IABC International Conference Coverage: Answering the bell

A resilient IABC comes through with a successful annual conference—just when it needed it most

It's no secret that the International Association of Business Communicators desperately needed a good annual conference in 2002. Despite making some big strides toward recovery in the past year, the association is still feeling the hangover effects of its massive spending binge and subsequent financial mismanagement in 2000 and 2001. Revenues are still down, and the professional development product line (conferences and seminars), in particular, is hurting. At this point, a poorly attended international conference could have sounded a death knell for the organization. As it turned out, however, association leaders may be looking back at the 2002 International Conference as the event that got IABC back on its feet. The conference, held June 8—12 in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, drew 1,500 people. At the time of this writing, nobody in IABC seemed to know how many of those people paid to attend; however, IABC President Julie Freeman insists the conference will make budget, and the 1,500 number represents only a 10 percent drop from last year, when the conference was held in New York City—always a big draw. That is a remarkable feat, especially when you consider how the odds were stacked against IABC. This is not a good time for the conference business. A rotten economy, post-9/11 travel anxiety, turmoil within the organization, and the growing popularity of Web-based conferences and seminars could have dramatically cut into attendance. Instead, in what has to be considered a show of support for the organization, members—including representatives from 35 different countries—flocked to Chicago. And, judging from the talk in the hallways and random interviews with attenders, people got what they were looking for: plenty of networking opportunities (an IABC specialty), some good sessions, a big-picture overview of the communication industry, and even an occasional practical idea or two. Changes in format go over big; keynotes clunk It wasn't just business as usual at the conference. For the first time in a long time, IABC made some dramatic changes to its basic conference format. In one new move, pre- and post-conference sessions were offered for an additional price, and the turnout was good. IABC also offered an "All-Star" lineup of some popular speakers on the final day, to encourage people to stick around for the entire conference. They also broke the breakout sessions into six different tracks, and that was well received by attenders as well. But as good as the conference was, it got off to a horrific start. The opening keynote—which is supposed to set the tone and mood of the conference—was a complete bust. Maybe the worst keynote of all time. In a shocking display of inside-the-Beltway arrogance, NBC News' talking head Andrea Mitchell gave a rambling, unfocused, condescending presentation that was nothing more than a string of unrelated anecdotes about how cool her job is. Obviously, Mitchell didn't take this assignment in "Fly Over Country" seriously, and never bothered to either a) tie the speech to her audience in any way; or b) tell the audience something they didn't already know. To anyone who listens to the radio, reads a daily newspaper, glances through Time magazine once a month, or basically just lives life with his head outside his ass end, Mitchell's points were a little less than earth-shattering. Among them:

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