Networking with open, interesting people ... innovative discussion formats ... practical how-to tips and more: This year's IABC World Conference experience was outstanding for our two scholarship winners, Connie Feick from the Greater Cincinnati chapter and Janet Swaysland from the Boston chapter. Swaysland described it as a terrific experience, including the sessions, social and self-discovery aspects. Feick called it "the best professional development event of my life." Find out why—take a look at their recaps.
Feick's recap: From AI to zombies, IABC World Conference covered it all
As a first-time attendee at the IABC World Conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been to numerous workshops and conferences during my career, some good, others not so much. By the end of my four days in Washington, D.C., I told anyone who would listen that the 2017 World Conference was the best professional development event of my life.
And it wasn’t an exaggeration. More than 1,000 communicators from around the globe gathered June 11 – 14 for a deep dive into global communications leadership. The conference included a wide range of session types led by the experts from all corners of the globe and every area of the discipline.
Teresa Zumwald, Pat Frey, Connie Feick and Amy Miller
at the 2017 IABC World Conference opening reception.
Gabrielle Dolan’s opening keynote about authentic storytelling perfectly set the stage for the conference. Many of the follow-up sessions echoed her emphasis on authenticity as the key to successfully reaching audiences. As Dolan put it, jargon is killing our engagement. Instead, we should use stories that create emotional connections so our audience doesn’t just remember the message, but repeats it to others.
Several presenters shared case studies that proved Dolan’s point. PR and communications expert Marco Greenberg of Thunder11 led The Ohio State University’s announcement of a brain implant that allowed a quadriplegic to use his arms again, which tapped into the power of a personal story to generate interest. Ingenium Communications’ Caroline Kealey shared how her organization personalized a change management story for the University of Ottawa so it resonated with the audience—and, most importantly, drove the desired actions.
Technology was another hot topic at IABC World Conference. Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of marketing and communications for IBM, explained how artificial intelligence like his company’s Watson will allow us to personalize communication to the individual level. But don’t worry—Iwata assured everyone that AI will enhance, not replace, what we do. Many of the companies in The Hub exhibit hall also offered new ways of segmenting audiences and cutting through the sheer amount of information people receive daily.
So what about the zombies? More good news—there’s a cure for the affliction of zombie communications (you know, those reckless, stiff and haphazard communication strategies that contradict a company’s values). Zombie slayers Julie Lellis and Melissa Eggleston know exactly what weapons are needed to keep away the oncoming hoard: flexibility, originality and mindfulness.
And these are just a few highlights. IABC World Conference had something for everyone and captured what it really means to be a communications professional in the 21st century. Even better, the conference’s multiple formats made it easy for attendees to learn exactly the way they needed to.
It’s not too early to start planning for next year’s World Conference, which will take place in Montreal June 3 – 6, 2018. In the meantime, the Heritage Region Annual Conference offers another great opportunity for networking and development, November 5 - 7, 2017, in Pittsburgh.
Swaysland's experience: Observations from my first IABC World Conference
A bright red “First Time” ribbon for the badge that hangs around my neck. That’s the first thing that struck me about participating in last month's IABC World Conference in Washington, D.C. I thought—hmm, either everyone walks up to you and says, “Welcome! How can I help you?” or it’s some kind of newbie hazing identifier. Of course, it’s absolutely the former. Nothing but nice, interesting people, generous with their ideas, experiences and contacts.
“Conference” (as the veterans call it for short) was a terrific experience, and I encourage you to participate whenever you can.
Display conveying the importance of professional communicators as a force for good in business and society.
Here I’ll share just a few observations and learnings from my first World Conference, in three big ways that made it really meaningful: Sessions, Social and Self-discovery.
Conference was designed with a great mix of keynote headliners, practical how-to strategies and innovative discussion formats. Of the dozens of excellent sessions, here are a few elements that especially caught my attention.
“Global Business: Lead Communication – Make Real Impact.”
Not the catchiest theme for a conference, but there was real discipline across the sessions for us as communicators to pick our heads up out of the day-to-day weeds and focus on supporting strategic priorities at our companies. After all, “making real impact” depends on knowing what you’re trying to solve and knowing how well you’re accomplishing it. Sessions like Angela Sinickas’ “Research to Fine Tune Your Strategies” gave us practical ways to infuse our work with insights to help plan better, test better, nudge employee behavior better and measure in more meaningful ways.
A focus on our role as communicators during these times
One of the most innovative sessions was a “World Café” format where, in small groups, we dived into three questions about ethics and communications, starting with “What does ethics in communication mean to you?” I think this was part therapy for us, as in our roles we are often balancing complicated and competing interests in what gets communicated and when and how, and it’s helpful to define our own standards and build on others’ views. (The World Café format is an example of newer ways to foster idea sharing and problem solving, especially around challenging topics, one to keep in mind as we are sometimes conveners and event designers in our organizations.)
Janet Swaysland with the World Café results poster.
More about Janet on her company website
On keeping up with new technologies—both Chuck Gose and Shel Holtz shared their sage views on what’s hot and important to keep an eye on, including chatbots, Bluetooth geolocation, AI, VR, blockchain… Yep, it’s all coming to your toolbox.
Storytelling gets real
I don’t know about you, but if I don’t hear the word storytelling for a very long time, that will be fine with me. Who doesn’t agree that stories work better than bullet points or corporate speak? The question is how to source and bake more stories into our communications? A number of sessions got practical on this, especially Shawn Callahan’s “Making Your Strategy Stick” session. He’s got a simple formula for explaining a company strategy or big change in ways that actual humans will understand and care about, and he actually encouraged us to replace the “S” word with sharing “experiences,” or “what happened” as prompts for surfacing stories. His book, “Putting Stories to Work” has all his frameworks and how-to’s.
Getting to know you
Ample breaks for food and conversation (and food) and an open “hub” physical space made it easy to mix and mingle throughout the entire conference. Each IABC Region hosted a reception for members, and I was thrilled to meet some of our Heritage Region colleagues for the first time. (By the way, our region conference is November 5 - 7 in Pittsburgh.) A favorite feature of Conference is the “Dine Around” dinner experience, where attendees could sign up at any of a range of local D.C. restaurants for group dinners. And the IABC World Conference app made it easy to find people, connect with people and play some social games (not to mention keeping track of your schedule.)
(and a personal action plan)
Filling a notebook with new facts and trends and methods and cool tools and case studies is great, but even better is coming away with new habits and actions you personally bring home with you. I found that most Conference sessions urged active thinking about how to adapt and apply the ideas to what you’re facing at your companies and in your work—what three things you can do now, or differently, or next? For example, one of the keynotes, Denise Jacobs, introduced the concept of “Tiny Habits,” based on behavioral science, ways to get over inertia or otherwise make more progress through small, incremental, but effective steps you commit to. I listened to every subsequent session through this lens, and am keen to follow through!
The World Conference website is now updated with highlights from the event – check it out, and ask me anything about my experience or thoughts shared here.