A Fortune 100 intra-company communication retreat, somewhere in the hinterlands. The corporate communicators are trying to teach the local communicators about storytelling, persuasion and other modern communication techniques.
The storytelling session includes an exercise where everyone is asked to write a compelling story about the organization. They are told that, for the purposes of the exercise, they can make up some of the facts and the names.
Then they get up and tell their stories. One guy tells a really compelling one about a company engineer who suffered a family tragedy and then surmounted an astounding series of obstacles to create a profitable product that ensured that the life that had been lost had not been lost in vain.
He is asked how much of the story was true. None of it, he confessses. He was just trying to apply storytelling principles to the kinds of stories the company would like to tell.
One of the local communicators raises his hand.
"Can we do that?" he says with a little quiver of excitement in his voice. "Can we just make stuff up?"
This one gave me what my dad would call, "Some sinus problems."
Is there a limit to how much a person can communicate in a day?
Yes, there is—as I'm reminded every year at this time, attending the Ragan Speechwriters & Executive Communicators Conference in Washington, to which I'm booming off this morning.
For almost 20 straight years, I've had some role in organizing or speaking at this conference.
So I know a lot of the people there. A lot. And a lot of the people know me.
I'll be especially visible this year, as I'm the emcee.
It'll be a hell of a shock to the system, going from my monk-like routine of having a few conversations a week, to having many dozens per day over two days. Frantic remembering of names (and terrified forgetting). Non-verbal cues! Give me one second. Wait—have you met Sharon? Oh, you guys should know each other. Of course I'm familiar with the obscure rhetorical philosopher you're referring to. Can we walk to the Old Ebbitt Grill? How many cabs do we need? Can you split the check 23 ways? And good suggestions to consider! And bad suggestions to pretend to consider! Yes, let's email next week. Did I really say that last year? This is always a busy time ...
By Friday afternoon, I will be in a black-gaping daze, brought on by overstimulation. Somebody's lips will be moving and I will be nodding but there will be no sound.
The trouble is, I have a business meeting after the conference, on Friday afternoon. A meeting where it will be useful not to let my jaw hang down like the weary bucket of a back hoe whose operator is out to a beery lunch.
If it appears that I'm not comprehending anything that's happening here, it's because my head is full, you see. Maybe we could email next week ...
In this space, I've written a fair amount about the International Association of Business Communicators.
An asinine amount, now that I really look at it.
Just in the last year:
I described the new executive director Chris Sorek as "a good, smart, in-touch guy," but I doubted whether his big plans for the association were realistic, or even necessary.
I covered a conference call IABC leaders held inDecember to field questions from angry and confused members.
With the help of a mole, I shared and intepreted a February town hall meeting where IABC chapter leaders got to question executive director Sorek and chairman Kerby Meyers.
And I impuned Chris Sorek's instincts as a communicator, wondering why a "good, smart, in-touch guy" would not reach out to his predecessors or other influential IABCers before he embarked on wholesale change at the association.
Nine posts, most of them lengthy, on IABC? Is this association really that important to the workaday corporate communication pro? And are its troubles all that important to its members? I don't have the wherewithall to find out. Ragan Communications, luckily, does. And they've issued a survey to try to get a quantitative sense of what the "change in leadership" at the association "means to members and nonmembers."
I hope all Writing Boots readers take the survey. Though it takes only a couple of minutes to complete, the Ragan people tell me the survey will take a few weeks to compile.
But as soon as it's available, you know damn well I'll report and comment on it here.
Because that's just how I roll.