By Jenica Foster

Knowing people understand you, your situation, and your message generates a sigh of relief after a long day’s work. But it’s not easy getting there. We all have different life experiences shaping how we view the world that can sometimes make it impossible to work together. Instead of shouting at the top of your lungs or banging on the door begging to be heard, seek first to understand others. On May 10, IABC/Calgary is hosting its annual Transform conference where speakers will share insights on how to understand, connect, and engage audiences.

Two Transform speakers–Kristine Neil, partner at Stone-Olafson, and Benjamin Morgan, principal at the Centre for Crisis & Risk Communications–share their experiences, a little about their presentations, and a quick piece of advice. Answers have been edited for clarity and length. Learn more about Transform and register on IABC/Calgary’s events page.

  1. Tell us about yourself. What’s been your biggest career achievement to date?

KN: I started as a pure marketer in the ad industry just as digital design was becoming a thing. This dates me, but Apple was considered a trivial, passing fad that I took a leap of faith to start using in client presentation and digital design. When I moved client side, I ended up in product, market, and channel development. I think that’s where I realized my ‘home’ was market research and understanding how people think, and why it causes them to behave and make the choices they do. I would say my biggest achievement, though, is probably being part of the team I am now. The ‘success’ part is being able to work as a consulting collaboration of radically different personalities and points of views. There’s growing recognition of the importance of diversity in opinion, and I guess I feel we’re a small success story that’s a proof-point as market research was just rated one of the most competitive industries in North America.

BM: My crisis and risk communications career has overall been a pretty humbling experience. Incredible experiences, such as Canada’s two largest natural disasters have helped boost my confidence. The opportunity to teach at two universities has enhanced my opportunity to learn. Colleagues and mentors have continually inspired me. That said, what feels like my biggest career achievement to date, was a phone call I had this past February with my mentor, world-leading crisis and risk communication expert, Dr. Vincent Covello. To have Dr. Covello as the senior advisor for the Centre for Crisis & Risk Communications, based here, in Calgary is unbelievable!

  1. What can people expect from your presentation?

KN: I would say a little ‘here’s what you’re up against’ blended with ‘it’s not as complicated as you think’ to hopefully agreement that ‘audience understanding is the most important thing’ (but only if you want to be effective).

BM: I am a bit of a storyteller/rambler. Expect me not to stay on script, but always to stay on message. This presentation is centred around an opportunity I had to participate on the “Social Media in Emergency Management Expert Round Table” workshop hosted by the Department of National Defence.

  1. Give us a little preview. What is one key learning or piece of advice you can offer?

KN: There is no single one best approach or magic bullet. Don’t trust anyone who tells you there is. You’re probably doing more right than you realize, and hopefully, I can offer some quick wins and bigger picture thinking of how to get better at really knowing your audience and then how to use it!

BM: I take a page from one of the retired managers from The City of Calgary, “Think like a (insert event here) victim.”

  1. In your opinion, what is the biggest barrier to clear communication?

KN: Fear. Especially in Canada. I think, if people are honest, we all struggle with it to some degree.

BM: Where to start? There can be so many. Likely, from a professional communications perspective is the inability to confirm what message has been received by your audience.

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