November 27, 2019
One thing we often talk about in our office is how PR skills come in handy in every aspect of our lives. Planning a surprise party for your roommate? That requires organizational skills, logistics management and discretion. Tailoring your resume to fit the 50+ jobs you’re applying for? You’ll need research, focus and proofreading skills. Writing a memoir about your successful career as a CEO? You’ll want to ensure that you’ve got writing, messaging and top-notch storytelling skills.
And difficult holiday dinners with that uncle you try your best to only see once a year? Well, we have some PR skills for that too.
Be the Professional in the Room
One of the foremost rules for a publicist – and for any great leader – is to remain professional in all circumstances, and in doing so, be the person everyone can look to in times of tension. No matter what topic is being discussed or whatever jab is sent your way, do your best to maintain your composure, keep calm and refuse to take the bait. Not only will you disarm those around you, but you’ll also set an example and the tone for the rest of the room to drop the aggressive tactics all around.
Negotiate the Boundaries
If you are really going into a danger zone with your holiday dinner, you might want to negotiate your boundaries in advance. I will talk about: my new job, my new cat, my new client acquisition. I will not talk about: Anything else.
We’re only kidding – it’s likely just bad manners to send out advance notice to your family about topics of conversation. But the most seasoned PR pros will always tell you: Never go into an (actual) interview without negotiating boundaries. You don’t want to be disingenuous, but you also don’t want to be unprepared for topics of conversation that you are not able to expertly discuss.
Define Your Talking Points – and Stick to Them
In most interview situations, we tend to think that the interviewer will direct the conversation and there won’t be room for the interviewee to make any additional points. But keep in mind that you don’t always have to take the lead from the person questioning you – you can (within reason) discuss and direct answers to your own areas of focus.
The question to ask yourself is this: No matter how many questions you get about your political views, what message is it that you want to get across this holiday season? Is it that you are thankful to be spending time with your children? That you’ve progressed dramatically in your career and finally landed that promotion? That you’ve made a new really good friend? Write out (or mentally map out) the three main things you want to share and focus on in your conversations with your friends and family during your holiday dinner – and stick to them!
Know Your Audience
When communicating a particular message, it’s critical to know your audience. Who are you trying to reach with this message? Your customers? Your donors? Your 6-year old niece? Your grandma? And what is your goal with these conversations? Depending on your intended audience and what you want to accomplish, you should be tailoring how you communicate your core messages for maximum impact.
Deflect and Redirect
No matter how much you try to change the conversation, sometimes people want to hammer a point home and you can’t easily escape it. What you can do, however, is to do your best to deflect and redirect the conversation. “Uncle Jim, as much as I’d love to talk about my bad breakup this year, what I really want to do is show you the new car I just bought.”
You don’t have to answer a question you don’t want to answer – you just need to ensure that you’re using the right language to deflect and move on to other topics.
Talk Less, Listen More
This may be more a Life Pro Tip than a PR tip, but a key characteristic of successful dialogue is respectful listening. Listen to what your cousin Mary is saying before formulating a response in your head. This will allow for more organic conversation and for all parties to feel heard.
You will also appear to be (and actually be) thoughtful in your conversations.
Manage the Crisis
So what happens when you’re the one who ends up putting their foot in their mouth? Own it. Apologize – and mean it. Communicate to the offended party that you’ve learned your lesson and plan to actively do better. The best defense in any crisis is learning and growing from mistakes, and by openly admitting your wrongdoing you display a level of emotional maturity that your family will respect and be proud of.
In all seriousness, public relations is a skilled trade that can benefit everyone, from the individual to an entire nonprofit organization to the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation. The most important thing to remember is that keeping your broader goals in mind will help you keep perspective, keep your cool and let you focus on what is really important during any holiday – friends, family, food and fun.