Organizers of Trends 2013, the IABC Canada Business Communicators Summit, held November 1-3 in Ottawa, aimed to inspire communicators with ideas we could use in the immediate future, not some distant someday. That’s what they delivered. A look at tweets the conference inspired shows I’m not the only one who thought so. Epilogger #cdnIABC2012

The weekend was designed to provoke conversation. The opening night Silver Leaf Awards banquet had a “Mad Men” theme. Some folks thought it was hilarious. Others considered a look backwards to the world of “spin” a poor choice for celebrating the best in Canadian communication. Either way, it set us up for the weekend talking about branding and ethics and the changing face of our industry.

Fascinating keynote sessions . . .

Saturday’s mix of keynotes, panels and breakout sessions, began with a talk by Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, specialists in social research and reputation. Anticipating dry pollster babble, the audience was surprised by a lively session in which Bricker used research data to show us how Canada is changing. As a group, we got every answer on his quiz wrong. We also discovered (or rediscovered) that numbers tell a story and research can be fun. We headed into the rest of the conference with the realization that many of the notions we hold – as communication professionals and as citizens – are out of date. What other “truths” might we need to give up?

IABC Newfoundland colleague Martha Muzychka shares her impressions and more details on Bricker’s talk in this excellent summary.

The second keynote of the day came from Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada. She referred to a “tsunami of personal information” that has spawned a $30-billion industry to manage, use and protect it. Stoddart is determined that her organization make a difference. Its monitoring and investigations have forced Google, Veterans Affairs, Revenue Canada and many other organizations to change their practices after their actions brought protests from consumers and citizens.

What does privacy regulation mean for communicators? “Build privacy into the front end of every change. Don’t wait to be brought in to clean up,” says Stoddart. To help us, her department has a template for developing a privacy policy.

Without politics, what’s the point of being in Ottawa? Wrapping up the day, MP and cabinet minister Tony Clement spoke about Politicking In The Age Of Social Media. He says he first signed on to twitter “as a defense mechanism” after he realized that people were mentioning him there. Though he had one of his staffers set up the account, @tonyclementcpc,  he crafts his own tweets. While he recognizes there’s risk, he feels it’s worth  it to connect immediately with citizens.

Sunday’s sessions began with The Year The Internet Fought Back, presented by Dr. Michael Geist, columnist and Canada Research Chair of Internet and e-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa. He spoke about grassroots movements enabled by social media that have led to legislative change. His message seemed to lend even more credence to Bricker’s message that Canadians are taking action on causes they care about.

IABC Ottawa colleague Sherrilynne Starkie has put together a good summary of Geist’s session.

Over lunch, Neil Griffiths, of IABC UK, shared his experiences as a volunteer, one of the 70,000 “Games Makers,” in the communication offices of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. He noted that communication was consciously and strategically used to enable an unusually complex organization to operate smoothly and effectively. You can catch a similar message as Neil talks about his experiences with his home chapter.

Panels and breakout sessions . . .

Being somewhat weary of the topic, I nearly skipped the panel discussion on social media. That would have been a mistake. While all the panelists had good stories to tell, Melissa Carrol, community manager for Service de police de la Ville de Montreal, stole the show. We could have listened to her all day as she spoke about how the department (@SVPM) used twitter to communicate with and influence behaviour during last summer’s Quebec student protests. She’s been with the department for 10 years and is a trusted member of the operations team. Through listening, communicating directly and asking citizens for help, she’s built trust with the public – no easy task for a police force.

During the months of protests, students learned that, while they might not be in love with the police, the information being tweeted was reliable and in their best interest. We had goosebumps, as Carroll described watching the crowd change its planned route, following her tweet requesting that they do so to avoid a brewing problem that might have led to a serious risk. It was a testament to the power of communication and the trust that ensues when communication is done well. I hope we have a chance to hear from her, again.

Two sets of three concurrent breakout sessions were offered each day and the choice was so varied and relevant that it was hard to select which to attend. I learned why I really should care about government relations, how an organization’s reputation is hurt if we don’t monitor social media and handle it well, and how to use Lego as a communication tool. My own breakout session on personal kanban, which I worried might be a bit weird for this crowd, found a large and enthusiastic audience.

But wait, there’s more . . .

Trends 2013, was a super example of a small conference and another example of what can happen when IABC’s two regions in Canada put on an event of interest to Canadians. Although session content is critically important in getting people to attend, much of the value comes from the discussions we have with other communicators between the sessions. The 200 or so communicators who attended got a chance to meet and mingle, learn and laugh in an intimate setting that just cannot be matched online or even at larger conferences.

With so much information available on the Internet, it sometimes feels hard to justify the investment to attend  a live conference. IABC Canada Business Communicators Summit confirmed, again, why it’s worth the time and money to attend these things. Having an opportunity to immediately talk about the sessions and how we can use the information or adopt the techniques fastens the learning in our minds. Plus we benefit from our colleagues’ interpretations along with the presenters’ ideas.

The 2013 Canada conference will be held in Victoria, next November. Hope to see you there.