5 Skills For Better Strategic Communications

Today’s communicators need strategic and practical skills to navigate the constantly changing media landscape. We live in a world where everyone is competing for attention. Storytellers who can captivate audiences and inspire them to take action have a powerful advantage.

Jennifer Risi
Jennifer Risi

What follows are some key skills and the strategic thinking I believe a communications professional needs to become that storyteller. These skills not only are helpful for those in public relations to help tell compelling stories, craft persuasive messages and effectively target a myriad of audiences, but they are mandatory to compete in today’s workplace as a good manager and successful employee. 

Leadership rules the world. In broad terms the word “leader” is someone who brings people together and guides them toward a common goal. Anyone can tell others what to do, but effective leadership requires much more than assigning tasks to a group. In order to be a successful leader, especially working in a PR agency environment, you must learn the nuance of managing up and down the chain of command.

Managing up means you need to stretch yourself to do what you can to make your manager’s job easier. This will help your manager do their job while getting you noticed as a valuable asset not only to your manager but to the organization. Managing down, on the other hand, is the act of managing the careers of the individual members of your team. Making sure that everyone is working on the appropriate tasks and is cognizant of any deadlines or other pressures that might affect those tasks. Make sure that on top of everything else, your team members are building a better career for themselves. 

Good listening is great communicating. Many of us think that communication is talking—we interrupt, advise, reassure, judge, analyze, criticize, argue, moralize, threaten, divert, diagnose, etc., etc. But, good communication requires good listening as well as talking.

A good listener uses questions sparingly because questions tend to focus the conversation on the questioner’s perspective and concerns and can derail the focus of the speaker. Open-ended questions are best. Simply put, the best bosses pay attention and value other perspectives and the only way they can take it all in is by listening. 

Watch what you say and how you say it. When we speak, other people “read” our voices in addition to listening to our words. When pitching a story to a reporter you need to pay attention to your timing and pace, how loud you speak, your tone and inflection, and sounds that convey understanding. On the other hand, when it comes to communicating effectively, research shows that about 85 percent of what we communicate is actually nonverbal.

This includes our posture, physical movements, eye contact and our psychological presence. We cannot pretend to pay attention by employing these physical techniques without also being psychologically present. We can’t fake interest. The speaker will know if our hearts and minds are not really there. If you want to become a better communicator, it’s important to become more sensitive not only to the body language and nonverbal cues of others, but also to your own. 

Problem solvers are good communicators. To be an effective PR professional you must have good problem-solving instincts. All of us are involved in some kind of problem solving every day, both in our personal and professional lives. Unless we live in total isolation, we are, by necessity, involved with problem solving and negotiating with others at some level as a regular part of our lives.

As we develop our skills in problem solving, we will find that collaborative problem solving is not a linear process that proceeds methodically through prescribed steps. Identifying all of the interests of the parties must be accomplished before generating options. Developing those options allows us to make the right decisions. 

Persuasion is an art. When you talk, when you present, how you counsel, you have to have the right stature, tone of voice and confidence to be able to command the attention of the client and have the presence needed for people to want to talk to you. Charisma is vital.

Learning to be an above average presenter is imperative to being a successful communications pro. Gesturing and using your hands to convey confidence and passion is key to being a leader and good presenter. Vocal inflection and energy should be used to communicate emotion, which is fundamental to holding an audience’s attention. Use words that are definite to reflect your own decisiveness and avoid excess jargon. Make sure you’re delivering a clear message using strong and simple language.

Communication takes effort. When you practice good communication, notice the effect. The results that come from communicating wisely will be the proof that communication really is the key to becoming an excellent public relations professional.

Jennifer Risi is the Managing Director of Ogilvy Media Influence, North America and NYU professor of strategic communications. Follow Jennifer: @JenRisi. Follow Ogilvy: @ogilvypr