It’s graduation season and with that comes the time honored tradition of sitting down and listening to someone more famous or more successful than you impart something resembling life lessons or wisdom meant to inspire graduates and help them commence the next stage of their life. Earlier this week, Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, gave the commencement address at the University of Texas-Austin and he said,
“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. … And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”
Recognizing that I’m not famous nor successful enough to be asked to give a graduation speech I’ve commandeered the company blog to give you a Four on Friday version of a commencement speech. And because my blog posts tend to be a little off kilter (see here and here) I’m going to stick with Admiral McRaven’s thesis and identify four mundane daily tasks that will help new public relations professionals become better communicators.
1) Get Up Early: Yes, it is easier said than done. But, getting up early gets you to work early and that can be the most productive time of day. The phone hasn’t started ringing, emails don’t pop up at an alarming rate and colleagues aren’t stealing a few minutes of your time. Flex time is popular and believe me, as you get older and have kids or a long commute it becomes very helpful, but a recent study suggests you get ahead by getting in earlier. So, get up early, make your bed and get to work. Chances are your boss is already there.
2) Read the Paper: The amount of information that is available through different channels is astounding. All day long information streams into news feeds or aggregators that push information to us, but this has limitations. If you only get information from outlets or blogs focusing on one point of view or your client’s interests you’re limiting your knowledge and the ability to help that client. Take the time to read the paper cover to cover. This will help you learn how the stories are set up and how the use of graphics is changing. The major papers may not always have the news first, but they have the resources to do it best. When you understand how they approach stories you will be better prepared to approach them on behalf of your client. And, whether they say it or not, what your client wants more than anything is that major piece in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Washington Post.
3) Go to Lunch: We have offices in New York, Washington and Baltimore. Going out to lunch can be expensive. We also have work to do and hours to bill, but here’s the thing: you need to weigh the opportunity cost of not going. What do you lose by not spending an hour with a friend who works at a different organization? Maybe that organization is looking for a new agency; maybe they are using a new tactic or new strategy that you can incorporate; maybe they have insight on that next job you want; or, maybe they just care about you as a person. What do you lose by getting a sandwich with your boss? Not much. You get to pick her brain; maybe he buys you lunch; maybe you ask a really smart question and the boss looks at you in a different light. Regardless, don’t stare at your computer screen every lunch hour. Get out of the office and go to lunch at least one day a week. You have your phone. If there is an emergency you’ll be found.
4) Stay Out Late: I know I told you to get up early, but I’m also telling you to stay out late because you’re young and you don’t need much sleep. Also, I’m not talking college late or every night. I’m talking about having a hobby where you spend enough time to establish strong friendships and good acquaintances with a wide variety of people. This can’t be done on the weekends alone or with just people from work. You need to volunteer for something; join a kickball team; go to a museum; or exercise. Engage people and talk about things other than work. The better you get a meeting people and talking with people the easier it is to speak with a client or engage a reporter.
So there you have it, my commencement speech built on the mundane. If Admiral McRaven can protect a nation by getting warriors to make their beds, then you can become a better communicator by pursuing the mundane. If you don’t like it, take it up with the Admiral.