Intranet Global Forum: The benefit of small conferences that deal with real-world challenges

Toby Ward speaks at the 2014 Intranet Global Forum

I tend to stay away from the big social media conferences that attract the same speakers over and over and over again. It’s not that I have anything against these folks; in fact, I count many of them among my friends. They’re mostly terrific speakers. And I have had great times at New Media Expo and some of the others you’re likely to hear touted every year.

Given the amount of time I spend on the road anyway, I just find my time is better invested speaking at conferences attended by the people to whom I most want to get my message across: communicators dealing with real-world issues for companies that are mostly not doing business in the tech space. (My current client roster includes a financial services company, a global consumer packaged goods company, a quasi-governmental organization, and a manufacturing company.)

The events I like to attend tend to be communication industry conferences (like next month’s IABC world conference, where I’m presenting a session on the rise of live mobile streaming video apps) and smaller gatherings targeting specific industries. The SNCR research symposium, for example, was always the best conference most people had never heard of. (People used to walk away from the one-day event wondering why in the world more people didn’t know about it.) One thing these conferences have in common: They’re outside the bubble, attended by people doing real communication work for whom digital and social media need to be integrated into a larger set of job responsibilities. They’re looking for real solutions they can implement back at the workplace.

Another benefit of these events is the improved networking opportunity. It’s easier to get to know people and make long-lasting connections at a gathering of 100 people than one of 2,500. Those attending are other communication and IT managers and executives dealing with the same adoption issues, launches, redesigns, upgrades, technology shifts, and other challenges you face every day on the job.

Intranet Global Forum

Another one of those smaller conferences is happening early next month. The Intranet Global Forum—set for Los Angeles on June 9 and 10—has been presented twice a year (the other session is in New York) by Toby Ward‘s Prescient Digital Media. (That’s Toby speaking at last year’s Forum in the picture at the top of the post.) I have presented at the last several Forums and stuck around for the presentations from intranet managers and communicators doing real work in the real world. Unlike some conferences, I usually walk away with a notebook full of trends and practical ideas that have been tested in companies that are more interested in bottom-line results than platitudes and broad-brush pronouncements.

In addition to Prescient, the L.A. event is co-sponsored by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, along with IABC Los Angeles (my former chapter). This year’s speaker lineup is particularly appealing based on the questions and issues I’ve been hearing from my clients. Unisys’ chief knowledge officer, Gloria Burke—named #2 of the top 10 social business leaders of 2013 by Information Week Magazine—kicks the conference off with a session on the Unisys social intranet. An inside look at The Walt Disney Company’s intranet is next, followed by Sandia National Laboratories’ Hope Niblick explaining how to get employees to actually participate in collaboration opportunities on the intranet. Sandia is obviously serious about the issue; Niblick’s title is Web Collaboration Program Manager.

Scripps Health Workforce Communications Director Denise Tanguay will present a case study on the Scripps Health intranet, followed by a case study on the implementation of Jive on the DirecTV intranet. Jerry Stevenson (a good friend and terrific speaker) will lead a session on storytelling through internal social media as a means of engaging employees; Jerry is responsible for intranet management, administration, training, and strategy for Baylor Scott & White Health. Toby wraps up the day with a showcase of some of the best intranet features on the best intranets. There’s also an expert panel during the day to answer audience questions.

I’ll be on the expert panel, along with Toby, Gloria, and Jerry. I’m also presenting the second pre-conference session on the 9th, on building employee engagement via the social intranet. Toby will handle the first pre-con, on the nitty-gritty of managing content in the social intranet.

This is the kind of conference I’d attend even if I weren’t speaking, just to soak up the knowledge in the room. If you plan to be there, please be sure to say hi.