My 10 Takeaways from Christian Media Australia’s Connect Conference

After attending my second conference in 3 months – and spotting a third one I want to attend in August – I’ve told my husband I’m going to become a professional conference attender.

Since I work in church communications, I’m dedicating this post to all the church communicators out there.  Oh yeah! (read in a deep Barry White voice)

I heard about the Connect 15 Christian Media Australia Conference from reading Steve Fogg’s Blog.  There, he advertised that he’d be doing a Master Class on Church Communications, which totally rang my bell!  I’m all over that stuff, especially since I find it hard to find these kind of gatherings in Australia.

There were some top-line speakers there, from Ed Stetzer to Tim Costello, Darlene Zschech and Devon Franklin (via Skype, but more on that later).

For me, the value in the Conference was in being around like-minded Christian communicators who ‘got me.’  As the only person in a comms role in my office, I often feel like I’m advocating, explaining or trying to win someone over to my side.  I can’t count the number of times I heard people say, during the Conference, how valuable stories are – which is my mantra at work.

So here are my takeaways

1. The Conference Theme Made Me Want to Conquer the World

The  Conference theme, “Daring Greatly,” was a highlight because it was a challenge, nestled in a beautiful quote by Theodore Roosevelt.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt

This theme carried through in the venue decor

IMG_1125

and in the keynote speakers.  In the winning category of delivering a “go get ’em champs” message, hands down, was Devon Franklin.

IMG_1106After getting over my initial disappointment that Devon was not at the Conference in person, but was appearing by Skype, I accepted it and settled into what he had to say.

All in all, I loved the boldness of his faith.  He encouraged attendees with his story, expressing that God is telling each one of us, I have a plan for you, and it may not be about taking the elevator but stair steps. Sometimes, with steps of faith, you can only see what’s in front of you.

He shared that there were some dark moments during his journey, but in those moments, he took risks and exercised faith.  He told one boss, right as he was resigning from a position, “I can’t tell you faith works if I’m afraid to try it.”

During this moment of unemployment, as he was pondering and praying about his next move, God revealed to him, “You’re only concerned about what’s in my hand.  Instead, you need to pray for my hand.”

There came a moment in Devon’s life when he felt compelled to write a book to share his story. Many advised him that it was fine to be a Christian privately, but he didn’t need to be public about it.  However, that’s exactly what Devon felt he was supposed to do, use the experience to make God known.  He said, “God hasn’t blessed me with the experience just for me.”

In the end, he challenged us to “Radically open ourselves to God’s plan. Seize the moment. Create urgency with the things we’re called to do. If God gave you the vision, He’ll give provision for it.”

2. The Presenters Were Top Notch

The day before the Conference, there were two masterclasses, one for communicators and the other for broadcasters.  I attended the communicators stream, which was taught and hosted by Steve Fogg, Communications Pastor. (sidenote, he has a Twitter Chat at #cmschat from 11 – 12 pm AEST on Fridays)

There, he walked through the process of developing a value proposition statement for your brand.

There were several steps, but in the end, he used this formula to develop a value proposition:

I am a _____________________________________

I help______________________________________

Understand _________________________________

So that _____________________________________

The exercise is designed to help organisations, but I framed it for myself as a Communications Professional in my job:

I am a Communications Professional  I help local Adventist Church communication secretaries, pastors, ministry leaders and members understand the compelling power of stories told for Jesus and the influence strategic communications has so they can create Jesus followers in their churches, neighborhoods and ministries.

In the end, Steve told us, your brand isn’t who you say you are, but who your audience says you are in conversations and surveys.  Go through this process to realise who you are….

3. The Location Made Everything Even Better

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Every morning, I was greeted by the sight of a beautiful sunrise, from the time it started peeking its way over the horizon until it was full and blazing in the middle of the sky.

