You might just learn something you already know.
By William Soquet
As I listened to a talk delivered by Matt Ragas and Ron Culp, both professors of public relations at DePaul, their themes sounded familiar. Not vaguely familiar as in ‘I think I’ve heard of this before’, but familiar as in ‘these themes are also main points in the curriculum at the college I attend.’
The talk was part of PR eLevated 2023, the Midwest regional conference of Public Relations Student Society of America. I came into the conference expecting an opportunity to meet new people, hear new perspectives, and entertain new ideas.
While I certainly engaged in plenty of all three, I also unexpectedly had the opportunity to hear the same ideas and the same perspectives as I was currently hearing in the classroom. It made an unexpected impact on me, boosting my confidence and drive when I returned to class this week.
A dose of skepticism about ideas and perspectives is perhaps somewhat warranted when in an isolated environment. As an undergraduate student, I don’t have the luxury of going around to other universities to see what their public relations curriculum looks like. So I continue in my current environment, embracing concepts because they make sense, but also because they’re put in front of me.
That is why the rare opportunity to connect with others is so valuable. They can definitely provide a fresh take on a lot of things, but they can validate the things that one is already learning and doing. Embracing change is a great recipe for personal growth, but being encouraged about a current practice or concept is a morale booster that can pay unexpected and immediate dividends.
Perhaps it was the fact that both Culp and Ragas are highly respected in their field, perhaps it was that my mind was open to whatever any speakers would say at a conference, or perhaps it was the fact that I was still paying attention since they were one of the earlier panels in the lineup. Whatever it was, I instantly felt a sense of encouragement as the presenters covered why emerging public relations professionals should also be business literate, thinking back to when I heard the same thing in class earlier in the semester.
After leaving the conference, what continued to stick out to me was not the list of accounts that certain speakers worked on, it was not the latest trend in influencer marketing, and it was not the value of relationships. While those things were all good in their own right and completely expected from a conference, my brain was still processing the new information and new angles on familiar concepts.
The things that stuck out from the conference were the things that I heard that I was also hearing back home.
Hearing the same things in a different place meant that it was worth it to take notes on the lecture about stakeholder relations, it was worth it to align mock campaigns with not only the communication goals of an organization, but also the business goals, and it was worth it to consider the business ramifications of the strategies and tactics used in a mock campaign. In short, it made me trust the process.
The important thing wasn’t the actual concept. Sure, it was pertinent to where I am in life. The important thing was the positive reinforcement of something that I was already learning about and doing.
One description of the word ‘development’ in the Oxford dictionary is “a new or refined product or idea.” While many take full advantage of the “new” part of professional development, they may discount the value of the “refined” part of professional development.
Refining is important because it can maximize efficiency in an existing practice. It can increase conviction in a current initiative. Most importantly, refining means that something is already going right. Something is worth pursuing. Something is worth improving.
That, in and of itself, can be just as valuable as gleaning ideas for major change from a professional development opportunity.
I’m definitely not advocating for echo chambers, and people know pandering and empty praise when they see it. This, however, was a panel that was going to present on the same topic whether I was there or not. Additionally, I’m not discounting the value of challenging ideas and the growth it can bring. New viewpoints are a great antidote to frustration that results from a ‘same old, same old’ attitude.
The greatest value, however, can come from simply hearing a reminder that staying the course is worth it.