Dispatch from the Dialogue Den: IABC World Conference


Yesterday, I had a blast facilitating a standing room only peer support session for heads of communications at the IABC World Conference in Toronto. The conference’s new unplugged, tech-free “dialogue den” format was fantastic – it enabled a level of candour and connection that I’ve rarely seen at such a large venue. 

The theme of our session aimed specifically at leaders of communications teams was “How to Stay Grounded When the Ground Keeps Shifting”. The timing for this gathering felt exactly right – heads of communications have been in the eye of the storm throughout the pandemic. There’s a general feeling among this community of being at once overwhelmed and underwhelmed. Exhausted, but running on empty. Curious, but becoming a little bit jaded too.

We had an energizing and empowering discussion exploring ways to step into your power and command the space you occupy. It was very much about stepping up and stepping out of traditional boxes we’ve been placed in… and let’s face it, that we may have unconsciously helped to build.

What struck me was the remarkable consistency in the challenges faced by heads of communications – regardless of the size of organization, sector, or country there are distinct patterns that emerge. The main one is that the soul-crushing, hair-pulling frustrations faced by leaders of communications are rarely about the work we do – but rather are about the spaces we work through. That insight helped unlock practical avenues for busting through barriers, including establishing sound governance, building consultative skills among teams and the art of lightweight strategic planning that provides a much needed license to say no. 

Clearly, the critical skill set and mindset required to thrive as a head of communications these days are to:

  • Deliver value through ambiguity and disruption
  • Find clarity out of grey zones
  • Provide steady leadership through adaptive challenges

You can follow the awesome content at the World Conference through #IABC2023 on Twitter and LinkedIn. The handouts from my peer support session are available here.

One of the best parts of the session was when a participant suggested we create a Special Interest Group (SIG) for heads of communications on LinkedIn. Brilliant idea! I’ve raised my hand to help coordinate with IABC. If you’re interested in joining please send me a note.

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