Insights and Highlights

Why sink or swim when you can play?

Astronauts do it.

Air Force pilots do it.

Educated children with their toys do it.

Let’s do it.

Let’s simulate.

We have taken a little creative freedom with Cole Porter’s lyrics about falling in love to make a point: communicators need creative learning methods to help us navigate the new—sometimes uneven—professional paths.

As we progress in our communication careers, most of us come to a point where we move ahead—or not—by doing and succeeding or by doing and failing. Once you become a technical expert in your field, the next step for you might be to become a strategic adviser to leadership and then, become a business leader in your own right. The real consiglieri know that the skills needed to become the best adviser you can be cannot be learned by maps alone: It is not a linear road, and although many have navigated it before and learned to surmount the obstacles in their way, very few leave breadcrumbs for those coming behind them. Read More

Real life at the communication crossroads: Creating courage

What do you see in your mind’s eye when you hear the word courageDo you picture the firefighter, walking into the wall of flames when everyone else is running the other way? Or the extreme sports expert, defying gravity and risking death to achieve a certain level of awe? Or the internal communication leader who decides to miss a deadline because the project isn’t on the right track?


Hold up a minute. Yes, the first two images are ones we typically classify as courageous or brave. But the third? Rarely do acts of defiance in our workplace get called out in the same awe-inspiring manner. Read More

Ryan McCarty on a “Culture of Good”

As the former director of customer and employee relations at TCC, the largest Verizon Authorized Retailer in the U.S., Ryan McCarty is no stranger to empowering employees through a powerful cultural movement. Speaking on creating a “Culture of Good,” Ryan will join the 2018 IABC World Conference as an inspirational and thought-provoking closing keynote.

Under Ryan’s guidance, TCC’s “Culture of Good,” which enables others to do good in their communities for the value of the investment rather than the return on investment, TCC has donated US$1 million to Riley Hospital for Children; provided 100,000 backpacks full of school supplies to children; given away supply packs to 5,000 teachers; and contributed US$100,000 in grants to organizations focused on improving the environment. Read More

Introducing Unconference

At the World Conference this year, we are stepping it up a notch, bringing some of the best experiences of modern conferences to Montréal. We are turning over our afternoon on Tuesday, 5 June, to something we’re calling “unconference,” where delegates will choose between one of four options. Read More

Bushcraft for communicators: Travelling fast and light in the new world of work

How do leaders, managers and teams work quickly and effectively in an uncertain world confronted by fierce competition and rapidly evolving technology? How do communicators equip their colleagues with the tools they need in this new world of work? Some lessons from history tell a powerful story of what is needed now.

In the center of London stands a monument to folly. A monument to Sir John Franklin, leader one of the most heroic failures in the history of Victorian arctic exploration. A monument that resonates today for communicators.

Read More

Great thought leadership uses your inside voice

Thought leadership has been around for ages, but it’s enjoying a bit of a resurgence lately as consumers turn to trusted brands for truthful content. Having a great thought leadership platform, along with credible spokespeople and superb content is, of course, key.

One place a lot of organizations don’t spend enough time is sharing all that lovely material with their employees. In fact, I think employees should be our first audience.

Nobody likes surprises at work, unless it’s a balloon and a slab cake on their birthday, and even that’s pushing it. Employees particularly hate looking like they’re out of the loop on something. That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure all your employees, especially the customer-facing folks, have had a sneak peek at your latest thought leadership content. Whether it’s a blog post by your CEO, a byline in an industry magazine or a new video, it’s important to make sure they know what it says, what it’s intended to do and how they can frame a conversation around it.

I worked with one organization that went even further. After we had more or less hashed out the thought leadership themes for the next couple of years, we brought some of our sales and customer support teams in for informal focus groups. Full disclosure: We ordered tons of pizza, lured them into the rooms and closed the doors. Among the questions we put out there while they munched away:

  • Does our platform feel authentic for our organization?
  • Are these the right themes for this year?
  • What are you hearing from our customers or others in our industry that nobody is addressing very well?
  • Is there content could we create to that would answer common questions?
  • Which of our planned content pieces could you use to connect to a prospect or a customer?
  • What formats of content would you like more or less of (e.g. video, podcasts, graphics, presentations, etc.)?
  • How could we evolve some of these themes in future, or go a bit deeper on the technical side?

