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Another IABC International Conference…

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

I recognize that if I’m not a speaker at the big IABC soiree, I’m probably not the target audience for it. I’m not surprised, therefore, that my first blush reaction to the Toronto gathering wasn’t particularly positive.  My goal for attending this year was to meet some new people and make contact with some who I haven’t seen in a while. I hope to eventually get some business from it, but really just need to expand the network.

The programming and format are nearly identical to my first International, in 1995, also in Toronto. That one was a revelation — I was just 4 years or so into the profession, and everything was new.  Every session offered fascinating insights or enhanced skills.  I met scores of people and hung out with many, enjoying my first trip to Toronto and my first extended business trip in several years.

In 1997, L.A. was a different experience. Many of the speakers were the same as two years earlier, and in 2002 at Chicago, there were just a few sessions that really caught my eye. So I took a vacation from the big show until this year.

Things that impressed me:

Erin Dick from Pratt & Whitney — a social media case study that wasn’t from a Silicon Valley firm… Her use of blogs, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr to help support P&W’s client (the U.S.Government) on the selection of an engine for the Joint Strike Force fighter was off the charts — brilliant. And it had a fairly strong measurement component. I decided to Tweet the session instead of trying to take notes. The benefit was that I had a great summary, though my thumbs threatened to lock up from BlackBerry-itis…

William Amurgis from American Electric Power — Looking for use of social media in internal communications? Amurgis delivered. AEP’s blogs, discussion boards, employee-uploaded photos, etc., set a high standard of participation. The company’s intranet philosophy? Enhance employee productivity, reinforce corporate messages and provide a place to meet for all employees. Everything has to pass through that frame, or it doesn’t happen. And, rather than buy software solutions, AEP makes their own. Amurgis has a designer and a developer on his staff.

The UnConference — OK, it was a bit different than other UnConferences (usually low-or-no-cost, open to anyone; you had to buy the day (at least) for the IABC Conference to get in, and it wasn’t cheap) — but the method of operation was different and fun. There was no pre-set program, just a list of ideas posted on the TorontoTalks website (that a few people did discuss first), and three 5-minute “keynotes” — very informally delivered.  The three-hour session on Sunday afternoon was comprised of four 25-minute blocks of time with six possible topics (being held at six tables). We wrote on sticky notes our question or suggested topic, then stuck it on a flip chart in an empty time slot. The writer could lead the discussion, or someone else could.  I talked measurement (what a shock!) with seven other folks and it was fascinating. We didn’t solve the ROI question in full, nor did we get into other facets of communication, but it still was valuable and fun.

The thing is, the (nice) venue, formal structure and overwhelming size of the show made it hard to connect with people. Even the formal networking session (the big one held on the floor of the exhibit show) was just an hour long — not near enough time to connect. (I also didn’t attend Monday’s sessions — none particularly grabbed me. That might have inhibited my networking activities, so shame on me!)

The cost was pretty high for a new entrepreneur, not only in travel but in the conference fee. I’ll be considering very carefully before jumping on again soon. But, if I wind up as a speaker…

{FYI, I’m speaking in November at IABC’s Research and Measurement Conference in Seattle, as well as at the PRSA National conference in DC in October.  I’m also willing to come to chapter lunches, etc., and can make a deal for my PRSA/IABC fellow members!}

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