It was recently once again my great pleasure to attend the annual conference of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (aiip.org). The formal presentations and quick “tips” exchanges were curated by volunteers who delivered a stunning lineup of worthwhile and engaging speakers and sessions – thank you, Jan Davis of Blue Sage Research and Brandy King of Knowledge Linking! The conference is small as conferences go – but for that very reason, if offers a very different feel than do the ones attended by thousands.
A highlight of the conference is the introductions session in which every single participant gets up to deliver a 30-second verbal description of his or her business (first time attendees receive some coaching the previous day). The session illustrates just how difficult it can be to describe concisely the core of the services and benefits we information professionals provide to our clients. (Here’s how I tackled it this time: It is 11 o’clock. Do you know what your knowledge workers are doing with the expensive time and resources you pay for? At de Stricker Associates, we help our clients understand and then set priorities for their options with respect to knowledge management, intercollegial sharing, and corporate memory.) The businesses featured in the 100+ pitches include market and industry research, competitive intelligence, technology guidance, business and management consulting, fund raising and grant writing, archival research, and many niche areas (interested readers may browse the member directory at http://www.aiip.org/allAIIPMembers). Needless to say, many new connections are formed as audience members make note of colleagues they want to seek out during the next break.
The takeaway, every year, from this traditional AIIP exercise is: No matter what you do professionally, perfect your 30-second story to do justice to your brand. Come up with variations for different audiences (say, the interns versus the senior leaders in the company where you work). Polish the confidence and conviction with which you speak, and have on hand anecdotes to illustrate the elements in your story in case anyone asks for more detail. Granted, speaking at a microphone is different from sitting in a small meeting – but still: Have the spiel down pat – and make sure it’s focused on client/user benefits: Say “our work enables you to save time and effort, reduce risk, and reach a much larger target audience” rather than ”we perform in-depth research” or “we conduct industry studies”. I have always advised my colleagues to speak to client advantage; how we are able to deliver that advantage is our concern, not the client’s.
Here we were – all of us experts in our own fields and each of us unique in the precise mix of business offerings we focus on. What is our common concern? Getting ever better at what we do and at using the tools available to us. We crowd in to learn from the formal session speakers about social media, research techniques, and branding. We learn from each other about gadgets, productivity tools, and the pros and cons of various options in the business relationships we form with clients and in the techniques we use to achieve the insight our clients ask us to give them. We come away with recommendations to help us navigate the technology jungle and to ensure our websites are effective, and we gather nuggets related to the way we gain the confidence of others and carve out our own brands.
Our AIIP conference illustrates a characteristic I see commonly among information professionals: We do not stop learning, no matter how experienced we are. Whether we have thirty-plus years of professional knowledge or are just out of graduate school, we know the value of growing our skills.
My readers know I never miss an opportunity to encourage active engagement in the relevant professional associations. There are many ways to express that sentiment, but I found the AIIP 2013 rally refreshingly to the point: YOU GOTTA JOIN! Then, the professional community in which you serve will reward you richly when it comes to inspiration about shaping your communication to stakeholders about your value and clarifying your brand.