I’ve just spent the past week in Phoenix, Arizona, at the Public Relations Society of America Employee Communications Section conference, #PRSAConnect.

In my 20 years of working in Comms, this week has been a true career highlight. I loved meeting with so many US and Canadian based Comms pros, hearing their stories and answering their questions.

Seeing as I was given a huge suite to stay in, I decided to make the most of the boardroom table in my bedroom(!) and invite delegates to join me for my first All Things IC Mastermind outside of the UK. I welcomed five Comms pros for an hour and it was a pleasure to spend time together.

If you missed out on my upcoming UK based Mastermind dates, do contact me to add your name to the waiting list for the Autumn sessions in London. 

I met Joshua Howell, Employee Communications Specialist at Cquence Health Group and invited him to write a guest blog to share his top ten takeaways from the conference, which you’ll find below. He’s pictured with fellow Mastermind attendees Priya Bates, Angee Linsey, Deme Jackson and Margo McDonough.

On Wednesday I enjoyed listening to Alan Oram from Alive With Ideas’ storytelling and creativity workshop, followed by Pinaki Kathiari’s session on strategy and co-creation.

That evening I was interviewed by PRSA Chair Chuck Gose @chuckgose for 45 minutes on stage and answered questions about Comms in the UK, life as a Consultant, mental health issues, IC trends, being a mum and much more.

On Thursday morning I kicked off the conference as the opening keynote speaker, which I absolutely loved. The topic of choice was how IC pros can use their personal brand to transform their organisation’s Internal Communication.

Thank you PRSA for inviting me, I enjoyed this one-off trip and look forward to keeping in touch with the Comms professionals I connected with.

I’ll hand you over to Joshua…

PRSA’s 2019 Employee Communications Connect Conference: Ten Takeaways for IC Professionals

The 2019 PRSA Employee Communications Connect Conference just concluded a few hours ago, and I’m still on an inspirational high.

As a first-timer to this conference, I hoped to attend a high-quality event with great educational offerings and plenty of excellent opportunities to network with fellow Internal Communication (IC) professionals. I’m thankful to report that the conference did not disappoint.

If you weren’t able to make it this year, here are ten of my takeaways (in no particular order).

Genuine Speakers

We’ve all been to conferences where speakers say things like “feel free to reach out” or “I’Il be around the conference, come find me,” but then retreat to a secluded VIP area after their presentation.

This isn’t the case at PRSA. The speakers were present and accessible, and most of them were attendees themselves. If they weren’t sitting next to you in the breakout sessions, they could be found in the hallways or at the receptions, ready to talk about whatever IC issues you’re currently tackling.

I was lucky enough to attend Rachel Miller’s pre-conference mini Mastermind session with a few of this year’s keynote speakers. It was an impromptu event that truly laid the groundwork for what would be an amazing conference experience for me.

Time to Connect

Speaking of receptions, PRSA allowed for plenty of time that was strictly designated for attendees to connect. Wednesday night offered a fantastic networking reception with appetizers and drinks. Thursday provided plenty of breaks throughout the day, as well as organized evening dining destinations throughout the town. Friday featured a morning hike on a nearby trail. Each of these casual events were filled to the brim with people eager to talk all things IC.

Technology

There were plenty of super pertinent sponsors at the conference, ready to listen to your tech pain-points and share how their product might be part of the solution. While a new intranet or an email plug-in will never be the full solution to your IC obstacles, these tech groups can undoubtedly assist you in doing your best work.

Stats Don’t Have to be Boring

PowerPoint isn’t dead, but a dull slide deck full of lackluster graphs and pie-charts can be the death of your presentation. Jackie Berg provided quick ways to redesign your graphs using contrast, color dynamics, and better titles to truly drive home the stories you’re trying to tell. The best thing about it, she wasn’t selling you software; these were things you could do with your current digital tools. (I couldn’t agree more, I’ll be blogging about data visualisation for IC soon based on what I heard – Rachel). 

