Archive of ‘Learning’ category

Three Days in Ottawa (or Things I Learned at the IABC 2012 Communicators Summit)


Disclosure: I was in­vited to be part of the plan­ning group for the IABC 2012 Canada Business Communicators Summit by Yasmin Ranade, its Chair and lead or­ga­nizer. I had the plea­sure of work­ing with Yasmin in the Professional Development port­fo­lio for the IABC Toronto chap­ter in 2010/11. We work well to­gether and I was ho­n­oured to be asked to be part of her team. My role in­volved mar­ket­ing and so­cial me­dia pro­mo­tion.

The Summit took place over three days in November, in Ottawa, ON. I reg­is­tered and at­tended as an reg­u­lar con­fer­ence at­tendee. Here are my observations.

It used to be that if you wanted to share your organization’s news, you put out a press re­lease and made calls to a few jour­nal­ists. Now, the arena has grown larger and your po­ten­tial au­di­ences have not only in­creased, they’ve changed the way they want to get in­for­ma­tion. Mobile tech­nol­ogy, so­cial me­dia – the op­por­tu­ni­ties to com­mu­ni­cate with your au­di­ence have ex­ploded in ways un­dreamed of twenty years ago.

Working in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions field re­quires con­tin­u­ous ed­u­ca­tion if you want to be on top of your game. Whether you’re a sea­soned pro or a neo­phyte (I fall some­where in the mid­dle of that spec­trum) there are al­ways go­ing to be things you don’t know, new tools and emerg­ing trends you haven’t heard of.

This was, more or less, the theme of the IABC 2012 Canada Business Communicators Summit – Trends 2013. Held in Ottawa on November 1 to 3, 2012, the Summit fo­cused on where com­mu­ni­ca­tion is head­ing and what we should be pre­pared for on the hori­zon – mo­bile com­put­ing, chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics and new chal­lenges to pri­vacy, trans­parency and access.

I’ve been to sev­eral con­fer­ences in the past few years, and I would see the same names pop up on the speaker ros­ter time and time again. The line-up for the Summit was unique and a great change from the usual. Canadian speak­ers, dis­cussing Canadian con­tent for Canadian com­mu­ni­ca­tors! Any chal­lenges com­mu­ni­ca­tors have in Canada may be sim­i­lar to those in the U.S. or Europe, but we’re play­ing in a dif­fer­ent ball­park, with a dif­fer­ent set of rules. For ex­am­ple, hav­ing Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, talk to us about pri­vacy laws made more of an im­pact than hav­ing a speaker come in from out­side the coun­try to speak on the same topic.

The keynote speak­ers were not only highly es­teemed in their fields, their talks were tai­lored to the over­all theme of the conference.

  • The Honourable Tony Clement on “Politicking in the Age of Social Media”: I fol­low Mr. Clement on Twitter, and even though I may not agree with his pol­i­tics, I find his tweets in­ter­est­ing and funny (he makes jokes about zom­bies!). Having a politi­cian speak about us­ing Twitter as a very pub­lic plat­form was in­sight­ful, es­pe­cially the way to blend the po­lit­i­cal and the per­sonal (it’s chal­leng­ing but possible).
  • Jennifer Stoddart on “Privacy and Communications in Changing Times”: A highly in­for­ma­tive pre­sen­ta­tion on pri­vacy laws in Canada, the chal­lenges of fol­low­ing them in an on­line world and what we, as com­mu­ni­ca­tors, should keep front-of-mind when craft­ing strategies.
  • Dr. Michael Geist on “The Year the Internet Fought Back”: Great back­ground on the Stop Online Privacy Act and how Internet users are mo­bi­liz­ing and speak­ing out against the en­croach­ment on on­line pri­vacy, free speech and ac­cess to information.
  • Darrell Bricker, CEO, Ipsos Global Public Affairs, on “The Big Shift – Understanding Communications in the New Canada”: A fun and in­for­ma­tive way to look at the chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics of Canada. (Read some of my tweets for in­ter­est­ing tid­bits from this and other mo­ments from the conference.)

