Stand up and be prepared to share

I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak at a number of conferences and workshops both at home and abroad. It isn’t easy and I do always get nervous before speaking before a group of industry peers. Quite a few years ago I was lucky enough to have the chance of doing a presentation skills workshop with a coach and it taught me some valuable lessons. But above all it made me seek out and take the opportunities that have arisen.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I read this interesting blog from Rachel Miller talking about the lack of women on many communication, IT and social media conference panels. I would recommend reading it as it made me think. (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-women-dont-speak-conferences-rachel-miller)

What I suddenly realised is that being a women working in police communication there have been many, many occasions when I have been the only woman in a meeting let alone the only woman speaking at a conference. For some reason it didn’t register. It could be that I have just got used to it so I don’t even notice the gender imbalance or perhaps I have stopped considering the gender makeup of meetings, workshops or conferences.

It is a tough gig to stand up in front of fellow communication professionals to talk about your experiences, events or a specific piece of work. Few women will aggressively put themselves forward claiming that they have all the answers. But for me talking at a conference should not be about how great you think you are, it is about sharing an experience with people. This means talking about both the high points and the low points and ensuring it is an accurate and complete story. If you are getting some things right, it means you will be getting some things wrong. We should never be afraid to talk about how the lessons we learn along the way.

The chance of sharing experiences with fellow professionals has helped me to consider new ideas, look at new things and try something different. It has expanded my horizon and I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity.

From now I think I am going to be more aware of the gender mix of conference speakers and conference panels, and I will definitely encourage more people to take up any speaking opportunities that arise.

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The art of storytelling

I listened to a little bit of the BBC Radio 2 young people’s short story competition winners. It was amazing to know that so many young people would sit down and put their imagination to the test to develop interesting storylines. There were a huge number of entries and it is really heartening in this digital and computer game age to know that children are still writing stories.

Storytelling is part of what makes us human. It is an essential part of society and for any professional communicator it is a key skill. Everything hinges on having a good story and being able to share it with others. There are a number of elements to it including: content, delivery, creativity and construction. All of them need to work together to be really effective.

For internal communicators it is particularly important. Over many years management have just wanted to tell staff things. It hasn’t been about negotiation or discussion it has been about delivering pearls of wisdom and orders to be followed through. Only recently have people realised that to get the most from people you need to be able to have a clear narrative about what the organisation fundamentally stands for. You need to be able to articulate it in a way that is meaningful and easy to understand. That is where storytelling can be so vital.

Why do we lose our ability to develop and tell stories? It is something that we had to do at school but as soon as we grow up it is lost. How many adults will sit and write a story or let their imagination develop an idea? We don’t. But storytelling is going on every day in offices, workplaces and pubs. Wherever people get together they do tell stories. They just don’t see it as that but rather they see it as sharing news and information.

Storytelling should be seen as a skill that is supported and prized in development. It is great that it is being supported by competitions and events like that by BBC Radio 2. Now perhaps we should value the art of storytelling among communicators.

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Another day, another crisis

I felt there was only one subject that I should blog about today and that is the FIFA situation. Of course I am not going to comment on the investigation or what the future may hold. The issue that has caught my attention is once again is handling a crisis and the communication associated with it.

Just a few days after Thomas Cook showed that they were slow in understanding how to deal with a reputation crisis, we now have a similar issue emerging for FIFA. It has made me even more acutely aware of when things are handled well. What makes an effective crisis communication plan can vary depending on the issue in the spotlight and the local or global environment around it. But I do think there are some key elements that you need to actively consider when developing crisis communication.

1. Recognise the problem. Be clear about what is happening and what it means for the organisation. Too many people try to take the sting out of a situation when they are briefing senior managers. This is doomed to fail. Be brave and make them aware of exactly what is being said and what the mood is, and what the problem means for the reputation. Being a communication professional was never about making friends it is about being effective.

2. Know the public mood. This is essential for communicators and using social media can be a useful part of a wider information gathering plan. If you have frontline staff gauge their views from what customers or members of the public have been saying. You can only develop an effective plan if you have an understanding of the current mood.

3. Be honest. If you know something is definitely the case then admit it. Be clear about what you can say and what you know to be true. Obviously if there is an investigation there will need to be some things that you can’t discuss but there are many, many things that you can. If you are trying to hide or ‘cover up’ you will be found out and the situation will be many times worse. With the growth of social media comes the power in the hands of citizens and employees who will know if you are being less than honest.

4. Say sorry. This is one that legal people will disagree with. The communicator sometimes will have to challenge the legal advisers and explain the impact on reputation of failing to say sorry when it should happen. I feel that Thomas Cook failed many times to be sorry for the events that happened. In saying sorry it doesn’t necessarily become an admission of guilt it is merely recognising the situation that exists.

5. Prepare for today and tomorrow. A crisis will change and develop over time. There is the initial incident, the aftermath and then at some point will come the recovery or return to normality. Communicators have to remain continually on the ball with the issue. When everyone else in the organisation may be starting to move on you need to still read the temperature of the public mood and ensure people don’t rush ahead further damaging reputation.

As I watched the news headlines today it was a case of another day, another crisis. Let us all remember that these issues, incidents and events can appear any second or any minute of any day.

