What do you see but not see?
One day I noticed something that I had seen hundreds of times, but always ignored, and now I can’t unsee it. It happened in a hotel in Portugal and led to something of a strange passion…
Like many of you, my work often requires me to stay in hotels, and I am sure that, like me, the experience can be a little jading. The same TV channels, the same room layout, the same belief that £15.95 is a reasonable price for a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal at breakfast.
And then it happened. That moment when something that is just accepted stands out and you wonder to yourself “Why is that a thing? Who thought that is a good idea, and what strange choices made by the people responsible brought it about?”
What had I seen?
Some furniture. In the corridor.
Not just any furniture. We are talking about a baroque table, with two elegant chairs either side of it, placed half-way down a long corridor, and it started me thinking.
Has anyone, ever, in the history of the world, been so overcome by the sudden need to write a letter, draw a picture of a zebra or fill out a tax form that they have stopped on their way to or from their room and looked around for a convenient location to satisfy that urge? Do the people who design hotel layouts live in constant fear of customer feedback forms that bemoan the lack of occasional tables?
Once I opened my eyes to this bizarre need to place furniture that no one in their right mind would ever use in places where it had no right to be, a passion was born. It seemed that every hotel I stayed in conformed to this requirement. It didn’t matter if I was in Scunthorpe or Bratislava; I could take comfort in the universal desire of hoteliers to express their individuality and commitment to customer comfort by placing chairs, tables and sofas in infinite, beautifully useless variations, so that the weary traveller or jet-lagged business person could have a bit of a sit-down whenever they felt like it. Even if they would never feel like it.
I tweet some of the finer examples of the art via my personal Twitter account, naturally called @ChairByTheLift – if you want to send me any pictures I will be delighted to receive them – but the phenomenon reflects a couple of the offers that we make at Colour; Noun, and, I hope, gives an insight into the kind of people we are.
First of all, what traditions and tropes and norms and rhythms have you stopped seeing in your business? How many of the things you do are there as “set dressing” and represent an idea that might have been a good one once, but that now is as useless as a chaise longue in a corridor?
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what are the oddities that you need to celebrate and how can you do this? Perhaps you need people who see the world differently to help you take a look at yours with fresh eyes.
Have a sit-down on a piece of random hotel corridor furniture, think about it. and give us a call.
First off, don’t worry. This isn’t going to be an article that tells you what you should be doing right now.
(There are plenty of them going around, and I’m not sure they’re doing anyone any good).
This is simply a comment on something positive I’ve noticed over the past few weeks. People are connecting more, creating more and collaborating more- and there’s a lot of good coming out of it.
It’s no surprise there are lots of things coming out of the creative and arts communities- new radio plays, with scriptwriters, actors, producers and editors coming together to create something productive out of their lockdown boredom; short films being made over Skype or Zoom, and a huge boom in the number of projects being made from home.
The “Song requests for the NHS” group I’m part of on Facebook has so far brought together over 3,000 people and has raised more than £4,500 for NHS charities as of today, just by people singing songs that others have requested. Through this, I’ve spoken to so many people I don’t know, worked with them on fun group singing projects, and made some new friends out of it.
And it’s the same in a business sense. Over the last few weeks we’ve spoken even more with our clients and friends, whether that’s just checking in with a “how are you doing then?!” message, or helping them out, solving some problems together or simply having a chat.
We’ve run 17 virtual learning sessions so far, which have brought people together from as far away as the US and India, and had some really interesting conversations around lots of the very human aspects of business. We’re also in the process of running another couple of sessions on various topics, relevant right now, specifically for clients and their communities.
On top of this, we’re very excited to be part of a new series of webinars with some of our long-standing friends and collaborators, helping people through this interesting period of great change with some fun content.
Perhaps none of this would have happened if we weren’t trying to make the best of the circumstances in which we all find ourselves.
Regardless, wherever you are, this seems like the perfect time to come together (virtually, and socially distant, of course). Connect, create and collaborate. It seems like it might just be the “new normal”…
Well done everybody. Keep going. Keep being awesome.