Photo Cred: http://www.qtgoldcoast.com.au
Photo Cred: http://www.qtgoldcoast.com.au

The QT Hotel, where the Conference was held and attendees stayed, is such a fun hotel with style and character.  They made sure there’d be no complaint about the food, because everyday I went, it was comfort food – luscious mac ‘n’ cheese, sliders, fish and chips.  Who’s gonna complain about that (except those trying to stay healthy! ME <<<<<<)  All around, the location was a huge plus!

4. If You Were Keen to Improve Your Social Media, This Was The Place to Do It!

There was a heavy focus on social media — at least that’s the way it felt to me.  If you wanted to improve your organisation’s social media Connect15 was the place to be. If Social isn’t very important to you, you would have found other stuff to do and enjoy, but social was well represented. Steve Fogg gave some tips that helped his church grow it’s Social Media fan base.  They included:

  1. Selectively invite your friends to like your page
  2. Treat Social Media like a big crowd/a dinner party
  3. Import Contacts into Facebook to like your page
  4. Promote to that list.  Use adverts manager to target that list
  5. Give them a valid excuse to visit your page
  6. Use legitimate tactics to get people to visit your page, like the Ice Bucket Challenge
  7. Send an e-mail out after you post a video on Facebook
  8. Send an e-mail and drive people to your Facebook page
  9. Tag people in photos and ask people to help you tag people in the page
  10. Realise the order of how FB calculates reach: Like, Comment, Share (share is most important)
  11. Engage don’t broadcast
  12. Become human.  Respond.  People will become your advocates. People just shout.  They just broadcast.  Imagine Social as a party.  You wouldn’t do that at a party otherwise you’d be really unpopular, really quickly.
  13. His church has a photo booth at church to supercharge their social media
  14. Use the photobooth, tag people, get photo permissions, give them a card to tell them where to find it
  15. Install your App on Facebook (if you have an app), as it will increases engagement
  16. Create an ad and target it to a specific suburb – video message, etc

Tools for scheduling Social Media

  1. Don’t use outside schedulers for Facebook.  You’ll get less reach.
  2. TweetDeck, Hootsuite, Social Bro (which tells you the best time to tweet), Buffer

5. It Was the Perfect Incubator to Test Out a New Idea

It can be scary to have a new idea.  What if people don’t like it?  What if it doesn’t work.  For those who were toying with a new idea (and I met a few people who fall into this category) Connect15 was a great incubator.  With leading minds in the industry, it was a great place to pull someone aside and kick some ideas around.  I found if people didn’t know the answer, they’d grab someone who they thought might know.  I met a few people this way.  One presentation that stood out for me as being helpful in this area was Mark Zschech’s.

Mark Zschech

Mark and his wife Darlene are the senior pastors at Hope Unlimited Church.  Mark said, since he’s often referred to as Darlene’s husband, he was happy to be known as “Mark” in that session.  Previously Darlene was the worship pastor at Hillsong and is a well known singer and worship leader.

Mark’s presentation focused on “Expanding Your Reach through Media.”  I thought this presentation was so important because it scratched where people may not realize they itch. So often, we see people pouring money into product development (think new church programs, new major video production, Bible study, etc) but not thinking about the distribution.  How are we going to get Product X, which is our labor of love, into the hands of the people?  Mark said, “Everyone puts money into web and a little into distribution and marketing.”

He gave us 4 things to evaluate

    • Test your content: After this session, I was wondering to myself, how do you test the content.  I heard from Steve Fogg’s session we should use surveys and listen to what people are saying about us.  Mark said they get together a group of trusted individuals and let them review material.  I guess you could also do a focus group. I’m currently reading a book called $100 Start Up.  There’s a section in there on this topic.  The point is, if you’re developing a new idea, website, Bible Study, event or whatever it is, make sure to test it first.
    • Distribution – The next point he made was to consider how you’re going to distribute whatever it is that you’ve done.  Put thought, time, effort and resources into this, as much as you did into developing the idea.  There are many channels.  He works with TV, so in terms of media production there are channels, social media, partnerships, own website, and many other options.  Look for opportunities to do joint ventures with others.
    • Marketing – How will people know about what you’ve done unless you market it.  This should also be a major component in the plan.
    • Response – Look for responses.  Put a mechanism for people to respond into the program or materials.  Look at the feedback loop to see what people are interested in and allow yourself to be responsive to the feedback you receive.
      • What will we do with the response?
      • How will we handle responses?
      • Response should be measured to cultivate engagement
      • Everyone usually leaves it to the last moment, but it’s the critical part
      • Response allows for improvement