The ses­sions I at­tended were, for the most part, strong. These are the ones that stood out for me. (Keep in mind that I only at­tended a few of the many that were of­fered — go here for the full list­ing of ses­sions and speakers.)

  • Donna Papacosta, “Quick and Painless Ways to Add Multimedia to Your Communications”: The best ses­sion, by far, in terms of both con­tent and con­text. Donna went through the lat­est in so­cial me­dia tools and pro­vided ex­am­ples of how they can be used. Highly in­for­ma­tive, with many examples.
  • Anick Losier, “Communicating During Times of Crisis”: Ms. Losier is the Director of Media Relations for Canada Post. I loved her pre­sen­ta­tion for its forth­right­ness, trans­parency and case stud­ies. She has a won­der­ful at­ti­tude and sense of hu­mour, de­spite hold­ing what must be one of the most chal­leng­ing jobs in the field.
  • Peter Vaz (M2 Universal Digital) and Kunal Gupta (Polar Mobile), “The Impact of the Third Screen on Communications”: Interesting pre­sen­ta­tion on mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tions from . With al­most every per­son on the planet car­ry­ing a smart­phone, every or­ga­ni­za­tion will even­tu­ally have to in­clude the “third screen” in their mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion plans.
  • Panel, “Content in Context and the Content Marketing Revolution”: This ses­sion stood out for me, but not for the rea­sons I ex­pected. There was too much con­tent, and not enough con­text (i.e. case stud­ies). And, dis­ap­point­ingly, the ses­sion felt like a not-so-subtle pitch for a so­cial me­dia com­pany (which shall re­main name­less), which is anath­ema to me – I came to learn, not to buy.

The Silver Leaf Awards rec­og­nize the out­stand­ing achieve­ments of IABC mem­bers in com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The Awards Gala, typ­i­cally held on an evening dur­ing the con­fer­ence, felt like an in­side joke that the rest of us weren’t privy to. What made it more un­com­fort­able was the tech­ni­cally il­le­gal use of copy­righted ma­te­r­ial in the video which in­stead could’ve been used to high­light the win­ners of the Silver Leaf. As a com­mu­ni­ca­tor, I wanted to know: what was it about their en­tries that raised them above the oth­ers? I could do with­out the Mad Men parody.

A large and im­por­tant part of at­tend­ing a con­fer­ence is the net­work­ing. I met many peo­ple and shared many thoughts and ideas. The con­fer­ence had great so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing a Haunted Walk – which is a fan­tas­tic way to see a city and get a taste of its his­tory – and a Dine-Around, where you have din­ner with other at­ten­dees and a lo­cal restau­rant. (I opted for Vittoria Trattoria,where the food and at­mos­phere were wonderful.)

More ob­ser­va­tions on the con­fer­ence from other at­ten­dees can be found here.

As for Ottawa, I wish I had more time to ex­plore the city, but I did man­age to take in a few sights. I don’t think I have enough in­for­ma­tion to write a com­pre­hen­sive post. Instead, en­joy my photos.


Stay Classy, San Diego


Ah, San Diego.

Prior to vis­it­ing the city, the only things I as­so­ci­ated with San Diego were the zoo and Anchorman. But af­ter my (too short) va­ca­tion there, I would not hes­i­tate to rec­om­mend it as a Nice Place to Visit.

I was pleas­antly sur­prised by the clean streets – Toronto’s a pig sty com­pared to San Diego – al­though there was a dis­tinc­tive lack of waste/recycling re­cep­ta­cles. You wouldn’t even know there’s a jail in the cen­tre of the city (al­though that ex­plains the plethora of bail bonds services).

I won’t list every­thing I saw and did while I was there, but will high­light some of my favourite places and activities.

