‘Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing’

VMA Group's UK/SA Communicator's Network banner… so said Oscar Wilde … and I’d add it to it that you can’t get solid experience without engagement – and that was the topic I was asked to cover at this morning’s South Africa / UK Communicator’s Breakfast, hosted by Lisa Wannell at the VMA Group HQ in London’s leafy Bedford Square.

Specifically, I shared insights from the recent #IABCafrica14 conference in Cape Town. The attendees at the VMA session were from a range of corporates; agencies; freelancers – and also a senior communicator with experience of the workings of the South African government.

To suit the time of day I was asked to keep my brief talk easy-going and accessible – which I hope you’ll find is what follows, set out in an A-Z format (of sorts).

South Africa is a unique environment, yet good practice knows no borders if you adjust for context – there’s a lot to learn and plenty to get on with!

Here’s what I took away on how to engage on the original continent:

  • Global LinkedIn statsS – is for Social – and it is still growing – for example, 3m people are now on LinkedIn (vs. 17m for the UK) [for context, compare population counts of 52m vs 64m ].
    • Tip: if you’re looking to operate in South Africa, get ahead of the curve and be sure to have a social presence. The LinkedIn Executive Playbook may come in handy if you want to lead from the front.
  • U – is for Underground – who knew De Beers have coal mines too? (To be fair, they have a point: it is all carbon – some of it is just more dense).
    • Tip: more to the point, there are some real good practice gems out there to be picked up – not to mention an opportunity for yours to be recognised: http://gq.iabc.com/

Tortoise on the loose #IABCafrica14

  • A – is for Alignment – something that is easier to arrive at if you use the IABC Global Standard: Ethics, Consistency, Context, Analysis, Strategy, Engage…
  • F – is for Friendly – where else do you get such a warm welcome?!
    • Tip: read why venn anyway? – and then mark your calendar for #IABCafrica15 coming up in Johannesburg in 2015! On the road a lot? Then these two may also be of interest: #Eurocomm (London, April ’15), #IABC15 (San Francisco, June ’15). Last but not least, if you want to attend a future UK/SA Breakfast, reach out to Lisa Wannell.
  • R – is for Recognition – South Africa punches well above its weight in terms of Gold Quills.
    • Tip: who doesn’t want to be introduced as ‘the award winning…’ – so to be fair, the bar is high, but that never puts off the best: gq.iabc.com
  • I – is for International – South Africa really is at the global forefront on thinking about corporate governance, specifically through the ongoing work to implement the recommendations from the King III report.
    • Tip: want to boost your understanding of governance and help lead an organisation at the highest strategic level? Learn how, here.
  • C – is for Connectivity – 3G/4G/WiFi can at times be a challenge in South Africa. It is most definitively not evenly distributed – but then again, neither is it in the UK. It is easy to be misled by the relative bubble that is London.
  • A – is for Action… ask yourself: are you doing what you love?
    • YES: great! Glad to hear it. Now is the perfect time to update your CV. Build your network before you need it. Need help? Work with your recruiter – and get out there and share the good practice you’ve built up (links galore above!).
    • Maybe: that’s entirely normal – build your network before you need it. Get a perspective from a recruiter – and get out there and network. There are a panoply of links above to get you started…
    • I’m starting my own… brilliant – and good luck. This might come in handy.

Either way, be sure to let me know how you get on. If you think somebody else could benefit from the above, please do share it.

Michael Ambjorn is founder of // Align Your Org – and Vice Chair @IABC. You can follow him @michaelambjorn

So why Venn anyway?

Those who start their day with Google will have noticed that today’s Doodle honours man-of-many-talents John Venn.

He would have turned 180 today and whilst he’s long passed into the sketching room in the sky, his eponymous diagram is as popular as ever. In fact, you could undoubtedly map his skills using the diagram named after him: maths, logic and philosphy.

But why Venn anyway?

Isn’t it just a fad, like so many animated GIFs? Au contraire, here’s why the Venn does not look set to do a 180 anytime soon if we are to believe Google Trends.

It simplifies a concept

In a world where words and visuals (including video) are churned out at an unprecedented rate, the eye longs for something simple yet engaging. What could be simpler than two circles joined together with a word? It cuts through the clutter, establishes a context and it can be a great help when preparing messages for information overload environments.

It explains what the relationship between two or more things

Imagine there’s you, and there’s me. We’re two separate sentient beings going about our everyday business, perhaps drawing Venns and whatnot – or perhaps indulging in one too many espressos – or whatever. Within our activities there may very well be some things we have in common and many other things we don’t.

We now have the basic setup for a Venn diagram. Instead of drawing two separate circles we can draw two that overlap – creating an intersect with the shared elements.

The intersect is where it is at

By focusing in on what we’ve got in common, we now have the basis for grounding our conversation – and possibly collaboration – in familiar, safe territory. This will allow us to build bridges to the areas which may not be shared. This could be interests – or it could be expertise – some of which may always remain entirely separate.

However, with a shared element in the middle we have the basis for hopefully establishing a level of trust, a foundation on which shared work can be built.

That’s a Venn in a nutshell in its most human application – but the approach can of course also be used in a multitude of other settings, from humour and ‘extreme Venns‘ all the way through to explaining something with an animated GIF ready for retweeting if you click on the image below.

I challenge you to take an intersect-first approach (whether you draw it in the air or on paper) next time you meet somebody – I reckon it’ll do you wonders.

Be sure to let me know how you get on.

Michael Ambjorn is founder of // Align Your Org – you can follow him @michaelambjorn

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