As the role of public relations evolves and its ability to influence business decisions increases, it has never been more important for professionals to be able to garner trust from senior stakeholders.
So if you want to be taken seriously at the top table, you need to follow these two golden rules:
1. Do your homework
It might sound blindingly obvious – but it's amazing how few professionals genuinely do their research. It is impossible to overstate the value of original thought. Whether you are in a meeting, writing a briefing or simply bump into the chief executive in the corridor, if you can talk with intelligence and originality then your star will rise.
There was once a chief executive of a major UK financial services company who would stalk the firm’s offices looking for unsuspecting executives to grill about the business. Woe betide the person who could not recite the firm’s share price that day, and show how their department was contributing to its overall profitability. Those who went further, and managed to pique the chief’s interest with original thoughts and engaging conversation, found promotion not far away.
Everything is connected
It goes without saying that you must be on top of your own markets, but you must also have a broad understanding of how those markets fit into the bigger picture. Everything is connected. A bauxite mine closing in Western Australia, a collapse in Shanghai property prices or strict new regulatory controls in Europe – all of these events have will have direct or indirect consequences on your own or your clients’ business. It is important to understand how and why this is so, and what opportunities or threats you face as a result.
Make news your habit
There are no shortcuts. Google searches simply won’t cut it. In order to build up a sound knowledge of a subject or sector you need to get into the habit of checking the latest news and comment every day. Original thought does not just strike randomly; it is acquired over time through diligent reading and research.
Set aside an hour each morning to catch up with the day’s news. Switch off your email, put your phone on silent, buy a coffee and secrete yourself away with a laptop/tablet/newspaper, and catch up. Do this regularly and you'll stay one step ahead of the game; who knows when you’ll next need to impress a client or senior executive with your wisdom?
2. Speak plainly
The great 20th century writer and novelist, George Orwell, once said: "It is easier – even quicker, once you have the habit – to say ‘In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that’ than to say ‘I think’." If only everybody took this advice. For one thing, meetings and briefings would be much shorter.
Senior figures tend to distrust jargon and crave plain speaking; they simply do not have time for prevarication. Use short words and sentences and get to the point quickly. Remember Mark Twain’s insightful lament: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." Those who have put in the time and effort to know their subject will be able to speak pithily about it and with impact.
There is absolutely no point in having all that knowledge and understanding if, when it comes to a high-level meeting, you end up talking in jargon and platitudes. All too often in the world of financial and professional services, office and boardroom conversations are conducted in a kind of corporate double speak. Real meaning is clouded by obfuscation and buzzwords. If you want to be taken seriously when you write or speak then make sure you’ve done your homework, and avoid corporate non-speak like the plague.
Think before you speak
All too often when we speak our mouths are in fifth gear and our minds are in neutral. Take time to order your thoughts before you speak. If you're heading to an important meeting, make a list of the three most important and salient points you want to get across. Write them out on a piece of paper in plain English and keep it with you. Do not deviate or try to impress people with long words or lengthy speeches. After all, brevity is the soul of wit.
Whether you work in-house or at an agency, the power of original thought is immense. It will gain you promotion and/or new business. But it counts for nothing if you can't articulate your thoughts clearly and with purpose.
So if you’re not already, start to integrate these practices in to your day-to-day work. In the increasingly competitive field of communications you’ll be surprised how refreshing these fundamental skills prove to be.
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