The San Diego Zoo
During the golden age of Johnny Carson, Joan Embery, the am­bas­sador for the Zoo, was a fre­quent guest on The Tonight Show. She would al­ways bring a cou­ple of the an­i­mals from the zoo with her when she was on the show. As a kid, those made for my favourite episodes.

I loved watch­ing Carson’s re­ac­tions to the cute (baby mon­keys!), the scary (taran­tu­las!) and the un­pre­dictable (watch his re­ac­tion when a Burmese python gets a lit­tle too intimate).

So the Zoo was a must-see for the kid in me. The place is enor­mous and the ex­hibits are well-organized, and even with the aid of a map, I got lost twice. The ad­mis­sion price wasn’t cheap ($40) but it was def­i­nitely worth it!



Ready to run


I’ve taken up run­ning. The news elic­its ju­bi­la­tion from other sea­soned run­ners and quizzi­cal looks from non-runners. (Plus some WTF?! faces when I run in minus-15 de­gree weather.) What started as a New Year’s resolution-y thing has be­come a bit of an ob­ses­sion with me. I am proud that I lasted the en­tire ten weeks of the Running Room’s Learn to Run pro­gram and fin­ished a 5K last week, but sign­ing up for a 10K that’s only a month-and-a-half away may be a lit­tle too op­ti­mistic. But I’m go­ing to try.

I started run­ning to stay in shape and lose a few ex­tra pounds. Said pounds are tak­ing an e – x – t – r – e – m – e – l – y s – l – o – w time to come off be­cause of my me­tab­o­lism slow­ing down in my older age (gah!), but I do no­tice an over­all slimming-down ef­fect hap­pen­ing. I’m also more alert and clear-headed.

I chose run­ning over other ac­tiv­i­ties be­cause I hate the gym. Now you may think that “hate” is a strong word to use, and you would be to­tally wrong. I re­ally do hate it. I hate the rou­tine of it, the wait­ing, the wip­ing down of equip­ment, the stink of other people’s body odor and the monthly pay­ments that con­tinue to be added to your credit card long af­ter you stopped go­ing. Running is great car­dio – it gets you out­side and you don’t have to wait for the ass­hat who won’t get off the damn tread­mill (and who doesn’t wipe it down af­ter his sweat shower).

I’m still a novice and I am try­ing to find the per­fect stride for me. But I can im­part some ad­vice to those who are ready to run.

  1. You will not look pretty or hand­some run­ning. You can buy the nicest run­ning clothes on the mar­ket but at the end of a good run, you will be a flushed, snivel­ing, sweaty, pant­ing mess. But a happy flushed, snivel­ing, sweaty, pant­ing mess.
  2. Sports bras are a nec­es­sary evil. They are not sexy and will smoosh your girls into a uni­boob. But at least your breasts won’t hit you in the face.
  3. Eat sen­si­bly. The burger and fries you ate for lunch will still be in your body when you go for an evening run – you don’t want to tote that shit around (lit­er­ally). Eat light on days you are run­ning. I pre­fer a Carnation in­stant break­fast be­fore a run – light on the stom­ach but fill­ing and nutritious.
  4. Run in the morn­ings. Get it out of the way, be­cause if you are prone to lazi­ness, as I am, it’s harder to get off the couch at the end of a work day than it is get­ting out of bed an ex­tra 30 min­utes in the morning.
  5. Do it with strangers. Join a run­ning club – your leader will mo­ti­vate you to run and teach you proper form and care. You also don’t feel like a freak when you know other peo­ple in your group are get­ting shin splints and side cramps.
  6. Take it easy and slow. Moderation is the key. Alternate one minute of run­ning with one minute of walk­ing; each week, add an­other minute of run­ning. Build up en­durance first be­fore go­ing for speed.
  7. Stretch it out. After a run, take a good 30 min­utes to stretch. Do this if you don’t want to be a walk­ing stiff for the next few days.
  8. Splurge on good qual­ity run­ning gear. Invest in some key pieces for all types of weather, es­pe­cially socks. Stay away from cot­ton and move to­wards syn­thetic fab­rics that whisk sweat away from your body, keep­ing you dry and cool. Running clothes may be ex­pen­sive, but if you treat them well, they’ll last you a long time. And the right shoes make all the dif­fer­ence. Go to the Running Room or New Balance — their reps can fit you with a pair that’s right for your gait.
  9. Have some good tunes on hand. I like a lit­tle Ramones to end my run – their songs are short enough for you to sprint to­wards the fin­ish line. (But please be mind­ful of your sur­round­ings – keep the vol­ume low and your eyes alert.) 
  10. Enjoy!


