An early morning tweet from my friend Anup Sharma took me for a jog down PRAXIS memory lane. He had found an article I wrote in the BC (Before Covid) era, about things I learnt in the 2019 edition at Goa. It was a timely reminder that new lessons need to be distilled and captured. So, here goes…
1. Plug into the social network and get ready to play. Putting the relations into public relations needs the intimacy of a physical event and all the engagement it offers. Relationships simply cannot be nurtured and built online in the way an in-person get-together allows. The neat and symmetrical Zoom boxes or Teams cubicles we have been occupying suddenly give way to the ebb and flow of conversation intersecting with a presentation. Lots of handshakes and even more hugs. Coffees and teas and drinks bring forth little nuggets of information that are stored away to process later. Who is wearing what is subliminally registered and when all is said and done it is not so much about what was said on stage, the event in its totality cannot be stage-managed in the way an online event is managed. In the real world, subplots and subtexts add to the texture of the experience. I feel energised and completely charged up with all the social interaction.
2. Mental health was missing from the agenda. Praxis8 for me was a wake-up call. It was the first time I was prompted to ask myself “what am I doing or what can I do, to become an advocate for mental health and wellness ?” For all the air time that this topic got over the last few years, it was notably missing from the conversation on and off stage. I worry that the bruises and scars are very much there still and healing is required. We have been through a rough few years as an industry and we need to continue to put this topic on the agenda.
3. Wear what makes you feel good and make others feel good. On day 1 the conference hall was freezing. My trusted ‘Bad Torro’ cap that is my travel companion came to the rescue and once I had it on I felt a lot better. There is no real dress code other than wearing what makes you feel good. Kiruba told me my backward cap made me look younger and Amit Misra said it was a “coach look” both of which I accept with gratitude. Even if they just said it to make me feel happy, it worked. So being comfortable in my skin and making others comfortable is something that came alive for me this year.
4. The bonds of friendship cross company lines. The warmth and comfort of old friendships are reassuring. The PR fraternity is a small one. It’s a bit of a merry-go-round. A colleague becomes a client. A client becomes a colleague. Journalists become PR professionals. Initially, I found it a bit difficult to navigate all of this in my head but luckily, I have reached a place where good friends are just good friends now. Who they work with and what they do fades into the background and grins and genuine smiles simply come to the surface.
5. Take the time to talk to new people. Old friends are fantastic and it’s so easy to slip into that comfort zone. Day 1 was spent in that familiar happy space. Day 2 however, inspired by a chat I had with Sujit Patil saw me committing to meeting 30 new people. I am happy to report that I came back with close to 30 cards and none of them were mine.
6. Nothing like a good team lunch. Pal Dhaba lived up to its reputation and provided us a wonderful opportunity to meet with colleagues from across offices who were all together in a big hall but not together till we sat down to break rotis and naans together. Sharing a meal is like sharing a peep into who you are and also getting to see and learn a bit about another. Make the time for team lunches.
7. Thumb-stopping content and bum-stopping content is in demand. My attention span has taken a beating. One of the speakers shared some data points about this and apparently, we are now down to 2 seconds from a previous high of 8 seconds when it comes to our engagement with online content. The quest for “thumb-stopping” stuff is a challenge for the communication industry. As we furiously scroll through Insta pages and Facebook feeds what is going to get my thumb to stop and say I want to know more about that? By extension what is going to keep me seated in an auditorium for a day-long conference session, which is the quest for ‘bum-stopping stuff’
8. Hang out, break out could be the recipe for next year. This idea may be a breakthrough for Praxis10. I don’t know if it’s just me or if a lot of others feel this way but I most enjoy hanging out outside the main conference hall and having small break-out sessions with people who share a common interest. If by some chance I have got a pulse of what people seem to enjoy most about praxis9 then maybe praxis10 needs to be moulded in a more unconference format. One or two heavy hitters with keynotes and the rest are smaller groups in break-out sessions that can run parallel. Different strokes for different folks could be the way to go forward. As the size of the gathering grows this feels like a natural next step.
9. Choices. Choices. Choices. Make them wisely. The choices we make define us. For example – To eat healthily or to allow myself the indulgence of dessert. No one is watching. Just one spoon won’t hurt. It’s so easy to slip into that comforting thought. But I will know. As awesome as the lovely desert tastes, The after-effects will not just linger on my lips but will settle into places that I won’t be able to control in the days that follow. One life to live so live it could offer both roads, “enjoy the moment that’s all there is” or “do the right thing and enjoy tomorrow”. I am not sure which road is the right one. I just know that the choice must be made and it defines you.
Future-proofing public relations was the theme for Praxis9. Much was spoken about data and digital and how we must embrace both, to move into the future without missing a step. For me, the moment that helped me see what was most valued at praxis9 came when I saw the packed to capacity conference hall as the Fulcrum Awards kicked off. It was by far the best-attended session. What made this a full house? A simple human truth. We all want to be celebrated and respected and valued. For the work we do and for who we are. People are the future and the people have spoken loud and clear. They want to be seen. And that is what Praxis must continue to be about helping the PR industry come together and shape its identity and helping its people find themselves and live up to their full potential.
Next stop Chennai. I hope to see you at PRAXIS10. Learning never stops.
The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.