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Archive for the ‘Professional development’ Category

I normally do not need reminders of why I love what I do — teaching college students public relations management — but there are times when it all comes flooding back to me.

This past December was one of those times. The Public Relations Society of America, Maryland chapter, honored me with its Educator of the Year award. I was deeply touched by this. First, to be honored by PRSA-MD was incredibly special. Second, being honored for doing what I love to do is especially poignant.

Here is the official announcement:

The 2013 Best In Maryland Committee and the 2013 PRSA-MD Board of Directors are proud to announce the 2013 Educator of the Year recipient: Lester R. Potter.

Accredited Business Communicator Lester R. Potter, an MBA, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies at Towson University, Maryland. He is “ABD” (all but dissertation) for a doctorate in Instructional Technology at Towson.  At Towson, Potter teaches Public Relations Writing, Organizational Communication, Strategic Public Relations Planning and Management, and Public Relations for Nonprofit Organizations.  He has served as Faculty Advisor to the PRSSA chapter for ten years.

Prior to beginning his academic career, Potter was President of Les Potter Incorporated, an international consultancy he founded in 1998.  His firm helped organizations worldwide use communication as a strategic management tool to boost organizational effectiveness.  For over 30 years, Les Potter has improved business operation with innovative, results-oriented interventions.  To solve clients’ problems, Potter draws on successful experience in organizational communication, strategic and marketing planning, and human resources and project management gained from work with a wide variety of organizations and industries.

Les Potter’s background includes many different and enriching business situations that prepared him for successful client service.  Potter was Chairman of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) during 1991-92.  He was named an IABC Fellow in 1997, IABC’s highest honor.  He served on IABC’s executive board, accreditation board, and as a trustee of the IABC Research Foundation.  He earned IABC accreditation (the ABC designation) in 1978.

Les is also a member of Kappa Delta Pi, the invitation-only professional association for educators, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

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I attended the IABC World Conference in Toronto, June 4 through 9, in order to answer the pressing question: are we communicators still relevant?

To address that question, I attended a variety of presentations, held endless hallway conversations, chatted over coffee/tea/beer/wine/meals, and in general, poked around looking for answers.

Did I find any answers? Yes and no. Some specific things came very clear. Others are left to be answered another time, if at all.

I pose the question of relevance because conferences like this seem to devote extraordinary amounts of time and energy in justifying what we do as a profession. It seems a bit paranoid to me. If we feel compelled to question our own relevance, then something is wrong. We should know.

I know that communication is more relevant now than ever. As an example, consider the exchange I had with John from Ottawa, who works for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We were sitting together in an afternoon general session called, “Why should anyone trust you? Lessons from leading change in international organizations.” John leaned over and asked, “Is it just me, or are we talking about the same things we talked about five, ten, even fifteen years ago?”

Yes, we are still talking about many of the same things. Why? For several reasons:

  1. We have not sufficiently solved the problem, like improving employee engagement or gaining the ability to write clear and compelling copy or successfully integrating social media into our overall strategic communication plans or communicating organizational change effectively or making employees brand ambassadors.
  2. New people enter the communication field and seek answers to important questions they encounter on the job. For the neophytes, these questions, however fundamental, are new and exotic and demand answers. That’s a competitive advantage for professional development providers like IABC. It constitutes a source of recurring revenue.
  3. New answers arise to old questions. For example, three phenomena that have risen in importance over the past few decades:  strategic planning in communication; the need for high quality research on which to base strategy; and the impact of social media on society in general and communication management specifically. These phenomena all help to keep communication relevant and serve to make it even more competent.

Several presentations targeted the fundamental questions we must answer in order to practice communication management effectively. Then there were unfulfilling presentations that promised to explain what communicators must know, then didn’t.

Thankfully, I attended presentations that were insightful, practical, and immediately useful. One notable presentation was “Integrating multimedia into your social media campaign,” by Toronto-based consultant and ace podcaster Donna Papacosta. In a world consumed by what Neil Postman termed, “technological adoration”, Donna’s down-to-earth treatment of technology used to support and enhance overall communication strategy was refreshing.

