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Woodstock 1969, Glastonbury 2005, Download 2019. All the best festivals have been hit by torrential rain, but that didn't stop Jimi Hendrix, The White Stripes and James Blunt from getting up on stage and doing their thing – and the prediction of heavy showers here in... *checks notes* ...Papplewick in Nottinghamshire isn't going to stop the brightest minds in internal communication from imparting their wisdom.

At least there are no signs of a tornado (Isle Of Wight Festival 2019).

So here we are for IoIC's first ever festival in the glorious setting of events venue Goosedale – surrounded by trees and fields of green for as far as the eye can see. Ahhhh, breathe in that fresh air, everyone.

The stages are set: zones and themed spaces across the site invite attendees to hear keynote speeches and case studies, take part in practical workshops and chat to peers, the IoIC crew and sponsors over a cuppa.

The IoIC Festival line-up looks fantastic, there's giant Jenga and Connect 4, and enough tea and coffee to lift the energy of those who got up at the crack of dawn to get here. And you don't even need a sleeping bag or your own toilet roll. This is set to be a festival like no other.

Update: You can also follow the highlights on social media udner the hashtag #IoICFestival21, and check out Day 2's live-blog.

Today's sessions end with Elizabeth Marsh leading a three-minute digital pause. Everyone in the Inspiration zone closes their eyes and is silent for three minutes and focuses on their thoughts, their body and their breathing. All is peaceful – actually, it makes you realise we've hardly heard a phone ring or beep all day.

And so day 1 ends. Just the business of wine, dinner and networking to go...


If we were to come away doing one thing differently, Elizabeth Marsh asks that we just reflect – "and I don’t mean beat ourselves up" – about our digital practices.

She recalls a story by Biddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who told:

A rider on a horse is careering to a crossroads.

At the crossroads,  a man says, "Where are you going?"

The rider says “I don’t know! Ask the horse.”

The horse is technology.


Asked whether there should be guidelines for use of email vs Teams, Elizabeth Marsh says: "Definitely have guidance. Get people to think about the kind of message they are trying to convey and where the best place is for that message. It comes back to embedding skills and etiquette – and that starts with leaders."



Elizabeth Marsh summarises her tips for digital wellbeing. These include:

  • Set availability expectations
  • Take a break
  • Take time to reset/turn off/tone down the notifications that automatically come with devices
  • Be kind and know you're not alone. "Compassion in the workplace has results. Don't criticise yourself over your digital habits. Find a balance and share it with others."


How do we improve digital wellbeing?

  • The climate of the organisation makes a huge difference – is it a competitive climate or family friendly?
  • Look at policies. What is written down around appropriate and balanced use of technology?
  • And look at what is written down vs what managers and leaders actually do. When are leaders sending messages?
  • Support and training, literacy and competency.. Improving digital skills and mindset helps. Learn through play. Are you giving people the chance to experiment with tools and find new ways to use them?
  • Look at ways to enable autonomy.

Elizabeth Marsh is closing today’s event talking about avoiding technostress. We are faced with too much information, she says.

“Employees are constantly having to switch between applications, and there are too many interruptions – only about half the working day is being spent on actual work episodes. Those interruptions leading to a reduction in worker IQ."

Negative wellbeing impacts:

  • Stress and strain – longer sense of burnout
  • Anxiety of working in a digital environment
  • Issues of satisfaction and commitment to the organisation

“Overload is not an abstract concept. It’s having a bottom line impact.”

What do you see? In Alan Oram's session, he asks the group to share what else this could be apart from pencil sharpenings?

Answers include:
Sweet wrappers
Fireworks and explosions
The “cone of shame” (as worn by dogs!)
Cupcake case
Christmas decoration
Clown’s ruffle
Slices of an apple
An angry character
A bracelet
A tutu skirt
Umbrella What do you see?

Alan Oram from Alive with Ideas is talking about how to keep your creative spark alive. Focus on thinking, not doing, he says.

