remark about some public occurrence. When I asked how she knew that, her response invariably would be: “I heard it on the radio.” From her perspective, “the radio doesn’t lie. Case closed; I have heard the truth.”

People who read, listen and watch today would be well advised to take the “facts” as they are presented via their preferred medium with a large pinch of salt.

I am not suggesting that all that one receives from the media is incorrect or intentionally misleading. Quite the opposite. As a former public-relations professional, I saw first-hand the lengths to which my colleagues in the media would go to ensure that the information they pass on to their audience is as accurate as possible.

Rather, I would suggest that one should be an active participant in the communication process. Take the additional step of cross-checking information that somehow sounds “iffy,” that does not quite match what one has previously been told.

News consumption today is comparable to a visit to the doctor — you should always get a second opinion before taking drastic action.

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Listening…The “Secret Sauce” in Mentoring

Publication1I reconnected with a former student recently when Facebook alerted me that it was her birthday. As is my custom, I sent her a short “Happy Birthday” note. A couple of back-and-forth notes, and it dawned on me that I have now known this amazing young woman for 13 years!

We don’t communicate regularly…mostly birthday wishes and stuff like that. But I was reminded this morning (love those memories that float up from the mists!) of the incident that cemented our friendship.

I was teaching part-time at a college south of Boston and was sitting in my “office” when I overheard a conversation she was having with her faculty advisor. I wasn’t eavesdropping, in case you’re wondering. The set-up of the part-timers’ office space was such that we could hear…whether we wanted to or not…virtually everything going on around us.

Anyway, my take on her meeting was that it didn’t go well at all. From what I heard the professor say to her, it was pretty obvious that he basically didn’t give a damn.

When she left his office, practically in tears, I caught her eye and invited her to come in…sit…and talk. While I was new at this teaching thing, I had enough professional experience that I was able to help her get a handle on the problem she had and to give her some suggestions on what she could do to resolve it. But I was able to do this for one simple reason…I listened.

And that’s one of the key factors in mentoring…it’s a give-and-take relationship, with both parties playing an active role in the process. And…yes…listening is an active thing. You’re absorbing everything that the other party is saying, processing it through the filters of your own knowledge and experience, and responding with suggestions on how he or she can best approach the challenge.

Going back to my young friend/former student…I can’t begin to describe how impressed I am with where she is today. She has established herself solidly in the career field that she identified as her future and is doing amazing things!

I hasten to add that I honestly had nothing to do with this success. I actually left the college where I met her to take a full-time position elsewhere. But, again, thanks to the “magic” of Facebook and LinkedIn, I have been able to stay relatively up to speed on what she has been and is doing.

Listening is something that is so easily overlooked or given short shrift. I can’t tell you how many times myself I’ve gone to a colleague hoping to get some guidance only to wind up being subjected to either a lecture or a diatribe that does nothing more than waste my time.

It obviously helps if you have actual experience that relates to the situation that your mentee is dealing with. But it’s not a perfect world. Sometimes you just have to listen to the words behind what the other person is saying and then offer suggestions on how he or she might best approach it.

Listening is just that…listening…actively and compassionately. It’s the “secret sauce” in mentoring.

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I Absolutely LOVE Learning!

Publication1This “revelation” comes as no surprise to any of you who have subjected yourselves to my musings over the years. Learning, to me, is a passion.

Whether it be, as a toddler, sticking a metal nail file into a wall socket to see what would happen (won’t do THAT again!) or, as a young teen, rewiring a crystal diode radio on the theory that, if I could pick up a radio station 15 miles away with the crystal diode, imagine what I might be able to get with a 120-volt connection, I have always had a curious, wanna learn, streak! (Note: Didn’t know until that last experiment that transistors can explode!) Bottom line…learned a LOT from both experiences!

Education in its many forms accomplishes so many things…
* It prepares you to participate in the many aspects of adult and professional life that make you…and our nation…successful.
* It helps you, when you encounter new challenges, to evaluate the situation and make a reasoned and logical decision.
* It introduces you to sooo many new things…art, history, life in general.

I recently attended my first PRSA Sunshine District Conference, held here in my new “hometown” of Tampa, FL…day-and-a-half of nonstop keynote speakers and breakout sessions. I wrote a brief recap for the PRSA Tampa Bay Chapter blog in which I basically said I didn’t learn a single NEW thing…but that’s a GOOD thing!

What I DID do was get solid and professional validation that what I thought I knew and what I share these days with my Communication students at The University of Tampa…and, before, with my Communication students at Curry College…is accurate and current. Whew!!

I’m always amused…and puzzled…when I hear one of my students mutter something to the effect of “I’ll be so glad when I graduate and won’t have to study anymore.” To which I often respond, “Your studying is only beginning…wait until you start your new job and find out just what all you have to learn!”

Cue the mournful look and sigh…

One other bullet on the “accomplishes” list…
* Education…learning…keeps you young.

I have harbored this probably irrational fear seemingly forever that my brain will “rot” if I don’t keep it gainfully occupied. Stupid? Maybe. But I have NO intention of testing the premise!

So there you have it. As English poet Alexander Pope said so wisely: “A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring.”

I absolutely LOVE learning!

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