Last week, as Theresa May began dismantling Britain’s relationship with Europe, business communicators from across the region gathered in London to concentrate on creating connections.
The EuroComm17 conference was more than an act of defiance. With its theme of ‘Transformation – Adapt, Invent, Evolve’, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) promised it would provide knowledge, insight and networking opportunities to help us thrive. And it delivered.
The future of Europe, political uncertainty and turbulent times were on the minds of most delegates, but throughout the conference we heard speakers encouraging us to take the initiative, set our own goals and live by our own values.
From the keynote presentation on, the message for business communicators was to stop sitting back and reporting, get stuck in and start leading. “Transformation happens whether we like it or not,” said Graphic Facilitator, Antonio Meza, “and adapting to it is not enough. The burning question for everyone is how to survive the disruption. And to do that, we all need to set our own course and decide in which direction we want to go.”
We heard a lot about how companies, such as Lloyds Bank and Amec Foster Wheeler, have adapted to new market conditions and how communications teams or structures adapt with them. In the public sector, Russell Grossman, Senior Director of the Government Communications Service, and Tim Hart, Senior Consultant to the NHS’ communications arm, described how the double whammy of increased demand and diminishing budgets has forced a new communications approach across all government agencies.
But it was not all about the big picture. There was plenty of advice for the individual communicator as well. I was thrilled to be presenting in a parallel session on leadership and language, where I explored some of the phrases we use at work. Communicators often talk about learning the language of leaders but, in my experience, learning to think like one is more effective.
We also have to stop thinking about employees as some kind of target audience. Nothing happens at work without employees, so at work they are always the main players. Whether it’s a sense of purpose, reputation or direction, employees have their own agendas and make their own choices. This has led me to create the PRIDE model, which looks at the world of work through the two distinct dimensions of the organisation and the individual.
Creating a more equal relationship was echoed by Dik Veenman, founder of The Right Conversation, who pointed out how, with a slight change of emphasis, you can put the onus on leaders becoming more accessible to their teams. Talking about the power play in language, he said: “When you use the phrase ‘my door is always open’ you’re not saying ‘I will listen.’ You’re saying ‘I have a door, I choose whether or not to open it, and it’s up to you to come to me.’ As a concept, speaking truth to people with power works less well than people with power listening to truth.”
Of course, no communications conference dealing with transformation is complete without an exploration of how technology is impacting communications. The highlights for me were two sessions on our understanding of the human brain and artificial intelligence.
Author of Neuroscience for Organizational Change, Hilary Scarlett, gave a fascinating presentation on the early advances of applied neuroscience, which are throwing more light on what helps the human brain focus, learn and perform, especially in times of change. This has relevance for all of us as individuals and for how we operate in teams as we navigate an increasingly complex future.
In a short but powerful session by Neville Hobson on Data Management and Artificial Intelligence (AI), we learnt about the benefits that AI can offer. Yet, Neville encouraged communicators to make sure our knowledge and good judgment are up to scratch to prove our value. He said: “You need to fully understand the evolving AI landscape and then how to explain your differentiation position to leaders as non-technical, yet subject-matter experts.”
The question for me is just how big can that subject matter be? Can communicators become experts on the human brain, AI and everything in between? I think this deserves more consideration and so will be working on this with the team at theblueballroom as the next topic for thefuturestory. Watch this space for details.