So, how was ICON?
Every year, PRSA hosts an international conference where students from every chapter are invited to learn about the industry and network with other members and PRSA professionals. This conference usually takes place in one of America’s major cities but was virtual this year due to COVID-19. Even though we weren’t able to travel to Nashville this year, the planning committee still brought us an experience and conference packed with engaging content. ICON was held from October 26 through October 29 and included breakouts, keynotes, lounge events, and expo halls.
The Virtual Set-up
As our chapter’s current Conference Coordinator, one of the benefits of attending ICON was gaining insight on how to potentially plan our virtual conference. The conference was held on a platform called 6Connex. Using this platform allowed ICON’s planning committee to attach a conference portal to their website, where attendees could use their PRSSA login information to gain access. Upon entry, attendees landed on a homepage called the “lobby” where they could attend general sessions, breakouts, social events, the expo hall, and the membership hub.
When attending a general session, we clicked into the general sessions tab in the lobby that then prompted us to select a day. Once we chose the day, we were given a list of all the general sessions that were scheduled and their times, along with a button to access them. When entering a general session, we were taken to a live zoom link where only the speaker’s screens were visible, and the attendees had access to a chat and Q&A. Throughout the presentation, we had the opportunity to submit questions and comments.
I enjoyed this set up because it allowed attendees to engage with one another during the presentation in a respectful way. If the conference was in person, attendees would not be able to discuss their thoughts until after the presentation. Now, attendees had the opportunity to discuss their thoughts about the presentation as the speaker offered new information. This was really helpful because it allowed me to think about the topic from various perspectives.
The breakout sessions were pre-recorded sessions instead of live zoom sessions. When attending a breakout, we were presented with a video that looked a lot like one of our professors sharing their screens during class.
Since the speakers already gave the presentation while they were recording the video, they were able to focus all of their attention on answering our questions in the chat in real time. This allowed attendees to obtain answers to their questions minutes after asking them.
I also enjoyed this pre-recorded model because it made attending a virtual conference easier. Instead of having to worry about being at your computer for the entire live session, we had the opportunity to pause the video and come back to it.
The conference also offered social events, the membership hub, and a daily expo hall. These features offered chat rooms and other features where attendees could network and socialize.
My favorite keynote session was on the last day with Laurie Garret. During her live zoom presentation, she talked about the dangers of spreading misinformation and focused specifically on Donald Trump’s messaging around the coronavirus and the election. Her presentation was so engaging to me because she walked us through everything that happened this year. Instead of filling her slides with bullet points and written information, she focused more on comics, pictures, and screenshots of news headlines. I enjoyed this format because it reflected what we were being exposed to during these events. We weren’t given a summary on a slide of how Donald Trump lied about when he found out about the virus; instead, we were exposed to a CNN article shared on Instagram. I also enjoyed reading the chat while she gave her presentation. Many of the attendees were healthcare professionals or postal workers, and they had a lot of valuable information to add.
Another session I really enjoyed was the breakout on the Census. It was one of the first sessions of the conference and was by far one of the most engaging to me. During the first half of the semester, I worked as an enumerator for the 2020 Census. In this role, I was tasked with going door to door asking people to fill out the survey with me. Since I already had a connection with the operation, hearing about the research, PR, and advertising sides of it was really rewarding to me.
Maria Olmedo-Malagon, a program manager for the 2020 Census Communication Campaign, went into detail about the phases of the campaign and the tactics that went into each of them. She discussed how the Census divided the country into segments based on types of areas and developed specific communications campaigns for each area. For instance, people living in rural areas could expect more radio ads compared to those living in the city, who were exposed to more signage. She also discussed how the campaigns were forced to shift because of the pandemic.
The last session was a breakout on artificial intelligence (AI). Last year I was one of the Assistant Conference Coordinators for PRogress Through Tech, which focused on the role technology has in shaping the PR industry. One of our keynote presentations was set to be an AI simulation game, so it was interesting to attend an AI-focused keynote. During the presentation, Eric Koefoot, CEO of PublicRelay, discussed how far AI has come along and the timeline for future advancements. He stated that while outsiders to the technology industry think AI is very sophisticated now, it is still quite limited.
Currently, AI can only operate from logic-based learning and training, and it has not mastered any human functions. While debunking the misconceptions on how smart our AI actually is, the presenter also detailed what industries should expect of a significant AI presence. Thankfully, he assured that because public relations requires such a large human element, we as PR professionals never have to worry about AI taking our jobs. Instead, AI will just be added to make our jobs easier.
This blog post was written by Conference Coordinator, Amelia Wilt.