Lie Back and Think of England”: A G20 Summit Survival Guide


This past week­end, while I was vis­it­ing my par­ents in St. Catharines, I watched tele­vised scenes of po­lice cars on fire, thugs in black smash­ing store­front win­dows and cops in riot gear beat­ing and ar­rest­ing pro­test­ers. After I re­al­ized it wasn’t a movie (what? I had just woken up), that it was hap­pen­ing in my beloved Toronto, my stom­ach knot­ted up in anger. What the f**k was hap­pen­ing to my city?

The G20 Summit is what happened.

When I re­turned to the city, and saw that it hadn’t burned down, I re­laxed. I went on­line — read the blogs, fol­lowed my Twitter feed — and got caught up on the sit­u­a­tion. I fig­ured I should write about the Summit, of­fer up more than snarky Facebook com­ments or 140-character tweets, be­fore pas­siv­ity and pro­cras­ti­na­tion set in. I’ve in­vested in a blog and some­thing con­se­quen­tial hap­pened in my city, so I should com­ment about it, right?

Let’s skip past the rea­sons why such a po­lit­i­cally charged event should not be held in a large, ur­ban cen­tre. They are pretty ob­vi­ous and have been dis­cussed ad nau­seam. We can all agree – with the ex­cep­tion of our sweater-vested leader and his min­ions – that it’s a colos­sal waste of tax­payer money.

Instead of re­hash­ing what has been said and writ­ten by peo­ple more elo­quent than I, I thought I’d of­fer some tips to the un­for­tu­nate souls in the next host city. They say you learn from your mis­takes and, boy, did we learn a LOT this week­end. Let me share some of that with you.

Surviving a G20 Summit, or How to Stop Worrying and Love the Barricades

So your city’s go­ing to host a G20 Summit. Congratulations! You have my sym­pa­thies. There will be a lot of ac­tiv­ity, as well as con­fu­sion, chaos and fu­ture class-action law­suits. But be­fore you en­ter head­first into the shit­storm, here are some handy sur­vival tips.

  • Hosting a G20 Summit is a pa­thetic at­tempt to boost the cred­i­bil­ity of your leader on the world stage. It doesn’t work, just so you know. They may try to sell you on the idea by spin­ning it as a chance to boost tourism. That doesn’t work ei­ther. It’s ba­si­cally a billion-dollar boon­dog­gle. If your president/prime minister/premier is re­ally keen on the idea, vote him out of of­fice as soon as pos­si­ble. Or stage a coup. Whatever works for you.
  • Your po­lice and se­cu­rity forces may be put in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion by the powers-that-be. Cops armed with tear gas, ba­tons and over­sweep­ing pow­ers are one thing; cops armed with tear gas, ba­tons and over­sweep­ing pow­ers who are on edge and feel­ing sur­rounded is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent ball of wax. Good plan­ning, fore­sight and co­op­er­a­tion with the com­mu­nity will help. And if your po­lice chief de­cides his force should have greater power to search, de­tain and ar­rest peo­ple, per­haps you should, oh, I don’t know, sug­gest that he may want to give the pub­lic a lit­tle heads-up.
  • Offer for­eign me­dia cor­re­spon­dents com­fort­able sur­round­ings, good food and ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion. That’s pretty much all they want. Don’t feel as if you have to recre­ate the true [your city/country] ex­pe­ri­ence. But if you are go­ing to build a fake lake, for ex­am­ple, at least have a beaver or a loon in it. Go for broke – you’ve al­ready spent $57,000, what’s a few more hun­dred for the ex­tra taste of faux-realism?


