What they were talking about in Washington

What did global communicators discuss at the International Association of Business Communicators’ (#IABC17) World Conference in Washington?

Speaker Sheila Parry, Founder and chairman of specialist internal communications agency, theblueballroom, is here to share what we missed and what she heard.

Look out for another guest post by Sheila over the next week on my blog, where she’ll be revealing something we can all do to make a real impact on employee engagement. Stay tuned!

I’ll hand you over…

What they were talking about in Washington

There’s a phrase that people say again and again, whenever they visit the States. Whether it’s the jaw-dropping first view of the Grand Canyon, the sight of the turkey salad that they chose from the “lighter lunch” menu, or coming face to face with a real American fridge. At any given moment across the US, someone somewhere is saying: “It’s just so flipping big”.

And so it was with the IABC’s World Conference (#IABC17) in Washington last week, where Kate Shanks and I had the pleasure of mixing with more than 800 communicators from 30 countries, all working on the challenge to “Lead Communication – Make Real Impact”.

The three-day agenda reflected the breadth of the communicator’s responsibility with keynotes on creativity, storytelling and artificial intelligence.

There were presentations and workshops from topic experts on Leadership and Strategy, Employee Engagement, Communications Skills and Marketing & Brand Reputation, and a series of panels on channel delivery from leading providers (suppliers) of video, social media management, mobile, apps and live events.

Delegates created their own schedule to suit their learning style and interests, concentrating on one or two areas, or dipping in and out of different streams.

Seeing great names
It was a privilege to see some great names, whom I have followed for years on social media, present in person.

Jon Iwata, @coastw,  Architect of IBM’s strategic brand platforms, flew in and out to explore the relationship between humans and Artificial Intelligence (AI), busting some of the myths in the media that is fixed on its threats.

“I prefer to talk about AI as Augmented Intelligence and cognitive computing, and consider how it is enhancing human intelligence rather than threatening it,” he said.

He cited several examples, including Cognitive Oncology and Cyber Security where AI is offering doctors and investigators more to go on in their vital work, by analysing big data faster than humans.

This is not taking away humans’ unique ability to add value”

“In a life and death situation, I am not going to trust an AI decision, I am going to trust human judgement,” he said.

A new model for Employee Communications

Another highlight was hearing Shel Holtz @shelholtz, a consultant and hugely generous contributor to the comms sector in the US and worldwide, present his new model for Employee Communications.

At the centre are four areas: culture, employee engagement, customer experience and employee experience all of which set the tone for successful communications. Surrounding this are the skills and tools available to the communicator, i.e. channels, branding, consultation and listening skills.

(Picture credit – Shel via LinkedIn).

“I’m not fond of the term internal communications and I think we should use the term employee communications instead,” said Shel. “Internal is a direction, employees are the real deal.”

(Do you agree with this? Do comment below to let me know – Rachel).

One of the best supplier sessions was from IABC partners, Balihoo Productions, on event management planning and content. Presentation coach Rob Biesenbach emphasised the importance of presenters preparing properly for an engaging experience and not just thinking about broadcasting messages.

This was a piece of advice we saw working really well in practice, from both sides of the stage, and a lot of credit goes to the IABC Programme Advisory Committee, (including the UK’s Neil Griffiths) and for all their work preparing such a great event.

Academy workshop

Kate and I were invited to Washington to deliver a pre-conference Academy workshop on the PRIDE model, which is a new approach I have been developing to building outstanding organisations that people want to work for.

The model has five factors – Purpose, Reputation, Integrity, Direction and Energy – and encourages communicators to use their influence to drive pride at work.

The participants, from manufacturing, mining, supply chain and the financial services sector, all recognised that a sense of purpose is an absolute MUST for their employees and shared their experiences on bringing that to life in their organisations.

Sharing the PRIDE model with such experienced professionals was a great launch pad for #IABC17 and pride at work was one of the recurring themes throughout the conference.

Post author: Sheila Parry.

Thank you Sheila, do look out for her additional post I mentioned at the start of this one. I’ll be publishing it early next week.

The Tweet above relates to an excellent new ebook that’s been produced by IC Kollectif offering a global perspective on the function of internal communication: Find out more via Lise’s website to access the book.

What do you think of what you’ve read? As ever you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Thank you for stopping by,


First published on the All Things IC blog 21 June 2017.

Header photo credit: Choice Photography

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