“Sometimes we worry so much about finding the right output – the right idea – it gets in the way of doing anything. Consider the process.

“Sometimes we get drawn in to the visual stuff – being creative is about giving yourself time and space to think before you do the other stuff.”


“It wasn’t all that innovative. We were just giving it the attention it deserved.” – Katherine Simpkins, on Mercedes-Benz's transforming wellbeing programme.

90% of managers went through mental health training. And approvals were lifted – employees had permission to blog without their stories being vetted.

“It was never about the numbers," says Katherine. "It was about changing sentiment and engaging colleagues in the breadth of topics.”


Around wellbeing, the Mercedes-Benz team used passionate people as influencers. Where the topic wasn't being addressed in meetings or managers were not paying enough attention to wellbeing, these influencers had permission to raise it.


Ian speaks on behalf of us all...

Talking about transforming wellbeing at Mercedes-Benz, Katherine Simpkins and Danielle Herlihy says the campaign needed to be responsible and sustainable – and not just paying lip service to the topic.

“We opened up conversations to see what other organisations were doing,” says Danielle. “What had and hadn’t work elsewhere? What did excellence look like? We also had to compare what we found with being in the middle of a global pandemic and what was right fo the business.

“We had focus groups, and also barged our way into departmental meetings to hear from colleagues about where they need support and help, which was testament to out feedback culture. They were really open and honest with us.”



Lisa Hawksworth asks, How do we define culture?

"People have different understandings of what it is and what we mean by culture. If we're going to change it we have to know what it is and how we define it.

"Culture is the DNA of your organisation: the manifestation of behaviours, processes and symbols that define 'how we do things around here'."

In one of our first sessions after lunch, a cross-company team at Volkswagen Financial Services – from IC, IT, HR and Facilities – share what they’ve been doing over the past 20 months to help employees find their hybrid style.

One of the important comms steps was bringing back out a big red sofa, which had been used previously – in a physical form – to hear colleagues’ views on being part of the VFS family… but was now used virtually to gauge thoughts on working from home.  

Jo Coxhill from internal communication says: “It was a really good play on an employee voice technique we’d used before and as a result we had a really positive uptake with colleagues from right across the business getting involved.”


In her session on how data can drive culture change, Lisa Hawksworth starts by asking why culture is a burning issue in people's organisations:

  • 1. Digital transformation: tech is one part of it and culture is the other
  • 2. Global and diverse organisation: how is that reflected in the culture?

What can we do as IC professionals do to not lose the spontaneous collaboration we had in offices pre-pandemic?

James Brown talks about a case study of a large organisation that rolled out Workplace by Facebook and identified influencers – from the C-suite to junior members of staff – who naturally and organically had influence within and outside their sphere of comms. They gave them autonomy to champion the new channel.

While James stresses that we cannot strive to replace or even replicate the valuable spontaneity we had before, technology has produced a different type of spontaneity.

Simon Steers from Entain and James Brown of WTV join the hybrid discussion, and Simon reflects on the key considerations of how we use technology.

Having just rolled out a new digitla workplace, Simon shares his three learnings:

  • 1. Think of your digital workplace as a product. "Have a product mindset when designing an employee experience product. Design something employees want to use, rather than something you throw into the organisation and expect people to use."
  • 2. Consider the flow of work. "As internal commiuncators, we can be guilty of thinking people will engage with our content just because it's there. We are competing with other transactions in the organisation – learning, HR things, people’s actual jobs. We want to reach people in the flow of work."
  • 3. The term intranet is dead. "We have multiple channels within a digital ecosystem – channels to get into people’s flow of work. Rethink how we are delivering content – make sure its digestible. There’s no one-size-fits-all. Be story-centric and carve up content that is going to work for different people."


Some eye-opening stats from Angelina Haralampieva Madsen:

  • 70% or people want flexible and remote working to continue… but employees and managers have different thoughts on how to do that.
  • 61% of leaders have said they thrived in the new conditions, but only 38% of workers said the same, with more employees than leaders experiencing burnout.

