THE VIRTUAL COMMUNICATOR: It’s Not as Easy as it Seems

Our “new normal” as virtual communicators has progressed in the last few months. As we’ve talked to clients, the first conversations were about how “easy it was” to make systems and processes work virtually. Corporate teams did a great job of setting up transitions and processes to move a workforce to a virtual setting. The first focus was the technology of communication…but it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

Then, the conversation shifted to communicators and we were asked: “What should leaders be doing to create a virtual culture?” This was our article, “Leading through Video” that focused on how to stay visible with employees. Overnight, a leader’s toolkit expanded. Many had to adapt quickly to engage an invisible audience in virtual town halls and conferences…and it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

And now, conversations are shifting from leaders to everybody else, and we’re hearing: “We need help with this. We don’t understand the ground rules of virtual communication. My team can’t run meetings, my team can’t lead customer conversations, my managers can’t influence their teams. We need help with platforms, we need help with focus, we need help with engagement.” None of it was  as easy as it seemed

How can that be?

Remote working and virtual working may not be synonymous. Remote working is a term we’ve used for a while to refer to someone who doesn’t come into the office. They may work remotely every day or just some days. It implies a different way of working and sometimes a different schedule. Remote workers set their own timeline, their own space and their own approach to their role. It works well for people who can work independent of almost everyone else.

When we made everyone virtual, we realized that every employee couldn’t work independent every day. We needed to communicate and interact with each other. And most people can feel work happening if they can “see” work. So overnight, virtual working required video. It’s a good way to get interaction and to talk to someone.

But it also required employees to sit at a computer and interact with a laptop screen for 8+ hours every day. It’s like playing a video game for hours on end. It wears you out. And it didn’t really follow the same practices of a remote worker who’s working, but within their guidelines and time frames. And very few were sitting for 8+ hours.

And now we’ve figured it out. It isn’t the same setting, and it isn’t as easy as it seems. In fact, it’s different from both perspectives.

For a listener, it’s more removed and more independent. You can get most of the experience through video, but it’s not always clear and focused. That’s because communicators are distracted by new steps and not always “ready” to manage a meeting. Listeners also have a harder time interacting with other listeners. It’s not like sitting in a room and observing others. Technology controls your view, and you get a snapshot of those talking a lot, not those who are quiet. And if a listener doesn’t like the pace or the interaction, they have the power and independence over video to turn off their camera, turn off their audio and just “leave” for a few moments.

That changes the power of the communicator. We’re not used to people connecting and disconnecting so easily. It makes things very disjointed. While the listener is a little more distant, the video makes the communicator more intimate. It’s a close-up shot of you. Yes, you can change that if you know how, but some communicators aren’t really sure where the camera is. So, the snapshot may have them looking down, looking left or all around, and it makes it harder to focus on them and harder to hear what they say. And many communicators say they’re managing too much in this new format, and it feels like a juggling exercise to run a virtual meeting.

It is different, and it’s a new set of skills. And it’s why in response to the questions and discussion mentioned above, we’ve pulled our best practices together to create “The  Virtual Communicator” program for leaders, sales teams, internal teams, project teams, and anyone who is trying to improve their impact in a virtual setting.

Our premise is that it takes three things: Preparation, Participation and Presence.

Here are a few highlights from the program.



We’ve always said that a prepared communicator sends an agenda in advance, so participants know what you expect them to do in an upcoming conversation. It’s a best practice for all meetings, and it’s a necessity for the virtual communicator. It’s hard for the virtual communicator to generate participation in the moment. When listeners aren’t prepared to participate, the virtual meeting falls flat. This makes the communicator lose confidence, and the listener lose interest. And that’s when listeners disconnect.  They can turn on/off technology at will.

Sometimes, technology is the challenge for communicators and listeners. Platforms are being over-worked, and they aren’t running beautifully. But most of it is operator error. The leader is dropping calls, dropping people, talking without sound, talking with too much sound, etc. The first two minutes of any virtual meeting should be ground rules for technology and participation. No one is doing it, and everyone needs it.


Once the ground rules are set, the communicator has to signal participation. We introduce techniques for getting involvement early and keeping it throughout a meeting.

It takes facilitation skills, and few communicators have had much experience with facilitation.

Technology works against you on this one. Technology pulls the talkers front and center. If you’re speaking, you show up more on the screen. The communicator needs to know who isn’t talking to make sure they have everyone engaged. And the quiet listeners are hard to “see.” We’ve developed a simple workaround that helps a communicator track a full group and still keep their focus on the conversation.


Your presence is as important on video as it is in a conference room. In fact, it’s a more intimate snapshot. We don’t see the communicator from head to toe. We see a close-up shot from the shoulders up which makes connection and expression the most critical style component.

