Success? Definitely a Journey.

I was asked not too long ago to talk about building blocks for success… and specifically what my building blocks have been for my success. Odd, I thought. I don’t really think of myself as “successful.” I love my work, I adore my family and I’m pretty darn happy. But for me, I guess because I’m still in a growth phase of my career, I’d just never slapped the success label on any part of my life.

But request made me think… mostly because once I’d said yes I’d certainly have to come up with something to fill 30 or 45 minutes on this topic. So I got a little existential and pondered,

How did I get here?

For the purposes of my presentation and discussion, I defined three “building blocks”: the intangibles, the skills and the glue.

The Intangibles

What are your values? I identify three that have been important for me.

  • Empathy – the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes. I’ve talked a lot about empathy here. You can read it here.
  • Generosity – generosity of time and spirit lets you put yourself out there and trust me, you’ll learn more than you teach.
  • Curiosity – be insatiably curious and always excited to figure out what’s next.

The Skills

You can’t be successful without the skills to do your job.

  • Writing – communicating clearly in writing and verbally is crucial regardless of your industry. Get some practice, get an editor and build your skills.
  • Verbal – you don’t necessarily have to give presentations, but you have to be able to communicate your ideas clearly and out loud. To other people.
  • Industry Specific – In PR, it’s writing and speaking that’s the crux of what we do. But it’s increasingly important to ¬†undersand technology (web, video, audio), too.

The Glue

Even if you have all the above pieces, you still have to have the glue that pulls it all together.

  • Networks: online and offline networking with other professionals. Learn to build your networks.
  • Mentor: My mentor has been pivotal in my career, and in turn I enjoy being a mentor, too. I’ve written about the mentor-mentee relationship before.
  • Friends & family: Pretty basic concept. My friends and family keep me grounded. And my partner is the household manager for our family, which really allows me to do what I do.

You can click through the Prezi here.

Building Blocks for Success on Prezi

What are your building blocks?

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes…The Importance of Empathy in Public Relations

It’s easy to think of cool ways to reach your peers, to identify strategies and tactics for and audiences made up of people who are like you. For most students, that means the temptation to focus on students and how to reach students is strong, even when it doesn’t make sense to include a student focus.

But more often than not, public relations campaigns must focus on audiences that are decidedly not like you. Understanding how to reach those audiences takes a skill (a trait?) I don’t think we talk about in public relations much, but I would rank high on the “must haves”: empathy.

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s place and understand their feeling, emotions, motivations and values. Many argue it’s a core competency of emotional intelligence, widely seen as crucial to business and leadership success.

It’s hard to step outside your comfort zone, to think beyond your life experience and to stretch as a communicator. It’s scary. And an imperfect practice. But it’s also exhilarating! And to be able to do so is powerful. Empathy is the glue that connects everything we do in public relations. At the core, PR is about building and maintaining relationships, right? That must take more than carefully crafted messages, well-designed material and expertly-delivered speeches. People connect with people, not messages and not talking points. Being an empathetic practitioner requires making human connections and making those connections scalable (one-to-one communication is not always an option).

I think empathy is complicated and multi-faceted. But you can start with the first step of any PR campaign, research.

When you start a project where you’ll be reaching a new (to you) audience, do your research! In addition to the standard instruments (surveys, focus groups, questionnaires), try more “informal” methods, too: talk to people and observe. Just talk to people – as many people as you can that might give you some insights and increase your understanding. And observe – look for opportunities to observe how your audiences interact, where they hang out, how they move through time and space. Listen more than you talk and think more than you react.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you consider yourself empathetic? How do you know? And how can you develop better skills?

Wheel of Shoes by Sarah and Mike …probably, via Flickr
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