Angelina Haralampieva Madsen from Microsoft EMEA (dialling in via Zoom from Copenhagen) talks about the hybrid paradox trend: people wanting the flexibility to work from anywhere and simultaneously craving in-person connection.

“People have re-examined their relationship with work. As employees have learned to work differently over the past 19 months, they are re-thinking not only when and where they work, but why.

"The only way for us to solve this complex situation is to create spaces that bring people together and embraces flexibility."

Tom Morris from Stonewater is talking about how the housing provider took its benefits package to another level with a scheme that has literally changed people's lives. The myOwnHome scheme launches with an ace Mission Impossible-inspired scheme.


Monique shares a case study from a client where immersive comms was used to tell colleagues about a new strategy – it included various interactive elements, such as videos, Slido polls, breakout rooms.

For another client, Open built a virtual house for a client – working with not only the IC team, but also the L&D and Strategy teams, to create a rich on boarding experience.

Immersive communication also works well for touring employees around a new office or site.

Pretty cool and inspiring stuff!

Why would we engage with employees and colleagues using immersive communication?

“It might be fun, but that lacks strategy and perspective,” says Monique Zytnik. “The reason is to engage with employees on a different level.”

Have you ever played a 3D game? asks Monique Zytnik in her Practical session. The power of games like Minecraft is that you truly immerse yourself.

Immersive communication is about immersing ourselves in an activity in a virtual space. You are in charge.

How can we repicate that in internal comms?

Action research: how do you go about it? Domna Lazidou reflects:

  • Start with a real problem or issue
  • Involve those who want to solve or understand the problem
  • Talk it through and focus
  • Provide basic research training – method selection, interviews, read survey data…
  • Document the process
  • Be realistic
  • Be clear about time and resource commitment
  • Make time to check your (and others’) assumptions

“The constant questioning of your practice and the assumptions behind your practice must be built into your research. That allows you to research things that are taken for granted in your organisation. Challenge the unconscious assumptions you make when you take action.” – Domna Lazidou

Research – action, action – research. It takes a few cycles before you get it right.

Domna Lazidou is talking about action research. What is action research, you cry? It’s about solving problems in context using knowledge from within and outside the organisation.

A key characteristic of this is collaboration. “You have to bring in the room the people who are interested in fixing the problem," advises Domna. "You can’t do it by yourself. It has to be organisational actors.”


So far, no rain in Papplewick...

There are three things that contribute to employee experience, says Mike Sharples:

  • Environment – the day-to-day interaction with buildings, systems, other people
  • Emotional experience – wellbeing, how people are feeling, managers’ relationships with their teams
  • Energy – how much energy do I bring to the table? What motivates me? What gets me out of bed in the morning?

There’s a lot of talk at the festival so far about getting out of bed in the morning... Time for us all to reflect if we, as internal communicators, are really driven in our work? And how do we drive others and impact their productivity?

Mike Sharpes is talking about return on investment on employee experience. That’s what our leaders want to know, right?

Can you calculate ROI on EX in your organisation?

Netx on our stellar setlist, Mike Sharples and Nicholas Wardle begin their presentation on 'grasping the employee experience'.

“Employee experience is every single interaction employees have in an organisation and with stakeholders,” says Nicholas. “We think anyone can lead employee experience and we think EX should have parity with CX (customer experience).”

Nicholas recalls a famous Richard Branson quote: "Clients don’t come first, employees come first. Look after your staff and they’ll look after your clients.”

After a brilliant keynote speech, Priya Lakhaniand heads straight to our film space to tell the team at nrg digital a little more.

Everybody seems to be engaged after Priya’s keynote speech (overheard: “I could have listened to her talk for hours.” The festival has kicked off in style...

What do we want? Inspiration! When do we want it? At the IoIC Festival!

