“We have to make an effort in the United States,” a trembling Robert F. Kennedy told a grief-stricken crowd after the assassination of Martin Luther King. “We have to make an effort to understand.”
A half-century later, how are we doing in that effort?
We’ve had so many “national conversations about race,” we are blue in the face. Online discussions instantly devolve into attempted rhetorical murder. People dread conversations with once-dear friends and family, and walk away shaking their heads.
As the nation staggers through one of the most contentious and confusing political moments in its history and tries to cope with a pandemic and great social upheaval, it’s time for a serious conversation about our ability as professional communicators and as private citizens to salve wounds and solve problems—in politics, at work and at home.
This is a series of talks by and conversations with people who have given their lives to communication, about how we all can make less war—and make more peace—with the words we say, and the way we say them.
“Let us not be blind to our differences,” speechwriter Ted Sorensen wrote for another Kennedy, JFK, “but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”
Let us begin today, by Communicating to Understand.
(all times are Eastern Standard Time)
Opening remarks by David Murray, author the book that launched this conference, An Effort to Understand—a free copy of which the first 200 participants will receive with their paid registration.
Rhetoric, for Good: The Language of Leadership
Rhetoric gets a bad rap—especially lately, it’s been blamed for heightening tensions, inciting unrest and creating conflict. But rhetoric on its own is not intrinsically evil. It is morally neutral, like a pen. Yes, you can use a pen to write Mein Kampf, but you can also use it to write a letter of love. In this inspiring lecture, British speechwriter and leadership communication teacher Simon Lancaster reminds us of the amazing power of rhetoric as a force for good, bringing people together, creating a sense of sharpened purpose and common identity, making great things possible—as well as sharing some cautionary tales about how communicators can keep their integrity intact and avoid getting dragged to rhetoric’s dark side.
Not Your Father’s “Kids These Days”: A Sensitive College Communicator’s Perspective on Talking with Young People Now
We who have long dreamed of a more connected world struggle to understand a society carved into ever-smaller and more thoroughly-policed camps: ideological, economic, racial, and so on. College students seem to be at the leading edge of this trend toward social Balkanization. But are they really the woke proponents of cancel culture their elders make them out to be? If we look past the dismissals of “kids these days,” what’s really happening on campus? Might there be more hope for dialogue across difference than we believe? Jim Reische has spent his career encouraging better communications and understanding at schools across America. He’ll share his experiences and host an open discussion as we look toward the future by better understanding the kids of today.
What in the World Can Business Do About It?
Veteran corporate speechwriter and speaker Janet Stovall thinks business has a better chance than any other social sector to “dismantle racism”—and she said so in a now-famous TED Talk. Meanwhile, Bob Feldman thinks business can “improve civil discourse and reduce polarization,” and he conducted a global study that proved it and built a high-powered organization that supports it, The Dialogue Project. Stovall isn’t so sure “civil discourse” is what’s called for at the moment, but she wants to talk to Feldman. And Feldman, among nearly two million admiring viewers of her TED Talk, wants to talk to her. Join them in a serious conversation about what business can do (and what it can stop doing) to improve conditions in the society they operate in.
Through a Different Lens: Examining Conservative Perspectives Within the Communications Community
“It wasn’t a space where I felt I could be candid,” said a conservative participant at a speechwriting conference recently. “I truly felt like unless I was nodding my head in agreement I would be labeled.” No one who believes in dialogue wants any well-meaning communicator to feel like that. It’s not only right to make “an effort to understand” the thinking of those with whom we might disagree, it’s also key to simply being effective writers and communicators. In this session we give voice to a panel of communicators who have worked for well-known conservative political leaders and then spent several years working outside the political arena as well. Arboreal Communications founder Brian Forest, formerly chief speechwriter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, leads a panel that includes former speechwriters for Romney-Ryan Lindsay Hayes (head of Redpath Writing), President George W. Bush Noam Nuesner (principal at 30 Point Communications), and several Bush Administration cabinet officials Jean Card (principal at Jean Card Ink and co-host of the Bipodisan podcast).
A Saner Way to Climb: One Black Woman’s Journey to the Top of the Communication World
Over three decades, Charlene Wheeless rose steadily through the ranks of corporate communication. In almost every job, she was the first Black woman to (fill in the blank)—including in her current role, as chairman of the Page Society. When Wheeless became chief communications officer of a global infrastructure company several years ago, she thought she had reached the mountaintop. Then, breast cancer—a long, vicious battle turned her world upside down. Returning to work, she found herself bewildered by the absurd amount of work she used to do, and enraged by all the years she’d spent “turning myself inside out” to conform to corporate life. She wondered, “What did I give up for this level of success?” And she started over, as she says in her new memoir You Are Enough! “Reclaiming your career and your life with purpose, passion, and unapologetic authenticity.” In her first major speech about her journey, Wheeless will share what she learned—in vivid detail and with concrete advice, for everyone managing a career now, and a life.
What Have We Learned Here? What Will We Do? A Q&A with David Murray.
David Murray drew on his life in communication to write his book, An Effort to Understand. “Every time I’m with communicators, we all shake our heads and pound the drinking table about the stupidity of politicians, the blindness of CEOs, the incuriousness and insensitivity and stubbornness of everyday citizens,” Murray says. “All these conversations have one overarching them: ‘If only these people understand what we understand … we’d all understand each other better and the world would be a much more cohesive and livable place.’ But is that really true?” After a day of conversation about communication—this is your chance to ask yourself, and ask David about what better communication can achieve, what it can’t, and how to know the difference.
Founded in 2014, Disruption Books is an independent publisher focused on nonfiction thought leadership. We publish innovative nonfiction that will start conversations, shift perspectives, and influence outcomes. Our books present big ideas from leaders in diverse fields such as politics, philanthropy, business, and activism. We seek authors who are looking to shake things up.
Kurth Lampe Worldwide is a strategic communications firm. For more than two decades we have provided public relations and communications strategies for individuals, groups, and corporations in the US and around the world. Chicago know-how with an international reach.
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First 200 registrants receive a free copy of David Murray’s forthcoming book, An Effort to Understand. Books will be shipped in March 2021.
$395 for corporate professionals
$295 for communication professionals at nonprofits, universities, government entities and PR agencies
$95 for individuals
Phone registrations please call 312-585-6383.
Credentials to access the event will be sent the week of March 22.
Sorry, no refunds will be issued on Communicating to Understand registrations. In the event of cancellation, your payment will be credited toward a future Pro Rhetoric product or program.
$95.00 – $395.00