A friend of mine posted to her Facebook page after Thanksgiving that she had been battling with COVID. She lost her sense of taste and smell for a while, making everything seem bland. She said that’s what COVID does - it makes everything bland. Meetings blur together. Social gatherings are virtual. One virtual event is just like the other. Tuesday feels like Sunday.
It occurred to me that what it really did was mute everything.
The promise of 2020 was foretold in science fiction for many many years. Flying cars, video phone calls, foods that would miraculously appear in some sort of replicating device. We did indeed get our video phone calls. In fact, maybe a few too many of them. And while they were a welcome reprieve from solitude, we spent most of 2020 on mute.
Whether we were logged in to broadcasts or webcasts, watching a virtual event unfold before us in listen-only mode, or even actually logged into a conversation with others, we were on mute. Trying to be polite and keep background noise from disrupting the conversation, that little red microphone with the slash through it was our status for most of each day. Our identity.
We sat back and watched people talk to us. We sat back and watched people present to us. We sat back and got some work done while someone pushed content out to us. We also used mute as an excuse to not be present, somehow turning "Sorry, I was on mute," to mean, "I wasn't paying any attention, please repeat whatever you just asked me." We had fewer conversations, and although we participated in endless online meetings, we felt more alone than ever.
In September 2020, Haute Dokimazo and an incredible team of event professionals produced the Age of Conversation Summit to bring conversation back to virtual events. Our post-event survey results resoundingly echoed that bringing people together to hear content and then talk about it together - or just to have gab sessions with no planned content at all - was refreshing, reassuring, and socially energizing.
According to Robertson Cooper, experts in workplace wellbeing, conversation does a number of incredible things for your health:
Even small talk is good for your wellbeing. A 2010 study by the University of Michigan found that passing the time of day with colleagues in the kitchen can improve our cognitive functions in the same way brain-teasing exercises do.
Small talk makes us better problem-solvers. So chatting about the delightful weather with Susan in accounts, or recounting your weekend to Bobby from marketing could actually be as beneficial as doing a crossword.
Information shared through conversation could change our points of view, or validate our original stance. We can’t be right about everything all the time. Conversation reminds us of this.
Conversation gives you social support. Whether you talk to your friends, colleagues and family members for information-sharing, advice-giving, or just to vent, this process helps you put things in perspective which helps build your resilience and cope better when things don’t go to plan.
Of course, deeper conversations lead to more satisfaction and connection. A University of Arizona research study concluded that participants who had more substantive conversations with others reported a greater degree of happiness, overall. This was true both for extroverts and for introverts.
The researchers were also able to confirm that the more conversations someone tended to have — that is, the more they were exposed to social interactions — the better they seemed to fare, and vice versa.
“We replicated that people who spend a lot of time alone,” says Prof. Mehl, “are less satisfied with their lives and have lower well-being.”
And now we've made it through the year. A quiet year with limited conversations.
But we are beginning a new, promising, hopeful year. Of course, the reality is that we still have many more months of cautious isolation ahead of us while vaccines role out and we slowly begin to move around the world again, so my New Year’s Resolution and my hope for you in 2021 is this:
When you join meetings, only mute to eliminate background noise. Don’t mute so you can secretly type while people are talking.
When you go to virtual events, make it a point to seek out events that allow active participation and conversation ... then actually show up and unmute. Talk. Share. Ask. Learn.
Stay involved in your industry in ways beyond webcasts. Most industry associations are offering many free or discounted educational opportunities, but don’t just listen to the webcasts. Actively participate in their smaller online gatherings so you can meet and talk to others. If you do join broadcasts, drop a line in the chat asking a question to find others with similar challenges and then share your LinkedIn profile link so you can connect with the people you find.
Look for events and activities that bring people together for a shared experience that evokes an emotional response. Emotions connect you to memories and the content that created the emotion makes that moment in time stand out from everything else. Look for those experiences that want you to be off mute and shouting "WOW!!!!!!"
When you plan virtual events, come up with ways to bring people together. Offer opportunities for conversation. Use platforms that allow participants to interact, or small group conversations after a large audience broadcast to facilitate conversations.
When looking for programs to sponsor to get your brand in front of more audiences, seek out programs that are anchored in conversation so you get more than a spreadsheet of names; you get to actually talk to people about the things that are meaningful to them.
Host more small-scale events. Use broadcasts when you need to, but reserve “live events” that people need to join at a specific time for experiences that actually require participation.
This is your year to find your voice… and use it.
This is your year to Unmute.
Liz Lathan, CMP is co-founder and CEO of Haute Dokimazo, creating shared experiences, anchored in conversation, that drive genuine connections. Explore the #HugLife community for event professionals and Convo, a new year-long program for marketing and sales executives.
Haute Dokimazo is part of Haute Companies, a family of companies that believe in human connection, from events to media (podcasts, videos, and more) to direct mail to swag to entertainment talent management to strategy session facilitation. Contact Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org