I Still Have Much to Learn

Opinions, Public Relations, Social Media Posted Feb 28, 2017 by chenpr

Last month I was invited to speak to two classes at Hult International Business School’s Cambridge, Mass campus. Professor Jeffrey Schiebe teaches in the marketing, communications and public relations program there and regularly invites professionals active in their field to come in and share their experience and insights with the students.

I accepted the invitation. Over the years I have benefitted from the generosity of others who have taken the time to answer my questions, share their insights and patiently walk beside me for stretches of my professional journey and, as the saying goes, you’ve got to pay it forward.

I am under no allusions as to my dynamicity as a public speaker, but I’ve spoken at a number of conferences, moderated expert panels and even took a less than stellar stab at stand-up comedy once upon a time. That, plus the regular work I do in prison ministry, has helped to make me more than comfortable in front of a crowd. But one thing I learned is that a room full of middle-aged professionals are no match for a classroom full of young students eager to learn. The professionals will stare in silent contempt, as if their presence were some great but reluctant favor for the speaker. And of the few questions offered, most are intended not to elicit information, but to demonstrate to the rest of the idiots in the room that the inquisitor (also known as an “ask hole”) is the real expert.

Students, on the other hand, possess actual curiosity and have real questions they aren’t afraid to ask.

“Why did you choose public relations?”

“How do you deal with the surge of new media and ‘alternate facts’?”

“What good is a press release these days?”

“Is it true that even bad publicity is better than no publicity?”

“What advice would you give me to get started?”

Once the questions started, I might as well have thrown my notes and outline away. The young men and women in the room weren’t as interested in hearing my war stories as they were testing their observations against my experience.Hult

To my eye and ear the class was a confirmation of the International qualifier in the school’s name. Students from across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America, each with his or her unique perspective and opinions in the aggregate enriching the learning of each other. And, thanks to Prof. Schiebe’s kind invitation, allowing me to be likewise enriched.

A few of the students have reached out since that time to ask questions, connect me with friends who were not there that day, and to continue that brief conversation. And as I look at how the media landscape is changing, it’s soon going to be me asking the questions of them.

I still have much to learn.