Driving the Future: IABC Heritage Conference

By James Irwin
Award-winning media producer, global communications strategist, and writer

Last week, 22-24 September, I was out in Detroit for the IABC Heritage Region Conference. Absolutely terrific time. I met a bunch of talented people, made some new friends, and heard some excellent speakers who discussed things I needed to be aware of, to think on, and to learn more about.

James Irwin's back and other items from the conference

It was also my first time in Detroit, and before I left I understood a lot more about the past and present of Detroit. But more on that in another post.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, the IABC is the International Association of Business Communicators, a professional membership organizations with thousands of members worldwide. It focuses on serving business communicators of all kinds, with educational offerings, certifications (I myself am an Accredited Business Communicator through them), awards programs (the Silver Quill at the regional level and the Gold Quill at the international level), reference resources, publications, and conferences.

The main event is the annual World Conference, the next of which will be held in Chicago in June 2020. I’m on the Program Advisory Committee for that event, contributing to the selection of keynote and session speakers. There are also regional conferences, and what I attended and spoke at last week was the Heritage Region Conference. The IABC Heritage Region serves 17 states and Washington D.C, an area anchored on the corners by Kentucky, Michigan, Maine, and Virginia. The events are always well-attended and filled with best practices, compelling case studies, and good career insight.

The week got off to a great start with a dine-around. I went with Linda Mallon of NRECA in Washington D.C., and Peter Schade of the Oakland Community College in Oakland County,

Lobster udon at Ima in Corktown, in Detroit
My lobster udon at Ima in Corktown. This was ambrosia. Also with some delicious spicy kimchi on the side pictured.

Michigan, to Ima in Corktown, a relaxed Asian noodle place that just happened to be named Restaurant of the Year for 2019 by the Detroit Free Press. I couldn’t make up my mind what to have, everything sounded terrific, but I went with the signature (and most expensive!) dish, the lobster udon: lobster broth, butter-poached lobster, soft egg, beech mushrooms, menma, chili oil. It was fantastic, one of the top ten best things I’ve ever eaten. The conversation with Peter and Linda was terrific too, and it all made for a very nice introduction to Detroit and the conference.

My presentation, on international teaming and inclusivity, was in the first breakout session slot at 9:30 am Monday morning. This worked out very well, since it got my presentation anxiety out of the way early and allowed me to relax and enjoy the events over the rest of the conference. I didn’t know how interested people would be in my session, but it turned out to be a full house, there were many very smart and insightful questions, and people came up to me over the next couple of days complimenting me on the talk, which I really appreciated.

Here are some of the other great sessions I attended…

Guy Westemeyer, founder and president of Westcomm, Camille Downing of Downing Communications, Robert Herta of Herta LLC, and Eric Longs, founder and president of Comet Interactive, talked about what it meant to be a “solopreneur”, that is, running a consultancy when you’re the only member of the management team. The conversation touched on marketing your company, getting the balance right between business development and service execution, and also the boring but essential steps of consulting an attorney and an accountant.

Cyrus Mavalwala of Advantis Communications talked about the critical components that drive successful social media campaigns. He addressed the importance of keeping the audience at the center of the work, surrounded by the campaign facets of strategy, content, community and evaluation. Cyrus also lamented that too many companies failed to assign SMART objectives to their social campaigns, which trivializes the importance of social. (SMART = specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, and time-framed.)

Tracy Imm provided a lot of insight about podcasting, offering tips and examples not only for those intererested in starting their own podcast, but also for business communication professionals who might be looking to place a client or executive as an interviewee on a podcast. Her story was fascinating; she started her podcasting as an experiment, and after a year she has listeners in 48 countries and is regularly pitched by PR agencies looking to place people and topics. Her talk was chock-a-block with specific info, tools, and best practices. This session, as well as a number of others, were graphically “recorded” by Ink Factory, which created illustrations of the talks live, in real time. The graphics board from Tracy’s podcasting session is shown below.

Graphic illustration capturing the talk on podcasting by Tracy Imm
Graphic capture of Tracy Imm‘s talk on podcasting, by the artists of Ink Factory.

There were other exceptional sessions I enjoyed, and a few of them I want to focus on specifically in future posts. Look for those kinda, sorta soon.

Images from the 2019 IABC Heritage Region Conference in Detroit, September 2019. Pictures in this collage taken from the Heritage Region Instagram account.


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