“What’s in it for me?” – Way more than I ever thought! My thoughts and experience at the 2018 IABC Heritage Region Conference

IABC Heritage Region Conference scholarship recipient Shannon McCarthy reflects on her experience at the conference in Richmond, Va. Shannon is the co-director of social media for the Detroit Chapter of IABC. She and the Detroit board can’t wait to host the 2019 conference.

So, when I found out that I received a scholarship to attend my first IABC Heritage Region Conference, you bet I prepared. I had my business cards, my introduction, my “pitch” – basically a whole script in my head of how my conversations and interactions would go. Going into this conference as a rookie, and knowing only a handful of people attending, I had my whole routine planned out.

And the minute I got to Richmond, I realized all that time and preparation (and not to mention the tossing and turning at night) wasn’t necessary after all. Because the minute I walked into the networking reception Sunday night, my nerves were immediately calmed. Aside from the fact that I was with what I like to affectionately call “my people” – I truly felt a connection with everyone. There was such an incredible energy in the room that was contagious. These were people that were there for the same reasons that I was – to reenergize themselves and their careers.

We’re all passionate about communications and eager to learn from each other and our experiences. And I truly felt that.

Next thing I knew, it was Monday morning. I was off and running to breakfast and to hear the next keynote speaker. The day continued in a flash of excitement, from breakout session to breakout session, taking copious notes – drinking in every word these experts had to say. I truly felt that I was living the words of the conference theme: Renew. Refocus. (The Results. will come soon!)

I admit, it was almost like a high. All these ideas for my career and current work processes started flowing through my head: What I could do, how I could improve, and most importantly, “Hey, I know that, but I need to practice it more.”

And then as the day went on and even into the next I noticed another underlying theme. Something that wasn’t outwardly discussed or even introduced as a concept by anyone. It wasn’t so much related to the topics of the breakout sessions, as they were all unique and interesting in their own way. But it became clear to me: Your mental health is so important to the success of your career.

I began to realize that we could have all the communication skills and resources in the world – and we were exposed to a fair share of them at this conference – but a big part of our work requires having a healthy mental state. It’s impossible for us to do our jobs effectively as communicators otherwise.

I noticed that a lot of us have the same anxieties or worries about our work. I learned that yes, I’m not the only one that critiques EVERY SINGLE WORD they write (trust me, I’m doing it right now). And even though I truly enjoy my career, I’m not the only person that gets mentally burnt out and may need a revitalization.

Samantha Enslen spoke about the anxiety and pain of the copywriting process, and how we need to just let the words flow. Her idea of creating a “mindmap” before writing an article is helping me right now with this article:

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Mind mapping is new to me, but I love the concept!

Not only did Gary Spondike talk about the importance of design in relation to providing effective communications, but he kicked off his session by having all of us participate in a mental exercise. And the premise was simple: Write down two statements on Post-It notes – “I like…” and “I wish…” – then complete both and put them on the wall in the back of the room. It was so great for us to all take a moment to step back and acknowledge something that we truly like about ourselves or our surroundings, and then to share something that we wish for. Again, this spawned creativity and individuality and humanized ourselves and our work. It was truly refreshing and definitely an exercise I’ll use with my team.

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Gary Spondike (middle) leading us in the “I like, I wish” exercise during his breakout session on 11/12/18.

After the conference ended Tuesday afternoon, I had some time to spare before heading to the airport. I decided that after the informational and emotional ride I had just experienced, it was time to be alone and reflect. I walked the streets of beautiful Richmond feeling empowered and motivated. The entire experience exceeded all expectations and made me stop for a second and tell myself, “You got this. You’re doing great.”

I think we all need to do that a bit more. And if this conference can do this for me, it can for you too.

Side note:

And to top off my awesome experience, I was able to share with everyone at the closing luncheon that Detroit will host the 2019 Heritage Regional Conference!

On behalf of the IABC Detroit board and all our members, I cannot express how excited we are to show you our revitalization and hopefully you can leave just as inspired as we are. We’ll see you in “The D” in fall 2019!

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Shannon McCarthy, co-director Social Media, IABC Detroit

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