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Communicating during Covid

Back at the start of the year, we just took a moment as an agency to stop and reflect on the past 12 months. How has Covid-19 affected us as a communications agency, internally and externally? What has been the impact on our clients and output? For 12 months, or more, 95% of our meetings have been on zoom. Change is happening. Are we now designing more and more digital for example? More zoom backgrounds, podcasts, websites and blogs etc. For Schools, how have we supported them in this disruptive time? We’ve assisted with more virtual open mornings for schools; teachers have had to modify how they engage and communicate with their prospective audience. For property agents, we’ve assisted with virtual tours and viewings. It has been a challenging time for all, no doubt, and this has really tested our communications skills and durability.

This discussion and reflection continued and as a result we invited our colleague and friend, Kieran Morris from Join The Dialogue in (virtually) for chat. I’m pleased to bring you this interview below. Enjoy!

What’s your observations of the last 12 months? How has Covid affected your audience? What do clients now come to you for? Has it changed?

When the impact of Covid became clear last March, we had only just launched our Dialogue workshops four months prior. It was challenging to see the path forward, because we had been witnessing the positive impact of our group work and it was unclear how we would be able to translate that with everyone at home.

At first, we developed our group sessions online. They worked well, but at a slower pace and with less intimacy than we had in-person. There was also some resistance to Zoom at that stage – people wanted to wait, hoping that things would ‘go back to normal’ by the summer. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, we started to get a lot more enquiries from individuals. People wanted to take this time to work on themselves, having not previously felt they had the time to do so.

In order to offer a ‘group’ dynamic in our work with individuals, we started experimenting with two-to-one coaching sessions. We designed bespoke workshops, running the sessions in a way that allowed one of us to coach and the other to be the conversational partner. It worked well, and we’ve continued to grow that side of our work ever since. I would describe it as a mixture of bespoke voice coaching and consultancy.

Our hope is that we can return to group work this year. We asked for feedback from clients in March, and we’ve used that to shape some new courses that we’re really excited about. We’ll be sharing more details soon!

What are the main differences between being in the room with someone and presenting /communicating on zoom?

Aside from the obvious technical differences – the notion of needing to unmute yourself, using reactions, or even needing to negotiate your meeting time with household members if your internet wasn’t up to scratch – I think the main difference is the level of response you can expect.

In person, and regardless of the group size, you’ll get unconscious affirmation from your audience. Nodding, smiling, ‘mmm’-ing, in fact a whole range of expressions – this is all really quite unconscious. So the experience is two-way, even if the information is being presented from one person to many.

On Zoom, it’s far easier to become passive as an audience member. Most of us have many screens in our lives, and they predominantly deliver information or entertainment that we consume. I don’t think it’s surprising, then, that we can often find ourselves presenting or speaking to an audience that appears to be very passive. It doesn’t mean they’re not interested, but it can easily seem that way because the experience easily feels one-way.

Being practical, you’re unlikely to persuade your Zoom audience to react in the way they would in person. So I choose to think about my presentations as an experience more akin to a radio show. Or I think about a close colleague watching and imagine them nodding along to what I’m saying. That’s where advance practise can really pay dividends – if you’ve seen someone else respond positively in the past, you can bring that experience into your presenting, even if the audience you have might not appear to be engaged.

What are your observations regarding podcasts? Have you been working with lots of potential communicators wanting to use this platform? Can anyone do this or is it a common mistake?

We noticed a real spike in the creation of podcasts last year. It’s certainly something that has come up more regularly with our clients, and we’ve had people getting in touch to work directly on a podcast project they’re launching.

It sounds like a straightforward enough concept, but as anyone who’s ever listened to a poorly produced podcast will know, it’s very easy to switch off if you’re not taken in. When people think about making a show, they often focus on the topics they want to talk about, rather than considering their own perspective and how they could use that to their advantage. Does the world need another mindfulness podcast, for example? Possibly not. But could you instead make a podcast about mindfulness by talking about your own experience and interest, including all the gritty bits and things that haven’t worked so well? That contrast and honesty will draw people in, because the show becomes personal. Greater than the content itself. And that could really have legs.

I think it’s a great platform, but the technical part – getting a nice microphone, or finding an agency to edit it for you – is probably not the place to start. Be clear about your perspective. Think about your view and how it differs from that of others. Think about how you can use that contrast to create an interesting narrative. And don’t be precious about editing. No one gets it right after the first draft!

What is it you offer?

We help people speak with more confidence and to enjoy the experience of speaking in public. Because it is obvious – to anyone who has ever worked with another human being – that people who speak with confidence are more effective, more persuasive and more fun to listen to. They bring these gifts into every public conversation.

We nourish the power of everyone to speak with poise, to say what they mean, to be clear and respectful with colleagues, the public and clients. All of this can be learned through practice and group work.

How could you help someone like me (Andy)?

Whomever we work with, we start in the same way: we make you aware. And that’s because you gain confidence as a by-product of awareness.

If you’re thinking ‘what do I need to be aware of?’, that’s an excellent question. And the answer is simple: you don’t know what you don’t know.
Because you’ve been talking your whole life. What’s the problem?
Well, there is a problem, because public speaking is notoriously difficult to do well. And let’s face it, unless you’re in the shower, all speaking happens in public – out loud, to another person. You might have a vague sense of discomfort when you give presentations, you may not know how to approach the head of accounts, you may get tense answering the phone, but, unlike, say, quantum mechanics, you don’t know why these conversations are difficult.

Many people have experienced public speaking at school, at family functions or during interviews as embarrassing or even humiliating. They recreate this discomfort at work, because once you’ve internalised these feelings, they are hard to shake off. Working with us helps you discover who you can be without these feelings.

And that’s fun. Both in the learning and in the doing. Because we know how you learn is what you learn. A class in which you feel anxious will only teach you to cope with anxiety. A workshop in which you feel overlooked, will only teach you to cope with frustration.

The Dialogue emphasises the joy in learning to speak in public so that our clients actually learn. They don’t cope or manage or pretend. They listen, they practise, they change. And you could too.

We’d just like to take the opportunity to thank Kieran for this insightful interview and his support over the years. If you are interested in Join The Dialogue, please visit: https://jointhedialogue.com