Recently I attended my first professional conference. As a student studying strategic communication and public relations, I can honestly say my experience at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, ProCommunicators Conference was enlightening and informative. I attended four individual workshops and listened to three keynote speakers. Here are five of my major takeaways.
1. The importance of connecting with your community
The breakout session, “MicroStorytelling: Create Social Media that Stands out” included many important aspects about running a successful and engaging social media account. The workshop, hosted by Shawn Davis, director of social media at the University of Missouri (Mizzou), included several TikTok videos created for Mizzou. The TikTok videos garnered outstanding views and engagement! The majority of TikTok videos presented in this workshop all involved students and appeared to be produced by students. Mizzou has several relationships with student influencers, and included a student who appeared in the social media content and gave the TikTok videos an authentic feel. The student would go around campus and interview fellow students with a tiny microphone creating content for the university. This type of content is highly popular, and it is something I would like to try my hand a creating.
2. Attention spans are short
This session also taught me that attention spans are at an all-time low. Davis reported that the average human attention span is currently shorter than that of a goldfish. The average human attention span is eight seconds, decreasing by 4 seconds when compared to the average attention span from the year 2000. With this information, I now understand that any content I produce will have to catch the attention of the audience immediately, but more importantly be concise. The successful TikTok videos we watched were all under 10 seconds long, which is something to keep in mind.
3. Communication means catching the ball
Eric Morgenstern, CEO, Morningstar Communications was one of the keynote speakers. Morgenstern’s presentation about creating a strong presentation included the analogy of communication relating to catching the ball. To effectively communicate, you must be able to receive the information being given, but the phrase also reinforces the notion that communication is a two-way street. You cannot throw a ball and expect people to catch it.
4. Ways of communicating with your public
In the public involvement workshop with Linda Horn, communications director at Missouri Dept. of Transportation, I discovered details about running successful MoDot redevelopment campaigns. This workshop included several examples of what communicating with the public can look like.
● Take advantage of existing platforms. What social media does your public pay attention to?
● Use a variety of tools: social media, virtual meetings, face-to-face meetings. By having a variety of communication tools, your public will be satisfied with some form of communication.
● Continuously review audiences. Ask the questions: What relationships are broken? What needs fixing with those audiences? What’s your key message? Are you selling the problem?
● Share milestones and celebrate with the community. After redevelopment campaigns, Horn likes to celebrate with the community who made the campaigns possible.
5. What organizational listening is not…
Luke Capizzo, assistant professor of strategic communication and public relations at Mizzou, held a workshop about informing the audience on organizational listening. What I found most compelling was the examples of what organizational listening is not:
● Social media monitoring. Monitoring social media does not result in effectively understanding the concerns and needs of your peers.
● Market/Customer research. Researching customers and markets does not always paint the full picture. Organizations need to be interacting with their consumer base.
● Message testing. While message testing does have benefits, it is not always a great way to gauge the reactions of consumers.
● Employee and/or customer surveys. Survey result are not always the best indication of opinions. Surveys should not be the only tool used to make improvements on organizational problems. Surveys do have benefits, but they should not replace actual interaction and listening.
My key takeaways from my first professional conference are important to my overall education. I realize that a career in strategic communication likely means lifelong learning because things change over time. I highly recommend attending professional conferences even as a student. The networking opportunities and learning opportunities are ideal.