Never stop learning: the key to future careers in business communications

I’ve heard that the communications profession is changing fast (or is it)? No, someone else told me that the fundamentals are still important (or are they)? Who knows? This is exactly why we need to keep the dialogue open about our profession – and it was the subject of a talk I gave on behalf of IABC Hong Kong chapter to The Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Professional Education and Executive Development (SPEED) on March 2.

My key message for the talk, “Future Careers in Business Communications”, was that we should never stop learning. It was clear that the 35 students who signed up for the talk have committed to continuing their education not only through professional development courses but also through enrichment activities such as external speakers arranged by the University.

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I have observed over the past several years that several societal and technical changes are influencing our profession. These include the increase in non-governmental organizations and (social) activism; the search for “authenticity”; demands for greater transparency; ever-shorter attention spans; the speed of crisis propagation; fluctuating levels of trust in different institutions; and increasing political influence on commercial communication. Looking at Hong Kong alone, the changes in our population’s media consumption habits show clearly why communicators need new skills. With 4.65 million mobile internet users, 96% of whom browse daily, knowledge of multiple platforms beyond “media” is a must.

Some other examples of these skills are:

  • What works on Vine vs. LinkedIn vs. WeChat vs. Reddit vs. the next platform? These platforms should be fully understood not only by digital natives but also by seasoned communicators.
  • Communicators need sufficient technical skills to create content in multiple formats (video, audio, animation) as well as text. This year I have had to learn how to write a video storyboard that can be produced by someone on a phone. This is not something I ever thought I would have to learn.
  • Advanced communicators have had to expand their network thinking. Can I predict where and how a given piece of information will propagate across networks? If I can’t, I may be missing an important part of the communications puzzle.
  • Often the most difficult aspect for communicators from a journalistic background, data skills are vital to the legitimacy of the profession. How can I consolidate a pile of likes and RTs into a presentation that my management understands?

Yet at the same time, certain skills are timeless, and I want to employ communicators who have these skills. We are human beings, and our human brains and bodies remain the same as they have for thousands of years. So in this sense, communications skills are the extension of what we are as people:

  • A nose for news: Where’s the story? What’s the news? What – out of all of this flood of information – is interesting to the stakeholder?
  • An eye for visuals: What image can best capture this topic?
  • An ear for translation: How can this information be expressed in a different forum, between languages (e.g. English and Chinese), between styles (e.g. technical, mainstream, entertainment, in-house, external), or between media (e.g. video vs. text)? Writing skills are always in style!
  • A feel for stakeholders: For whom is this information important? Can I look at it from someone else’s point of view?
  • A taste for adventure: What could I try that’s a little different? What else can I find out?

To find the right combination of these fundamental and newer skills is a never-ending task. I invite all communicators – future and present – to join.


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