About a year ago, the IABC World Conference organisers chose their theme for the 2020 conference. The theme: Shift – #AreYouReady. Little did they know how on the money that decision would be.
“You could say that we’ve lived our message,” says Nic Pearce, this year’s Conference Chair. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the long-standing conference – drawing 1,000 attendees from across the world – had its own shift. For the first time, it’s a fully virtual event.
IABC World takes place from 14-17 June, on a virtual platform that allows you to move around a conference hall and is designed to make you feel like you’re sitting among peers during sessions.
So what’s it been like to take an event of this scale online?
“Fairly frenetic,” Nic explains, “but we’ve got great speakers and great content driving everything. The biggest challenge is dealing with a 24-hour time zone. It’s tricky to find the right time to suit everyone. So some people might be taking part with a glass of wine in an evening, some with their morning coffee.
“It’s been challenging, but there are also good bits. For example, every session will be captured, stored and made available to attendees for 12 months. We haven’t been able to do that before.”
While Nic says they came up with their theme with a “second sight”, he adds that the idea that communication needs to adapt is hardly a new one.
“Last year, we talked to business leaders – inside and outside of IABC. The feeling is that communications as a discipline is not adapting at the pace it needs to. Really, our industry hasn’t changed in four decades. We might have new channels, and online experience has changed dramatically, but it hasn’t changed the way we think.
“We’re still learning to listen. Communication’s evolution to dialogue is still a challenge and some businesses are making it very difficult. You can even see the recent impact of that in society. The issues with the Covid-19 pandemic, with racial diversity – a lot of that has stemmed from our inability to listen.
“In the past few months, even weeks, we’ve seen the pace of change accelerate again. Communication is driving how we deal with these changes, and has some of the answers to helping us adapt and evolve.
“Look at everything that’s happened because of George Floyd. Without a cellphone, that more than likely would have been swept under the rug. Because no matter how eloquently you could have written about it – you could have been Shakespeare writing a sonnet – it doesn’t have the same impact, the same undeniability, the same horror and revulsion as that eight minutes of video.
“For me, that’s the power of communication and its ability to change society for the better. That’s why we need the ability to evolve our thinking.
“Every one of our 60-plus sessions at IABC World Conference will be applying their expertise to this idea of ‘shift’. Because these conversations are needed now more than ever. Looking back over the past few months, we can’t affect things that have happened, but we can affect how we deal with them. And how we deal with them is driven by communication.”