I said WHAT?!
A few years back, I was visiting a former workplace when one of my erstwhile colleagues ran up to me with a big smile on his face. “Steve! So glad to see you! I have to tell you—you said something to me when we worked together that I think about all the time!”
It had been a few years, and I admitted that I couldn’t image what I might have said that was so significant. As those who know me can attest, I say a lot of things. But what he remembered so well was this: “You once told me if someone is unhappy at work, but isn’t doing at least one thing every day to change their situation, they should just shut up.”
“If I said that,” I responded, “then I stick by it. That’s good advice!”
I was reminded of this episode a few days ago when I had the pleasure of speaking with a class of graduate students in George Washington University’s Strategic Public Relations program about the importance of good storytelling in their intended profession. It’s @GWUspr if you’re on Twitter, which of course you must be these days—and, as it turned out, so was the class, even as I was speaking with them. I don’t need to wait a few years to find out if I said anything memorable. By the time I got home that night, several of the students had already tweeted quotes from our conversation. I know that happens all the time—I’ve done it, too, mini-live-blogging interesting presentations at industry events I’ve attended. But this is me we’re talking about, and I found it enlightening to see what other people think is enlightening about what I have to say.
Here are a few of them:
That was me going back to my journalist mindset and suggesting to the class that journalists are very busy people, and “no” might only mean “no” at that particular moment. I told them that it might take several attempts to get someone to listen to them, so they should keep calling back, in a polite and respectful way, but always keeping in mind everything else that might be competing with them for attention. When I was a working journalist, I was much more likely to respond to politeness than pushiness—I think most people are.
That was a nice way to boil down to 140 characters or less the philosophy that guides me in every project I undertake. I glad that came through. I told the class I believe that effective communications—corporate, entertainment, whatever—comes down in essence to a conversation with your audience. The conversations to which people relate the best—and with which they will be most engaged—involve stories about people, not things.
One thing no one tweeted was my response to the thoughtful question, “What’s the first thing you think about when you sit down to write something?” I’m happy to share it, though.
I answered: “What the hell am I doing?”
I meant it as a joke, but as I told the class, on reflection that IS kind of what I say to myself. I mean it in the nicest way possible, of course.
Thanks again to the GWU SPR students and their instructor, my friend Lesley Lopez, who was kind enough to invite me. I had a great time with you, and I hope you guys don’t mind me “retweeting” here.