From AI to zombies, IABC World Conference covered it all


by Connie Feick

As a first-time attendee at the IABC World Conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been to numerous workshops and conferences during my career, some good, others not so much. By the end of my four days in Washington, D.C., I told anyone who would listen that the 2017 World Conference was the best professional development event of my life.

Teresa Zumwald, Pat Frey, Connie Feick and Amy Miller at World Conference opening reception.jpgAnd it wasn’t an exaggeration. More than 1,000 communicators from around the globe gathered June 11 – 14 for a deep dive into global communications leadership. The conference included a wide range of session types led by the experts from all corners of the globe and every area of the discipline.

Gabrielle Dolan’s opening keynote about authentic storytelling perfectly set the stage for the conference. Many of the follow-up sessions echoed her emphasis on authenticity as the key to successfully reaching audiences. As Dolan put it, jargon is killing our engagement. Instead, we should use stories that create emotional connections so our audience doesn’t just remember the message, but repeats it to others.

Several presenters shared case studies that proved Dolan’s point. PR and communications expert Marco Greenberg of Thunder11 led The Ohio State University’s announcement of a brain implant that allowed a quadriplegic to use his arms again, which tapped into the power of a personal story to generate interest. Ingenium Communications’ Caroline Kealey shared how her organization personalized a change management story for the University of Ottawa so it resonated with the audience—and, most importantly, drove the desired actions.

Technology was another hot topic at IABC World Conference. Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of marketing and communications for IBM, explained how artificial intelligence like his company’s Watson will allow us to personalize communication to the individual level. But don’t worry—Iwata assured everyone that AI will enhance, not replace, what we do. Many of the companies in The Hub exhibit hall also offered new ways of segmenting audiences and cutting through the sheer amount of information people receive daily.

So what about the zombies? More good news—there’s a cure for the affliction of zombie communications (you know, those reckless, stiff and haphazard communication strategies that contradict a company’s values). Zombie slayers Julie Lellis and Melissa Eggleston know exactly what weapons are needed to keep away the oncoming hoard: flexibility, originality and mindfulness.

And these are just a few highlights. IABC World Conference had something for everyone and captured what it really means to be a communications professional in the 21st century. Even better, the conference’s multiple formats made it easy for attendees to learn exactly the way they needed to.

It’s not too early to start planning for next year’s World Conference, which will take place in Montreal June 3 – 6, 2018. In the meantime, the Heritage Region Annual Conference offers another great opportunity for networking and development, November 5 – 7, 2017, in Pittsburgh.