Four Independent Communicators Re-Discover Their Inner Leader at Leadership Institute 2015

by Sue Stoney


Left to right: Sue Stoney, Molly Walker, Merry Selk, and John Knox. Photograph courtesy of IABC Headquarters.

How does an IABC chapter gain benefit by sponsoring, in the form of a chapter interest group, a regular and ongoing forum of solo practitioners representing a cross-section of business communicators? And how does the relationship benefit independent communicators?

Molly Walker, Merry Selk, John Knox and I were invited to explore these questions in a panel discussion with participants at IABC’s Leadership Institute 2015 (LI). The four of us originally met through the Independent Communicators’ Roundtable (ICR), an interest group of SF IABC that has been active for more than 25 years.

To answer these questions, we first asked ourselves what it is that we value about ICR and what keeps us coming back to meetings on a regular or semi-regular basis. As independents, we have obligations to our clients and to ourselves (i.e., keeping the lights on) that could certainly discourage us from adding one more meeting to our schedules. And yet we do.

Molly and Merry (current co-director and past director of ICR, respectively) share the opinion that ICR’s informal structure allows for the flexibility needed by independents to come into and out of the group as our schedules allow, to contribute to and take wisdom from our diverse ICR membership.

Before heading to LI 2015, we presented our panel to our ICR colleagues and solicited their feedback. Forrest Anderson, who joined us as a panelist for our San Francisco presentation, described ICR’s chief benefit this way: “As an independent, you are isolated…ICR keeps you connected with a whole bunch of co-workers who do what you do…even outside the formal ICR meeting setting.”

In Florida, at LI 2015, moderator John Knox started off the panel by quoting from a January 22, 2015 San Francisco Chronicle article, “Steve King, a partner in Lafayette’s Emergent Research, projects independent workers will be 43 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020. A separate study by the Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk says the country currently has 53 million freelancers, accounting for 34 percent of the workforce.” When we compared notes with attendees of the LI panel, as well as at our presentation in San Francisco, we found that business communicators are and will continue to be well represented among the self-employed.

Panelists and attendees in SF and at LI agreed that networking is crucial to successful business communicators – inside and outside the corporate setting. The crossover between the two worlds means that relationships formed in one will continue to be important in the other, and can be a great source of professional growth and business opportunities.

All four of us who presented at LI 2015 are examples of the importance of the ties between ICR and IABC, having practiced our craft both within companies and as an independents. It could be said that, while not necessarily its primary purpose, ICR serves as a bridge between the two settings, that of the corporate or institutional communicator and that of the independent.

The combination of participation in IABC and ICR allows communicators to grow and maintain their professional network as they move within and between the two settings (which many of us do, in these volatile times). And our SF chapter’s support of an interest group for independents allows IABC and ICR participants to tap into the combined, collective expertise and wisdom of both communities, further enriching our chapter’s professional development and networking opportunities.

The four of us were proud to represent SF IABC and the ICR at the Leadership Institute because we recognize the debt of gratitude we owe this special interest group in helping us to develop and grow our leadership skills in the independent business communicator community and beyond. Stacey King Gordon, SF IABC chapter president, in her March 2015 blog article, reminded us that the “I” in “IABC” connects us to professional business communicators in 80 countries around the world.

At LI 2015, among the 20 or so panel attendees, independents from as far away as Barbados affirmed our belief that contributing to the ongoing development of the communications profession across political borders and business models is a rewarding and worthwhile pursuit.

Sue StoneySue Stoney is a writer, editor and writing coach. For more than 20 years, in the corporate world and as an independent communicator, Sue has helped many people develop content and write the stories that contribute to their business bottom line. Sue is


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