The eight things I learned at the IoIC Festival

A week ago, my colleagues and I were frantically planning how I was going to get to the Institute of Internal Communication’s first Festival. The event took place near Nottingham, and perhaps my first piece of learning was that this is not an easy place to get to on public transport from West Cumbria.

After five trains, a couple of Ubers and a banging Indian meal, I arrived at the hotel ready for two days of learning.

This blog summarises some of the things that I and my colleagues learned.

In the room

What’s the collective noun for a group of internal communicators?

I’ve attended lots of communications events and I always enjoy them. This was my first IoIC event. It felt like a breath of fresh air.

At other events it can feel like internal communication is a bolt on – the thing you do if you have time after everything else.

All the internal communicators in the room at Nottingham would tell you just how bad an idea that is – after all, employees are a group of people communicating about your business, day-in, day-out. A group who could be your biggest advocates.

From soaking up suggestions like a sponge, to sharing a coffee with someone who is also trying to engage people, spending time with IC colleagues is a tonic.

Flexible/hybrid/agile is the challenge facing internal communicators

“The next big disrupter”

It will be no surprise to hear that implementing hybrid working and the communications challenges that brings was the big challenge facing internal communicators right now.

We heard from Volkswagen Group Financial Services about how they’ve successfully implemented hybrid, and lots of others in the margins about the challenges they’re facing.

The biggest takeaways? Flexibility, securing buy-in and thinking big but starting small.

Over-communication isn’t a thing

Priya Lakhani gave a passionate keynote speech covering her career, the importance of engagement and being one of the 13%.

It was clear that she saw Covid-19 as both a challenge and an opportunity, and that during this time the best leaders were self-selecting – the people who came forward and reached out to their employees during the pandemic.

These are the people who recognised the importance of communications and took it upon themselves to deliver this. They recognised that there is rarely such a thing as over-communication, especially in a crisis.

Regular blogs and video updates about your ‘north star’ make the difference and help cement the culture of your organisation (more on that later).

The importance of line managers

Anyone who works in internal communication knows the importance of line managers to successful communications, and this was writ large in the Festival.

Want to get buy-in to a change programme? You need line manager support.

Want to reach digitally disconnected workers? It’ll be line managers who can help you.

Want to better understand your audience? Ask line managers about their teams.

But with all of the above, remember that line managers are the layer of the organisation that works flows both up and down to. Some call it the treacle layer, but that’s a disservice to a valuable asset.

Line managers have a limited amount of time and capacity, so do your best to make their lives easier.


I could write reams on culture. However, that would only add to the reams and reams that already exist, and which are likely to be far more eloquent.

I’ll keep it short and simple.

Culture is everything. If you don’t have the culture you want, you won’t get the organisation you want.

Ignore this at your peril, and don’t underestimate the size of the task that changing culture is. But believe me, and all of those who spoke at the Festival, when we say it is the key to success.

Want one tip for how to help achieve this? Find your organisation’s influencers and get to know them and their struggles. Support them. Enable them. Empower them.  

We’re doing alright

Not only was it reassuring to see we’re facing the same challenges as other organisations, it was great to hear we’re on the same page in trying to solve them.

We’d done almost everything that Volkswagen talked about to encourage hybrid working, we’ve identified and engaged with ambassadors across our business, we’ve used business and communication change principles to inform or work, and we’re doing similar work to others on diversity and inclusion – trying to focus on the things that make a difference, shift the needle and avoid tokenism.

It was great to share some of our experience with others.

The main room or zone at the 2021 IoIC Festival

Getting away from it

We all know this, but it deserves to be said – taking some time out of your diary for some learning and development is important.

For that learning and development to be in person is invaluable.

Getting away from the office with some colleagues is fab. But we don’t do it enough.

Call it networking if you like but having a pint and breaking bread with someone you don’t see very often will make your working life better. You understand that person, and their pressures, stresses, interests and drivers so much more by spending time with them.

And finally…

My colleague Chris and I hosted one of the workshop sessions at the Festival, talking about how we moved wellbeing online during the pandemic.

This pushed me outside my comfort zone, and I’m glad it did. I thoroughly enjoyed talking about a topic I am passionate about and loved having the opportunity to answer questions from the engaged audience.

If you want to know more about this, please give me a shout.

If you’re toying with something you’ve not done before, my advice would be to give it a go.

Published by Ian Curwen

Communications professional and a bit of a foodie that wants to travel more. Sharing my observations on life.

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