An interview with Sarah McLaughlin, chair of the World Conference Program Advisory Committee
Sarah McLaughlin, PMP, is the chair of the 2017 IABC World Conference Program Advisory Committee (PAC). In this interview with Natasha Nicholson, Director of Content at IABC, Sarah describes her experience with IABC and the World Conference, what she feels is special about this event and why she thinks that all communication professionals will benefit from the learning, inspirations and discoveries.
Natasha Nicholson: What is special about IABC and the World Conference in particular?
Sarah Mclaughlin: IABC has had a strong impact on my career. I was first introduced to IABC in 2010 at a strategic communication seminar in Washington, D.C. Fresh on the heels of a promotion to a vice presidency, I was eager for information, ideas and success stories that I could share with my team and use with our clients. Exchanging ideas with seasoned communicators from different industries was such a valuable experience. I finished the seminar feeling energized about my career and hungry for more IABC. Simply put, when I became a member, I joined an international community of people and ideas, which is absolutely something that sets IABC apart from other organizations. And World Conference, like the association, is all about connecting people and ideas.
NN: In your opinion how does the World Conference benefit the communication profession as well as individual practitioners? How does this year’s theme embody that support?
SM: World Conference is about learning, connecting and getting excited about the power of communication to lead our organizations. For individual practitioners, it creates the opportunity to build your global network and knowledge base, and increases your awareness of cutting-edge trends. This year’s theme is GLOBAL BUSINESS: Lead Communication—Make Real Impact. Our programming will focus on leading communication and making a real impact in our organizations.
NN: What do you think were the biggest takeaways from the 2016 conference in New Orleans?
SM: Most definitely the need to enhance networking and dialoguing opportunities for our attendees. One of the first changes we made was to move the Dine-around event, where people begin to make lasting connections over dinner at local restaurants, to Monday evening. We are also adding a World Café session on Monday, which will give attendees a chance to talk in small groups about the real issues that we are facing as communicators. On Tuesday, we have added a lunch and speed networking session, another chance for people to connect and talk about what they have learned.
Also, the need to have dynamic keynotes. From Gabrielle Dolan, who is considered to be a leading authority internationally in business storytelling, to Jon Iwata who is the architect of IBM’s strategic brand platforms, to Denise Jacobs who will inspire us with fresh ways to bust through creative road blocks, this year’s keynotes are leaders, thinkers and innovators who will share perspectives and knowledge that will shape the future. And there is more to come…we will announce our final keynote in January 2017.
NN: How are the sessions and keynotes selected for the conference?
SM: The Program Advisory Committee (PAC) is responsible for making sure that the conference programming is high-value and well balanced. With this charge, it is very important that the PAC mirrors the diverse interests, levels of experience and international character of the association. The 2016–2017 PAC includes members from all seven regions, various career levels and myriad industries.
This year we launched an online submission tool to collect recommendations for keynote speakers. The PAC leadership team developed and executed a plan to select keynote speakers who are representative of IABC’s diversity and align thematically within the conference agenda.
This year, we had nearly 190 submissions for breakout sessions that were evaluated blindly by two PAC members. The PAC leadership team made the final selections for breakout sessions with the goal of creating a balanced and high-value program for attendees.
NN: What’s new and different about this year’s World Conference?
SM: There is so much that is new and different about the 2017 conference, which is really exciting. In general, I think that the agenda creates greater alignment with IABC’s brand. For example, each day at the conference now has an IABC-brand–connected theme that relates directly to activities and content.
You can expect to see a lot of new faces—from keynotes to our breakout sessions, the PAC has worked hard to ensure that there is a combination of old and new World Conference speakers. Our speakers come from all over the world, including Singapore, Australia, the U.K., Kenya, Canada, the U.S. and more.
NN: What features of the World Conference are your personal favorites?
SM: I am excited about the whole program, but I am most looking forward to the phenomenal keynote speakers. This year’s keynotes will share innovative ideas, breakthrough approaches that can elevate our organizations, as well as wisdom and experience that will generally broaden our horizons.
NN: Who will benefit most from attending the conference? Why come?
SM: IABC’s World Conference is for people who are working at all levels and in all areas of communications. It will benefit anyone who is interested in getting energized about their work, in meeting new people and expanding their global networks, in learning about the latest trends across the communication industry and generally just having fun. I look forward to seeing everyone in Washington, D.C.