Speaking of technological adoration, I blogged last year about the obsessive use of Twitter at IABC’s World Conference in San Francisco. Everything was Twitter; everywhere you looked, people weren’t talking face to face, they were tweeting — in sessions, in the hallways, at meals, and who knows where else. The obsession with technology, especially Twitter, was all-consuming. It was not so much so this year. There seemed to be a more mature approach to the use of technology, especially Twitter.

Perhaps we are evolving. Perhaps we are transforming our technological adoration into practical managerial applications. I hope so, for evolving and transforming is the only way the profession of organizational communication will truly stay relevant.

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As stated in my previous post, I attended the IABC World Conference June 5-10 in part to see old friends on the IABC staff and from the membership. In addition to professional development, one of the greatest aspects of my career-long IABC membership is the friendships I’ve made with people worldwide.

I treasure my conversations with these people, some of whom I only see once a year at conference. Although we stay in touch via various means during the year, nothing beats face-to-face interaction with people you respect and care about.

The main purpose of IABC’s World Conference is professional development. In that respect, this was an excellent conference with top programs and speakers. The program was substantive and balanced and provided something of value to all communication/PR practitioners who attended, no matter their level of experience or job description. IABC is a master of excellent and timely professional development programs. Without IABC, I could not have been as successful in my career as I have been. I have the highest respect and affection for IABC’s staff.

For most actively involved IABC members, the networking opportunities are a tremendous plus of the conference. So, did I find those fulfilling F2F experiences I so wanted to find?

Yes and no. What happened?

For one thing, attendance was way down perhaps due to the weak economy. My session on strategic communication planning and management was well-attended, as were the educational sessions I attended. But overall, the numbers simply weren’t there.

The presence of social media, as expected, was all-pervasive. I took time to observe what was happening around me. Conference attendees act very much like my Millennial students with their cell phones and PDAs, but my students are not allowed to use these devices in class. The moment students leave class, the cell phone/PDA goes into action. Conference attendees feel no such constraint; they sit in sessions and use cell phones, PDAs, and computers with impunity and wild abandon. When out of sessions, you see many people sitting alone using technology rather than talking with people.

The typical in-session scenario is this: a person attends and tweets a session for his/her followers. Or, an attendee blogs about the session while the session is being conducted. Then, there are the text messengers who carry on conversations while in a session. Countless others feel compelled to check for messages every few minutes or to surf the Web.

What is happening here? What does this all mean? 

Twitter is definitely the current darling of the social media glitterati. So many people tweet sessions that a presenter’s message is magnified perhaps a hundred or a thousand times or more. Session tweeters say they are “reporting” on the event for others out there in the Twittersphere who could not attend. Tweets are re-tweeted, and the word spreads exponentially at 140 characters a pop.

For example, I was part of an invitation-only think tank on social media, and during that half-day session, fully one-fourth of the 30 participants were using their computers or cell phones or PDAs the entire time. One participant who constantly reported on the event from his laptop was asked why he stayed on his computer talking about the session with people who were not invited rather than “being fully there.” He replied that he was there, but he felt responsible to share the event with so many others who weren’t.

Okay. If you say so. When it came time to report findings of their small group work, he totally missed the assignment and went off on so many unrelated tangents as to draw laughter from the other participants. Perhaps his followers in the Twittersphere got better from him.

Critics of the practice say, “But you are not listening. You are tweeting.” Defenders of the practice say they are listening and listening even more closely so as to be able to tweet salient points.

Whatever your viewpoint, Twitter changes the rules of engagement for speakers and conference attendees. Some savvy presenters encourage tweeting during the session and display the tweets as the session progresses. That way, you can see an underlying full, rich discussion happening in real time simultaneously. The essence of the session can be shared with a much wider audience. The presenter may become Twitterlebrity.

Twitter followers who are in less-than-interesting or relevant sessions can leave to attend one that is tweeted to be more lively and interesting. Twitter adds a bold new dimension to “session surfing.”