Priya Lakhani sums up:

  • Consider the purpose, the North Star – be clear on what it is. If it’s the same message as it was 18 months, assess if that’s still true. Can you stand behind those values?
  • What’s YOUR purpose? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • You are all leaders, as is everyone in your team.
  • Look at the content and strategy and dissect it in a way that your audience hears and understands you.
  • Life is short. Be one of the 13%. If you don’t love what you do, what are you doing?

There are three types of people in your organisation. When you come up with an idea…

  • A: People who say it’s the right way
  • B: People who say it’s the wrong way
  • C: People who say there’s always a better way.

“Don’t let the class B people in your comms team.” – Priya Lakhani


Priya Lakhani:
"In internal communciation, some people like the warm and fuzzy messages – but, actually, the role in IC is to reflect. What are leaders saying what they want, and what is your culture? What are the values and behaviours in your organisation is going to achieve your North Star? Be true to the culture you are going to represent."

What are the two key traits of good leaders according to Priya?

  • A leader that understands what the North Star is can drive others in the organisation to your goal.
  • Over-communication of the purpose – the North Star.

“Good leaders make sure every person in the organisation feels like they are one of the 13%. Bring people on the journey with you. Internal communicators’ craft is the vehicle that takes people on that journey.”

Priya Lakhani:
“Cometh the hour, cometh the [wo/]man. That’s my favourite phrase.

“Leaders come to the fore in a time of crisis. In your organisations and where you sit as internal communicators, you have an opportunity as you’ve just had a huge crisis and you can spot the leaders in your organisation. Who stepped up? Who did people listen to? Who came up with ideas?”

“Leaders aren’t born they are made. It’s easy to lead thru stability. It’s during times of adversity when we figure out who our leaders are.”

Priya joined Vince Cable’s advisory board in the government.

At one of the board meetings, Priya learned that 1.8 million children in England cannot read, write or do maths well enough to get a job when leaving school.

To find out the fundamental problems, Priya went in to schools – “some of the best and most challenges schools in the country”.

“There were two problems. The one-size-fits-all delivery of education continues to exist. You have teachers up the front. Children get left behind. We don’t have enough resources. Teachers spend 60% of the time marking and planning lessons – and that’s why 80% of teachers want to leave.”

Priya also realised there is not enough sophisticated technology. Going from blackboards to electronic whiteboards was about it…

Priya proposed to the government they build a machine using pattern recognition that combines AI with neuroscience, which would differentiate every child. And the government asked Priya to create an AI company that would explain how the brain learns

Priya reveals that her favourite website is the site that tells us the world’s current population.

“It tells you there are just over 7.8 billion people. Of the 7.8 billion, there are 5 billion of working age. And of those, there are 3 billion that want jobs, and there are 1.3 billion that had jobs pre-Covid, Of those 1.3 billion, 87% are not engaged in what they do each day.
“At the age of 6, I was one of the 13%. I had drive and ambition and knew I would be engaged in what I would do each day. Through school, I was on a mission.”

During holidays, Priya, who lived in “leafy Cheshire”, would go on long holidays to Nairobi in Kenya, from leafy Cheshire.

She realised she wanted to try and change the world for children “who had absolutely nothing”.

“At a young age, I found my north star of what I wanted to do.”

Priya Lakhani OBE gives the opening keynote to talk about culture and leadership. But she starts by telling us about her entrepreneurial start as a kid, selling Chomp bars at the back of the netball court, making 3p profit per Chomp… and then progressing to Curly Wurlys and making 7p per bar.

Chief executive Jennifer Sproul welcomes everyone to the inspiration zone.
“A lot has changed in our worlds over the past few years and the pace of change is showing no signs of slowing down. Through all of this change, effective internal communication is pivotal in helping people feel informed, connected and purposeful – it creates a sense of belonging and helps us to make sense of what is happening around us and identify how our contribution matters.”  


If you thought Day 1 was good, check out Day 2's live blog...


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  • 28th June 2022
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  • 21st June 2022
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