Panel speakers Bob Clark (Rockefeller Archive Center), Kerri Anne Burke (Citigroup), Celia Hartmann (Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Nicole Milano (Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs) discussed the importance of communicating effectively about our work as archivists. Surprisingly, the speakers stressed that successful communication has little to do with personality traits (i.e. your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator result) and more to do with thoughtful, learned, and practiced communication. Before attending the panel, I felt that a person’s disposition can positively or negatively impact advocating for themselves and their archives. However, as the panel emphasized, speaking to a large audience or having a one-on-one meeting and advocating for archives is learned and takes strategizing beyond pitching your ‘elevator speech’. Effective communication is not something we are automatically gifted with! Here are the panel’s key takeaways to become a better communicator in our profession and in turn, become better advocates for ourselves and archives.
What’s in it for them? Know your audience.
An archivist speaking with a potential donor is a different conversation from an archivist speaking to a large audience at a MARAC Session, which is different than speaking with a supervisor about securing more project funding. Understanding the audience’s knowledge of archives and archival terms (not by assuming what they know, but by asking them what they know or what they want to accomplish) will help better guide the conversation. By using less archival jargon for those less familiar with archives to speaking frankly with a full room of archivists at a conference, it shifts a conversation’s tone and context.
To ‘break the ice’ in conversation, it’s helpful to be friendly, informative, and to show your authentic self. It not only eases tensions between the audience and archivist, but it eases the speaker’s nerves. When I speak to a large group, I tend to have the physical signs of nervousness like my face turning bright red. Using relaxed breathing, coming to the presentation with confidence in my archival knowledge and ability, and connecting by using my personal communication style, should help my nerves, and allow the audience to open up and respond to the information to create more of a dialogue, and less of a lecture.
“Give the presentation you want to go to.”
Think about your most successful meetings. Why did you feel good about the outcome? Think about the presenters at conferences. What information did you take away and why was that particular presenter so informative or persuasive? Learning from your experiences and taking notes of what catches your attention is crucial and takes self-reflection and practice. By focusing on the needs of the audience and opening up to be your authentic self, any archivist can customize the conversation to be more informative and successful.
American Public University System