We got great feedback and a legion of engaged employees who were eager to share our thought leadership content and events internally and externally.

Another opportunity is to help your thought leaders try out their material on internal audiences. One of the best employee roadshows I’ve seen was actually a rehearsal for a big user conference. Our executives got to practice their speeches in front of a friendly audience (or one, at least, with incentives not to throw food), and the employees, most of whom wouldn’t be at the conference, got a sense of what actually went on there. Based on the questions, we also had the opportunity to tweak the material a little.

Here are some other ideas for sharing your thought leadership with internal audiences:

  • Throw a launch party for your latest e-book or white paper, complete with an author signing.
  • Hold a trivia contest based on new content, so employees have an incentive to review it.
  • Survey employees on design concepts for an upcoming infographic.
  • Challenge employees to share your articles and events on LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter, and recognize the people who are getting some traction. Be sure you offer some hashtags or keywords.
  • If you publish physical content, such as books or studies, consider giving every employee an advance copy.
  • Make sure all your media coverage, speaker videos and slides are quickly available on internal platforms.

When we include employees in our public conversations, we help strengthen the connection between our internal (employer) brand and our external (market) brand. Consistent conversations create consistent experiences, which further build brands through engaged, informed employees and customers.

Learn more from Elizabeth Williams in her session “Case study: Change the story and own the conversation” at the IABC World Conference, happening 3–6 June 2018. Register today

About the author

Elizabeth Williams started out as a reporter, but soon learned the hours were better in corporate communication. She was most recently head of brand and communications for ADP Canada, prior to which held senior communication and marketing roles at Rogers, Constellation, BMO, Aon, to name a few. She now runs her own consulting firm but secretly wants to be a figure skater. Her work has been recognized with IABC Gold Quill, Silver Leaf and Ovation Awards.

Data “stormy-telling”: How data stories could help during weather events

This was a mild winter by every measure on the East Coast of the U.S., where I live. We had a few cold spells, but we also hit 70 degrees in February more than once. We hardly had any snow, which meant the skiing was terrible, which was the only real downside. My wife would say that’s not even a downside!

Then came March. It came in like a lion, as the saying goes. We had a series of nor’easters, rip-roaring windstorms coming in from the northeast rather than the west, which is the source for most of our weather. This means the wind and moisture are coming off the ocean, which often makes for the fiercest storms. You can have hurricane-force winds with a nor’easter and if it includes snow, these storms can dump the white stuff by the foot.

Anyway, we had a nor’easter on 2 March, and then another one on 7 March, another one 12 March, and then yet another one 21 March (affectionately dubbed a “four-easter” since it was the fourth one in three weeks). The second one is the one that affected me the most. We lost power for days. And it got me wondering: Who else was without power during the storm? Where were the power crews at the moment I needed to know? When would my power be restored? This was an opportunity for a data story that my power company definitely missed out on.

My questions were clear—and pretty obvious. So how would you solve this with a data story or even a simple data dashboard of some kind that might help? The most obvious answer is that you would want to produce a map where someone could see the outages. This makes perfect sense. And my power company did that! Good start, but is this map helpful?

I will argue that it is not. First of all, this is as detailed a map as I can get. I can see my town. And I can see that in my town, 2,500–5,000 people were without power. But that’s not very useful. Mildly interesting? Sure. Useful? No. And, as the color scale indicates, I can see the total number, which makes the one pink town (Framingham) look like it’s a disaster. However, when you roll over the towns on the map, you see that only about 29 percent of Framingham’s residents were without power, whereas in my town, Hopkinton, it was 54 percent.

So even this mildly interesting map didn’t immediately communicate the most relevant number to me (the curiosity is more about percentage than total number, for me.)

