I am not typically a “rah-rah” person…unless you count events I attend that more than deliver on their promise. IABC’s 2015 World Conference in San Francisco was just such an event. I have attended many conferences devoted to communicators put on by other associations and organizations. Yet, despite my being a long-time IABC member, this was my first World Conference.
Now, I’m hooked and can’t wait to attend in New Orleans next year. What turned me from on-the-fence to an enthusiastic first-time attendee and evangelizer? As those of us in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley chapters prepared to host World Conference, I saw it as an excellent example of what IABC is all about all year ‘round – connecting, showcasing and educating communicators who make a positive contribution to businesses and organizations across the globe.
That prompted me to sign up.
Then, because this was my first time, I decided to tape conversations with other attendees. My choices for whom to record were random and driven by a single question, “What motivates communicators to take the time, money and effort to attend WC?”
In listening to my recorded sound bites, I found three things that attracted attendees to World Conference 2015: content, people and location.
Erin Green, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Deerfield, IL, on the breadth and depth of content: “I have been thoroughly impressed with the caliber of the keynote speakers in particular. Every session offered something valuable that I can apply to my everyday position. As for the breakout sessions, my boss and I are finding it hard to juggle all the ones we’d like to go to because the topics are all really relevant.”
SF IABC member Merry Selk, Selk Communications (a first-timer like me), had this to say about the variety of offerings: “There are lots of programs to choose from, making it possible to cover a lot of ground…There’s enough variety to cover the interests of an independent like me and also for someone who is part of a big organization.”
SF IABC member Allison Kundu, MedAmerica, on the first-day opening keynote: “The speaker was interesting and thought provoking and connected in theme with other sessions in terms of re-thinking how we as communicators are operating and engaging people. One thing he said was, ‘If you’re purpose-focused, profits follow. When you rely on and put your trust in people, they reflect that back to you. They become stewards of the company purpose.’ That should be a rallying cry to communicators everywhere.”
Lisa Noury, Bayer Corporation, Whippany, NJ, on the second-day breakfast keynote speaker: “A lot of us corporate communicators…need to sell our executives on more creative and concise approaches to grab our audience’s attention… I enjoyed this keynote because I’m a big proponent of the educationally entertaining approach. He showed real-life examples, some that worked and some that didn’t, to get across what works best.”
SF IABC member Joanne Brown, Joanne F. Brown Communications, on strategic business content: “I was impressed that many conference presenters and attendees had a seat at the table in the C-suite, discussing and shaping company and communications strategy. Communicators have come a long way. It’s very exciting! And it is reflected in the depth and quality of the World Conference offerings.”
My interviewees’ impressions of IABC people are ones I’ve heard before – from fellow chapter volunteers, as well as from attendance at IABC’s Leadership Institute:
Erin was “…struck by the true international nature of the people who are here.”
And in talking to others at WC 2015, particularly a woman from Columbia, Merry was impressed with how IABC people “…are so nice,…so generous,…so welcoming and interesting.”
SF IABC member Molly Walker, Walker Communications, who has attended several World Conferences, also loves the connection with colleagues: “The IABC community is outstandingly friendly and truly international. You always meet new people, which helps you to know that you’re not alone and challenges you to think about your role in the profession in new ways.”
First-time presenter and SF IABC member Melissa Boatwright, Thomson Reuters, spoke about the new speed presentation format: “There were a lot more chairs set out for people to attend our session than I expected. So I thought, ‘What did I get myself into?’ It was so humbling to be with great presenters covering such different topics. I’m impressed with and grateful for how supportive people are in this organization.”
Location, location, location
Your realtor has it right: “Where” matters. From a WC perspective, it is one of the reasons I wound up interviewing so many from my own chapter. Travel and accommodations did not factor into the costs for Bay Area attendees so that we could spend our money on content (especially important for independents and those whose companies don’t pay for professional development)…and meet others from the far corners of the world to whom we could show off our town and local experts.
SF IABC member John Knox, Knox Communications, an attendee of several previous conferences, put it this way: “I primarily select ones geographically close by to keep within a budget…while this conference was in our hometown, I’m absolutely jazzed (if you’ll pardon the pun) about the prospect of going to New Orleans next year because it’s a great opportunity to travel to another spot and discover all the treasures it offers.”
As John notes, location provides the opportunity for participants to choose a conference because it’s in a place they’ve always wanted to visit or return to. A two-time conference attendee, Jennifer Andrewes, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has been to WC 2013 in New York City and this year in San Francisco because these were “bucket list” destinations for her. When I asked her how our fair city compares to the Big Apple, she said, “San Francisco is fantastic for those of us from New Zealand because it is much more accessible and it’s a great city.”
Her sentiments echoed those of Maria Constantinescu, Business Development Bank of Canada, Montreal, who, when asked what drew her to the 2015 conference, quickly replied, “Well, first of all, it was set in the beautiful city of San Francisco. If this didn’t draw you, I don’t know what will.”
Clinching the argument for attending World Conference
And if you need any final reasons to attend World Conference 2016 in New Orleans, here are a few final thoughts:
Kate Farrell Bair, KFaB Marketing & Communications and a member of the executive board of PRSA’s San Francisco chapter, led a walking tour of the city and hosted one of the Dine-Arounds. She was impressed with the caliber of the professionals she met from the United States, as well as other countries. As a first-timer, she had this to say: “If this year is indicative of the stellar content, I can’t believe what I’ve been missing all these years! To me, it was a mini-bootcamp that invigorated my skill set on many levels, and I’ve already been able to use some of my learnings in my everyday activities!”
Maria: “There’s a new sense of energy, of renewal, of hope at IABC, and we see communicators at the forefront of strategy getting one step closer to that elusive executive table. One way to do it is through professional development and the other is networking. What better way is there to meet peers and new contacts to open the door to a new stage in your professional development than by attending the conference? It’s a wonderful opportunity to get exposed to new practices, to get a glimpse into new research, to find out what makes the heart of our community beat.”
John: “Every time I go to a conference it rejuvenates me. It’s fun, and I’m never ready for it to end – kind of like the last day of summer camp. It gives me many professional development opportunities…I learned a lot this year.”
Sue Stoney is a writer, editor and writing coach. For more than 20 years, in the corporate world and as an independent communicator, Sue has helped many people develop content and write the stories that contribute to their business bottom line. This article was reprinted with Sue’s permission. You can reach her through her website, TheMessageCrafter.com. Meet Sue at the 2016 World Conference. She’s registered to attend!