It’s a cautionary tale for any volunteer-run, non-profit organization. The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a respected association of professional communicators that has been around since 1970.

Which is why I was shocked to learn that an upcoming professional development conference in Banff on October 27th featured Vivian Krause as the opening day keynote speaker. As an association representing me, it seemed inappropriate to have political opinions (especially only one side of the story) presented at a professional development conference. I contacted the organization to make a complaint.

The first two responses were that the speaker would be allowed to stand. The last reason was because there was not enough time to conduct a full investigation. It wasn’t clear if they could even hold a non-member to the ethics standards at all.

But, the Ethics Chair seemed very reasonable person and agreed to a phone call with me last weekend. He decided they needed to go back to the speaker again for more information.

Then, I received an email yesterday letting me know that there was a contractual issue and the speaker would not be on the program for the conference.

I checked the IABC website and sure enough, Vivian Krause is no longer a keynote speaker.

The background

The international office does not get actually get involved in the selection of speakers. Local organizers follow a strict set of guidelines designed by the organization and make the selection. Something went wrong at this stage.

Speakers at IABC conferences are supposed to present “best practices or ideas” and given the number of people who have pointed out flaws in her research and conclusions, I’m not convinced she met the criteria in the first place.

On the issue of the presentation being political, there seems to also have been a belief that Ms. Krause’s presentation to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce this past July could be modified and made non-political.

My argument was that this would be highly unlikely. The chances were good the association may be getting a presentation it didn’t approve of or anticipate. Or perhaps a video? Who really knows what would have been presented.

A word about the association

IABC is an association that I’ve belonged to since 1987. I’ve respected the organization due to its strong emphasis on continuous learning and professional development. It also runs accreditation programs and has a strong code of ethics members are expected to uphold.

During the whole “alternative facts” debacle with the Trump administration in the United States, the IABC took a stand against this ridiculous notion.

As a result of this incident with Ms. Krause, they are reviewing their processes and I’m certain they will make some changes.

A word about free speech

This is a red herring argument. I’m not advocating that Ms. Krause be silenced. She is free to speak publicly. This is a private event, paid for by the dues of members. I am a member of the association. And will remain a member now that I know IABC has shown a willingness to address this speaker and the processes that may need to be tightened up.

The conference is intended for professional development, not political opinions. This speaker and presentation did not meet the criteria.

Caution is needed

Volunteer-run organizations need to take note of this incident. Trust is at an all-time low in society right now and your organization’s credibility is a valuable resource to be exploited.

Conspiracy theorists, lobbyists and others will try to leverage your reputation in order to boost theirs. Do your homework and have guidelines in place to protect your space, your events and your reputation. It’s unfortunate that we have to do this, but that is the reality of our times.

Miss Cranky Pants (aka Jody MacPherson) is a professional communicator, social media fan, politico, cyclist, divorcee (is it any wonder?) and coffee addict who gets a little testy without regular caffeine. 

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