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Five Takeaways from PRSA Connect

This past week, I attended the Public Relations Society of America Connect conference for internal communicators. As I’ve recently added this responsibility to my spokesperson duties, I looked to this conference to provide some 101 on engaging employees.

Overall, the conference gave what I needed. The sessions helped me better understand where principles overlap with external communications, and more importantly, where it doesn’t. More important, the many people I met willingly shared their own insights from experience communicating with thousands of employees. Here are a few of the things I learned.

Passionate, Weirdly: I’ve attended a lot of conferences, and usually encounter a pretty hefty mix of enthusiasm and frustration from people talking abut their jobs. Not so at this one. Internal communicators seemed to be genuinely passionate about what they do.

More Than Events and Newsletters: I used to think of internal communications as planning parties and distributing boring printed (or PDF) newsletters. While those do play a role, especially events, the goal is engagement so that employees will feel empowered to take initiative, motivated to tackle big, collaborative projects, and, yes, actually read the important but boring things. At the heart of every successful initiaitve is playfulness, which may explain why internal communicators are happy.

Generations Matter: The most popular session I attended focused on the “career stages” of employees and how they might be a different way to think about messaging than generations. While the career stage research was insightul and the presentation strong, I got the impression from others who attended that bridging Boomers, Xers, and Millenials causes a lot of consternation because they are all so distinctly different. Calling them by a different name doesn’t address the fundamental challenge.

Removing the HR Silo: Internal communications cannot be the bastion of human resources. Employees need to hear more than policy updates and personnel moves, especially the younger employees. At the same time, HR needs to be able to communicate with employees, so this has become a partnership between communications and HR.

Stories, Stories, Stories: Don’t tell, show. That old adage now applies to internal communications, where employees want to see, touch, feel the impact of their work. While this sounds easy, it actually forces a lot of executives into uncomfortable areas. Instead of simply spouting numbers about efficiencies and bottom lines, they have to talk about the students whose walk has been safer.

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