Most communication students say they learned career skills from professors and professionals, but few can boast wisdom learned from a canine source, as I have from my basset/beagle mix, Rosie.
This summer, Rosie and I fulfilled our dream of becoming a certified therapy team with Paws for People, a nonprofit organization that provides pet-assisted visitation services. We visit nursing homes and community events to provide furry, four-legged therapy (from Rosie, not me). Volunteering in this capacity has given me insight into effective communication and management of tricky situations, skills that transfer well into the public relations field.
- A good introduction makes a world of difference: At Paws for People, we learned how to properly introduce ourselves on each visit: identify ourselves and our dog, state our affiliation with Paws for People, and ask to approach. This set of guidelines helps establish credibility and trust with those we visit. We should seek to establish these same standards in our public relations careers. How can people understand the organization you represent, let alone trust it, without clearly understanding its identity and purpose? Never assume that your audience has the same background information you do – take the time to make a good introduction.
- Situation management 101: I always joke on my Paws for People visits that Rosie is the real star of the show, while I merely function as her entourage. In reality, I am responsible for running my visits in a timely and professional manner while navigating busy nursing homes and controlling a curious dog. These visits give me experience in managing multiple tasks while keeping my cool, a crucial skill in public relations.
- Are you listening to me? Listening is one of the easiest, but most often overlooked, ways to help someone. Most people I visit care more about having a listening ear rather than a dog to pet (though that never hurts). Listening closely allows me to determine people’s needs and build empathy. In doing what we consider good or valuable work, we can easily think of ourselves more often than the audience we serve. In public relations, we should listen closely and often to our audience. There is no better way to determine needs and attitudes, and address them accordingly.
The beauty of the public relations field is that the world is our classroom. When we pursue our personal interests, as I did with Paws for People, we can often learn professional skills in surprising – and deeply meaningful – ways. Observe your extracurricular activities through a public relations lens and see you what you may learn.
Now, if I could only bring my dog to work, I’d be set.
By: Maddie Brooks
Maddie Brooks is a senior Mass Communication major with a minor in Public Health. She is a UD Social Media Ambassador and a member of PRSSA, Lori’s Hands, and Paws for People. Follow her on Twitter, @BlueHenMaddie and @Mbrooksinde.