The Virtual Medium is the Message

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Dear friends and colleagues,

Greetings! I bring you sincere well-wishes during …this. In the absence of better or un-borrowed words to name what we’re in, I’ll just leave it at that. I look forward to connecting on this insight:

Has the way we tell our COVID stories become as much the focus as the story itself?

What is the Story?

The global gravity of our current situation is hard to wrap our minds around and reflect back, and we’re doing both at the same time. We’re telling the story we’re IN. Social media posts multiply mirroring the very virus that spurred them. I find it all hard to track. I’m curious to know your thoughts.

Is this thing on?

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote, “the medium is the message.” Presently, it appears the virtual medium is the message as we take our personal and professional work online. There’s a frustrating, and often comical, learning curve that goes along with this medium and also an inherent orthodox: what we typically try to regulate for ourselves and our kids(too much screen time!) is the very medium we’re relegated to for school, work and connecting! How has this been for you?

How does it look, sound and feel?

As a speech coach, I naturally view my work through the lens of effective communication. One of my primary questions for clients is, ‘how do you look, sound and feel?’ I wonder the same thing now as we unwittingly participate in our own global social experiment, in one mass pivot.

I notice the following:

Trends in language, semantics, and social discourse. Even with a bank of buzzwords to choose from like unprecedented, unchartered, and uncertain, it’s hard to know what to say.

Shifts in vocal tone. For some, it’s a softer, more tender speaking tone; for others, it’s shriller and more anxious.

Changes in body language. At first, on walks around the neighborhood, I noticed more sustained eye contact, nods and pleasantries. Now, with masks, I notice more heads down, eyes averted, and shoulders hunched.

What have you noticed with others’ look, sound and feel and how have these shifts impacted your interactions? Whatever you’ve noticed and wherever you are on the spectrum of expression right now, you get to be there—we all do. We’re in crisis and we’re reacting. We would do well to remember that a little grace goes a long way.

How do I achieve mindful communication?

We also would do well to remember that sensitive times reflect – and call for – sensitive language and behavior. How do we achieve this with intentionality? This question was the impetus behind the Care-ful Communication program I developed, which leads individuals through a series of assessment questions by breaking communication down into the following areas:

Verbal communication – how do you sound?

What is your vocal pitch and rate of speech? What reactions do you notice from people you speak to? On a virtual call, are you shouting or mumbling? Studies show, your voice alone contributes to over 1/3 of the meaning in your message. On a client call do you sound panicked, defeated, despondent, or are you perhaps disproportionately peppy and upbeat? Our senses are heightened right now – how you sound tells us who you are.

Non-verbal communication – how do you look and come across visually?

How’s your posture? Does your outward expression reflect your inside feelings? Likely so, but what is the impact? Studies also find that 55 percent of our overall message comes just from our non-verbals. If people can’t see your mouth or your smile because it’s covered by a mask, they’ll likely feel disconnected. How can you let yourself be seen and heard non-verbally, with a hearty hello, wave or a friendly gesture?

Interpersonal communication – how are you bridging and connecting during this time of separation? When we’re worlds apart, our words and actions bring us together. How are you ‘holding space’ for others by asking how they are? Can you mirror others’ sentiments by reflecting back to them what they express to you without interjecting your own sentiments?

Messaging and structure – the world is reading, what are your words?

What do you have to say and how are you saying it? What’s your written tone? For help with structure, we recommend instituting the three P’s: position, plan and pledge. What is your position in this current situation? Communicate it clearly and directly. Where are you in it all? Put people ‘on the map.’ Next, what is your plan? What steps have you taken to respond to this situation? What decisions need to be made? What direction have you given to that end? Finally, what is your pledge– your lasting promise, your resounding sentiment? What is the learning of this time? And what is your pledge of support – who are you encouraging and holding up?

For more information on this CARE-ful Communication program or our other virtual offerings, please reach out to Effective Presentations. We know this time is difficult and delicate, we’re navigating it ourselves. But our purpose is your process, let us know how we can help.

Yours compassionately and creatively during…. this time, \

Megan Heffernan

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One response to “The Virtual Medium is the Message”

  1. Dan M says:

    My coworkers and I have new hand signals to replace some common facial expressions because of the masks. Adapt and overcome! Great article.

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