Ah the cor­ner­stone of democ­racy. The right to as­sem­ble, free speech – it’s lovely, in­nit? But dur­ing a Summit, your civil lib­er­ties may be sac­ri­ficed to the God of Security. Just use your nog­gin wisely and you won’t get it split open by a baton.

  • If you want to protest, you may want to do it in the days lead­ing up to the event. Get your mes­sage out there be­fore it gets lost in the mael­strom of G20 politi­cian spin, media-produced hys­te­ria and “Live! 24-Hour Super Summit Spectacular” newscasts.
  • Don’t ask for the im­pos­si­ble, e.g. hold­ing a protest to get a G20 leader to lis­ten to you. The G20 heads of state will not watch footage of your protests, turn to each other and say, “You know what? They have a point. Let’s go shoot the shit with them.” Just saying.
  • Engage in peace­ful protests. Contrary to what you might have heard and seen in the me­dia, over 25,000 peo­ple marched in peace in Toronto. It is possible.
  • Beware of an­ar­chist thugs who will hi­jack your protests - their ac­tions will over­shadow your mes­sages and good deeds. Disassociate your­self from these ass­holes or you will end up look­ing like one yourself.
  • Don’t be jerks and dis­rupt the lives of your fel­low cit­i­zens. Sitting on street­car tracks at a ma­jor in­ter­sec­tion isn’t a peace­ful protest, it’s a nuisance.

The Security Zone

Concrete and steel bar­ri­cades — get used to them. Hundreds of uni­formed men milling about (some in shorts) - en­joy them while you can. Living in “the Zone” sounds cool, in an 80s-slang kind of way, but it can be to­tally grody to the max– er, sorry.

  • Stay as far away as you can from the se­cu­rity zone. Don’t come down to see the ac­tion, es­pe­cially if you’ve watched scenes of burn­ing po­lice cars and smashed store­front win­dows on the news the night before.
  • If you live in or around the zone, but can­not leave, don’t choose that time to do your gro­cery shop­ping. Find an­other route to walk your dog. Yes, it sucks that you can’t move about your own city as freely as you usu­ally do, but don’t get all whiny about it. Having to turn left on your street when you nor­mally turn right does not make you a martyr.
  • If you want to watch a protest just to see what it’s like, don’t. You might get caught up in it, and the cops aren’t go­ing to stop and ask you if you’re an in­no­cent by­stander - they’ll just snap the plas­tic cuffs on you. If you do get caught in one, and you see riot cops ap­proach­ing, stop tweet­ing about it and leave. Don’t stick around and be a hero. Sure, you might get some ex­clu­sive footage to send to your lo­cal news out­let or post on your blog, but it isn’t worth get­ting ar­rested for. (As an aside, if you’re blocked in by cops, peo­ple may find it hard to be­lieve your life is in dan­ger if you’re post­ing up­dates on Twitter every five sec­onds. It’s the Perez Hilton Effect. Just saying.)
  • You will hear peo­ple say that your city has be­come a “po­lice state”. Unless you ac­tu­ally live in one, don’t be­lieve the hy­per­bole. People who live in a po­lice state are not al­lowed to protest at all. If they do, they are ei­ther shot on sight or taken away for­ever to se­cret detention/work camps. They can­not chat am­i­ca­bly with the po­lice or have their photo taken with them. And for­get about high-fiving one. People in a po­lice state are not ar­rested and re­leased within 24 hours - they just sim­ply dis­ap­pear. Yes, your city will look like a de­mil­i­ta­rized zone but this is tem­po­rary. In a real po­lice state, those bar­ri­cades would stay up for­ever. And you’d prob­a­bly be break­ing rocks in the hot sun.

