The Participation Blog

Working With a Bag Over Your Head

A few weeks ago, I did a customized online training session for a group of more than 30 environmental engineers who wanted help better understanding the angry public they were dealing with on one of their cleanup projects, and what to do about it. Now, the guy who set this up with me had several requirements: the attendees didn’t want to talk to each other in any breakout sessions, they didn’t want to respond to any questions from me, and they wanted the session to be less than an hour. My initial response was, “Given those limitations, I don’t think we can do the topic justice; you’d be wasting their time and mine.” But he came back repeatedly and eventually I caved and we settled on a 90 minute Zoom lecture/presentation for them. The interesting part was that for this 90 minute Zoom video session – all about engagement, interpersonal human communication, and rebuilding trust – mine was the only camera that was turned on. So for an hour and a half, I talked at 30+ people on a blank screen. In fact, it was well over two hours because the session hit enough nerves that those disembodied voices had lots of follow up questions. They also admitted that they almost always kept their cameras off during online public meetings and they were perplexed that people didn’t believe them or trust what they said. Video meeting technology has been a gamechanger and it saved our bacon during the pandemic. But now that the technology is embedded into how we all normally communicate and meet externally and internally, we’re forgetting that non-verbal cues are still so incredibly important, even with those little tiny boxes and faces on the screen.

And while we’re on the subject, can I please remind you to pay attention to what you are doing when you are in those situations where you are either literally or metaphorically on-stage and people are scrutinizing you and deciding if you’re a jerk or not.