Two years ago today I flew back from Paris in a panic. Borders were closing. Schools were going virtual and work was, well, it wasn’t clear what was going to happen. Hard lockdown followed for 90 days and our “new reality” was born. They say, “be careful what you wish for.” I’d been burning out on business travel for nearly 3 years and wishing for a way to maintain my business without the grind of weekly flights, hotels and lukewarm breakfast buffets. I got my wish, literally overnight – at least the travel part.
Sometimes change is outside of your control
In the two years I’ve been exclusively working from home I’ve completely redefined how I deliver my work, have added new service and content offerings and perhaps most importantly, recreated my personal life. Here’s a short list of list of pandemic reflections:
- Online teaching requires an order of magnitude more energy than in-person teaching – I pride myself on energetic, engaging and fun keynotes and workshops. Doing this from the comfort of my home office to folks infinitely distracted in their own homes takes a level of energy and motivation well beyond what an in-person engagement would take. Why? Firstly, because there is no real way to gauge the reaction and energy level of the virtual room. Everyone’s on mute, by design. Did that joke land? Did the audience understand the key point? It’s incredibly difficult to tell. Second, you can’t make eye contact. Eye contact builds rapport and connection with an audience. On Zoom, no one can see you looking at them. Finally, competition for the attention of the attendees is infinitely fractured between me, their email, notifications, cat, baby, partner, street construction, you name it. Keeping folks trained on you is exponentially more involved and draining.
- Preparation and backup always saves the day – this may not sound like a pandemic reflection but ensuring I knew my material forwards and backwards, with or without slides has saved my ass multiple times in the past two years. In addition, ensuring I always have backup connectivity options (Wifi, ethernet, mobile, dial-up?) as well as presentation devices (old laptop, ipad, etc) maintained continuity when my laptop battery died after the electric company (accidentally?) cut power to my building mid-workshop.
- Work with a co-presenter and a producer – It’s possible to be the teacher, facilitator, producer, tech support and customer service for your online engagements. It’s also exhausting and dramatically reduces the quality of your work. If there’s a co-facilitator you like, deliver the work with them. It gives you a break from the high energy demands of online teaching (see point #1) and breaks up the monotony of one voice, one point of view for your learners. Adding a producer further reduces your need to focus on anything other than doing a great job teaching. “I can’t find the link to the Mural.” “Zoom isn’t letting me share my screen.” Yeah? The producer deals with all of that so you can teach.
- Online work is equally as valuable as in-person work – At the onset of the pandemic clients would try to reduce my rates because, “hey, you’re not coming in.” Not only does this devalue the actual work that I do (I should get paid more for delivering my work because I can get on an airplane and sleep in a hotel?) but ignored the fact that the online work was often of higher quality directly because I didn’t have to travel, experience jet lag, sleep in a crappy hotel and work in an unfamiliar space. The material, the experience and the delivery is still mine. It’s just a different delivery channel.
- The bar is low, rising above it is relatively easy – I know you’ve sat through dozens of online meetings, presentations and workshops by now. What percentage would you say were “good?” If I was a betting man (and I’m not) I’d guess that less than 10% of them would be rated highly. Why? Because the overwhelming majority of online presenters don’t put in the effort to engage in this new way and take advantage of the benefits remote presenting offers. One of my biggest lessons has been that putting in the effort to ensure slides are engaging, activity prompts are clear and every element of my classes ties together cohesively puts me miles above the competition. This isn’t because I’m some kind of genius. It’s because I’m trying a little bit harder than most folks and the bar is super low.
- Invest in your space – when the pandemic hit I was optimized for mobile. Everything I needed to do my work fit into my super cool leather bag I got from Webstock back in 2016 (man, I love that bag). It turns out that the camera, microphone and speakers that come with your laptop aren’t that great. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted to look and sound good on screen. This was my work after all and, as mentioned in point #5, every little step above the bar is noticeable. I’ve now spent a grand total of $1000 on my home studio. It consists of a used, low-end DSLR camera (Sony a5000), a mid-grade microphone (Shure SM7B), a pre-amp (Scarlett 2i2 + Cloudlifter), 2 El Gato Key Lights and some sound-absorbing wall prints I got from Amazon. Without fail, every new client or class comments on how good my camera looks and how clear I sound. I’ve even managed to figure out how to tune the lights to ensure the least amount of reflection off my giant forehead.
- The pandemic allowed me to redefine my life around my priorities – work is awesome and I love it. I love my family more. I knew I wasn’t being the best husband and father when I was on the road but that’s how my job worked 2 years ago. Sometimes a big kick in the ass helps you see what’s really important and forces the tough decisions to transition to a better way of life. For some folks it’s getting laid off. For me, it was the pandemic. Since I’ve not been on a business flight in 2 years, I’ve actually been home. Every day. I’m engaged with my kids’ lives. I have breakfast with my wife every morning. I’ve got a standing workout routine. The dog and I go out for a walk every day. Hell, I’ve even made some friends who I get to see consistently. Covid took a lot away from us but, for me, it forced me to make the changes necessary to focus on the things I cared most about in my life.
I realize these reflections are a bit all over the place but they’re a true reflection of what I’ve learned in the last two years. I’ve been lucky. I continue to do what I love. I do it now at a higher quality than I did two years ago and most importantly I’ve become a much bigger part of my family’s life and for that I’m eternally grateful.