Sitting in a banquet hall at a recent PR awards function, surrounded by fellow PR professionals many of whom I had not met for two years, I yearned for a chance to connect with them. In that moment as another video message came onto the big screen in front of me, I realised something had changed. The power of video, or should I say the lack of it, struck me. Human-to-human interaction without a screen is what I wanted. Listening to a host of video messages from friends from the fraternity (who could not attend in person) while well-meaning did not do as well as it used to. Slick well-produced video content though it was, I think the last two years of screen-based engagement left me wanting the real deal.
While I was one of the few odd ones out, and about with my mask on, it felt great to be with friends and colleagues. Are you okay? Why are you wearing a mask? Was a question I answered in the same vein. Are you okay? Why are you not wearing a mask? But I digress – mask on or off, the key takeaway for me was what was happening on the side-lines of the event.
The little exchanges. Some meaningful and others meaningless all added up to make the evening memorable. Stand-out moments for me were hugs with old friends, the warmth of which still lingers on. Equally exciting were new connections made. Potential clients met. Possible hires that one hinted subtly or not to subtlety signalling our keenness to have them on board. This is the stuff that awards shows are made of. The virtual world allows none of these toppings that go along with the desert of winning. Taking a trophy home is always wonderful. But winning hearts and smiles is the real joy of events like these. That only happens with real connection in person.
I am reminded of the song ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ by The Buggles, which google tells me was on top of the charts in 1979. Its claim to fame apart from its catchy tune is that it was the first song to be played on MTV – in the US, airing at 12:01 a.m. on 1 August 1981. As cool and exciting Video was and still is, two years of staring at people on a screen have killed the magic of video (for me at least.)
Sitting in that hall and enduring another video, I felt that the tide had turned. The role of video in on-ground events needs a rethink. It no longer adds to the event instead it takes something away. It takes away precious time for the people present to be truly present, with each other. We will need to learn how to adapt to this hybrid world and I am sure we will. Genuine human-to-human connection with no screen standing in the way, that was what I wanted and valued.
The passive smoke breaks. The samosa and chai chat. The pat on the back. The stolen glance. The “oh I wonder what they are talking about” moment when an odd couple is seen conferring. All of this masala is what made the awards special.
The true winners were those who made a meaningful connection that evening. Make room for some of that connection in the room, and set aside the space and time to allow for it. Don’t pack too much onto the agenda. Allow people the luxury of connecting one-on-one and the serendipity of a chance encounter. Less staged, less managed. More organic and free-flowing. Let us get re-accustomed to engaging with each other in the manner that people so love to do. That was my big learning from the awards night. And oh yes, if people want to keep their masks on, allow them their discomfort, it’s for your good health and theirs.
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