Core Competencies for Communications Professionals: Join us at ASAE Annual

Photo by TOMTEC, via FlickrFor the past year, the ASAE and the Center’s Communications Section Council has been working on a list of core competencies that communications professionals in associations should master today.

As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, we were updating a document that was only four years old, but already badly out of date. Two things have changed dramatically in the last 10 years: How people learn about the world around them, and how everyone can now be a publisher as well as a consumer of information.

It would be easy enough to update the toolset for this brief moment in time, but tougher to craft something that would have a longer shelf life than a loaf of bread. What we concluded was that the basic skills still occupy a very large amount of shelf space: writing, pitching stories, research, planning, speaking, etc. Without those skills as a foundation, no one could be called a complete communications professional.

By the same token, many of the newer social media technologies are also fundamental to our skill set. But how do we capture these when the tool set is evolving so quickly? (One shouldn’t assume everything around today that’s new will persist.)

First, by acknowledging the volatile nature of the business. I mean, there’s no way the golfer Stewart Cink would have a half million followers on Twitter a year ago, even if he had won the British Open in 2008 instead of this year. Tiger Woods, maybe. But Cink? He’s hardly a household name. But that’s how quickly our business has changed.

Second, take our best shot at identifying the dominant tools today – and we defined dominance as those which seem to command the great volume of conversation. The operative term here is core competencies. Others arise every year, but in our judgment some aren’t core yet. Next year, who knows?

Finally, recognize that as the tool set grows, few things are going away, with the possible exception of faxes. Everything else still has a place – a different place than before, but still a place.

So here’s our effort. What do you think?

After you review it, we want to hear from you. We have two questions, to start with: Is there anything you would change? And how can ASAE use this document to develop new education and training programs?

Two ways: You can comment here.

And/or, you can come and talk to us at the “un-session” we’re holding at the ASAE and the Center’s Annual Meeting on Monday, August 17, (corrected) from 12:15 to 1:00 p.m. in Room 802A of the South Building of the Toronto Convention Center.

We hope to see you there!

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I’m Coming Up For Air

Photo by stratic, via Flickr

This coming week, we will launch the newest (the fifth) version our website, www.massmed.org. It’s consumed 18 months of planning, research, coding, and everything else that goes into a big site re-launch We started with a blank sheet of paper and no assumptions. The version we launch this week is by means the end of the game; lots more is coming. I have loved this project.

The last three weeks have been especially intense. All hands were on deck. We worked days, nights and weekends. We ran into problems, fixed them, and found more problems. No doubt, others remain. And all this, while we tend to the other things that the Massachusetts Medical Society pays us for.

This project pushed a lot of other things to my back burner: My RFP for a communications consultant (sorry, guys). My reading. My trips to the gym in the morning. And my writing – including this blog.

I’m happy to report that nothing urgent fell through the cracks. The bills got paid, the kids got fed, and the cars always got gassed. (But let’s forget the community meeting to which I showed up 11 hours late, okey-doke?)

I could feel guilty about letting some things slide a little, but I don’t. And it’s not because I lack a conscience. It’s because that’s what happens when life is working.

There are many metaphors for the phenomenon of a life with many elements, but there are two that work for me.

The first is rhythm. Todd Henry writes a great blog and podcast, The Accidental Creative. He is committed to coaching people who create on demand for a living, and offers tools for a continuously healthy creative life.

Todd’s biggest contribution to my life is a series of posts about how he plans his day so that he will always have the mental and emotional resources to create, manage his business, be a father, and not feel used up by life.

He purposefully nurtures his creative side. For example, he schedules one hour a day for doing nothing but reading and learning. Without that, he believes, his creative life would die as quickly as would a plant that hasn’t been watered regularly.

As Todd says, our lives flow in rhythms. Sometimes, to something done, we must work really intensively on something. Without that focus, there are no results. But if you do this forever, you bankrupt your mind, your heart and your body. So if you experience burnout, all you need to do is break this rhythm and create a new one.

Or, you could feed the part of you that you have neglected. The other metaphor that works for me is nourishment. Like you, there are many parts of me, such as work, family, community, physical, and spiritual. When I neglect any one of them for too long, I experience a certain hunger. I feel a need to feed it – by spending a Saturday working. Or volunteering. Or cuddling in the living room with my family to watch a light movie. Or attending church on Sundays. Or by going to the gym. When I feed myself, the hunger eases.

One metaphor that does not work for me is balance. This metaphor drives people crazy, because it leads them into dark mazes from which there is little escape. “Balance” implies a perfect geocentric moment. The pitfall of “balance” is that its existence is fleeting. You will be unsettled at least 99% of the time.

Seeking “balance” is really, really, really hard work. It is ultimately unsatisfying. Wouldn’t it be better just to feed yourself, or simply acknowledge that life has a rhythm, and just go with it?

140 Characters = Poetry

Blaise Pascal

The philosopher Blaise Pascal supposedly said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but didn’t have the time.”

I thought of this today when writing a Facebook update about our family’s home teardown and reconstruction adventure.

I’m really excited about our new house. The old house is getting knocked down next week. We spent four hours there this morning. We threw out, donated, or stored the stuff that remained. And in the midst of the excitement, some melancholy slipped in the back door.

Hey, I never adored the house – hence the teardown. But it’s where my two baby girls turned into wonderful young women. It’s where we had great times with our family dog Matisse, who died recently at age 16. The back yard was his kingdom, and mine.

The old house saw nine Thanksgivings, nine Christmases, nine Easters, two First Communions, nine summers of balmy nights with the crickets keeping time. Great whiffle ball tournaments. Bats swoop around at dusk, at about 30 feet altitude.

Paradise, in a suburban lot measuring 177 feet by 85 feet.

So how to convey these thoughts in Facebook’s 160 characters, or even Twitter’s 140?*

When I wrote for TV newscasts back in the Ice Age, I learned how to say a lot in a 10- or 15-second script. I learned one trick from my late father, a Shakespeare teacher. He always read his writing aloud. I did the same when I went to TV, and it helped. Bad writing hurts the ears. I keep it up today. (It may not always work, but it helps.)

I’m re-reading one of Jakob Nielsen’s usability books. He talks about how web users don’t read online; they scan. Cynthia D’Amour understands this. Her blogs are brief and rich and fun.

Facebook and Twitter impose this discipline. I swear, sometimes, it’s poetry.**

Listen to a conversation next time. Notice how short the sentences are. Notice how they don’t use clauses. Notice how powerful the verbs are. Notice how complex the communication is.

Now, write that way, especially if you’re writing for the web.

If you have the time.

* here’s how I did it:Frank spent the day storing stuff from the old house. Mix of excitement (new house) and melancholy (lots of good stuff happened there).”

** Like this tweet from David Gammel today: Went for a run then had two helpings of turkey and stuffing. And a piece of cake. Oops.