With the current uncertainty around travel and events, many organisations are facing event cancellations and postponements. Although it’s always better to bring people together face-to-face, virtual events can be effective with a bit of time and care put into them to make them engaging.
If you’re thinking of running a virtual conference, here are some “Virtual Meeting 101” things to consider:
Find your best software
Nowadays, there is fantastic videoconferencing software available that companies use regularly- far gone are the days of clunky connections and blurry camera quality.
Software such as Skype For Business (soon to be Microsoft Teams) is already embedded within organisations using Office 365 and can accommodate meetings of 200+ participants as well as having some “snazzy” features like screen sharing, artboards and polling. Zoom is another fantastic piece of software, with smooth-running camera and presentation features that’s easy to use; similarly, WebEx has great file sharing capabilities.
Of course, your best choice will be to look at whatever your organisation already uses. Think about the software that will be best for you- consider how many people/devices you need to accommodate, and try to go for something that maximises interactivity, as well as being reliable. There’s nothing worse than when a connection falls over…
Make it personal
One thing that virtual conferences struggle with is recreating the “personal” feel of a face-to-face event. It might never be quite the same as meeting people in person, but there are ways you can make teams feel less detached from the event.
If you and your software can handle it, turn your camera on. It’s not always possible, but it can make a difference. It’s far easier to build connection when you can see someone’s face, far easier to have discussions, and easier to “read the room”, knowing when someone has something to contribute.
If turning cameras on just won’t work, try to get people to put a picture of themselves on their account instead. It’s much easier than talking to a faceless grey figure!
Consider time zones
It should go without saying that time zones are a huge consideration for a virtual meeting. If your team, function or organisation is globally spread, you’ll have to work on the times at which your event sessions will take place, so that everyone can take part without having to stay up all night!
Sometimes, this is easier said than done- speaking from experience, time zones can be incredibly confusing. One approach that works well is to hold your “plenary” sessions at times that work for everyone worldwide, then having time zone brackets for smaller content sessions and discussion. This means that everyone can take part at a time that works for them and have the same experience as their colleagues in other countries, before feeding back together in a global plenary.
Make it visual
It’s not unfair to say that video conferencing can be quite boring. Just like in a face-to-face event, it’s often hard to concentrate when someone is talking through a slide deck…except this time, you can’t see them and it’s even harder to engage with those around you.
Try to keep the visuals in your meeting as engaging as possible. The best way would be to have those speaking on camera, especially in introductory or plenary sessions, or those with a leader or speaker. If you’re using PowerPoint, add in pictures of your presenters and keep the slides as visually appealing as possible, with as few words!
Even though it’s virtual, your event can still have a theme. We’ve run an event where sessions were set in different virtual “buildings”, each with its own visual style and appeal. People liked the idea that they were in a “community centre” and would refer to it accordingly!
Keep it interactive
As well as looking at how your content looks, you should consider how people will interact with it. As an absolute bare minimum, you should have a chat box feature enabled on your software to allow people to react, make comments and ask questions in real time.
If possible (and maybe during smaller meetings rather than with larger numbers), unmute the microphones at points where you’re looking for active discussion or Q&A. Allow time to take comments and answer any questions in the moment. Some software has some interactive features included which may help further participation, for example, polling, document sharing and collaboration- great to use if you want to gather opinions, share information or work together.
Break it out
One of the most effective parts of any conference is the discussion that takes place between delegates, usually over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. You can recreate this virtually by creating breakout sessions that take place in smaller groups or pairs.
It might take a little time to get a list of your attendees and pair them with people they wouldn’t usually work with (getting a good spread of different offices if you can), but it does pay off. Get your breakout group members to chat with their peers and allocate their own time for a virtual “coffee chat” whenever is best for them.
If you are still able to get people together in regional/local offices and/or use telepresence rooms for their breakouts, this is an even greater way of building connection- even if the in-person part is in distinct pockets.
If you’re facilitating a session in person, you become accustomed to reading the room, taking questions and comments. On a video call, it can be a little trickier, requiring more attention to pick up on the signals from participants that they have something to contribute. Pay particular attention to those on the call and make sure everyone gets a say.