As a separate point, he encouraged attendees to be open to re-editing, changing the name, reaching different audiences, revisting old content and re-cutting.

6. It Was a Great Way to Stay on Trend and Keep Up-to-Date

Anytime you get a group of people, from the same industry in a room, it’s a good time to stay on trend (or get on trend if you’ve gotten off track).  The Conference was a good place to stay in the know about what’s happening.  One person who helped with that was

Josh Olsen, the Marketing & Operations Manager at Hillsong Music.  He provided insights on how churches can use Youtube effectively.  He shared with the vantage point of Hillsong Music, which is far above what most in the room are doing, but it was still useful.  Here are the highlights:

    • You have 8 secs at the beginning of your video for people to decide if they’ll keep watching or not.  Shorter attention spans than goldfish it seems!
    • On your Youtube video page, have an intro or welcome video and a subscribe video
    • You can set it up that once the person has subscribed, they won’t see the intro video again.
    • Like the other social media platforms, Youtube has ranking scores
    • It’s a good idea to use Youtube to get people back to your website
    • Use one video shoot to do multiple videos.
      • An example of their schedule
        • Sunday – release vid
        • Monday – blooper reel
        • Friday – interview
        • Later, rehash same video

7. It’s Not What You Know But Who You Know

Like any good Conference, the real takeaway is the people you meet.  The same was true here. I was encouraged to meet many other people in my field.  Some gave me good ideas and feedback.  Others were fishing for new business.  Many were there to meet up with well-known authors or speakers.  The keynote speaker was Ed Stetzer,

Ed Stetzer

According to his site, “Ed Stetzer is the Executive Director of LifeWay Research, a prolific author, and well-known conference and seminar leader. Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.

Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Executive Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 400,000 individuals each week. Stetzer is also Executive Editor of Facts & Trends Magazine, a Christian leadership magazine with a circulation of more than 70,000 readers.

Stetzer serves as Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has taught at many other colleges and seminaries.

He also serves as Lead Pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., a congregation he planted in 2011.”

Just to say a few things about my observations of him.  He’s super quick on his feet, lots of little gems hidden in the meat of his message if you lean in, pay attention and listen for them.  So I enjoyed that.  There was absolutely nothing dry about what he presented, even though he was loaded with stats about the church in Australia and America.

Speaking of America, as an American who has travelled a bit, I’ve heard various American speakers address non-American audiences.  I have this interesting vantage point, because after living with a group of people, you learn how to begin to hear things as they would hear them.  The presentation of some American speakers is almost jarring to the ears of non-Americans.  It can sometimes be dissonate and misaligned with the people’s experiences, other times heavily America-centric and narrow-minded.  All of those things I thought Ed wasn’t.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear how in-tune he was with the culture – their love of sarcasm, the fact that Netflix just came to Australia and his sensitivity of Australians thinking Americans might be tempted to just tell them how we do it and therefore how they should do it.  I tip my hat to his ability to adapt, just from the perspective as a public speaker.  Obviously very experienced and very adept at connecting with his audience.