But that’s not where this map really failed me. What I wanted to know was where specifically was the outage in my area. If I could zoom in on Hopkinton and see street by street which areas were without power, it would have given me a real sense not just of the size of the impact, but the locality of the impact. If every street within three miles of my house were out, and if the map even indicated a transformer that was blown and/or a power sub-station facing issues, it would have given me a much better sense of how long I might expect to be without power. And, even more helpful, it could have shown me little dots indicating the location of crews in real time, so I could see if they were working in my area. This would really help me make a guess about how long before I see my lights (and internet!) turned back on.

Perhaps it could even have included a future-forward prediction (like weather maps that show how a storm will move in time beyond now) of when they expected crews to move on to other locations, along with estimated repair times. They could have included lots of caveats, so no one would hold the company to those timelines explicitly. This transparency would reap dividends though there will always be some cranks (like those who criticize weather reporters when the storms shift at the last second) who might complain when some predictions end up being too rosy.

All of the data I’m suggesting is available. The company knows where it has outages and you can bet it’s all in a computer somewhere. The reporting system for outages is fully automated–via computer and/or phone. And you also know they know where their crews are. I’m sure there are multiple databases with everything they would need.

So, a data dashboard is an obvious opportunity. What about a real data story? What might that look like? What purpose might that serve?

Imagine this: The company produces an article with interactive and animated visuals that they run on their website and make available to local newspapers as a tool. The story is an after-action review of the storm and their process of returning power to the 350,000 people who lost power. This is an outline of how it could flow, along with a description of the associated visuals it could include.

  • On 7 March, a strong nor’easter hit Massachusetts with top wind speeds exceeding 70 miles per hour. Over a period of 12 hours, 350,000 people lost power.

(Visual: an animated map showing red dots that appear as time progresses showing reported outages, filling up the visual with an overwhelming display of the number of places with outages.)

  • Our crews were already out in force as the storm began, still cleaning up from the storm on 2 March. We had staffed up to handle that previous storm, increasing our crews on the ground by X percent to a total of Y linemen.

(Visual: a static map showing green and blue dots indicating crews in place as the storm began, already working on other outages. The green dots indicate full-time employees and the blue dots indicate the additional crew working for the company. A second map could even indicate where those crew came from; often they are from out of state, brought in to help in an emergency. A third visual would be an overall percentage of people with power—still below 100 percent from the previous storm.)

  • As the storm waned and we were able to begin work (our crews cannot work until winds are below 40 miles per hour), our first priority was to support emergency services to clear roads and dangerous wires in the towns in our service area.

(Visual: animated and interactive map showing where crews were working, with road names visible if the user zooms in so they can see the major roads affected. The overall percentage of users with power would remain visible, slowly creeping up as time progresses.)

  • Once the emergency services support was complete, we began the task of working to restore power throughout our service area. Our priority is to work on X first, Y second, and Z third. For instance, when there is a power sub-station out, affecting at least XX people, that is our first point of attack.

(Visual: static map indicating a real example of one of these types of impacts, showing the number of crew there and how long it took to fix. Overall percentage visual remains and animates to show this work progressing. Perhaps a small animated map showing this type of work progressing statewide with small dots changing from red dots to green checkmarks, indicating successful repair.)

This story outline could continue for a few more steps, outlining the entire process through the repair priorities list. Each step would show the timeline of progress, and would clearly illustrate how decisions are made, how crews are moved around, and the amount of effort it takes to get things up and running.

The added bonus of working on this type of output would be establishing a process and technologies that could be leveraged to make the real-time dashboard available during the storm and in the immediate aftermath to help people see what’s happing in their neighborhoods as described above.

The after-action report would be great PR, demonstrating the company’s commitment to community safety and well-being, and would be about 6,472% better than the bland emails they kept sending that essentially just said, “We’re working on it. Please be patient. It’s gonna be awhile…” without any useful information.

Learn more from Bill Shander in his session “From numbers to narrative: Data storytelling and visualization for the communication pro” at the IABC World Conference, happening 3–6 June 2018. Register today

About the author

Bill Shander is an information designer, helping clients turn their data into compelling visual and interactive experiences. Clients include the World Bank, United Nations, International Monetary Fund, American Express, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Facebook. He is the founder of Beehive Media, a Boston-based data visualization and information design consultancy. Shander teaches data storytelling, information design and data visualization on LinkedIn Learning & and in workshops around the world.


