Facing future challenges in a safe environment

“What do you get when you have 1300 communicators in one place? Yes, you guessed it. A lot of noise, a ton of stories, huge empathy, probably more passion than is good for you, and remarkable diversity.”

So says Sheila Parry, who attended the recent International Association of Business Communicators’ (IABC) World Conference in Montreal.

Sheila @Sheila_Parry spoke at the event and has written for the All Things IC blog to share what we missed and what was discussed.

She’s someone I look up to and is an Independent Consultant specialising in leadership comms, culture and values and future of work. Sheila founded and was the former MD of theblueballroom agency.

I’ll hand you over…

Facing future challenges in a safe environment

What struck me most about the IABC World Conference was depth.

The depth of knowledge, experience and insight on offer was immense. And it would have been overwhelming were it not for the IABC’s special qualities of warmth and openness that makes every person welcome and every opinion worth considering.

I loved my first experience of World Conference in Washington last year, but going back a second time was even better, as I felt I was building deeper relationships and greater understanding of the IABC way of doing things.

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: What they were talking about in Washington.

Who are IABC?
The IABC is a big global community, with the majority of its members based all over the United States and Canada, In addition to the East Coasters, West Coasters, Northerners and Southerners, the conference attendees represented 70 different nationalities from Asia, Africa, Australia, Central & South America and Europe, and this makes it a special kind of opportunity to learn new perspectives and discuss different approaches to the work we do.

The conference title, ‘Communications at a Crossroads: where business, culture, function and audience meet’ lent itself to fairly wide interpretation and there were presentations on everything from disruptive technologies to creative storytelling,

The dominant themes for me were:

  • adapting to change
  • taking responsibility for our own future
  • building businesses with conscience,

Plus, something akin to my personal soapbox, keeping the human experience at the heart of what we do, whether that is running a business, influencing leaders, writing strategies or creating channels.

There were 30+ sessions on offer, and with 3 or 4 often running concurrently, there is a lot to take in, so I will just report on a few outstanding sessions that were highlights for me.

The opening keynote by Seth Godin focused on market leadership and differentiation.

He spoke about the conditions that now shape the world of commerce, and where once scarcity was the engine of growth and marketers could create “average stuff for average people, the bell curve of high volume marketing is now melting.

Now that everything is a click away, markets are becoming more and more specific and unique, people have all found their tribes and you need to focus on the smallest viable market possible”. All of this has revolutionised the way marketers have to market, and it has also changed the game for (internal or external) communicators.

The powerful themes for us are making connections, establishing trust, asking permission, exchanging ideas, generosity and art.

“Reach the people who want to be reached,” he said, “and stop shouting at your audiences. Make a culture that people want.”

He encouraged communicators to be bold and act, rather than wait for something to be perfect. “When you are getting bogged down in your office dramas or your politics, remember Neil Armstrong and the passion that got him to the moon. You will never feel ready, but you are prepared.”

Helping us prepare for Artificial Intelligence in Communications was digital marketing expert and author. Subhamoy Das, who is Marketing and Communications Director of Accenture India and President of the IABC India.

He took us through several Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Natural Language Generation (NLG) apps that are already in use by leading news agencies and publishers, including: www.ai-writer.com, (“input a headline and it will churn out a story for you”) and www.hemingwayapp.com (“use this to shorten long-winded and unintelligible copy”).

In the area of visuals, he highlighted: https//:thegrid.io (an AI Designer called Molly) and wibbitz.com (which automatically turns text news stories into captivating video).

Does this make us all redundant?” he asked. Probably not, as at the moment, MarComms and PR Managers are two of the least likely jobs to be replaced by AI, but best to keep an eye on how things may change on: www.willrobotstakemyjob.com.

While the pace of technological change seems uncontrollable, one consistent message, coming from careers coach, Darcy Eikenberg, was that – whatever job we find ourselves in – we all have the personal power to decide what we think, what we say and how we behave.

Darcy’s session on the last morning of the conference was called “How to be brave in your work without being stupid” and dealt with managing our careers, ridding ourselves of our own biases, making conscious choices, confronting sources of stress and aligning our personal values with our professional demands.

The session promised to be a safe place to discuss some tricky professional and career challenges and thanks to Darcy’s clear and directed facilitation, it was exactly that. We discussed the glass ceiling, institutionalised sexism, Lean In, the pressures of the sandwich generations, unreasonable bosses, and the importance of finding meaning.

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: Three technology megatrends you need to know now.

Culture for Good
This session led very well into the final keynote, which was by a truly inspiring individual called Ryan McCarty, who runs a company called Culture for Good. He has a book called Build A Culture of Good: Unleash Results by Letting Your Employees Bring Their Soul to Work.

From personal tragedy and humble beginnings, he became a pastor, but turned his attention to the business world with the aim of helping employees connect what they do on a daily basis to a bigger why – a bit like an evangelical Simon Sinek. “Organisations that only care about profit will be left with employees who only care about pay checks,” he said.

“Companies that don’t care about future will fade into the background. If culture doesn’t matter to you as a leader then it won’t matter to any of your employees.”

What appealed to me in his approach was that rather than getting business to “do good” through big-scale corporate effort, he is bringing goodness into companies through people, claiming that “you don’t have to work for a charity to be charitable” and that you can combine professional goals with personal passions to finding meaning.

This concept sat well with my own contribution to the conference, which was a presentation called ‘”What is pride and how do we achieve it at work?”

Through a framework called the PRIDE Model, I am trying to challenge people to think differently about what we are all doing at work and provide a framework to achieve better results for everyone.

My book, Take Pride, outlining the approach, will be published on 6 September 2018.

Why attended global events?
Attending the conference made me feel part of a global community that can really make a difference to the world of work.

Global may not be your thing right now, but if it is, the IABC offers a great perspective on industry issues and a rich network of people with diverse experience. Check out the IABC in the UK at their London Summer Drinks on 27 June.

Thank you Sheila.

Are you going to an event you think other comms pros would be interested in reading about? Do get in touch and let me know if you fancy guest blogging to share what you hear.

First published on the All Things IC blog 12 June 2018.


  1. […] Earlier this year, I presented the PRIDE Model at the IABC’s EMENA and World Conferences in Copenhagen and Montreal. You can read my report on the Montreal conference here. […]

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