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From passive to purposeful: Getting the most out of your IABC membership

12 Jan 2016

Here in Canberra, we have a huge number of skilled, passionate, communication professionals with energy and desire to enhance their skills and networks.


Here in Canberra, many of us are part of a culture that devolves responsibility for career development to our employers. I’ve worked with a number of federal government organisations during the last year, and each time I’ve suggested a colleague attend an event, the response has been “I’ll see what the boss thinks,” or “I’ll see if there’s funds available.”

Sorry guys. You’re amazing, and I love working with you, but that’s the wrong answer!

While it’s true that we do need the partnership of our employer in growing our career, depending completely on this patronage makes for a pattern of passive membership. A passive member tends to:

  • renew membership or attend events only if their employer is paying
  • see events as a nice lunch out of the office
  • not attend professional development events outside of work hours.

By treating professional development as if it is linked to our job rather than ourselves, passive members tend not to experience all the benefits of professional association membership – and thus the returns on investment – that purposeful members do.

So how do you grow from a passive to purposeful IABC Canberra Chapter member?

  • Join or renew your membership, even if your boss isn’t interested in paying for it. Remember: professionalism is your decision, not theirs.
  • Take advantage of member-only activities.
    • In Canberra, we’ll be holding monthly Chat ‘em House informal discussion groups from January 2016. These are a free-wheeling, unstructured, after-work chat over coffee or wine, where you can bring your communication challenges, opportunities and opinions to benefit from workshopping with your communication/public relations/marketing peers in a safe, supportive environment.
    • The Canberra Chapter also runs a mentoring program open only to members. This is an opportunity to learn from an experienced communicator, and to support those new to the profession.
  • Make the most of events:
    • Arrive early. This is where you get to meet active volunteers and members of the board, as well as other members and professional communicators.
    • Sit at a table with one spare seat left rather than with people you already know. Find out where they work – do they run their own business? What drew them to the event today?
    • Collect business cards, connect on LinkedIn, or arrange to connect in person. How could you help them?
    • Listen, take notes, tweet, and ask questions of the speakers.
  • Exploit the global network. IABC is an international organisation with thousands of members in more than one hundred countries.
    • If you need help, there’s probably a member with the equivalent of your role somewhere else in the world who would be more than happy to take a call and chat with a fellow member.
    • Connect with local chapters when you’re travelling. If you’re in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane for work, get in touch with one of their always-welcoming local chapter leaders. If you’re overseas, connect with chapters there too. See if they have an event or other opportunity to meet while you’re in town.
  • Pay for yourself to attend regional and international events and then claim it on tax. Again, this is about your personal commitment, and a trip to the US can be an especially hard sell to your boss. But not only is it an opportunity to learn from business leaders and experts at the leading edge of communication, it’s an opportunity to build your network on a global scale. Even if you’re not ‘looking for work’, imagine the problem-solving power of your network’s collective intelligence if you hit a PR snag and need to draw on them for advice.
  • Get involved in volunteering and seek involvement with your local chapter board. You will make some solid professional and personal relationships, build new skills, meet people, and have a direct say in how your organisation supports communicators in your region. (Plus it looks good on your resume.)

Joining a professional association is more than just discounted entry to seminars and conferences: It’s an opportunity to take control of your career. That is, YOUR career. Not the career that exclusively suits your employer, but the career that suits you.

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