Strategic Adviser Forum: Take your career to the next level

Facilitated by industry leaders Stephen Welch and Casilda Malagon, this special, new pre-conference session, the Strategic Adviser Forum: Corporate Snakes and Ladders, offers an immersive experience that will show you what it takes to be at the top of your field as a strategic adviser. You’ll gain innovative ideas to build on your current skills and discover how to elevate your career to the next level. You’ll learn about the four types of strategic adviser, the five ways of influencing, and how to articulate your value in a clear and cogent way (with the help of Bob Dylan or Love Actually, depending on your age group)—all through the mechanism of a business simulation and the game of snakes and ladders.

5 things that will make #IABC18 an unforgettable World Conference

More than ever, the World Conference team has been working hard to evolve IABC’s annual meeting of minds to give everyone who attends a superb experience. Our theme this year—“The Communication Crossroads”—has given us a platform to explore the major (and relevant) issues facing communication professionals around the world. Over the coming weeks, we’ll look at these in more detail, but to kick off the series, here are five things we are doing this year to make your experience unforgettable.

  1. Big general sessions. We have listened to the feedback and worked hard to secure some big names who will speak on inspirational topics. Seth Godin will get us off to a great start, helping us look at communication in the age of disruption. Anab Jain will follow as she imagines and builds future worlds we can experience in the present moment. We will soon be announcing the rest of the line-up, so stay tuned!
  2. Unconference. At last year’s conference we explored a participatory World Café session. This year, we’re stepping it up a notch, turning over our Tuesday afternoon to something we’re calling the “unconference.” Delegates will choose between one of four options: open space conversations (unstructured content, based around common interests); Game Changer talks (non-communication topics with insights from other disciplines); Shift: Group Mentoring with IABC Fellows; and offsite experiences (company visits, artistic adventures or some downright fun!).
  3. Award-winning examples. We are integrating examples from our Gold Quill Award winners to share the best in communication skills and management from around the world. You’ll be able to learn from the winners and pick their brains live on site.
  4. Our location. For the first time, the conference will be held in a convention centre. No doubt it will be just as maze-like as the hotels we have been hosted at previously, but there should at least be a little more daylight than we are used to! The Palais des Congrès is a stunning venue, located between the beautiful Old Port, the cosmopolitan downtown and the bustling financial district.
  5. You! It goes without saying that the conference would not be what it is without the amazing professionals who make the journey to conference each year. The connections that are made during the sessions—in the vendor/sponsor Hub or simply in the hallways—can last a lifetime. We very much hope that you will make your mark and join us at the Communication Crossroads.

This piece is from Neil Griffiths, ABC, Chart.PR, 2018 IABC World Conference Chair.

Anab Jain: Imagine a different future

We’re pleased to announce our second 2018 IABC World Conference keynote speaker. In case you missed it, Seth Godin will be the opening keynote for the conference, and we’re excited to have futurist Anab Jain join us as well. As communicators, we always need to keep an eye on what’s next and Jain is just the person to help us look ahead.

Jain imagines and builds future worlds we can experience in the present moment. By creating new ways of seeing, being and acting, she inspires and challenges us to look critically at the decisions and choices we make today. She creates tangible, provocative experiences that transport people directly into possible future worlds.

Co-founder of the vanguard laboratory, design, and film studio Superflux, Jain is professor of design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. She is a TED Fellow and her work has won awards from UNESCO, Apple Inc., Geneva Human Rights Film Festival, and Innovate UK, and has been exhibited at MoMA New York, V&A London, National Museum of China, Vitra Design Museum and Tate Modern.

Check out Jain’s Ted Talk from 2017 for a sample of her work and then click the blue button below to register for the 2018 IABC World Conference today. Rates go up by more than US$200 after 1 March, so finalize your plans quickly and join us for great keynotes, dozens of breakout sessions and connection with communicators from around the globe. You can even earn professional certification credits or sit for a certification exam while you’re there.

We look forward to seeing you in Montréal less than four months from now, 3-6 June.

Register today!