On Ragan, IABC, and LinkedIn, people entering the internal communications field often ask what it takes to be an internal communications professional. They’re asking for advice and ideas to hone their skills.
ElevatePoint made a list — based on what we’ve experienced, including our own failures — on what we think is needed these days in internal communications. We’d love your thoughts and ideas. Feel free to chime in!
1. Listen, actively
One of the most important communication skills you can have is to be a successful receiver of information. Active listening, the effort to ensure you understand, is a skill that takes patience and practice.
What people don’t tell you is that you’ll also need to be able to listen and accept feedback … without taking it personally. It’ll be commonplace. Employees will tell you things like — I never heard that, my manager didn’t let me know, I don’t understand, why should I care, and more. Understanding and making changes based on their feedback is crucial to communications success.
2. Speak and present to communicate and persuade
Presenting your ideas and speaking is important to any job, but it’s especially vital to internal communicators. Maybe you don’t need TED Talk prowess, where you entertain and inform an entire auditorium full of people, but you should be able to speak to a crowd on tough issues. Your ideas should be clear and understandable, unencumbered with “uhs” and “likes.” It should even be compelling, where you persuade people to do things.
Here’s a pro tip: it’s especially critical to be able to inform when you don’t personally agree with a decision. And this will include not just what you say publicly to large groups, but what you say privately to friends you work with.
You need to know how to convey ideas and messages in writing. You don’t have to be Mark Twain, turning a clever phrase every other minute, or Dan Rather, a brilliant journalist. But you do have to know the mechanics of good writing, such as what’s easier to read and why.
You’ll also need to follow a variety of styles. Take your favorite style guide book; you know you have one. Kiss it. And then toss it in the recycling bin. If you prefer only Oxford commas, be prepared to abandon them. If all caps for titles is your personal hell, welcome to Dante’s Inferno. Every company has a style guide you’ll need to adopt to, and consistency is important, even when you don’t agree 100% with it.
Also key — know how to write in different ways and voices. You’ll be writing for an executive one minute, trying to emulate his or her voice. The next moment, you could be working on updating benefits information on your intranet, using precise language. Technical writing, journalism, creative writing, and business writing will all be used while you’re an internal communications professional. Switching between them should be exciting to you! If not, you may want to rethink your profession.
4. Know marketing and communications technology
In today’s world, it’s not enough to do everything above well, you also need to know technology. You’ll need to gauge which communication vehicle is better than another for your audience. It also means you need to know how to record audio and video, edit video and audio, use graphics packages (such as Photoshop and/or Canva), possibly code a little HTML, know how to read web trends, and even understand how SharePoint works.
You should also have in your back pocket some marketing skills and understand how marketing tech can help you communication ideas and measure success.
5. Demonstrate emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence includes a range of abilities from demonstrating empathy to knowing how to praise others. In communications, you’ll also need to demonstrate a few additional skills:
- Say and write with tact and diplomacy. There will be some tough challenges at your workplace, including telling executives information they may not want to hear. Knowing how to approach conversations with tact and diplomacy enables your message to be heard. It also helps to tailor your message on the audience and the circumstance.
- Resolve conflict. Ideas will conflict among peers. Don’t shy away; conflict can breed better ideas and buy-in. Be ready to help resolve issues and be comfortable with conflict.
- Facilitate. It’ll happen, you’ll be asked to get people onboard and agree with an idea. To do that, you’ll need to jump in and encourage people to speak up.
- Adapt to change. You’ll be leading or responding to change management, that means you should be willing to change yourself.
- Show empathy. Displaying empathy isn’t just a good skill to have as a human being, it’s important to have when drafting or announcing information — from changes in parking to benefits with more co-pays. Thinking about how people will react and preparing for it, helps.
- Collaborate. Working with others is a competency no matter where you work. But internal communicators will need to rely on people outside their department, collaborating with IT and HR, for example. In addition, internal communicators need to collaborate with people across the org chart — from executives to front-line employees.
- Build relationships. And that savvy goes to relationship building. It’s good to know people in nearly every part of your organization so you can go to them and ask for feedback.
- Be transparent and yet know what information you need to withhold … and why. In internal communications, you’ll be given information you need to hang on to, without divulging to friends and co-workers. As you’re transparent, you should know what information you can share and what you can’t, including how to inform on it.
6. Synthesize and prioritize information
Taking information you hear and doing something with it is a core skill of an internal communications professional. It’s what you’ll need to build communication plans and implement tactics. It’s also the ability to draft emails, intranet pages, and more.
Knowing how to prioritize information — what needs to be told to employees and what doesn’t — prevents information overload. Prioritizing information, communicating what’s necessary, also helps employees understand and act on that needed information.
7. Demonstrate interest in business and financial acumen
One of the most often overlooked abilities is having (or wanting to have) business acumen. Care about your company’s business. Keep track of competitors in your space. Understand financials. Be able to list the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for your organization. Also, know how you can provide information to employees about these, when it’s appropriate.
Why is knowing and caring about business important? It gets to the why your organization will change. You’ll also need to convey that to employees regularly — new products being offered, new locations popping up, a change in leadership, changes in strategies, and new goals are the perfect time to give input into what’s happening and why your organization are making changes.
Everything else can be taught on the job
Although we think it’s a comprehensive list of skills, you may have ideas we missed. We’d love to hear and read them. Bottom line, many skills can be taught — from understanding core communication strategies (such as it takes 5 – 7 times for people to understand information) to how to cue up press releases. But having a handle on everything above, we believe, ensures success. It’s great when internal communication employees come in having a good sense about the technology available to them, including intranets the organization can use.