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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