That’s a challenge because many communicators don’t seem to know where the camera is. In order to make a listener feel seen, you have to be talking directly to them. Communicators seems to be looking down and all around. In the close-up shot, the lack of connection is front and center.

You can adjust the listeners’ view…. you can improve it, but you have to think about it. Some teams are having a lot of fun with backdrops. They are fun, but distorting, for important meetings. It seems as if someone is behind a curtain pulling on your body parts. Ears get cut off, arms seem to be broken, etc. It will be a “to do” for marketing teams to improve the green screen backdrops. For now, find a real setting in your house that works for important meetings to avoid the distraction.


It’s a new medium, and it requires a new set of skills. They aren’t totally different, but they aren’t as easy as they may seem. If you’re beginning to focus on the skills of your communicators, we’d like to help your team manage and improve their virtual setting.

Learn more and sign up for The Virtual Communicator today.

We’re here when you need us.

Sally Williamson

How Securities Teams Share Data Insights with Kim Keever

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Every communicator plays a significant role within an organization, but some of those roles get more visibility than others. Sales shares about customer insights, marketing relays their brand and product strategies, and something we’ve seen grow in the last five years, is that data security teams have become big communicators, with many CISO’s managing the communication to leadership teams and corporate Boards.

On this episode of What’s Your Story, Sally connects with Kim Keever, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer of Cox Communications, one of the leading cable, internet and home automation providers to talk about the increased demand for security insights and how she brings clarity to a pretty complex topic.


More About Kim Keever

Kim Keever is Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and Senior Vice President of Security, Analytics and Technology Services for Cox Communications (CCI) in Atlanta, Georgia. Her teams are responsible for all aspects of Information Security for Cox Communications; the Technology, Product and Operations Center of Excellence for Analytics; and for Technology people programs. Since joining Cox, she has built an industry recognized security team.  Additionally, the new Analytics COE has transformed the use of analytics resulting in significant cost savings for Cox. Her teams partner closely with Cox Enterprises, Cox Automotive and Cox Media Group. In early 2016, Kim’s team received an innovation award from CSO Magazine, and Kim was named a top woman in technology by Multichannel News. Each year from 2017-2019, she was named one of the most powerful women in cable by Cablefax.  She was a 2018 Women in Technology (WIT) honoree in the large/enterprise organization category, and early in 2019 she was named the Information Security Executive (ISE) of the Year for the Southeast Region and in November 2019 named the North American Information Security Executive (ISE) of the Year in the Commercial category.

Kim is a graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology.  She is a member of several industry associations and boards including Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) and the FCC Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council V. She is active in volunteer organizations including Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Technology Advisory Board and support of homeless shelters located in Atlanta.


Show Highlights:

  • There has been an increased demand for security insights since 2014 because of large company security breaches.
  • Leaders started looking for an increase in security insights out of worry and wanted to know: what happened, how did it happen, and could it happen to us?
  • How do you talk to leaders about security without scaring them?
  •  We talk about security with a risk based approach:
    • Call out the highest risks first.
    • Do a little bit at a time.
    • Give them context.
    • Give them a comparison so they can better understand where the risks are.
  • There are two types of CISO’s:
    • High tech.
    • Business focused.
  • The ability to explain the technology in a business context and alert companies to what the risks are is important because it’s the most effective way to help CISO’s operate. Companies will be more likely to get buy-in and senior leaders will feel more comfortable with the security team.
  • How do you understand the magnitude of what to keep a watch on?
  • There are different areas in which data breaches are happening:
    • Bad Guys.
    • Nation State Actors.
    • Hack-tivists.
  • When you start talking about security and risk, you run the risk of making companies look bad as far as their security of data goes.
  • Don’t let your vulnerability be because of funding. How can you partner with other departments or organizations to get the funding needed to reduce the risks and fix the issues early on?
  • Don’t bombard your listeners with too much detail, give them the facts but don’t overwhelm them.
  • Train your employees on effective communication, and continue to practice it.
  • Be sensitive of the information you share.
  • Help clear up misunderstandings or potential misunderstandings.
  • When you speak about complex things, you may need to say them multiple times and tell them in different ways in order for listeners to fully understand and remember.
  • The security team is trying to educate the entire organization, more than just talking about security risks.
  • Hands on experiences have helped prove the need for heightened security. Finding ways to make security fun and interesting tends to help the content resonate with people.
  • A strong leader is someone that employees are willing to follow.
  • As a leader, hire people who are smarter than you and have diversity of thought, those who are independent in their work and want to do the right thing.
  • Give employees opportunities to keep them engaged, allow people to own their own space, and let them grow in their career.
  • Keep your employee’s best interest in mind, and always keep an open dialogue.
  • Security is a great field to get into. Having a background in technology helps, and this career is in high demand and won’t go away.
  • Be willing to gently show people that they may not be doing enough in one area.