If you’re using the chat box, for example, it might be best to facilitate sessions in pairs, with one person as the content/presentation lead and the other as a moderator. That way, you can cover any questions as they arise via the chat box or pause the presentation to voice them. You can also allocate specific question time, with the moderator collating questions as the session progresses.
If you’re using open microphones, you will need to make sure that people are muted and unmuted at the right time in order to help the conversation flow.
A virtual meeting doesn’t create a feeling of community quite as easily as a face-to-face meeting, but you can use the tools at your disposal to facilitate conversations before, during and after.
Make sure your communications in the lead up to the event are clear, with timings, logistics and joining instructions sent out to everyone. If your meeting has a theme, this is a great way of establishing it in advance, with visuals and tone, and event teaser campaigns can create a sense of excitement. Encourage people to meet the rest of their community in advance via chat or your team site.
When the event has finished, follow-up on the events that have taken place. If you’re able to, it’s a good idea to record the parts of the meeting- plenaries, keynotes or important updates- in order for people to access them again afterwards, as well as sharing any outputs. Bring your community into the communications, too- encourage people to add their own thoughts, pictures and videos from the event, or even a newsletter writeup of their experience.
Virtual meetings can require a fair bit of logistical planning, but they can be a good replacement for in-person events where travel and health restrictions are a problem.
If you’d like to speak to us- virtually or otherwise- about our experience in running virtual conferences, or have one of your own you’d like to plan, let us know!
“Please note: Colour; Noun is a partnership that believes in equality in all things, so if I have copied in firstname.lastname@example.org it is because we are equals. Please ensure that any replies don’t go just to me, but include her as well. Thank you.”
I have that as the signature on my email. I wish I didn’t have it, but it’s become necessary. In fact, emails are the tip of the iceberg.
We’ve all had it… the email that you send where you copy someone else in to keep them in the loop, followed by the reply that goes straight to you, ignoring the person you tried to include. Sometimes it’s an oversight, the consequence of the distance between “reply” and “reply all”. Sometimes it’s intended to keep people’s inboxes from overflowing with clutter. But, unfortunately, I believe, in this case, it’s part of a wider problem, rooted in attitudes and biases that don’t show much sign of going away. Let me tell you how the rest of the iceberg looks. But first of all a bit of background.
Colour; Noun was set up as an equal partnership between me – a man in my fifties - and Vicky Holding – a woman in her twenties. We split everything down the middle, whether it is work, money or responsibility because what we do requires both of us to bring our particular skills and apply them as necessary, when necessary. But…
So far, so male business world. But it isn’t. Alarmingly we’ve seen women do it too, many, many times. I could take this down a route that could lead to accusations of self-flagellation and a desperate desire to accentuate my feminist credentials, but I won’t. Even as I write this I am aware that it reads like I am attempting to protect her and plead her case. It’s not that at all. She is perfectly capable of holding her own, pushing herself forward and throwing herself wholeheartedly into whatever challenge comes along- and she does so all the time. In fact, I know that however unfair these attitudes are, she recognises them as part of life and has made her peace with that.
No, this isn’t about protecting Vicky’s feelings. It’s much more self-centred than that.
I get embarrassed. Embarrassed that people think I’m somehow more important, or cleverer, or better than her, when none of those things are true. Embarrassed by having to engineer inclusion into conversations by saying “what do you think Vicky?” or “you know more about this than I do”, when her repeated self-inclusion attempts don't work. Embarrassed that people think I turn up to meetings with a secretary, or a PA, or someone to take my notes and write up my reports. I hate leaving a meeting, or an event, or reading an email that elevates my status at the expense of someone who is most definitely at least half of Colour; Noun, and without whom we would not be what we are.
I’m not going to even try to change the way the world is through a blog post. I’m just saying it’s there and I hope that this article might make you think twice about the assumptions you make when you deal with people professionally.
And if I can eventually get rid of my email signature, you will make an (older) man very happy.