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If you don't know by now, I'm talkin bout Chi-town
My recent trip to Chicago for Ragan Communications's internal communications professional development.
Where should I start?
Ok let's start here...
I found Ragan Communications through a simple google search and stumbled upon a course that was perfectly fitting for some of the internal communications obstacles we're experiencing within my agency. I had to FIGHT (insert appropriate Colored Purple quote here) and do some MAJOR convincing to get my company to pay for the workshop. Anywayz... purchased the course, next booked my Spirit airlines flight (low grumble), then finally got around to booking my hotel (after toiling back and forth looking at options on the Hotel Tonight app) and making sure to pack my ONE personal item (so I wouldn't incur any additional charges).
Finally on my way! Actually it wasn't that simple. Spirit airlines delayed my flight for 3 hours and I ended up arriving in Chicago at 11:30pm Wednesday night. Spirit gave us all a $50 credit. Meh, thanks I guess!
I attempted to check into my hotel only to find Working Advantage secured a stay for 1 night instead of 3. I'm tired and irritable so I whip out my confirmation for 3 nights (completely paid), and eagerly (with minor attitude) await my room key and an upgrade. Because clearly after this inconvenience I deserve a few extra perks.
Despite the inconvenience, the Swissotel is one of my favorite hotels to stay in while traveling to Chicago. Not because it's super fancy or because it's a 5-star hotel, but because it's clean, centrally located, and I get awesome rest. I mean I LOVE a hot shower and some nice, crisp, clean white bedding on a king sized bed. Also, upon check in I was asked if I wanted to forgo house keeping in exchange for $10 toward food and drink for each of my 3 nights staying at the Swissotel. HELL YEA! So, next time you're in Chicago try the Swissotel (tell them I sent you lol).
Well rested and ready for a day worth of teaching and learning, I set out from my hotel room at 7:30am to attend the first morning session on engaging employees through mobile. Let's backtrack. The two-day workshop was held in a lecture hall at The Gleacher Center on the University of Chicago's campus. The campus fit perfectly within the city's backdrop of skyscrapers and architecturally pleasing edifices. A really nice looking building, very close the the Chicago Tribune offices and NBC Chicago.
Now back to the professional development details.
Sheesh. When I tell you people are out here making it 'do what it do baby' (Ray Charles reference for all those who are unfamiliar), I mean JUST that. Some of these companies are seriously leveraging technology in the most amazingly innovative ways to engage staff. What I love most about these sessions are the brainstorming opportunities and exchange of ideas that take place. I've seen and heard some of the most effective, engaging, innovative procedures and practices being implemented by agencies ranging from the Social Security Administration to Hulu. There's nothing (and I mean nothing) new under the sun. Any complexities or obstacles an organization may face around engaging staff, some other company has come up with a system and ways to combat/reconcile/remedy said issues. We learned how organizations are implementing apps, mobile messaging and Thursday "Wind Down" sessions among may other briliant ideas to engage and communicate regularly with staff. For more information about this specific course, click here. For more information about other Ragan Communications courses, click here.
Workshops went from 7:30am to 5pm on Thursday. Toward the end things and ideas started running together. I wasn't quite prepared for an all day intensive lecture format but it was still a great day nonetheless. After sessions the first day, I treated myself to dinner at The Hampton Social. Now if you know me, you know I LOVE brussel sprouts. So whenever there's an opportunity to order some brussels, I do just that. I ended up ordering the sprouts and a crabcake, wrapped up dinner then headed back to the hotel. Shower. Phone calls. Bed. Day one complete.
Day two was only a half day, yet just as informative and satisfying. I left the workshop a little early to tend to some other business. After that, I set out on a walking tour of Chicago. My first stop was Dylan's Candy Bar (see pictures above). I purchased the 18-pack chocolate squares and the cute little candy tool box. Super cute and almost gone (we've been eating the runts candy all day). Next stop, the #blackatwork display at Havas Impact (Havas Chicago). A super unique exhibit displaying some of the common issues African Americans face working in corporate America. After those two stops I headed back to my hotel to recharge my phone and change my shoes. 2:30pm hits and I'm back out of the door. First stop, Millennium Park and the Great Bean. I snap a few photos then get the bright idea to visit the SkyDeck. I start thinking to myself, "can I walk from here to the Sears Tower (walk to cut down on uber costs), take the tower tour, then head over to Sunda Chicago for dinner?" Go for it Brandi! I take off toward the Sears tower only stopping to snap a few pictures of The Paper Source store (a designer's dream), and some beautiful architecture that caught my eye.
The Sears Tower was super cool! Great graphics and displays (another graphic designer dream). Really nice learning about the history of what's now known as the Willis Tower. Raced through the rest of the tour, then ubered over to Sunda for dinner. Here's another major key, when you're in Chicago make sure to stop by Sunda for one of the tastiest new-Asian meals you could possibly imagine.
Dinner at Sunda followed by a hot shower and Dateline NBC was the perfect way to end my trip. I was up by 5:30am Saturday and on a flight back to Baltimore by 6:00am. What a great time!
I didn't do as much networking as I would've hoped. Networking is ALWAYS so difficult for me. But I did leave my freelance card behind at a few places. Yay me!
A few tips...
- Make sure to make reservations at both The Hampton Social and Sunda. You may get there and they won't have availability for hours.
- Carve out at least 3 hours of time for the SkyDeck tour. My visit was a bit rushed because of dinner reservations at 5pm.
- Spirit Airline is a trap. Only use it if you have to. lol And FYI the Herschel Company makes the perfect bag that fits within the "1 personal item" requirement.
- Make sure you're wearing shoes with good support and something that will keep your feet warm. Toes need love too! :)
- Try the crispy brussel sprouts at Sunda and the spare ribs.
- Try Uber carpool to save money. Most times there won't be anyone else in the car.
- Oh and don't run out of foundation on a business trip (see photos above)! Then you have to walk around bare-faced (with the straight-face).
And to top it all off, I entered my business card for a $100 Amex gift card raffle.... AND I WON! Thanks Chicago. I'll be back.