No doubt Twitter is the current force to be reckoned with. I am anxious to see if it will be the same at next year’s IABC World Conference in Toronto.

I’ll try to be in Toronto to roam the halls in search of meaningful conversation. But in the meantime, see you on Twitter. I’m at http://twitter.com/LesPotter

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I’m off to enjoy IABC’s World Conference in San Francisco June 5 – 10. What I will enjoy most is seeing old friends on IABC’s staff and from the membership. I plan to enjoy this annual face-to-face (F2F) experience, perhaps more than ever.

I joked in my Facebook status update today that I was going with “no Facebook, no email, no Twitter, no blog, just good old-fashioned face-to-face communication.” Within minutes, I had six comments supporting the thought. All of the commenters are social media-literate, but perhaps they, too, are ready to leave the world of 140-character statements and just talk with people.

Face-to-face, what a concept! But at conferences, you will see people attending sessions and blogging about the session while it is being conducted. So much for listening and reporting later.

And there will doubtless be many who will not be able to resist the urge to text during a session. And while they are sitting there, why not check email, too?

Just because we can does not mean we should. I’m suspending the social media while I am there. I’ll be the Luddite in the hallway talking with people.

Well, except for the cell phone/texting capability. You gotta have a life line.

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Please excuse my absence, but I am in full summer mode for a few days. It’s nice to have some down time.

In addition to some much-needed rest, I am focused on the IABC World Conference in San Francisco June 7-10, 2009. I will present on strategic communication planning and management on Sunday, June 7.

I can’t wait to see IABC staff/friends there. An IABC World Conference recharges your professional batteries like nothing else.

In fact, IABC has given me every good thing I’ve known in my career:

  • Every good job I ever had I got directly or indirectly from IABC, including consulting assignments as president of LES POTTER INCORPORATED and my beloved teaching job at Towson University.
  • Every bit of professional development to keep me current (in addition to earning my MBA and current work on my doctorate) come from IABC’s excellent products and programs.
  • My best friends are friendships made and nurtured in IABC.

Am I an IABC zealot? You bet. Join me in San Francisco, and you will see why.

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The best place to be for professional development and networking is IABC’s World Conference June 7-10, 2009, in San Francisco, California. I’ll be there, for it is the highlight of my year. I wouldn’t miss it.

There is simply no greater investment in your career than attendance at this conference. In these troubling times, you must build equity into your career. That means:

  • Learning new skills to make you more marketable
  • Networking with other professionals who may be in a position to help you advance
  • Making new friends and reconnecting with old friends

And let’s face it — if you must spend time in a city, then San Francisco is about as interesting a place as you can find.

For more information, visit IABC’s Website.

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I had an experience Friday, September 5, that combined my 30-plus year communication/PR/IMC management career, my love for and career-long involvement in professional associations, and my new teaching career. I designed and facilitated a leadership workshop and strategic planning session for the incoming officers of Towson’s PR Group, comprised of PRSSA and IABC student chapter members.

It was extraordinary. The officers for 2008-2009 are highly motivated to begin with. They consistently exhibited enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and dedication during the all-day event.

The morning was devoted to the study of management and leadership, contrasting the differences and skills needed for both. This will prove valuable to these leaders as they assume responsibility for the organization and its day-to-day management challenges.

Management involves planning, organizing, leading, and controlling the use of organizational resources to achieve results. We isolated and captured what this means for the Board collectively and for each individual position on the Board.

But leadership is another matter. Managing successfully day to day is at the heart of organizational officers’ responsibility. But to be a leader involves interpersonal influence that gets individuals and the group to act. That is like herding cats.

These leaders explored what it means to achieve coordinated action as a leader and manager. The quality of their thought and the depth of their commitment was exemplary. That came clear as we conducted strategic planning in the afternoon. While the planning will be ongoing, we made a great start Friday. We will build on it in the days to come.

As I pointed my certified pre-owned, fully-optioned Buick Park Avenue home to Virginia for the weekend, I smiled all the way. It was a magnificient day seeing these fine young leaders dedicate themselves to a cause greater than themselves and do the hard work to be competent at it.

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