CommNOW

This year’s keynote speaker is Marc Whitt, director of media & strategic relations at the University of Kentucky and a two-time graduate of Eastern Kentucky University. Whitt served as the Associate Vice President for Public Relations at Eastern Kentucky University and a PR adjunct instructor in EKU’s Department of Communication. He is also a critically acclaimed author.

CommNOW is an annual event hosted by Eastern Kentucky University’s Department of Communication, and this year’s is quickly approaching.

CommNOW is an event for juniors in the Department of Communication at EKU and is a graduation requirement. At CommNOW, students are offered a chance to experience a professional conference setting in which they can hear communications specialists speak on their careers. It also offers students the chance to network with these various professionals from the world of communication, journalism, broadcasting and public relations.

“These are people with a pretty wide network of connections,” professor Jim Gleason said in regards to the CommNOW speakers. “So, in terms of students trying to track where their career aspirations are, what sort of trajectory they’re on, these are people who know people, who know people, who know people. So, it’s a really great opportunity for students to network.”

In previous years, the event has been held in person, however, due to COVID-19 the department has needed to develop an alternative. When asked how the event was being changed to fit the safety measures needed to combat COVID-19, Gleason said, “The initial question from the faculty was, ‘Are we even going to do it’? But it’s a graduation requirement so we needed to.”

Gleason expressed that despite the challenges of adapting an immersive event to an online format, it was considered imperative that the event still happen because it is so beneficial to students.

Typically the CommNOW event would consist of a keynote speaker to start the day, and then students would break off and listen to other speakers who interest them the most. However due to safety concerns, this year’s CommNOW is being hosted online by Airmeet.

“Essentially it’s a big Zoom meeting, but on a different platform,” Gleason said.

This year’s keynote speaker is Marc Whitt, director of media & strategic relations at the University of Kentucky and a two-time graduate of Eastern Kentucky University. He received his bachelor of arts degree in communication (1982) and a master of arts degree in sociology (1985) from EKU. Prior to his time with UK, Whitt served as the Associate Vice President for Public Relations at Eastern Kentucky University and a PR adjunct instructor in EKU’s Department of Communication. He is also the author of the critically-acclaimed book, PR Lessons Learned Along the Way: Strategies, Tips & Advice for the Higher Ed and Nonprofit Public Relations Professional.

Whitt’s interest in public relations and communications began at a young age when he began making posters for his father, who was a teacher and was recruiting members for a high school band. Then in middle school he founded the school’s student newspaper, ‘The Buffalo Times.’

When asked why communications is an important field of study, Whitt said, “It’s vital, it’s absolutely vital… I think, as we’ve learned by going through this pandemic—more than ever before, communication is absolutely essential.”

COVID-19 has challenged many public relations and communication professionals to find new ways to communicate and build relationships during a time when face to face communication is often not an option.

“I hate to say there’s a positive, when something as horrible as COVID happens, but if there is a bright side, it’s that PR has really had a chance to shine. PR professionals have had the chance to step up and become an even more integral part of a business,” Whitt said.

Whitt proposed four skills to develop for students who are going to become communication specialists. The first, “Develop a keen skill in listening.” Whitt advised that there is a lot of noise that goes out into the world today, and a good communications specialist can not only reply to the noise but also listen. Whitt suggested that listening will help develop a better sense of what is going on around you, and help you to strategize your response.

Second, “Understand persuasion and networking skills.” Communications is all about building relationships, Whitt insisted.

Third, be flexible and adaptable. “In this work you will work all different hours, you have to be prepared at all times, and you have to work with a lot of different personality types.” Whitt suggested that you will not get along with everyone you cross paths with, but the vital skill is being able to find common ground and maintain respect even when you may disagree.

Fourth, “Have a good sense of humor.” Whitt proposed that no matter how stressful your work may become, to keep a smile on your face and find the positives.

Whitt will be offering more advice to communication students on Friday at the CommNOW event.

A reminder to communication students that CommNOW is a graduation requirement and that you need to Register for COM 300 (CRN 13849) on EKU Direct under the “Add/Drop Classes” section for the Fall 2020 semester. You must also register on Eventbrite by following the following link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/eku-com-now-2020-tickets-124202187085.

CommNOW is set for Friday, Nov. 13. Online check in will begin at 8:45 a.m. and the event will end around noon.

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