2018 World Conference recap day one: Changing how we think about our profession

Opening general session, photo credit: Sabrina Belzil

by Elizabeth Krecker

The first two sessions I attended on the opening day of the 2018 IABC World Conference snapped us out of our comfort zone and began the change in our approach to our profession as communicators that is the focus of the 2018 conference.

When IABC Chair Sharon Hunter introduced Seth Godin, the opening keynote speaker, she pointed out that the theme of our conference “communication at the crossroads,” reflects our current state as communicators: We’ve never been more challenged navigating change and yet we now have a real opportunity to make a transformative impact. The two presentations I attended built the beginnings of this transformation in my work.

Strategic Adviser Forum: Corporate snakes and ladders

Led by the entertaining British team of Stephen Welch and Casilda Malagon, the Strategic Adviser Forum was designed to enhance our ability to sit at the executive table. But this session did much more than that by launching all of us into entirely new directions.

We met our teammates at round tables covered with a colorful board game, beautifully designed cards, and a pocket of black beans. Welch and Malagon tag-teamed their presentation, leading us through a guided tour of the game interspersed with robust discussion.

But first, they opened by explaining that their goal for us was that we learn from our mistakes in this room and not at the office. As we make the leap from becoming skilled technical experts in our profession to becoming a strategic adviser to our executive team, an entirely new skill-set applies. This session was designed to combine core technical skills with consulting skills through team problem-solving of real life dilemmas.

And Welch and Malagon truly made our experience a real-life dilemma. My team did all the right things. And yet in the end we ranked barely above last place because we kept falling into the same trap. We were bold in our discussions initially, but after 10 minutes, we landed on the “educated communication professional” answer to the problem we faced. And that was always the answer that gave us the least possible points.

It’s not much consolation that none of the teams chose the highest scoring answer on the last question. The highest scoring answer was the boldest answer: The answer that propelled us all from our cozy chairs onto the exciting playing field shared by other executives.

This session demonstrated the value of being bold in our role as communicators by not sitting back and responding with tried-and-true tactics, but instead being willing to risk stepping out of our traditional role.

Opening general session: Communication in the age of distraction

Seth Godin, photo credit: Sabrina Belzil

Seth Godin bounded onto the stage to an audience of 1,000+ people, his gigantic smile beaming and his long arms waving. He opened with a story about his trip to Bucharest to talk about a new golf course being built in Transylvania. To illustrate his point that golf is the worst spectator sport in the world because of its quiet applause, he asked us to give him our best golf clap, then led us to gradually increase the sound of our applause until it was roaring.

“Just like that applause, your job is to find small threads of interest and weave them together in a way that makes them louder and more important,” said Godin. As though to hammer in my lessons learned in the morning’s session, he followed with this: “You may have signed up to be communicators, but the world has changed, and now you’re leaders.”

Godin illustrated through imagery that leadership is not the same as management; leadership is voluntary and involves no authority whatsoever. It means doing a thing that we’re not sure will work and getting other people to do it with us.

He talked about our modern culture: It’s all about “more.” But, “more” means we need “everyone” and “everyone” means average. Average is the very definition of appealing to everyone. And now, the marketing problem compounds.

Henry Ford introduced us to the idea of scale when he invented the assembly line to build cars in the early 1900s. This concept has spread all over the world and caused us to start yelling at people through our advertising to accomplish our mission. No thanks to us, the communicators, the average person on the internet has the attention span of a goldfish.

“We need to figure out how to talk to people in a way they’re going to listen,” said Godin. “This model of finding poor schmoes and yelling at them isn’t working anymore.”

In 1969, after Apollo 11 touched down and Neil Armstrong became the first human to leave his footprint on the moon, Buzz Aldrin became the second. Godin wrapped this session with his story of meeting Aldrin. While Godin and Aldrin were talking, the moon rose, Aldrin pointed to it and said simply, “I’ve been there.”

Godin closed by repeating his goal for us to understand that we as communicators are more than communicators: We are leaders and we are in a position to make change. Images of Aldrin walking on the moon next to Godin’s thoughts about leadership will be close to my heart as I walk through this conference.

About the author

Elizabeth Krecker serves as principal of Krecker & Company, a marketing agency based in Phoenix, Arizona. She provides marketing, branding, public relations, web development, and project management services for: Dignity Health, Make A Wish Foundation, and MCMC, an integrated marketing communication firm. Prior to starting Krecker & Company, she served as director of marketing and public relations for Health Choice, a health insurance firm specializing in Medicaid and Medicare with health plans in Arizona, Utah, and Florida. Krecker began her career as an advertising art director and created award-winning campaigns for the Arizona Lottery and Arizona Biltmore.