Businesses across the globe have been forced to learn the art of meetings and pitches conducted remotely. Here, Mark Fiddes, executive creative director of Havas ME, discusses how to make the experience work a little better for all involved – especially the person leading it.
It’s 8.30 pm and I’m presenting scripts to 12 glowing circles on a video conferencing package. Within each blue circle is a set of initials.
The work is funny. Laugh-even-wearing-a-mask-and-plastic-gloves funny. But all I hear is a squirrel scratching for nuts on a distant keyboard. Someone coughs.
“Is it the child having the joke or the farmer?” says MT.
“I think it’s the fridge,” says JJ.
“You know how they feel about humour,” says KS.
“Sorry I’m late.” says MF.
“Has this been through New York?” asks LP (Jokefinder General).
One of the circles disappears like a spooked jellyfish. It might be JJ, off to the freezer for a new shot glass. But good news. Squirrel is back with some badger friends.
Right now, I need that button. A big flashing button on my laptop that does laughter. The canned kind that propelled ‘Friends’ through three more series more than humankind required. I want the sound effect that gives everyone permission to relax, join in, move on.
Tumbleweed works well in spaghetti westerns but not in online presentations where all the juniors are looking for sharp objects to hurl and the presentation starts to careen around the chat group bellowing like a bull, studded with swords and banderillas. Then the matador steps in for the lethal strike.
“Have you thought about using an influencer?”
Distantly, someone’s toilet flushes.
I can’t be the only creative/planning/account/marketing/research/sales director in this lockdown scenario. None of us can read the room. All we have on the other side of the screen is a bunch of lovely people all genuinely concerned about the future. It’s not their fault. It’s the virus keeping us apart, emotionally as much as physically.
So, here’s a suggestion for now. Whenever you are on the receiving end of a presentation, whatever else is going on in your living room/bedroom/loft/garage –be kind, first. Remember, the creators themselves may well be struggling with loneliness, measuring their self-worth in terms of their output, their ideas. They may even have suffered a pay cut, be facing redundancy or been touched personally by Covid-19. And like all of us, they won’t know what next week holds, never mind next month.
I heard about a brutal game they sometimes played after work in the bad old days of offices. The most politically correct version of it was called ‘Marry, Snog, or Push off a Cliff’. Colleagues were gossiped over and sorted into one of the three categories. With our current transactional mindset, the easiest option is to nudge the pitch over the edge, particularly when a committee is making the decision.
Yet a little loving may be all you need to make it right.