Communicators are under immense pressure to deliver the goods on a multitude of fronts right now.
But amid all the strain and confusion caused by this relentless pandemic, there’s an opportunity to prove the worth of authentic, consistent and uplifting communication. The key is in creating genuine, emotional connections with your colleagues.
This is easier said than done—especially when most of us are working remotely—but Ben Gould, head of the Connected Executive Program at Workplace from Facebook, says that more connectivity equals happier employees (and customers) and a better bottom line. Gould, along with several colleagues from Workplace from Facebook, shared a slew of practical guidance at Ragan’s recent “virtual class,” titled “Building better video communications and more authentic leaders using live video.”
Here’s the upshot of how communicators can succeed during these difficult times:
Creating a ‘connected’ company
Gould says employee burnout is exploding amid COVID-19. He cites recent Gallup data that shows just 36% of employees are engaged right now. Perhaps more troubling, 14% are “actively disengaged” during the pandemic. “Disengagement is contagious and has a compounding effect,” he says, which is a major threat to productivity and morale.
To counter all the negativity workers are facing, Gould says it’s crucial to strive toward building a “connected company.” He cites four ways to do so:
- Turning companies into communities. “People want a voice, and they want to be part of something big,” Gould says. The onus is on communicators to be connecting bridges who bring people together in meaningful (virtual) ways.
- Creating a culture of openness. Transparency is vital right now. Even if you don’t have concrete answers, be honest and open with employees on what’s happening with the company.
- Having engaged leaders. Leaders must listen, be attentive and respond to employee feedback. Without physical presence, this requires extra, intentional effort to produce personable, humanizing messaging.
- Providing integrated experiences. Are you sending mixed messages to employees? Now’s the time to smash down siloes and create more seamless partnerships between departments. Messaging must be unified and consistent.
Guidance for authentic internal comms
Paloma Redondo, Facebook’s UK-based internal communication manager, says her team is shifting tactics to meet the historic moment we’re all facing. She says Facebook has onboarded 12,000 employees since March and that the company has approved remote work until July 2021. Beyond that, the company plans to allow 50% of its workforce to be fully remote within five to 10 years. Which begs the question: How do you recreate the community and continuity of office camaraderie in a virtual setting?
In addition to prioritizing more visually-driven messaging—a departure from the digital giant’s more text-heavy approach pre-pandemic—Redondo’s team is pushing to create more substantive “cultural moments.” She cites a recent example of a Facebook exec sharing an impassioned speech about the significance of Juneteenth, which prompted productive, companywide dialogue about racial justice, diversity and inclusion.
Redondo says the pandemic is proving and highlighting the value of internal comms. Her team is seeing engagement with content go through the roof, which tracks with the idea that employees are craving connectivity amid ongoing isolation. However, to make the most of this moment, communicators “must be advocates for employees” rather than mere information dispensers. It’s also crucial to “identify moments that matter” while crafting relevant messages, she says.
Live video is a handy tool to boost engagement, but authenticity is paramount regardless of medium. Redondo references Mark Zuckerberg’s famous weekly town halls, in which he fields pre-approved questions from employees, as an example of transparent leadership.
Of course, not every CEO is camera ready or willing to face the heat of a Q&A. That’s where you come in. Communicators should strive to make leaders shine by playing to their strengths. “Not everyone’s comfortable on video, but people can improve. They don’t have to be funny or slick, they just have to be themselves,” Redondo says.
Depending on your exec’s personality, preferences and predilections, that might be a live Q&A, a pre-recorded interview, a breezy selfie video or perhaps just a blog. Whatever it is, employees want to hear from leaders right now. They want to know what’s happening, what the plan is, and how the company is preparing for post-pandemic life.
Aside from featuring execs in forums where they’re most comfortable, coach them up. Give them honest feedback on how they perform in certain settings and offer advice on how to improve. Also, play to their passions. Displaying expertise is great, but speaking with energy, enthusiasm and emotion is what establishes true connections and oozes authenticity.
Visuals help break through the noise, too. Using emojis help to break down text, Rendonda says, adding that Canva is Facebook’s preferred design tool to create presentations, slides, gifs, mini-visuals and videos.
How to make virtual presentations pop
“Great education isn’t about knowledge transfer,” says Jesse Evans, a Workplace from Facebook customer education manager. Presentations are all about creating interactive, emotional engagement.
How might one achieve such a lofty yet abstract goal? Here are his tips:
- Never tell people something they could tell you. Delete all that “Captain Obvious information,” and present only the most fascinating, revelatory bits.
- Make it interactive. Evans says the secret sauce to a great virtual talk is to get your audience involved.
- Crowd-source opinions in real-time. Use the chat function to ask your audience for feedback, ideas and suggestions.
- Q&A periods are a crutch. Most presentations save all questions for the end, which is basically a nice way of saying, “Please don’t ask me anything.”
- Rhetorical questions are bad. Evans suggests taking a more strategic approach with your questions. He says to “lead through questions, not by statements,” which lets people noodle toward their own conclusions. (Perhaps ol’ Socrates was onto something?)
- Let your audience create and suggest questions. Ask questions that get to the heart of what, specifically, they would like to learn about.
- The interaction is the lesson. Interaction with the audience is “where we teach and where people learn,” Evans says.
- Maximize the virtue of virtual environments. In-person speeches are typically very one-sided. On video chats, everyone can participate. But, you must be willing to prod them into participating.
Evans offers steps to take before and during your event to ensure a smooth delivery.
Pre-event prep. Evans says the chat box is the most important yet underused feature of an engaging virtual presentation. Make sure this function is enabled and working before you go live. You might also consider having a “chat specialist” who can manage the chat box by moderating, facilitating participation and providing resources during your talk.
During the session. Avoid a sputtering, self-serving or boring intro. Get straight into the meat of your message.
As you proceed, call out participants by name, and thank them for participating. Reward and reinforce positive behavior.
Participation is contagious—as is enthusiasm—so keep the momentum moving in an upbeat manner. That sort of positive energy will serve your message well—regardless of medium.