Las Vegas: Why speak at events?

This week I’m using ‘downtime’ in Las Vegas to think about changes to my role over the last few years. 

Speaking at SMiLE London September 2014

Speaking at SMiLE London September 2014

I wrote in a previous blog post about the changing role of the internal communicator and one of the biggest changes for me has been attending and speaking at events. As I ready myself for a presentation in Las Vegas on Thursday, I thought it may be a good time to reflect on why I see this as an important part of my role and why I’d recommend taking the leap to anyone in internal communication.

I’ve had a number of opportunities and invitations over the past three years and I’ve tried to take them all. At first, I saw doing this as a chance to take myself right outside out of my comfort zone and it really made me think about the messages that I wanted to get across. Whilst it seemed important to have an idea of what I wanted to talk about and a way of getting there (ugh, the slides…the slides), what I was really getting out of it was a more carefully crafted, sense checked message to take back into my organisation.

It’s hard sometimes to get perspective on something you’re so close to. Taking the time to think about the best way to translate the work you do, or the project you’re running for an audience who have no expectation beyond you being engaging and interesting, can be massively beneficial to your own understanding of what it is that you do and how you go about doing it.

I’ve used this focusing of message to good effect. Not only do I think I’m more convincing and able to explore more angles when having internal conversations about online and social communication, but it has also enabled me to challenge the attitude of more senior stakeholders by saying, “you know, I was presenting at a major HR technology conference and they were really impressed with what we’re doing at Grant Thornton.”

In fact just recently, in looking at my role and how it needs to evolve again, I’ve started to use the external interest in what we’re doing with social media to draw attention to the fact that internally we still have work to do. Speaking at external events gives me ammunition and gravitas to say, “look, this stuff is increasingly important and still needs to be taken seriously.”

However the major thing about events is the opportunity to talk to your peers. I won’t call it networking here because that word still strikes fear into my heart. It’s more about listening to and asking questions of people who do similar roles to you in other organisations. I’m a massive fan of the unconference approach for this very reason; giving people the opportunity to set and lead the agenda or engage and contribute as they see fit. It takes away the pressure of the coffee break and connects people so much better. How often do you get to have a really good natter with people who share your challenges?

So what’s the message? Why do I speak at events?

  1. There is clearly awareness value to my organisation and brand and whilst sometimes it’s low key, the value of having our name out on social media channels and in event write ups is exceptional.
  2. It’s personal brand building. As comms pros we can be somewhat apologetic in approach. Get out there and share the hard work you’re doing. Someone will get value out of hearing how you overcame your challenges and it may lead to an invitation to Vegas!
  3. Ultimately though it helps breed confidence in your work, your message and how you convey that message. The brand wins, you win and you’ll ultimately find you become a better communicator for putting yourself out there.

Selling cultural change one paper at a time

Well this has been a long seven days. It’s always tough returning from holiday but I’ve found it particularly difficult this time out.

For me, it’s the momentum. I always build up to such a crescendo of controlled panic before annual leave that it feels impossible to slow down. Then I do. To a complete stop!

So anyway, a period of adjustment, the clearing of emails, finding importance in the unimportant…and I’m back!

To what? Well to version 5 of what feels like my life’s work, a document called ‘Changing the game: brand promise, cultural change and social media’. (A version change in my mind is scrapping at least 50% of the previous version. Of small changes…there have been many!)

I spent all day Wednesday on the Executive Summary, making sure I leave no room for anyone to say no.

No to investment in technology. We want to bring Jive into Grant Thornton. We think it will be a good fit and frankly,in terms of social collaboration platforms, it’s the best we’ve seen.

But more importantly, we can’t leave room for our board to say no to the investment (in time, understanding and advocacy, not always monetary) we’re making in social communication, in supporting deep cultural change and ultimately in challenging the way we do business at Grant Thornton.

In investing heavily in our brand and our people’s understanding of it, they’ve endorsed everything I ever thought social media could bring to our business; individual responsibility and action, connected knowledge, true thought leadership, speed to market, the absolute importance of dialogue.

But that’s all direction and intent. What we have the ability to do now is show Grant Thornton people a way to get involved in that direction, led from the top. We already had three members of our board on Twitter before this week and on Tuesday I helped our CEO set up his account (more on that to come).

And that is what I think every business needs as it thinks more about social communication and external social media. A real understanding at the top of why it’s important, why we should be there and the ability to demonstrate it through authentic use of it themselves.

So, version 5 it may well be, but it’s closer than ever. Wish me luck.