In the end, when all is said and done, your city will re­turn to some sem­blance of its orig­i­nal self. It might not be ex­actly the way it was – terms like ‘black bloc’ will be added to your ver­nac­u­lar – but with a lit­tle work, and some spit and pol­ish, it’ll be as good as new.

In the mean­time, lie back and think of England. Here’s hop­ing you don’t get screwed too badly.


Love the One You’re With


A friend re­cently sent me an ar­ti­cle called “Why I’m Alone”. It is a re­sponse by Huffington Post colum­nist Lea Lane to the ques­tion she is of­ten asked in the years fol­low­ing the death of her hus­band: Why is she still alone? Why doesn’t she date much?

While I’ve never loved and lost like Ms. Lane, I can cer­tainly re­late to the ques­tion, “Why are you alone?” In my case, it’s rephrased as “Why are you single?”

I guess I’m just lucky,” I smirk.

Like most smar­tass re­sponses, mine comes across as de­fen­sive, and I make no apolo­gies for it. I am a strong and con­fi­dent woman who owns her own condo, is mak­ing in­roads into a new ca­reer and has a stel­lar credit his­tory. Yet all that I achieve and ac­com­plish tends to be over­shad­owed by my mar­i­tal status.

Why are you single?”

I could say that I choose to be sin­gle but that would be a lie. Take our bi­o­log­i­cal dis­po­si­tion to mate and pro­cre­ate, add cen­turies of so­cial con­di­tion­ing and stir in the fear of grow­ing old alone. Is it any won­der that women get panic at­tacks when they’re not mar­ried by the time they’re 30?

I don’t choose to be sin­gle – I’ve just made my peace with it. If it re­ally both­ered me, I’d be more dili­gent in my pur­suit of the op­po­site sex (my re­cent at­tempt at speed-dating notwith­stand­ing, which is a sep­a­rate blog post al­to­gether). As it stands, I’m not in a par­tic­u­lar hurry to get hitched. Marriage is not a goal of mine. I just want to find some­one who I con­nect with, can tol­er­ate my need for alone time and rec­og­nizes the ge­nius of Tex Avery, Jon Stewart and Neil Gaiman. And I want to take my time find­ing him.

Why are you single?”

My friend Catherine put it suc­cinctly: “I sin­cerely be­lieve that if I’m meant to meet some­one, I will. I’m not go­ing to moan about it if I don’t.” Amen, sister.

Until I meet my Mr. Right-For-Me, I’m en­joy­ing my life. Here are my rea­sons why I’m okay with be­ing sin­gle (with grat­i­tude to Ms. Lane).

  • I’m never lonely – I have a wealth of friends who I can see more of­ten than I could if I was in a relationship.
  • Dating pro­vides so much in­ter­est­ing ma­te­r­ial for anec­dotes and blog posts.
  • On week­ends, I can wake up late or stay in bed all day.
  • I don’t have to an­swer to some­one else.
  • I can take off for the week­end on the spur of the moment.
  • I have more time to spend with my family.
  • I can watch any movie I want to, even if it’s a weepy chick flick.
  • I look way younger than my years and I chalk that up to care­free living.
  • I don’t have to cook if I don‘t want to.
  • I don’t have to be dis­ap­pointed and hurt when a man no longer likes me.
  • I have the bath­room all to myself.
  • I can flirt to my heart’s content.
  • I love ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the thrill of meet­ing some­one new and imag­in­ing what they’re like in bed. I love know­ing that I can find out firsthand.
  • I don’t have to date a man I’m not crazy about be­cause I’m “not get­ting any younger.”
  • I don’t have to shave my legs every day.
  • No one is hog­ging the bed sheets but me.
  • I can drink milk/juice straight from the carton.
  • I have to­tal con­trol over the tele­vi­sion remote.

What are your reasons?


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