Communications Training Trends: The Long View

Confession: I don’t find those year end lists of “10 Best” or predictions for the new year particularly useful or interesting. I’m the type that takes a longer view, and fully realize that your mileage may vary (just please don’t ever contact me with your rundown of “2015’s Cutest Cat Videos”).

With that longer term in mind, I got to ruminating about some of the trends I’ve observed during my 18-plus years in business as a communications training consultant. This is by no means all-inclusive, so I encourage you to add your own thoughts. May you find at least one or two of use and interest:

  • Most of the big PR agencies are now simply corporate entities that pray at the altar of quarterly earnings, sometimes at the expense of their clients. Even the agencies that were once upon a time the most creative have transformed into factories. As a result of this obsession with the short-term bottom line . . .
  • These agencies decimated their communications training departments. As corporate ownership took hold in the early 2000s, cost cutting became the mantra. Until then, most of the big name agencies had a stable of experienced communications training experts. I collaborated with many of them regularly, and nearly all were top notch. Then came the green eyeshade CEOs and it was, “Goodbye, experts.” As a result of this . . .
  • Unqualified account executives are forced to lead client media training workshops. I have a term for this: PR malpractice. They may know messaging (or not). They may know how to deal with reporters (or not). But they don’t have the skills, experience, or gravitas to read a room full of senior executives and react accordingly. They just follow the script (the same cookie cutter approach that all clients receive). My favorite example of this (and the saddest) was the time I found out that a junior account representative who had never even seen a media training workshop before was leading a session for a client. Do you think the agency disclosed this to its client? Hmm. Doubtful.
  • Advent of new media. I avoid calling it “social media” as there is little that is social about it. Spending all day obsessed with your mobile device or desktop PC has little to do with being social. Sure, connections developed online (these are not yet business relationships, mind you, only connections) can morph into honest-to-goodness face-to-face professional relationships. For me, eye contact, a handshake, and genial conversation are a necessary part of being social.

Solar Mirror

  • The economy is now a series of gyrations rather than a somewhat predictable series of peaks and valleys. The 2008 recession changed things forever. As a business owner, I have found it difficult since then to forecast up and down periods in my business. Plus, the peaks have been higher and the valleys deeper. This is a new reality, one that troubles just about every other business owner I’ve talked to as well. As a result . . .
  • Businesses are more reluctant to plan into the future. As a communications training consultant, I find this frustrating. The best programs to get executives up to speed on their messaging and communications skills occur over time. But the focus on the near-term often does not allow for that. Savvy organizations get it and have an advantage. The others will be left in the dust (okay, ask yourself and answer honestly: Into which category do you fall?).
  • Reporters are more difficult to connect with than ever. It’s not their fault. They no longer write to daily or hourly deadlines, but to a never ending sense of pressure. I serve on the board of governors at the National Press Club. Time was a few years back, you could actually bump into reporters there regularly. That happens far less frequently than in the past. The fact is communicators now must work harder to establish and maintain those relationships with reporters.
  • Public speaking has changed from a theme-oriented speech to a series of attention-grabbing stories. Don’t get me wrong, stories are essential. But they should be only part of the mix. Our short attention span culture has had a dramatic impact on those of us who speak to groups of any size or makeup (and please don’t get me started on those navel-gazing, tedious TED talks).
  • Congressional testimony has become trickier. Where to start? Congress rarely enacts meaningful legislation, which reduces many hearings to shoutfests and sideshows. Also, witness panels are now a jumble of experts; you are likely to be paired with an antagonist, which rarely was the case before.

What communications trends have you observed — for better or worse — in your professional life?

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