Delivering powerful communication during a pandemic – I’d rather shake on it!
By Kim Skubris, Media and Communications Consultant
One of the many life lessons my strong-willed Latvian father taught me from a young age was the importance of delivering a firm handshake while looking someone straight in the eye.
In the Skubris family, a limp wristed handshake is a huge turnoff and Dad would reinforce it can reveal a lot about the character of the person you are meeting and doing business with.
That said, I’ve had the pleasure of being welcomed by Maori who greet each other by touching noses, and in Tibet they’ll stick their tongue out at you as a friendly hello.
But never did I imagine I’d witness hundreds of Aussies elbow tapping at a function in Brisbane just days before lockdown was enforced five months ago.
The way we lived our lives, and drove our livelihoods, changed dramatically that week.
So did communications. Not for all. But for many.
In regional areas, locals are more adept to communicating and working online and being educated at home. Huge distances make this a necessity.
But in the city, the Covid-19 transition from office to home was sudden and dramatic in many cases.
It was such a surreal time.
I was a confronting time, when many of us were grappling with an emotional mix of fear, frustration, confusion and anger at losing control over businesses and many aspects of our lives.
While the pandemic has presented many challenges on the communications front, it has also highlighted the importance of human relationships and face to face contact.
I returned to the Channel Seven newsroom reporting full time for the first five weeks as the Coronavirus spread.
I was adapting my communications and public speaking business online, but was also grateful to hit the road as an essential worker and help deliver news as this extraordinary story unfolded.
Those first five weeks, when no one could be sure how serious the pandemic would become in Australia, reinforced to me the power of strong messaging, storytelling and heartfelt communication.
During 28 years as a journalist, I have never been forced to stand metres away from an interviewee or shout questions at a media conference because the talent is so far away behind the microphone stand.
I noticed more and more, media colleagues were commenting about how they missed hugs and handshakes, “seeing” their family and friends, and the social engagement we used to take for granted.
When home schooling began I hunkered down with our boys and focused on supporting newly elected local councils throughout Queensland.
As always, it’s a pleasure and honour to assist Mayors, Councillors, CEO’s, Directors, Communications managers and council staff.
There have been many laughs and tears shared during media training and public speaking sessions with new Mayors and Councillors during the pandemic.
Some online participants have seen my favourite bright pink flamingo pyjama pants as we played up on fun Fridays.
I was particularly grateful to a few Councillors who remembered they weren’t wearing pants and remained seated at their desks in boxer shorts, and the like, during training!
There was also a couple of awkward moments when partially clothed children and spouses made an unexpected appearance during online sessions.
But you know what?
I don’t think anyone minded. It provided comic relief during sometimes very stressful days.
I applaud newly elected councils in Queensland who are thinking outside the square, and embracing technology, to bond when many were prevented from coming together in their chambers.
One of the biggest takeaways for me has been while we feel connected online with platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, nothing can replace face to face communication.
My sessions are conducted in the strictest of confidence, but I don’t think it’s unprofessional to disclose I now have a backlog of handshakes and hugs to deliver soon as I start travelling across Queensland visiting councils once again.
Of course, it is a more cost-effective option to conduct training online but in my humble opinion relationships are best nurtured in person where possible.
In the communications game, my relationships with many Mayors and Councillors digs in during times of crisis. I am humbled leaders trust me with their personal limiting beliefs and challenges as they govern during difficult times.
Now, more than ever, communities are looking for strong leadership and connection. It is imperative councils deliver the right message, in the right way, at the right time, when there is still so much uncertainty attached to Covid-19.
I have long shared with clients my business approach which is “why email or text when you can pick up the phone and have a chat?”
Better still, make time to catch up face to face on occasion.
I know many newly elected councils are desperate to bust out and spend more time with their constituents.
Fingers crossed, Queensland’s Covid-19 cases will continue to flatline and communities can gather en-masse to say thankyou to frontline workers, support one another and recover together.
The time apart, will now hopefully bring us all closer together.
A positive culture within councils, and the future of communities depends on a team effort and powerful communication.
No one can be certain how the next chapter will read in the Covid-19 story.
It will certainly go down in history as a year which turned “normal” on its head, challenged the way we communicate, and forced us to stop, take stock and be thankful for beautiful places in Queensland we call home.
For information on Kim's Media and Communications workshops contact Patricia Paolini on 0407 966 716 or firstname.lastname@example.org.