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How to ensure you don’t appear as a cat in your next Zoom broadcast 12 February 2021

I thought that would get your attention. If you haven’t yet seen the 40 second clip of a hapless lawyer stranded on Zoom with his face transformed into that of a slightly distressed kitten, you’re in a dwindling minority across the globe.  You’ll need to have seen it to make sense of my Newsroom Secret this month, though, so here it is again: 

I reckon there are a couple of quick win lessons here for us all in the world of business.

If you work in Communications … 

This is a case-study in how many of us who communicate for a living sometimes forget to ask … what’s the one thing my audience want to know here?

The coverage on BBC Radio 4’s esteemed Today programme was a case in point.  I’m a true believer in the role that programme plays in our nation’s mornings.  I’ve appeared on it myself once or twice.  But now that I’m ex-BBC, I feel able to comment with raised eyebrow about some of the BBC’s output too.  

Their coverage the following morning was, quite rightly, great fun.  But I think it missed a huge opportunity.  

Can I have been the only listener gasping to know … how did it happen, and how can I make sure it doesn’t happen to me?   This interview left me none the wiser.

I had to google it to find out that if you click on the drop down bar next to the STOP VIDEO button at the foot of the screen on Zoom, you can then CHOOSE VIDEO FILTER.  Some computers will have off-the-peg filters available, some won’t.  There are a few factors involved, it seems.  And I know all this thanks to Geoffrey A Fowler, of The Washington Post — a journalist who didn’t forget that fundamental truth when reporting: ask yourself what your audience might be asking themselves.  Here’s his article. 

So next time you’re thinking about a product you sell, or a service you provide, or a message to your staff, remember to ask yourself: what’s the one thing that my customer/client/member of staff actually needs to know here? 

If you work in PR …

This is a case-study in turning a disaster into a triumph.  You may have been puzzled to see the clear instruction that recording or broadcasting of this image was illegal.  And yet here it is, broadcast across the globe. 

That’s because the judge himself decided to release the footage.   He saw the opportunity to show a public, which may be wary of the law and its complexities, that the law has a human side, too.  He wanted people to know that we’re all fallible.  

This delights me.  I spent many hours of my BBC career observing courtroom life, quietly shocked at the disdain with which some of its staff seemed to treat some of the media and, by extension, the public, on whose behalf we were all working.  

So next time you have your head in your hands because of some perceived disaster in your own organisation, ask yourself: is this also an opportunity? 

And finally … if you’re a business leader … 

You might imagine that the lawyer in this case, Rod Ponton, would have quietly switched his phone off once the footage was released, and curled up for a couple of weeks more tightly than a kitten in a basket.  But he didn’t.  Mr Ponton himself accepted Radio 4’s invitation to appear on the programme, and have a good laugh about it.  It was one of many appearances that day, he said. 

Rod Ponton was a serious professional not taking himself too seriously. 

Within 24 hours of this story breaking, I was playing it as part of my masterclass helping businesses to look more polished on Zoom.  My initial thought was to use it simply to raise a smile and break the ice.  But I now realise it’s much more powerful than that.  

Thank goodness for broadminded judges, and professionals with a sense of humour. They chose not to hide behind a filter, and they’ve helped us all as a result. 

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