Every day's a school day, even when you're a dab hand

Statistics regarding victims of sexual assault over 50 years of age have historically not been collected. This is just one of the many compelling learnings I took from one of the most impactful events I've been to in my communications career, and as someone whose working life has been built on continuous professional development, I've been to a few.

Social Media Exchange 2020, or #SMEX20, took place in Newcastle last week and I was privileged to be part of the team helping out behind the scenes. The event, curated by sounddelivery took place outside London for the very first time and featured a varied line up of speakers and a great choice of workshops and masterclasses to support people and organisations in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) to harness the power of digital storytelling.

Greater than the sum of its parts

More than 200 delegates from all over the region, and some from further afield helped to make this interactive day such a vibrant one. As if the welcome from founder and facilitator Jude Habib wasn't enough, a further 'warm-up' was provided by Steve Arnott and Dave Okwesia from the Hull Beats Bus, who got everyone on their feet for some vocalisation exercises grounded in hip hop culture. 

Ice well and truly broken, I found myself in my first masterclass of the day, on Campaigning for Change, with Katie McSherry from Activate Collective and Jen Laws from Asylum Matters, who started by reminding us why telling stories through campaigning, particularly in the VCSE sector is so important, with society structured in a way that marginalises disadvantaged people, giving them less of a voice.

Within minutes we'd heard from everyone in the room, not only about powerful campaigns that have inspired and stuck with them, but about the incredible range of experience gained from being involved in such change-making work, and the lasting impact for individuals as well as for wider society. You'll be pleased to hear that over 50s who've been sexually assaulted are among the groups whose voices will now be heard more loudly due to a new campaign by Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland to change the way statistics are recorded.

For me, the session was both humbling and invigorating, giving me an idea for a campaign to raise awareness and make people think differently in an area I care about. Not only that, I came away with practical pointers to help me pull it together, such as starting with a simple, actionable ask, that I can share with others to amplify our collective voices in cause-based marketing.

You learn where you live

This theme continued into my next masterclass, on Amplifying the Voices of People, with Ben Pearson of Church Action on Poverty, and Penny Walters of Food Power Newcastle, who offered guidance and tools, such as these co-designed cards for storytelling around food and food poverty, in capturing lived experience to make the case for change. It was pointed out that there's no subsitute for local knowledge built from good relationships.

The same point was reiterated in my informal lunchbites session on Communicating wirh Young People, chaired by Abbie Foster of The Key, in which the generosity of the group in sharing their thoughts and experiences was invaluable. There was a consensus in the room that making connections at events like this, where you're likely to find suppliers and partners as passionate as you are about topics that matter, is key to reaching such a diverse and yet connected audience.

The most practical session of my day saw Jes Bailey of Crowdfund 360 offer priceless tips to help you maximise your crowdfunding efforts and prepare you for launch, using a robust process that many campaigners put too little time into, making it less likely they'll get their project funded.

Learning curve

If I had any concerns that my final masterclass would be a busman's holiday, they were misplaced as I joined Claudia Williams of Tortoise Media, my former colleague Sam Wonfor, formerly of The Journal's Culture desk, now with her own consultancy and website, only-in-newcastle.co.uk, and Dave Howard of Bespoken Media, along with Jude Habib to chair the discussion on Engaging with the Media, from which I gleaned a renewed perspective based on the range of encounters described.

It goes to show that no matter how much expertise you feel you've gained, especially in such a wide-ranging and fast-moving industry as communications, every day's a school day and there's always something new to learn, and I haven't even touched on the incredibly moving lightning talks or keynote from documentary-maker Dan Dewsbury! I still have plenty to follow up on from the day, from content ideas to creating new connections, and I really hope that this won't be the only time #SMEX20 travels north. 

There were many more masterclasses I didn't get the chance to be part of, so you can see photos on Flickr, and more highlights from the day via Wakelet.com and on our Twitter feed. And join the mailing lists for both Social Media Exchange and sounddelivery to be the first to hear about 2021's event.

By Jule Wilson, VONNE's Marketing and Communications Manager.