Like what you hear? Hear more episodes like this on the What’s Your Story podcast page!

Key Learnings from Virtual Meetings

It seemed like an easy concept. With the mounting concerns around COVID-19, the order to “work from home,” took hold without a lot of debate or exception. But I’m told by many clients that the shift to 100% virtual wasn’t easy. It was more a herculean task as companies moved everything from call centers to billing departments into a make-shift home office. It was a frenzied pace and transition, and then all of a sudden, we were home… working.

For some employees, it’s been easier than they thought. For others, it’s been harder than they expected. And for everyone, there have been surprises and key learnings.

First, the surprises. Whether you work virtually every day, occasionally or not at all, the experience hasn’t been quite what anyone expected. Prior to COVID-19, leaders often asked us for help in managing a virtual workforce. And our advice has always been: “Turn the video on. It’s a much better meeting if you have a visual connection with an employee or a team.”

I felt heard on that point after seeing the significant increase in Zoom, BlueJeans, and Teams Meeting invites on calendars. Everyone is on video meetings. And, they’re exhausted by it. How can that be?  Because the video adds a requirement that we misunderstood. Historically, “work from home” meant I can manage a personal schedule on top of a work one. And that interpretation means everything from not dressing up today, to making lunch over sales reviews, managing errands or home repairs, etc. Until now, virtual working has been a multi-tasking opportunity.

It doesn’t mean people weren’t paying attention on conference calls, but they were rarely in front of a computer screen. So, they weren’t participating in the same way that we’re asking employees to participate now. And that realization has also highlighted some challenges in managing a virtual meeting.

Here are some thoughts on improving the virtual video experience.


The Zoom screen full of faces isn’t the same as the room full of bodies. If you didn’t realize it before, you now know how much we rely on body language to get a group’s attention or to speak up in meetings. It isn’t as easy in a virtual format. So, the meeting lead needs to set ground rules for how to participate. There are tools within most platforms to raise hands, wave and forward questions. But you have to know how to use them and establish that you are using them in order for them to be effective. There aren’t universal rules. So, set your own and call them out at the start of every meeting.


We’re also learning how to manage interruptions from dogs barking to kids who need something. The responsibility for managing this lies on the participant more than the meeting lead. Participants should be alert to sound quality, noises in a house, etc. We are overloading all internet systems, and most virtual meetings have at least one person with technical difficulty. Have a plan for managing this. Respond quickly to an interruption on your end. It’s OK to have interruptions right now; it’s not so good to ignore them or to be slow in response to them.

During this time, meeting leads need to be lenient. Be aware of who is more challenged working from home. Some people are balancing a lot more than others. Once we reset and define new boundaries, you can reset expectations. For now, try to help individuals manage interruptions so that everyone gets value out of a virtual meeting.


In a virtual setting, we often say someone needs to participate in order to listen well. As a meeting lead, you should encourage and manage participation differently. In our remote meetings workshop, we coach facilitation tools to help someone manage a virtual group of people. One simple tool is to draw a picture to replicate a meeting setting. Then add names of people so that you have a snapshot of who is in your meeting. Keep track of participation and discussion with a tally beside each name so that you can “see” involvement and call on people who haven’t had an opportunity to speak up.


If you’re running long meetings or back to back meetings, remember the surprise that most people have about working virtually. People weren’t sitting in front of a screen for a virtual meeting, and now we’re asking them to do that. Virtual participants were taking breaks during those calls; we just didn’t realize it. So, make breaks a part of a video meeting. There should be breaks in meetings that run more than 1.5 hours. And if you acknowledge this in your ground rules, you’re less likely to see people leave the meeting or turn off their video.


The “work from home” format also takes the social time out of the workday. Many companies are creating social time. Team leads are being encouraged to host “happy hours, game nights, workout challenges, etc.” Every culture is different, but it’s a nice way to help employees connect with each other without a tight agenda. Keep it light, keep it optional and see if your team values it.


No matter when we shift to a “new normal,” we’ve learned a bit about working virtually. And I stand by my advice on the video format. It’s the best way to work because it sets expectations very similar to being in an office. It isn’t a punitive step for a virtual employee; it’s just a better way to work as a team because it improves listening and increases participation.

I expect we will redefine virtual working and reset expectations. Today, working virtually has become the catch phrase for a day an employee needs to be somewhere else and hopes to multi-task between personal and work activities. That’s different than someone who is working in a different location. If virtual working stays front and center, I suspect we will define it more clearly.

In the meantime, it’s smart to sharpen your skills as a virtual communicator. And if your team would like help setting new ground rules and leveraging a different skill set, we can help you do so.

Stay healthy and call us when you need us.

Sally Williamson