By Sara Williscroft

It was 2007—year of the iPhone, LolCats and IABC/Calgary won IABC International Chapter of the Year. The latter was significant because it allowed me to attend my first IABC World Conference.

I was working in Communications at a non-profit and had only enjoyed professional development that was offered internally. I was about three years into my career. I put my name in a hat at an IABC lunch to be considered for complimentary international conference fees at the World Conference in New Orleans. I won.

I remember thinking there was no way I was able to go. But, I convinced my boss to let me attend by personally paying some of the fees. I found myself on a plane to New Orleans, going to what was to be one of the best professional development experiences of my life.

Not many new or junior employees get the opportunity to attend conferences—but this is my plea to the communications community: we should let them.

Retention and engagement goes a long way

My boss was skeptical about me attending. She had trouble seeing the value of what a conference would bring to me. Mostly because, I suspect, she was thinking about how she attends conferences and gets little out of them. The difference between her and me was experience. I had none and was willing and eager to get more.

When she said that I could go, I almost cried. My respect for my organization and my leadership team doubled and my commitment to the team tripled. I felt like the organization had just put trust in me as a professional.

Networking to build capacity

I travelled to New Orleans before the conference to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, building houses in the Musician’s Village. I met one of my current industry friends while lacing-up my steel-toed boots and remarking about her use of a skinny laptop bag to carry her work gloves. It was hilarious, but amazing. Today she still introduces me to many people in the industry who I would never have access to. Nearly a decade later, I still benefit from the networking I did at that conference.

Fresh ideas that spur innovation

I remember not really knowing what to expect. I didn’t have much of a sense of what “being at the table” meant, but I was eager to learn. I took notes voraciously and asked questions when I could. I downloaded the materials after each presentation. I learned about tools that could help my organization and strategies to help people follow you through your ideas. There were many different perspectives I didn’t know existed.

The conference was everything I had hoped it would be. Looking back, it was a great conference but all of the IABC World Conferences are great—what made the difference was my attitude.

I also felt I had to prove the conference was worthwhile. When I got back to Calgary, I prepared a presentation on the topics and tidbits I learned and presented it to my small team. My boss was happy to hear I had learned so much. What we both didn’t anticipate was the discussion that happened next. The new ideas prompted a huge discussion about what was possible. It was like a new battery suddenly powered the team. With their help, I worked hard to implement a few of the ideas. This was incredibly satisfying.

Less experienced communications professionals are eager and can bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the table. By arming them with new perspectives and inspiration from conferences you not only encourage their professional development, but also inspire others to think out of the box—something everyone can benefit from.

Sara Williscroft, ABC is a senior communicator with a background that includes non-profit, consulting and the energy industry. She is a self-proclaimed safety nerd who enjoys talking shop and taking care of her two year-old twins and their big sister.

Registration is now open for the 2018 IABC World Conference in Montreal, taking place June 3-6. Will you be there? Find out more and register today!

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