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Cannings Purple intern Brigitte Colbert

How my internship taught me to communicate

There’s a lot to expect and anticipate from any internship, but when I was presented with the opportunity to work at Cannings Purple I was particularly excited (and a little terrified). Cannings Purple works with its clients to ‘start and shape conversations that matter’ and I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for that task.

What I now realise is that the first step, starting a conversation, is the most important thing any of us can do as writers and communicators. Conversation implies a back-and-forth between two or more parties, an opening up of discussion.

As a professional writing and publishing student—undertaking a course more focussed on arts than communications – businesses beyond the world of publishing houses had felt like an afterthought for potential employment, despite the importance of good communication to good business outcomes. Even among those comfortable (and adept) with the written word, there is a tendency to underrate its value.

I see communications as a form of translation; bridging the language barrier between professionals in specialist fields and a broad range of stakeholders.

The ability to interpret information from an industry and make it digestible for the rest of the world is an important and often-underestimated task. Globally and locally, interested and invested individuals rely on (and expect) information to be regularly shared about industries and products and for this to be done so in a way that is easy to understand.

This expectation has been amplified by the multitude of new channels of communication available in modern society. The internet has created an easy way to spread information quickly and reliably, becoming a great equaliser for the accessibility of information.

But a major issue often remains: a lack of understanding about what needs to be said, and how.

My tertiary education studies have been very data-focused—geology and accounting, both of which, in their rawest form, cause people to disengage immediately. I can see eyes glazing over already! They are the types of subjects that rarely evoke excitement and are known for being full of dry jargon that can quickly kill off any goodwill.

Of course, this problem isn’t contained to the professional worlds of finance or resources and mining. Nearly every aspect of modern life requires us to interact with topics we’re not familiar with, often presented in ways we can’t understand.

So, how can a conversation start if neither side can communicate?

The reality is that it takes more than spelling, grammar and punctuation (although these fundamentals are very important!) to communicate well. It’s impossible to deliver information properly without understanding it—and too often those who do understand it aren’t great at conveying that information for others.

They don’t personally need a ‘translation’, so they often don’t consider one necessary. Overcoming that barrier is essential.

Understanding the digital environment is another important element to consider, with online multimedia and social media creating new avenues not only for conversations to be started, but also shared. Businesses need to see these digital conversations as prime opportunities to connect with a diverse range of stakeholders.

The balance can be delicate. When translating information to ensure it is accessible we must be also mindful of retaining context and the level of detail required to maintain accuracy.

Analysing and determining what people on both sides of a conversation want and need to know, and how to effectively deliver that information, has been the most valuable skill I’ve learned through my experience at Cannings Purple.

If you’re going to start and shape conversations that truly matter, this needs to be a key foundation in your approach. Too often the parties involved in conversations overlook this vital starting point.

Brigitte Colbert is completing her studies at Curtin University in Commerce and Professional, Business, Technical and Scientific Writing. She previously studied Geology, Earth Science and General Science.

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