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  • Writer's pictureTemple PRSSA

My First Conference: Summary and Takeaways

As the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Temple PRSSA this year, I was able to experience the international conference hosted by PRSA, ICON. Although I wish I could have had my first conference experience in Nashville, where it was supposed to be held, I still feel like I walked away with knowledge that I am able to use in my college career and future public relations career.

When participants logged in through the PRSA website (with their PRSSA login credentials) they were taken to the “lobby.” It mimicked a real lobby with people walking, screens with a slideshow of pictures of ICON’s sponsors, and various places for the participant to go, whether it was to see the keynote speaker’s speech, attend breakout sessions, or chat in chat rooms to network with other attendees.

We can all attest to the zoom fatigue at the end of any particular day; however, I did not get that same feeling with the way PRSA set up the conference in this virtual space. Even though I was online for almost six or seven hours for four days straight, at the end of each day I felt empowered and ready to learn more.

We started each day with a keynote speaker and a panel of established communications professionals from around the world. The most impactful presentation I attended was with Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and author, Laurie Garret. In her session, Garret talked about the dangers of misinformation on COVID-19 and our government’s role in it. It is so easy for us to go on Twitter or Instagram and digest our news; however, we do not realize how unreliable some of the information is. Something as harmful and widespread as COVID-19 should be reported on with the most accurate facts and figures, but that has not always been the case.

Throughout her presentation, Garret uncovered and debunked all of the false information we have heard about the pandemic, and shed light on the way the government has handled the national emergency. Although it is disheartening to relive the tumultuous year of 2020, the keynote speech offered a different, more professional perspective on everything happening.

As the Director of D&I, I attended breakout sessions that dealt with building and expanding D&I initiatives, multicultural communication, and how to create a safe and authentic environment. All of these sessions featured renowned and inspiring professionals, many of who have experienced discrimination firsthand.

One of the biggest takeaways from the D&I sessions was how to defeat imposter syndrome in the workplace. Imposter syndrome is described as the psychological pattern that high achieving individuals experience when they doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments, and have a constant fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” The impact of not acknowledging this is detrimental to one’s mental health, for they experience extreme forms of procrastination, resistance to starting something new, self-doubt, overworking, and positioning yourself as “just an X” or “I am only X.”

The only way to beat this syndrome is by embracing it, and when thinking about the topic in this way, there are many similarities in the term “inclusion.” Thinking about inclusion in the same way we think about imposter syndrome allows us to fully understand what inclusion means. They are similar because both include the reflex to “cover,” which is when a person downplays a known stigmatized identity to conform with the mainstream. 61% of people in the workplace cover, and that high of a percentage begs for the inherent need to bring authenticity to the table. In addition to this, both ideas have the factor of being seen; however, the struggle that the person is going through is unknown.

One of my favorite sessions, led by Rob Biesenbach, was titled, “Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results.” Biesenbach is a communications professional who also works as a keynote speaker, consultant, workshop facilitator, and an established author. He talked of his unfulfilling journey through traditional jobs in PR and marketing which ultimately led him to “connect the dots” in his career. He realized the tools he was learning in creative classes, improv, and commercials could be applied directly to his business in communications, and from there he found his true passion and understood his “story.” He stated that stories stick in people’s minds more than statistics do, and they even stimulate the brain in the same way a real-life experience does. Your story will set you apart from the hundreds of people applying for the same internship, job, or leadership position: those who are reciting their resume from cover to cover are no longer in the running.

This lesson about telling your story, on top of the countless others I learned at ICON over the course of the four days, are tools and techniques that I have added to my skill set and will apply to my career in college and in the future. It was inspiring to be surrounded by the knowledgeable and powerful individuals at the conference, and my ICON experience only made me more excited to be a part of the wonderful field of public relations.

This blog post was written by Olivia Mianulli, Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

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