As stated in my previous post, I attended the IABC World Conference June 5-10 in part to see old friends on the IABC staff and from the membership. In addition to professional development, one of the greatest aspects of my career-long IABC membership is the friendships I’ve made with people worldwide.
I treasure my conversations with these people, some of whom I only see once a year at conference. Although we stay in touch via various means during the year, nothing beats face-to-face interaction with people you respect and care about.
The main purpose of IABC’s World Conference is professional development. In that respect, this was an excellent conference with top programs and speakers. The program was substantive and balanced and provided something of value to all communication/PR practitioners who attended, no matter their level of experience or job description. IABC is a master of excellent and timely professional development programs. Without IABC, I could not have been as successful in my career as I have been. I have the highest respect and affection for IABC’s staff.
For most actively involved IABC members, the networking opportunities are a tremendous plus of the conference. So, did I find those fulfilling F2F experiences I so wanted to find?
Yes and no. What happened?
For one thing, attendance was way down perhaps due to the weak economy. My session on strategic communication planning and management was well-attended, as were the educational sessions I attended. But overall, the numbers simply weren’t there.
The presence of social media, as expected, was all-pervasive. I took time to observe what was happening around me. Conference attendees act very much like my Millennial students with their cell phones and PDAs, but my students are not allowed to use these devices in class. The moment students leave class, the cell phone/PDA goes into action. Conference attendees feel no such constraint; they sit in sessions and use cell phones, PDAs, and computers with impunity and wild abandon. When out of sessions, you see many people sitting alone using technology rather than talking with people.
The typical in-session scenario is this: a person attends and tweets a session for his/her followers. Or, an attendee blogs about the session while the session is being conducted. Then, there are the text messengers who carry on conversations while in a session. Countless others feel compelled to check for messages every few minutes or to surf the Web.
What is happening here? What does this all mean?
Twitter is definitely the current darling of the social media glitterati. So many people tweet sessions that a presenter’s message is magnified perhaps a hundred or a thousand times or more. Session tweeters say they are “reporting” on the event for others out there in the Twittersphere who could not attend. Tweets are re-tweeted, and the word spreads exponentially at 140 characters a pop.
For example, I was part of an invitation-only think tank on social media, and during that half-day session, fully one-fourth of the 30 participants were using their computers or cell phones or PDAs the entire time. One participant who constantly reported on the event from his laptop was asked why he stayed on his computer talking about the session with people who were not invited rather than “being fully there.” He replied that he was there, but he felt responsible to share the event with so many others who weren’t.
Okay. If you say so. When it came time to report findings of their small group work, he totally missed the assignment and went off on so many unrelated tangents as to draw laughter from the other participants. Perhaps his followers in the Twittersphere got better from him.
Critics of the practice say, “But you are not listening. You are tweeting.” Defenders of the practice say they are listening and listening even more closely so as to be able to tweet salient points.
Whatever your viewpoint, Twitter changes the rules of engagement for speakers and conference attendees. Some savvy presenters encourage tweeting during the session and display the tweets as the session progresses. That way, you can see an underlying full, rich discussion happening in real time simultaneously. The essence of the session can be shared with a much wider audience. The presenter may become Twitterlebrity.
Twitter followers who are in less-than-interesting or relevant sessions can leave to attend one that is tweeted to be more lively and interesting. Twitter adds a bold new dimension to “session surfing.”
No doubt Twitter is the current force to be reckoned with. I am anxious to see if it will be the same at next year’s IABC World Conference in Toronto.
I’ll try to be in Toronto to roam the halls in search of meaningful conversation. But in the meantime, see you on Twitter. I’m at http://twitter.com/LesPotter