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What color is your future? Future trends will enhance the role of communicators. But will they be prepared to take up the challenge?

Communicators now wear coats of many colors as we work in various positions along the wide spectrum of the field. The demand for the know-how of professional communicators has burgeoned as corporations have come to understand and respond to the requirements of the Information Age.

But it was not so long ago that communicators mainly wore shades of corporate blue and gray, in their roles as the self-effacing press contact or the industrial editor. Today, communicators are a colorful lot, with responsibilities in all sectors of business, industry, government and nonprofit organizations. Some perform the tactical duties of writing, producing, programming and distributing information; others are creating and designing high-impact programs to help their organizations reach the hearts and minds of their constituencies. A few (sadly too few) are working directly with their CEOs and leadership teams to forge integrated communication strategies that support key enterprise business plans.

Quadrants of change

Is this the golden age for the communication professional? Is the respect now paid to the profession rendered less grudgingly than it once was? Will this position of respect translate into even greater recognition and acknowledgment of communication's importance?

What the next 10 to 20 years will bring for communicators will depend not only on the nature and scope of the challenges ahead, but also on just how the communication profession will respond. It is most probable that future trends and waves of change will only enhance the role of the communicator. But will communicators be prepared to take up the challenge?

The complex issues of the 21st century stem from the powerful forces coming together to both shape and be shaped by communication. These "quadrants of change"--political, economic, demographic and technological--will no doubt combine and recombine in ways that place the communicator and communication in increasingly critical roles. Trends and events in every part of the world are acting in ways subtle and not so subtle to put greater demands on the profession and on its practitioners, to ensure that information and, more important, meaning are shared among the right people, at the right time, in the right way.

The challenge for professional communicators will be no less daunting than it was for those who preceded us, but it will be different because of the quality and pace of change in each of the quadrants.

Is the communicator expected to be a politician, an economist, a sociologist and a technologist? Not necessarily. But the communicator of the future must be able to place him- or herself at the center of the convergence of these forces. He or she must be a translator, an interpreter, a distributor and a facilitator. Promoting two-way communication in its fullest sense and deepest application leaves no room for the dabbler or the dilettante. To be a successful communication professional in the 21st century, a person must become a global thinker, with a broad view of sources of change.

Preparing for the 21st century

As these four forces of change play out, how are professional communicators being prepared? First, it would seem that as a response to the weak job market of recent years, the emphasis has been on craft skills so that graduates could find and hold jobs--a completely understandable approach. But those skills alone do not prepare the person to be a global thinker--to analyze facts, to extract meaning and significance, and to apply principles. Can this skill be taught, or must it be acquired through experience?

It's an age-old question in every profession, but one that is particularly critical in communication. The answer seems to be that one must start with a solid education in almost any discipline where critical thinking is encouraged and logical forms of expression are required. Follow that basic education with craft skills training in professional graduate school, and then add "real-world" experience. Only then will the communicator truly be prepared for her or his professional role in the 21st century.

Look to the Renaissance

The principal challenge for organizations today is to make themselves, their missions and their work understood by those groups that have some vested interest or relation to that organization: stakeholders. Whether external or internal, the professional communicator cannot be anything other than an integrator. Whether that integrative act takes place at the strategic or the tactical level, the communicator's calling is to do just that--make sense of the divergent, clarify that which is unclear, and bring about mutual understanding.

In the world today, awash as it is with information, the need is to do just what the men and women of the Renaissance did in pulling together various and disparate knowledge tracks so that their combined insight enhanced the study of philosophy, science, literature and, of course, art. Thus the daily work of the 21st-century communicator must be based on research, planning, implementing with creativity and measuring for intended outcomes.

The professional communicator wears a new coat now, certainly one brighter than those worn 35 years ago. No one can guess what the future will bring, but it will be a demanding, fulfilling challenge because communication, as professionally practiced, is both art and science.

The true professional will be an adroit strategist, a creative tactician and a skilled facilitator--a friend of technology and an exponent of lifelong learning. The future is a global voyage into the art and science of communication, where the successful communicator will be like the men and women of the Renaissance, pulling it all together, but in the high-tech environment of the 21st century.

Paul M. Sanchez is the practice leader, communication consulting, for Mercer U.K. and Europe. He is currently vice chairman of IABC's Research Foundation.
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Title Annotation:COMMUNICATION WORLD'S VOICES: Past, Present and Future: The Evolution of IABC
Author:Sanchez, Paul M.
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
Previous Article:A world of communication: 1992-2004.
Next Article:The path to professional development.

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