Rock concerts aren't just for bands; employee communicators can be rock stars, too


After working with smart, dedicated commmunicators all these years, I’m convinced that we all have the potential to be rock stars in our profession. But it’s not easy; we face a lot of challenges in being respected and recognized. You just need to channel your inner Mick Jagger to overcome your obstacles.

To get started, I’ve addressed your most common challenges, “Dear Abby” style:

Dear Alison:
Our company leaders believe in communication, but they’re not sure how to work with us communicators. They always come to us with preconceived notions about how to communicate, making us feel like order takers. How can we educate leaders about how to work with us?
Experienced in Eugene

Dear Experienced:
The good news, of course, is that leaders value communication. But the bad news is they’ve fallen into the habit of prescribing tactics. Try this: Next time you have a conversation where a leader says, “We need a video (or another channel),” pause and reply, “Before we discuss specific tactics, let’s step back and make sure we’re clear about the outcomes you seek to achieve. What do we need stakeholders to know? What do we want them to do?” Changing the conversation helps position you as an advisor and recommend additional tactics, including some out-of-the-box ideas. You may still end up doing a video (and hopefully some of your suggestions), but you’ve established yourself as a counselor.

Dear Alison:
In my organization, everyone thinks they know all about communication. They’re all convinced they’re such great writers, editors, designers, so how hard can communication be? What can I do to change the perception that they know everything (and I don’t bring that much value)?
Talented in Toronto

Dear Talented:
I find that annoying, too—especially most people are actually terrible writers, lousy editors and completely clueless designers. What you need to do is build your brand as a rock star communicator. One easy way to do so: schedule lunch-and-learn workshops or other types of learning sessions on key topics that you know a lot about. For example, share leading practices in email. Or gather trends on writing for electronic media. If presenting isn’t your thing, compile information on essential topics and create one-pagers or mini-whitepapers to share with your internal clients. By establishing yourself as an expert, you elevate yourself above the crowd of would-be writers and wannabe amateur communicators.

Dear Alison:
I’m young, so many people assume I’m not knowledgeable. But I actually know a lot about communication. How can I be taken more seriously?
Youthful in Youngstown

Dear Youthful:
I once had your problem . . . but time passed (sigh!). In the short term, you need to compensate for your youth by relying on other assets. One key strategy is to make sure you always have evidence to make your case, such as audience research, best practices and metrics on how well previous efforts succeeded. By doing so, you don’t enter the room alone—you’ve got the weight of data/information to bolster your image and give you more gravitas. Another tip: Always do your homework. Chances are, by researching the topic being discussed, you’ll be more prepared than anyone else in the room, which will increase your value.

Dear Alison:
Our internal clients start out wanting to try something new, but limited time and budget usually lead us back to using the old tried and true. How can we break out of the box?
Bored in Bayonne

Dear Bored:
The status quo always seems easier, doesn’t it (even if it’s not effective)? The first thing I suggest you to do is pick your opportunities. When budgets are too limited and time is too tight, it’s difficult to be innovative. And choose clients that seem most receptive to doing things differently to demonstrate that new things can be done in your organization. A technique that I use is this: “Let’s try one new idea.” It’s easy to get on board with just one new thing, and it may pave the way for other, more daring advancements.

Dear Alison:
I wouldn’t admit this to everyone, but I’m finding it hard to keep my energy up. After all, I’m no spring chicken, yet everyone expects me to dance around the stage just as I did 50 years ago. I’m worried that if my fans knew the truth about how I feel (These knees are killing me!), they would lose all respect for me. Then I’d be a washed-up pensioner like Paul and Ringo.
Mick in Milwaukee

Dear Mick:
You’ve still got it, babe! After all, the New York Times said: “As long as he was on stage, during the show’s two and a quarter hours, he never stopped.” And the headline said it all: “Unrelenting swagger.” Mick, you’re our rock star role model. So take three Advils (and whatever else your doctor has prescribed) and get back out there!