Yesterday I led a workshop at the Ethics and Compliance Officer Association’s (ECOA’s) Annual Ethics and Compliance Conference (AECC) outside of Chicago.  The title of the workshop was “Beyond E-mail:  Compliance and Ethics (C&E) Communications for a Global, Distributed Audience (or How Do I Communicate with People Who Don’t Have Access to Computers or Who Don’t Speak English as Their Primary Language).  It’s a long title, I know, but it completely captures a topic that we struggle with in C&E.  We’re very comfortable with the effectiveness of our communications at headquarters, but our discomfort grows in direct proportion with the distance our messages have to travel from our offices.

In the days leading up to the workshop, I grew more nervous.  The proposal I submitted was for a one-hour session; the ECOA asked me if I’d be willing to do a workshop instead.  I never say no to requests like that, and I put together some exercises and worksheets so that attendees could get over the initial hump of inertia.  There’s always a risk with workshops, though, that the exercises aren’t quite right or that participants will just not participate (this often happens when the weather outside is sunny and beautiful).  My workshop was also in the afternoon, slotted from 1-4pm, primetime for post-prandial somnolence (i.e., food coma).

It was a rousing session.  My participants weren’t as interested in getting work done as much as they were hungry to hear new ideas from each other.  I showed them a few things that I’ve done for clients, and luckily, it was enough seeding for all of them to share tactics that had been successful (or not) for them and to offer each other advice.  It would have been easier to march everyone through the exercises I planned, but it was exhilarating to facilitate the conversations and surface the teaching and insight everyone had to share in the room.

A friend and I were talking about the reasons so many conferences are held in Las Vegas, because neither one of us is a fan of Las Vegas, but she’s going to have to spend three weeks there over the next two months.  I explained that conferences tend to be boondoggles, where people attend a few sessions but mostly play golf, get massages, or gamble; conference organizers know that they’re more likely to get people to register and “attend” the conference if they hold the conferences in Las Vegas.

My workshop yesterday reminded me of how much you can get out of a conference if you use it the right way.  In C&E, we’re apt to miss the forest for the trees.  We get buried so deep in the complex issues that we deal with on a daily basis that we forget that we’re not alone in dealing with those issues.  I can’t say for sure how much value participants in my session got, but I saw a lot of people excitedly taking notes, nobody fell asleep, and people looked like they were leaving energized.  It’s a good reminder that we’re all in this together, and almost everyone is willing to lend a helping hand if we ask for it.


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