As Christians, he encouraged us to address social issues and when under scrutiny, be:

  • Winsome
  • Cautious
  • Honest
  • Embracing

Bcasue you can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time

He said powerfully punchy things like,

  • “The church doesn’t have a mission.  God’s mission has a church and  mission is rooted in God Himself.”
  • “You can’t love Jesus and hate his bride”
  • In the world of communications – “There are cultural engagers, defenders and creaters”
  • “Have to show people what a world influenced by Jesus would look like”
  • “Is it making any difference.  If not, do something else.”
  • “Audience matters.  Tone of voice matters.”
  • On Crisis Communications – “Tell it, tell it early, tell it yourself”

I went up to Ed after one of the presentations to ask him to clarify a point.  As you’re reading now, you may be saying, “Oh, you’re one of those?  After the session go up and ask a question and meet the well-known speaker…”  But I’m really not!  I need to do more of that.  Ed was funny, smart and gave a very thoughtful response.  I really appreciated that.  The best interaction I had with him during the Conference though was on Twitter.

To give a bit of context.  During our initial conversation, I told him I was Seventh-day Adventist.  He was very familiar with Adventism and towards the end of the conversation he said he was praying for Adventists as he feels we’re in the midst of clarifying our identity.  I smiled politely and said thanks.  Later in the day, DeVon Franklin Skyped in and shared his testimony of being a Seventh-day Adventist producer in Hollywood.  During the story, he shared how he keeps the Sabbath and makes it a special day.  I tweeted what you’ll see below, “@DeVonFranklin sharing his story about religious spiritual commitment to the Sabbath”

Ed Stetzer responded and said jokingly, “You guys are taking over” and I responded “You must be praying, huh?  You said you’d pray.”  He then commented “ha!”  Classic exchange! I loved it!

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 5.19.14 pm8. Christian Communications Shouldn’t Be Sneezed at

If you’re part of the world of Christian communications, you know that there are sites with names like Church Marketing Sucks. From the smart people I met there, I question that line of thinking.  In fact, we even had someone there named Simon Smart…I won’t go for that easy joke.  I distinctly remember getting in the elevator with a few guys.  As the elevator was going to their floor, one of them said, “I really liked that one guy.  He was really tuned in.  What was his name?”  The other guy hesitated.  “Simon something…”  “Smart.”  I said in my mind.  “Simon Smart.”  They were thoroughly impressed.   Equally impressive were people like Richenda Vermuleun of ntegrity Digital and many others who I’m inadvertently forgeting.

9. All the Commercial Breaks Had Meaning

The first commercial break took me a bit by surprise.  I wasn’t expecting commercial breaks.

It was after one of the sessions in the MasterClass.  The plug was for Christian Blind Mission so I thought we were just hearing from various non-profit orgs.  I soon found out they were one of the major sponsors.  I saw their work, along with all of the other sponsors and was really impressed with the work. It was eye-opening to learn that much of the world’s blindness is preventable. It was the first time, I could truly say all of the commercial breaks had meaning.

Photo Cred: http://bit.ly/1OL11I7
Photo Cred: http://bit.ly/1OL11I7

The sponsors were on hand for interviews as well, if some of the Christian broadcasters wanted to have them on their radio shows.  It was a great opportunity to connect.  The group whose work made the biggest impact on me was Open Doors.  Knowing there is a group caring for the persecuted church gave me a sense of connectivity with other Christians around the world.

10. That Catholic Guy

Not sure if you’ve forgotten someone’s name and then just referenced them as “That (fill-in-the-blank) Guy.”  There was a guy there named Bruce Downs, who people know as That Catholic Guy. A summary of some of the stuff he said that stuck with me is, “What is the specific thing God has asked you to do?  Everything else is detail.  Unless you know the specific thing God has given you, you then won’t know the specific thing God has asked you to do.  You’ll die for the specific but you won’t give your life for the detail.”

I really wanted to go to this Conference!  I was really looking forward to it because I wanted to be with like-minded people.  Looking back, there were people I really wanted to catch up with who I missed, but I’m glad I was able to be at the heart of Christian Communications in Australia.

Were you there?  Was there something really memorable for you?  Are you in the Christian Communications space?  Is there some great takeaway you’d like to share with other Christian communicators?  Leave a comment!

Tchau, til next time!

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