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Confidence vs. Competence: the enduring appeal of Steve Crescenzo

BY mikeklein  

Going to an IABC World Conference, there are always a bunch of surprises. New colleagues to meet, new presenters, and unusual keynotes which ignite unorthodox thoughts.

And there is at least one enduring constant: whenever Steve Crescenzo presents, there will be a packed room and an approval rating at or near the top of the conference speakers list.

Full disclosure: I’ve always liked Steve and Cindy Crescenzo and have had a number of fantastic evenings with them over the years. We’re fellow Chicagoans, have a deep love for internal comms, and can generally tolerate each other’s political views.

But it had been years since I attended one of Steve’s sessions, and I went to the one in New Orleans to gain more insight into the core of his appeal - what is Steve actually doing that packs in the crowds and keeps them coming back for more?

There’s been a lot of talk in the internal comms and business communication profession about “competence.”  Melcrum in particular profits from a belief among practitioners that they are perilously lacking in skills and knowledge, and IABC’s promising certification program has its roots in this belief as well. Indeed, many sessions at World Conference involved high-intensity injections of content and skill transfer in the hope of curing this parlous condition.

On the surface, Steve’s session was no different, filled with examples of effective video storytelling, his Conference topic.  But Steve’s appeal transcends his content, prompting his detractors to comment “it’s always the same act, the same schtick, every single year.”

I do find an “act” to distill from Steve’s performances. It’s that he has very little interest in increasing the competence of his audiences.  He aims to increase their confidence.

Steve believes that the average internal communicator has the skills to be effective, and so he isn’t there to teach. Instead, he believes practitioners need a jolt of confidence – to recognize the value and impact they bring to their organizations and communities, and to see what more is possible when coming from a standpoint of self-belief instead of the apologetic stance many practitioners adopt in the face of managerial or cultural resistance.

Steve engages his participants with respect, as professional equals. The examples Steve uses are powerful, but not outside the wheelhouse of any communicator with a degree of conviction. His loud, bombastic style, while not to everyone’s taste, sends a message to practitioners that they have nothing to defer to, nothing to apologize for.

Much of the internal communication industry has been focused on instilling competence—perhaps even to the point of getting practitioners to second guess themselves. Steve plays a very different game, empowering communicators to make better use of the skills, competencies and stories they already have at hand. Steve’s track record of packed rooms and high satisfaction ratings points a positive direction for those serving and leading the profession—to give confidence at least as much attention as competence.

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