IABC World Conference Tackles the Decision-Making Process

With the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) World Conference under way in San Diego, a major theme is emerging from a number of sessions: Just how do people make decisions to follow an organization, and ultimately to buy a product or service?

Science Debunks Theory

In the opening keynote before more than 1,000 IABC delegates on Sunday, June 12, Jonah Lehrer, contributing editor at Wired, offered intriguing scientific clues pertaining to that theme. Lehrer said that over the centuries, scholars believed that the human decision-making process is simple and is led by our supreme ability to reason—philosopher Plato was one such proponent. “Plato got it wrong,” said Lehrer. “He vastly overestimated the value of human reason.”

Humans are not Mr. Spock of Star Trek—totally unemotional, said Lehrer. Emotions play a huge part in decision making. One key finding from a study on how emotions affect actions: A single compelling narrative that provokes emotions gets people to act more than a general, statistics-loaded story. Which means communicators must tailor their messages to accentuate the emotional side.   

Lehrer concluded that while we can teach people to rethink their decision-making processes, there’s a long way to go to completely uncover the inner workings of the brain. That’s why PR is as much an art as it is a science, he said.

The work of executive trainer Carol Kinsey Gorman covers both the art and the science. During the session “The Silent Language of Leaders,” Gorman said communicators can take key findings from the cognitive neuroscience and social psychology disciplines and apply them to media training of corporate executives—specifically as it pertains to body language.

“We can show exactly how body language impacts a leader’s ability to negotiate, management change, build trust, project charisma and promote collaboration,” said Gorman. That’s important, she said, because research found that employees can evaluate a leader’s credibility, confidence and power in the first seven seconds of meeting them.

Stealing Content a Growing Problem

Sometimes, unfortunately, in our haste to reach an audience and supply them with strong messages, plagiarism comes into play. A Monday morning session generated just as many questions as solutions to the thorny problem of plagiarism. The Internet, said Wilma Mathews, chair of the IABC ethics committee, is a platform ripe for content theft, and the practice will be hard to control, as students now think nothing of cutting and pasting work not their own into their own school reports.

The bottom line, said Mathews: “You need to really pay more attention to the content that your staff is producing, and if you’re not sure of its origin, don’t use it.”

Identify the Right Stakeholders

Wrapping up the Monday morning sessions was the presentation of the IABC’s EXCEL (Excellence in Communications Leadership) Award, which went to the “Koala Lady,” Deborah Tabart, CEO of the Australian Koala Foundation. Communication, said Tabart, is key to her organization’s work in saving the endangered koala bear. Most donations to the cause are made by the global public, and compelling images and effective digital and social media platforms that enable this worldwide embrace, said Tabart.

Even more important in cause communication is to recognize who your main stakeholders are. In the case of the AKF, it’s the koalas themselves. “Anything we do is based on their well-being,” said Tabart. But communicators shouldn’t neglect their own well-being: “All of us should try to blend our vocation with our avocation,” she said.