Explaining My Communications Job To 14-Year-Olds

When I volunteered for The Human Library project at Day X 2019, I found myself explaining what I did as my job to teenagers again and again, with each batch of kids that “borrowed” me. It was particularly challenging trying to explain what I did in communications without leaning on familiar industry jargon and contextualizing things for students who have yet to experience the working world.

I eventually settled on this version, which I thought I’d record here.

Every company has a reputation, just like you. If I ask your friend to describe you, they’ll often talk about how you make them feel, rather than just describe your physical features.

For example, they will more often say, “Leigh is a kind person,” rather than “Leigh is male, over 170cm tall, and doesn’t wear glasses.”

What someone thinks of you and how you make them feel is part your reputation. You can choose either to build it, change it, or defend your it.

If you want to be known as a kind person, you need to be kind and, hopefully, you’ll also have friends who can vouch for your kindness. If someone criticises you as being unkind, you would hopefully want to correct them and have friends who will defend your reputation as a kind person.

Now, it is important that your friends or other people say good things about you and defend your reputation voluntarily, without payment or inducement. This means you have earned their trust well enough for them to endorse you.

Imagine if it was discovered that you paid your friends to say nice things about you or defend your reputation. They would be perceived as having less credibility – what they say about you may be less believable because they were paid to do so.

So, you have to be kind, and be known as a kind person to as many of the right people as possible. It may not be possible to get the whole world to think positively about you, but you certainly want the people that matter to you to care: your friends, your teachers, and potential employers. So, you focus on ensuring these people have a good perception of you.

Similarly, my job is to build and defend my company’s reputation (what people think about my company and how it makes them feel) by earning the trust of friends that matter to my company (like media journalists, government authorities, or respected experts), who will then endorse my company to as many people as possible.

Let me know what you think?

Volunteering at Day X 2019

As I write this, I just got back from a full day volunteering at Day X, as a member of The Human Library.

Organized by The Astronauts’ Collective, the Lifelong Learning Institute of Singapore, and SkillsFuture Singapore, “Day X,” or a day of exploration, is envisioned to be a fun and accessible opportunity for youths to explore the world of work. The idea of a β€œday” is to encourage youths (and other related stakeholders) to β€œtake a day” off from everyday preoccupations, to explore and better understand what they may find interesting, or even meaningful, to undertake as a possible career.

As part of Day X, the Human Library session provides a cosy and unintimidating setting for participants to choose to “read” from a wide collection of more than 50 human books at any one sitting. Each human book is a volunteer professional from a particular field, whom the participants could interact with to find out more about that particular profession.

I really enjoyed speaking to the group of mostly secondary and Junior College students about my job. It was particularly interesting trying to explain my job while avoiding the usual industry jargon and contextualizing things for students who have yet to experience the working world. An excellent exercise, IMHO.

I especially appreciated the thoughtful questions about my job, although it was fascinating to see the mix of curiosity and trepidation. More than a few students felt they needed a “fixed” answer to navigate their careers. It was as if they were looking for that guaranteed path; three steps to getting the right courses, to get the right education, and end up with the right job. There were such specific questions, for example: “Which specific courses should I take to get a job like yours?” or “Should I go through Junior College or Polytechnic if I want this job?”

I also gained a newfound appreciation for teachers and lecturers; it’s quite the challenge saying the same thing over and over again, while maintaining enthusiasm and making sure you’re getting through to the students! Teens can be quite challenging to reach.

My favourite anecdote of the day came from when I shared what it meant to build and defend a company’s reputation using various communications channels, to which this one student remarked,

“So, it’s like propaganda?”

Yes, dearie – exactly like that. 

Many thanks to my friend, Grace Yeoh, for inviting me to this.