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Five qualities of a digital leader

I was following a couple of conferences today through the Twitter hashtags. Both were discussing the role, benefits and issues related to social media. Among the subjects and questions was an interesting one that got me thinking. It was whether people at the conference were going to be ‘digital leaders’. I wondered what I would class as qualities of a digital leader and I have five priorities:

1. Be open to new ideas – it is easy to want to keep on the path you have previously trod. The predictability is comforting as you can do the same and know you will get similar results. If you try new things you have to be prepared for the unexpected to be the effect. But for those looking to you for leadership you have to be prepared to step into the unknown and to try new things.

2. Keep up to date with developments – to be a true leader you have to be able to keep on top of the rapidly changing digital landscape. This can be done in many ways. It may be that you tap into some of the top digital update websites, follow key individuals on social media or find another way to stay on top of things. For me a digital leader may not know the real detail of how some of the new apps and technology work but they will know that they exist and that they are being used. You don’t have to be a geek to keep aware of the digital developments.

3. Be prepared to take a few risks – this is definitely linked to the new ideas in point one. If you are going to try some new things using the technology then you absolutely have to be prepared to take a few risks. For communication professionals this means gaining the confidence of bosses so that they are prepared to let you try new things with only a small safety net or possibly no net at all. Of course sometimes things will go slightly awry but it is how you then manage the aftermath that matters. If you want to get somewhere new then you have to do new things.

4. Listen to experts – for managers and leaders who want to step into the digital world it is really worth listening to the geeks and those experts who can help you navigate the way forward. If you are going to develop into a digital leader you will need the specialist advice to help you make the most and keep up-to-date with developments. No-one knows everything and you need to recognise where you need assistance.

5. Encourage engagement and listening – ultimately the social media arena is about engaging and having conversations. Seeking feedback and then listening to it is vital. If you are a digital leader then you need to listen to the advisers you have but also to the feedback that you receive. Lead by example and ensure that you have moved away from broadcast mode and into real engagement.

For me those are five key qualities that distinguish the digital leader from the general manager or boss. Do you have any qualities you would add?

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A window into the communication industry

I joined the Twitterchat #smxchat tonight when the discussion was about transparency and integrity. A thorny subject for a Tuesday evening but one that is well worthy of an hour conversation or even a blog. It is still a surprise for me that these qualities are not valued as more important by brands, businesses and organisations. Sat alongside this is the important element of having a Code of Ethics for the public relations and communication industry.

Why is integrity and transparency important? For me it is all about trust, honesty and openness. In this 24 hour a day 7 day a week world of social media and rolling news there is no hiding place from the reality whatever that may be. If you lie or bend the truth then you can be sure at some point today, tomorrow or in the future you will be found out. When that happens you have lost integrity and have a long road ahead to regain trust.

I am still amazed by the fact that individuals and organisations haven’t recognised this and will often try to paper over problems. Transparency for me is all about treating people as adults, giving them the facts and then letting them make their own mind up. You can say something is the case again and again until you are blue in the face but if that doesn’t match up to what you experience then your effort is not only wasted but it could be damaging. If you know the real situation then why not explain that to people.

The reputation of the public relations professional and the communication industry is at risk if we don’t demonstrate the importance of a code of ethics to the work every day. We need to explain what we do and how we operate to avoid the negative views that surround us. For me it is time for ethics, integrity and transparency to step into the spotlight for all companies and brands.

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Loving LinkedIn – not really.

I often wonder what I get from my LinkedIn presence. It has been in place for about five years now and the details on it have grown and developed. There was a time when I thought that it would overtake the need to have a CV and instead I would be able to point people towards my profile on the social network. But at the moment I am feeling that it hasn’t really proved its worth.

Every day I see updates about who is linked to who, and some updates about people’s work or job status. It is all interesting stuff but doesn’t really make me feel as though I am making the most of the network. Perhaps it is just that I have missed something that other people have found. I have tried to get involved in communities and to share updates like this blog through it.

I can see that if people are looking for work or other forms of employment then checking out LinkedIn really is important. If you are posting details of a job it is also useful. How much other stuff that is shared is helpful, engaging or interesting?

Perhaps I need to invest some time in revisiting LinkedIn and what it has to offer as a social network. I would be really interested to hear people’s views of what it brings and what I should be using it for. In short, help me to love LinkedIn again.

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26 hours a day – please

If I had a £1 for every time I say I could do with some more hours in the day I would probably have £1,523 – or something near it. It is a regular frustration of mine that I try to pack so much into the day and many times I overestimate what I can do in 24 hours. Something inevitably has to give and often I sacrifice a decent nights sleep to be able to do everything I want to.

Unfortunately, you can only last so long with a minimum of sleep, despite what people will tell you about Margaret Thatcher. I have worked out I can probably keep going for three or four days with just a few hours sleep each night. But I pay for it and need to catch up at some point after that or I risk getting ill.

I know this isn’t just a problem for me. In the modern world we are all trying to do a lot of things at once. For many it is about working a more than full-time job, balancing the demands of family life and then trying to do some sport or pastimes as well. For me I am trying to work a full-time job, do some of my own work, look after a horse, become a dressage judge, write a number of books, er and other things as well. I don’t think it helps that I have a little notebook to write down all the ideas I have for things I want to do.

I am definitely at my best when I am busy. In the past three days I have rarely had chance to sit and relax. It has been dashing from one thing to another, getting up early and then packing a lot in. Of course, my sleep pattern has suffered and until last night I have had just a few hours sleep. There has been a lot achieved but I know I need to have time to relax. Tomorrow is a day for myself, well sort of but I still have some work and chores to do.

None of this is a moan. It is just a word to people to remember to take some time out and relax, or even try meditation so that you can keep going and make the most of every day.

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