This year’s International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) World Conference conference was, let’s say, a little bit different from what we were expecting.
Instead of converging on Chicago, hundreds of communicators packed into a virtual conference hall. While the venue might’ve been a bit of disorienting, there was one familiar thing: great programming, great speakers, and a whole boatload of learning.
One of the things that I find most striking about these types of events is the universality of the challenges we, as professional communicators, face (and subsequently speak to).
This year, far from being an exception to that rule with 2020 kicking most of our butts in a very thorough manner, those commonalities were even more of a through-line. We are facing some of the biggest challenges of our careers right now, but more than that, we’re also seeing a wealth of opportunity.
COVID-19 and the push for equity have our leaders looking for strategic advisors that can help them meet what are, in many ways, novel demands. They are (in some cases unexpectedly) looking to us, with a new understanding and appreciation for what we can do. It’s a difficult time to be a human, but it’s an exciting time to be an internal communications professional.
The first segment of IABC World Conference takeaways focused on creativity. Here’s what stood out for me …
Listening was explicitly the topic of the session presented by Howard Krais, Kevin Ruck, and Mike Pounsford (Listening: A dynamic shift in the communicator’s role). It was also a theme that popped up again and again and again, across sessions focused on everything from software to equity to analytics.
An insight that caught me was that, as professional communicators, we need to rethink our balance of receive versus transmit. We need to start adjusting the amount of time and effort we spend creating content to ensure that an appropriate amount is spent listening to and learning from our audience.
“Listening is integral to innovation” – Kevin Ruck, co-founder of PR Academy, the U.K.’s largest provider of Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) qualifications
The IABC Gold Quill Awards have stipulated, as a requirement for entry, that planning is rooted in the audience and their needs. So the best examples of organizational communication must prove that listening was their priority.
With this in mind, we should all endeavor to take a step back as often as possible, even when we’re swamped and trying to race through all of our asks and think of how we can listen better.
One of the sessions that I was surprised landed on my favorites list was Neil Griffiths’ “You’ve got the analytics: Now what?” The focus on determining from the outset not just what data you want to collect, but why you want it and how it will draw a direct storyline between your comms activities and the overall business objectives of your organization.
“Maybe if we stop calling it ‘measurement’ or ‘evaluation’ and just focus on ‘results’ or ‘impact’ it will sound less like an optional part of the process.” – @alicepr
As internal communications professionals, we need to get much deeper into data, analyzing trends, sentiment analysis on a deeper level, and then using our skillset in storytelling to link it all together when we report to leadership.
Piecing together those stories ahead of time, rather than expecting the assorted numbers to paint their picture, is part of the real value we can bring as strategic advisors. It also makes it a whole lot more likely our asks are going to be well received when we can back them up with meaningful data.
We’re not measuring things simply to just show how our work is relevant to our organizations, but to show the impact of what we’re doing on the strategic objectives of the business.
A trend that was highlighted in Max Luthy’s “Expectations: Accelerated” presentation, emphasizes the growing expectations that people now have of organizations/brands. Internal audiences (who are, y’ know, made up of people) are no different.
Glassbox brands are those leading the way with radical transparency. While largely focused on public expectations of brands, it’s easy to see the internal application.
The fact is is that the demand for this kind of transparency has been massively accelerated over the last little while, and employees are increasingly starting to expect it from their leadership — both within the company and without.
“In an era of radical transparency, your internal culture IS your brand. Consumers will embrace brands that tell a positive story about the culture and processes they have in a place for all to see” – Max Luthy, director of trends and insights at TrendWatching