One of the reasons people tell so many tall tales at communication conferences is the darn things are so big that no one ever gets to feeling secure enough to tell the truth. So the first liar doesn't stand a chance.
Another reason is that most communication conferences are aimed to rope in everybody—from employee communications to marketing, from public relations to organizational development. So you can't assume the other attenders share your aims, or even your language.
And a final reason is that the conference producer shares everyone's interest in phony big talk, because flattering the crowd is a big part of the racket.
What if you got just a few serious communicators together—a certain culture of communicators, executive communications pros and speechwriters only, say—and the discussion was moderated by someone interested only in knowing the truth about how things really work. Someone who understands that no communication department feels "world class" from the inside. Someone who acknowledges you weren't born to be a corporate communicator and you've got other ideas still.
And then one at a time, everyone just shared the work they'd done that they were proudest of, and let the others ask questions. Then after that, everyone went around and shared their biggest problems, and let others make suggestions?
And everybody ate and drank in between, and got to know each other real well, and kept in touch, some for many years?
Wouldn't it be fun to go to a conference like that? Wouldn't it be exciting to go to a conference like that?
Well that's the kind of meeting that Vital Speeches is holding, at Pfizer headquarters in New York, Oct. 14-15. It's called Leadership Communication Days, and the format won't vary much from what I've just described.
I know, because I'm organizing the thing, and I'm going to be that awesome moderator.
There's a downside to keeping a group small, of course (we're capping it at 25): We have to charge about $2K for the event; and because it's such a pint-sized posse, the hotel drove a hard bargain and people have to reserve their room by Aug. 13.
So if you happen to be interested in coming to this one, register quick.
If you're interested in going to another conference like this on a subject closer to your heart, let me know.
I always love to get together and tell the truth about things.
I love the concept. Wish I could be there.
Robert J Holland, ABC says
I think you missed a big one, David. One reason “the truth” rarely comes out at these conferences is because the presenters’ employers hold tight rein on what the presenter can and cannot say, what they can and cannot discuss.
It is, after all, the employers on whose dime these presenters attend. Those of us who would love to tell “the truth” and who, more often, are in a position to be able to do so can’t afford to attend these conferences because our meager self-employment budgets don’t allow it. And that assumes we even get on the agenda, which we usually don’t, because conference organizers are not interested in putting self-employed, straight-talking consultants on the dais.
Besides, even many of us consultants who would love to tell “the truth” often can’t do so because of confidentiality agreements with the companies that hire us, so the richness of our experience is never allowed to be shared.
So what you end up with is PR people who do what PR people unfortunately do best — spin “the truth,” try to make their clients look as good as possible, sacrificing any real learning for the sake of showing off.
It’s a racket, indeed.
David Murray says
“presenters’ employers hold tight rein on what the presenter can and cannot say, what they can and cannot discuss.”
Yes, a good point here, Robert. Because the participants themselves will be the main presenters, I’ve got to remember to be absolutely clear that we expect full candor, and that they can expect complete discretion.
In short, what’s said at Leadership Communication Days stays at Leadership Communication Days.