Great Communication is Learned One Day at a Time, Not in One Day

By Jason Menard,

One day can help start you along the right path, but when it comes to learning how to effectively communicate, one day’s just enough time for you to learn how to firmly lodge your foot in your mouth.

Earlier today, I received an e-mail at work promoting a course that promised to teach you “How to be an Outstanding Communicator” in one day. And while normally I pay just enough attention to these e-mails – you know the ones you receive after attending one conference, and then you’re stuck in an e-mail list purgatory for years – to figure out what the course/conference topic is, and then file it under “G.”

However, this one struck me as particularly audacious. Or perhaps it’s just simple vanity – to suggest that a craft I’ve been trying to hone for two decades is something that can be mastered in a day bruised the ol’ ego.

Either way, this one-day seminar is promising way more than it can ever deliver. Of course, I would assume they’re not going to be wasting time teaching such concepts as puffery, hyperbole, and unnecessary embellishment!

This e-mail is something akin to those 1980s TV commercials and magazine ads for such vaunted institutions like the International Correspondence Schools, which would advertise “journalism/short story writing” in the same list of easy-to-acquire career diploma options as florist, high school equivalency, and the burgeoning field of gun repair.

But effective communication, whether it’s through the written word or interpersonal interaction, is something that can’t be learned in just one day. It’s something that takes years to hone – and I don’t believe it can ever be perfected.

Listen, I’d love to consider myself an outstanding communicator, but I’m very realistic about my talents. I’m very good at what I do and my clients and audiences seem to be pleased with my work. But I feel I’ve only just started to get comfortable with the craft and I’ve been in the business for 20 years.

I also consider myself fortunate for having – and continuing to have – the opportunity to write for a number of different media. In addition to my corporate work, I keep a freelancing toe in the waters of print, Web, and radio media. I can spend a day writing corporate speeches, updating multiple social media channels, then head to the local rink to profile a junior hockey player. I think I’m good at what I do, but I know in 10 years I’ll look back at what I’m doing now and just shake my head at my naiveté.

After all, when I was in my early 20s, I thought I had it all figured out. I was a medical writer who also was a CFL beat reporter. I knew how to play the game and win. Or so I thought.

All these years later, now I realize I didn’t even know the rules back then! I’ve learned so much over the years; I’ve grown as a writer and editor; and I’ve finally grown comfortable not just writing in other peoples’ voices – but in expressing myself through my own. Social media has been a huge part of that – and that’s a communication vehicle that wasn’t even in play when I started off.

I think I’m good, but I’ve got a long way to go until I reach great. Fortunately, I’ve seen greatness and it inspires me to do more.

Whether it’s someone like Mark Ragan or Steve Crescenzo redefining what open and honest corporate communications should be, to my old friend Jen showing me how important words (and the incredibly talented hands that create them) can be interacting with a passionate and loyal readership, to Cindy, Dino, and Beth who have helped me define what business-based social media should be, to so many others that I have the pleasure of calling friends who constantly inspire me with their talent and dedication – they’ve shown me the path to greatness and I hope I can respect their efforts just by following in their footsteps!

Anyone can become a good communicator with training, but to become an outstanding communicator you need to have talent. Some people just have the knack for getting the right message to the right person in the right way. As in any discipline, talent matters. Hard work counts, but like professional athletes, to reach the elite level you need to combine talent with something else. Some people think they can write. And if you’re in the business world, you know that the worst offenders are often in marketing and sales roles. But there’s a difference between getting the job done and doing the job well.

Experience is vital. I’ve had the pleasure, over my years, to work at newspapers, radio, and Web publications. I’ve been a medical writer, an Internet content manager/developer, and a communications jack-of-all-trades in my current role. I’ve been on both sides of the media/business writing table, and I think I’m better equipped to understand the goals and needs of both.

And I’ve had the freedom to play. Whether it’s been as a sports editor with a pair of talented and courageous co-editors who wanted to take the section to new (and highly entertaining) places, to exploring e-mail marketing, to developing and interacting with a community through social media, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been given the latitude to explore these emerging technologies and see what works – and, of course, what doesn’t.

Again, that’s not something you can do in one day.

In one day you can get the basics. Maybe you can examine your behaviour and responses. Maybe you can make a commitment to change. You can lay that first cornerstone.

But to create a solid foundation out of that cornerstone, then build something meaningful and solid upon it? That’s a long, constantly evolving process involving constant learning, growth, and the accumulation of experience. It’s not a quick fix, but the long-term rewards, both in terms of results and in terms of the satisfaction you feel in your capabilities, are well worth that investment.

Of course, maybe I’m completely wrong and this course can unlock the mysteries of interpersonal communication in just one day. And even if it does, I certainly wouldn’t feel that I’ve just wasted all these years becoming the writer that I am today. It’s been a long, rewarding trip bringing me to where I am as a writer now. I also look forward to my next 20 years of experiences. And maybe in the future I’ll summarize those experiences. One day, maybe. But not in one day.

After all, great communication is learned one day at a time, not in one day

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