Rising Above Our Excuses

Kristin Hancock and Chuck Gose called BS on the excuses we tend to use at work. According to them, things like “Survey Fatigue” and “Short Attention Spans” don’t actually exist; our content just isn’t engaging. Worrying about not always having a seat at the table? Build your own table. Instead of fighting with IT, develop a better relationship with your IT crew.

The act of “Commsplaining,” or listing excuses for why we can’t do our best work, needs to end. Instead, we need to step up our game.


Make Yourself Visible

Even though a lot of our work is behind the scenes, it’s essential for IC pros to have the confidence to step out from behind the curtain. Priya Bates challenged attendees not to be invisible, but be proud of their work and engage others in bold conversations. Feel free to brag a little and present yourself as a resource to your organization. Jackie Berg doubled down on this by having the audience shout, “Damn, I’m good!”

Let it Go!

If being bold is the yin, letting go is the yang. We can’t (and shouldn’t) be the only communicators in our company. Rachel Miller encouraged us to be Curators, instead of always the sole Creators. Since I have a musical background, I’ve said something similar. I want to be the conductor, not the soloist; working to empower the voices around me in the workplace, instead of being the only voice heard.

Partner with Influencers

Similar to how brands partner with social media influencers to reach broader audiences, IC professionals need to find the influencers in their organization. Sometimes, an influencer may be the ringleader of a traditionally silent and isolated group. If someone has a following, it means they have a voice. It is our job to build a relationship with that person and empower their voice on a larger scale to bring their followers into the fold.

Deliberately Manage Your Career

Angee Linsey gave the final keynote presentation, during which she coached the audience to create an action plan and focus on their career beyond their current job. Making an effort to add small daily, weekly, and monthly tasks to your routine to continue developing yourself and your network is key to maintaining your relevance and business awareness as an IC professional.

You’re Not Alone

The most overwhelming, but certainly comforting theme around the conference was that despite operating within vastly different industries, most IC professionals currently share or have experienced the same issues.

Personally, it was an incredible relief to have a group of strangers sincerely validate and understand an IC issue that I’m currently working through. If you brought up a problem that no one had ever dealt with before, though highly unlikely with the wide range of experience in the room, people were more than willing to dig deep and brainstorm possible resolutions or initial action plans with you.

The 2019 PRSA Employee Communications Connect Conference was an inspiring experience for me. I attended the conference alone, but felt at home when surrounded by such an incredible group of innovative professionals from across the globe. Not only did I feel heard, but by the end of the conference, I felt empowered, energized, and equipped with new tools and ideas to make a meaning impact to my organization through Employee Communications.

Post author: Joshua Howell, Employee Communications Specialist, Cquence Health Group

While Employee Communications hasn’t always been his actual job title, it’s been a part of Joshua’s career for a long time. Joshua joined the military straight out of high school and served overseas for 4 years. While in Korea, he was appointed as the Liaison to the base commander; serving the voice of the enlisted airmen to the highest-ranking officers on the base. That responsibility sparked a passion within him for communications.

After returning to civilian life, he worked a few difference external and internal facing admin positions; writing speeches and legislative bills for a few of Nebraska’s senators, running employee events for the Emergency Medicine department of Nebraska’s largest hospital and overall employer, and then serving as the Executive Assistant for a violence prevention non-profit in North Omaha.

On the side, he writes fiction novels and graphic novels. His current employer, CQuence Health Group, initially hired him to be the face of their education events, but he was more interested in turning his passion inward and focusing on improving the Employee Experience within the company. He’s truly a people person and enjoys the challenge of connecting with people through Employee Communications.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Joshua, I enjoyed our conversations and meeting you.

Learn more about Internal Comms with me

My upcoming Masterclass dates can be found on the Masterclasses pages of this website. Full dates are below, there are just two places left for my IC Masterclass in London on 22 May, so do be speedy if you’d like to come.

Not based in the UK? I can hold a mini session with you via Skype, check out my work with me options. Please note my diary is currently booked until late September 2019, so I’m taking bookings from the Autumn onwards. Do let me know how I can help you.

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel

First published on the All Things IC blog 19 May 2019.

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