If you’re enrolled in public relations, marketing, communications or journalism at the post-secondary level, developing soft skills is just as essential as learning the ropes of the industry.
Here are four key skills (and pieces of knowledge) to acquire while progressing through a communications-based diploma or degree.
1. A sound knowledge of group dynamics
Whether it’s a presentation on research findings, a mock press conference or capstone, expect to be affiliated with a number of groups for an undetermined period. In some instances, you’ll be assigned to two or three groups — at the same time, comprising completely different people — to prepare special events, strategic communications proposals, and issues management plans.
The moment you meet your group members, collectively establish ground rules. Agree on meeting times and locations, topics of discussion, and possible roles (e.g. one member may be responsible for proofreading documents, another could act as “head researcher”). Ensure that everyone — including yourself — is satisfied with decisions made. If you have any issues with meeting times, your workload, or anything that could hinder the group’s advancement, notify other members immediately. This way, you can iron out the kinks and ensure a smooth, uninterrupted work experience.
While working with your groups, communicate as often as possible. Set up a Facebook page (or another outlet of your choosing) so your group can update each other on tasks, absence notifications, etc. Don’t overwhelm others with constant information; update your group members only when important things need to be discussed (e.g. a piece of research which could further the assignment).
2. Time management and organization skills
The pace of communications programs is aggressive. If you’re studying journalism, you’ll be writing and photographing stories for your college/university newspaper on a weekly or monthly basis. In public relations or marketing, you’ll be coordinating with real clients in the midst of projects and exams.
I recommend purchasing a day planner or appointment book to keep track of assignment due dates, meeting times, etc. For example, if your research professor assigns a report with a one-week turnaround, pencil in a “work period” the following day after a class.
Also create a priority list of assignments, client meetings and media interviews. If a campaign proposal worth 20 per cent is due in four days, complete that before your grammar worksheet due in two weeks.
3. Extemporaneous thinking
This is a skill you’ll gain over time, both in your program and in the workplace. Extemporaneous means “spoken or done without preparation.” While studying communications, it’s not uncommon for a professor to question you after a presentation, or a client to request clarification on your campaign, event, or issues management plan. You won’t have an ample amount of time to think about your response, so you need to be quick on your feet and provide a coherent response.
How is this achieved? Through practice. Ask a classmate or family member to role-play your professor or client and to ask you a series of question that catch you off guard. Additionally, ask them to assign you a random topic to discuss in the span of two minutes.
Communications is an art and a science; there isn’t a right or wrong necessarily. An open mind and a willingness to learn is critical for academic success.
Mark the wisdom of your professors and guest speakers, and listen to the viewpoints of your classmates. You’ll learn not only from your teachers, but from your peers. You’ll incorporate a multitude of ideas in your projects, yielding favourable results for yourself, for your group(s), and for your target publics, audiences and markets!
I hope these skills will be of use to you during your academic epoch, and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours.