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Recently, David Imber, Vice President of IABC Victoria, attended the IABC World Conference in New York, 26-29 June.  While the experience was still fresh in his mind, we interviewed him about his experience and insights.

This was the first IABC World Conference since the pandemic. How was the experience of being able to come together again in New York, with your fellow communication colleagues?

Even though I attended the Corporate Affairs Summit in Sydney in May I was super nervous at the thought of going to a global conference. I even did a mad rush around the city the day before I left for New York worried I had nothing to wear (I know, there are shops in New York, but I wasn’t feeling rational).

Well, I needn’t have worried. I wasn’t alone in being a bit rusty and it didn’t matter. For starters, the fashion stakes in Melbourne are pretty high! In all seriousness, it felt like 850+ people were all so excited to get together and talk about EVERYTHING we’ve all been through over the last couple of years. Hands down the best conference I’ve been to.

There were so many inspiring sessions in the program for 2022. What were your top 3 trends or learnings from the conference that you will take home with you?

Lean in– while there was some talk around the edges of communications “fighting for a seat at the table” it is clear that leading organisation’s already have them there. And leading professional communicators should be taking up the opportunity to add the value that only we can. If you need to ask for that seat, consider whether the organisation you’re in values your function.

Know your organisation/ client– professional communicators are increasingly being asked not “how should we say that?” but “what should we say?”. As organisations are facing bigger and more complicated environments (and being asked to comment and engage on the types of social issues that historically they ran away from) it’s incumbent on us to really understand our organisation. If you work in internal communications and you’re asked “what should we do” on a topic- you should have, or be able to give, a cogent answer based on your knowledge of your organisation.

Keep learning– the conference was multi-generational. While mid- senior professionals were the norm, there were also some very senior and semi-retired members. I met with a few who all spoke highly of their desire to learn. Some even proudly referred to themselves as lifelong learners. It was refreshing and a great reminder.

Tell us about some of the connections you made and networking opportunities with international IABC colleagues?

I met so many people from across the world and frankly that is a real advantage to being there. You can chat to someone randomly in the coffee queue and realise they do your work, just in another country. Some delegates met communications staff from their own organisations they hadn’t met in person before!

The chance to meet the new President of IABC Global Alain Legault, a passionate and principled communications professional from Montreal, was great. He is a listener and wants to make IABC work better for its members and to grow.

An advantage, given that Toronto was announced as the 2023 conference venue, but I enjoyed meeting Michael Blackburn, the incoming Toronto Chapter President. The Canadian chapters are doing some innovative things and growing their membership, so I enjoyed hearing from them about how they deliver for their members. I met some great people at the dine around event too (a bunch of local restaurants are selected and a table for 10 booked, you sign up and attend to meet 9 other IABC delegates!)

What was the Australian representation like and how did we make an impact at the conference?

The Australian contingent were strong and effective. Danielle Bond has been Global Chair of IABC and finished up at this conference to a loud, and well deserved, standing ovation. Zora Artis, also an IABC Victoria member, was Chair of the Program Advisory Committee and put the conference together. Sia Papageorgiou won a prestigious award and got another Gold Quill. We had several Victorians present sessions and perhaps the most popular keynote was presented by Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanaghan. Every region has a mingle on the second night and the APAC was the hot ticket! We also brought together Africa into our group; a region I think we can do more innovative things with them. I’m confident that with a fellow Victorian in Katherine Loftus Chairing APAC Australians will continue to punch above our weight.

Describe a key moment, meeting or experience that impacted you, during your time there?

Two moments really stand out.

One was watching the (now former) Chief Communications Officer of a major Toronto hospital discuss her, and her team’s, experience dealing with COVID. She focused specifically on dealing with disinformation and misinformation. It was clear how traumatic the experience was and how her talk was almost therapy as she relived having no days off and dealing with fear and distrust and anguish. It wasn’t the easiest session to watch, but it reminded me of how communications can be at the front line and how integral we are at tough times.

The second was meeting with Shel Holtz, an IABC fellow and member of long standing. We were randomly paired together in a session called the Gift of Communications. He started his career the year I was born and has done everything from be a journalist to working in house, starting his own agency and in house again. He was generous with his time and knowledge, telling me some cracking stories including getting a death threat for investigating corruption as a local journo. He encouraged me to always pick up the phone or answer an email from an IABC member. He said the membership opens doors to knowledge and friendships.

What do you see as the direction and priorities for the future and vision for IABC?

The last few years have been tough for the IABC globally as it has for many chapters. The World Conference traditionally been a source of revenue and energy, underwriting new initiatives. So, the focus for the future is to keep moving back to online events (as well as offering hybrid opportunities)

Alain’s focus is very much on membership (growing it and delivering real value), improving the reputation of IABC and engaging further across the profession. IABC globally, like in Australia, isn’t the only communications association. However, it has real value- the I for starters is unique- no other organisation is as global. Second, there’s a focus on standards and certification.

Watch the video montage below of David’s photos from the conference.