The Show Must Go On: The Role of Webex in the New Digital Reality
My background is in theatre and opera, where I was a director for 15 years and an acting coach for 10 years. This many years of experience is a prerequisite if you want to coach people effectively and sustainably in their appearance. I was pleased to discover that my work translates extremely well to video communication. What you see on the screen these days is my new stage.
For more than 20 years, I coached and trained professionals in the art of effective presentation and nonverbal communication with my company, profil360. My clients often hold highly visible positions and are consistently in the public eye. From politicians to football referees, my clients need to understand how and why their physical presence is just as important as their words.
When I train my clients, my methods include reviewing tone of voice, body language, and other more subtle, nonverbal cues. At first, I thought this could only be done in person. I used to only offer one-on-one consultations, seminars of 6–12 people, onsite training, and keynote speeches for large audiences. This involved lots of travel and face-to-face meetings.
It never occurred to me that there might be a better way to deliver coaching sessions, seminars and keynotes. I never thought that circumstances beyond my control would force me to make changes to my business model, and I didn’t think there was much value in cultivating a virtual aspect of my business. The past six months have been quite an awakening.
The Decision to Embrace Transformation
Last year, Cisco approached me to gauge my interest in using their video conferencing system, Webex, to virtualise my business. The idea was intriguing, but I wasn’t sure it was the right fit for my area of expertise. I decided to pass; I was too busy with the daily grind to transform my business into a digital model.
When COVID-19 spread around the world and shuttered business just six months later, I had to cease parts of my business operations—it was no longer safe to meet in-person for training sessions or keynote talks. I could only do one-on-one sessions. It soon became evident that if I didn’t figure out a way to transform my in-person business model into a digital-first model, I wouldn’t have a business at all.
Then I remembered Cisco’s previous offer and realised I already had a head start on that transformation. Cisco was an attractive partner because they had a strong reputation, and I wanted to use a system that was already established in large companies. I knew that many of my clients would be familiar with Cisco systems and the Webex interface.
I mostly coach the top levels of upper management, so a high-caliber system was a must, in addition to a solution with a robust feature set and a flexible combination of hardware and software. This was, for me, the most important aspect of the system. I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to show my customers different camera shots. They should be able to see me in different sitting positions, from the front and from the side. They should be able to observe me in movement and also standing at the lectern. It was also important for me to have the possibility of connecting the Cisco mini kit with an external microphone.The more varied the possibilities would be, the more varied my services to my customers would be. So I needed a system that would support my vision.
I decided to connect with Cisco again to learn more. Cisco’s local partner, Ethcon, lent me the system so I could try it out. I tested it and ultimately decided to purchase an upgraded version of the system.
Adapting to the New Challenges of Live Video Presentations
With the move from in-person to digital, my main concern was the time spent in front of the camera. I had to adapt by condensing my eight-hour course into a new format. It’s challenging because, as many of us have experienced over the past several months, video fatigue is real. Being on camera for more than two hours takes a toll on you; it’s more exhausting than being in a seminar room for eight hours.
This is especially true if you’re speaking to several people for a long time. So I used my extensive experience as a theatre director and acting coach to re-dramatize my online seminars. I needed to find a way to give my work a new kind of rhythm.
On one hand I alternate between plenary and break out sessions. On the other hand, I give tasks that have to be solved outside the conference. Each participant is active for eight hours, but no participant spends these eight hours only in front of her or his screen.
This experience with Webex was the first time I’d ever used an online collaboration platform, so I had to learn a lot, and learn it quickly.
From Student to Teacher
I created a new rhythm for my training sessions, but I haven’t been the only one changing. As other organisations are on the same path to digitalisation at the same time, I only had a brief head start when the first ones asked me how they could successfully transfer their presence formats into digital formats.
We’ve all had to learn how to create this new reality by combining new skills and best practices. Clients need new ideas on how to transform their communication to video systems, and I saw an opportunity to teach them what I’ve learned myself. Currently, about 90% of my job is training people for video sessions and video presentations and helping organisations to transform their communication into a digital model.
Here are just a few strategies I share with my clients:
- Setting the scene. Set your camera frame so that your audience can see hand gestures completely, without them entering and leaving the frame.
- Angles are everything. Elevate the camera so that it’s at eye level. Most people use their built-in computer cameras, which means they’re always looking down slightly. This is an easy fix but an unflattering angle.
- Let there be light. Set up a soft light from the front so that your eyes are clearly visible. Avoid a light from the side that divides your face into a bright and a dark half. Also avoid backlighting that makes you look like a silhouette.
- Create what you need. Feel free to get more strategic or creative with your set if you have a dedicated space to record virtual presentations. Don’t limit yourself to your desk or your conference room.
The Cisco Webex Room Kit Mini was the perfect combination of hardware and software for me to address all of these touchpoints in my own business. As a coach, I interact with my customer very closely even on video, and the ability to be flexible and move around is important. With one touch, for example, I can recall camera settings that I have preset. The mini kit is also compatible with external devices, such as the very large screen I have in my own office, as well as an external microphone.
Being compatible with various room setups and multiple devices is a great feature of the mini kit. But compared with other systems, the quality of the Webex picture is also head and shoulders above the rest. Not only is the picture clear, but the synchronisation between the picture and the sound is stellar. That is key not only for my coaching business, but for effective communication in general.
Reinvigorating My Business Model
My sessions have mostly followed the same format over the past couple of decades. I love my work, but I often performed the same type of activity day in and day out. For the past several months, everything has been very different. I’ve discovered new methods for communication, which is very exciting and important to me. Webex has allowed me to explore new, creative pathways that meet my clients’ ever-evolving needs, and helped me to push both myself and the boundaries of my business.
I often feel more productive using this new system. I spend less time travelling and more time training. My clients who are constantly travelling have better access to me than ever before, and they can book time with me no matter where they are. Many consultants, for example, have free time in their hotel rooms when they’re on the road, so we schedule a session, which is productive for both of us.
In the meantime, I have consistently furthered the possibilities that Webex has opened up for me and developed a booking application: My customers have direct access to my calendars via this application. Appointments for coaching-sessions are confirmed immediately, invoices are sent automatically. A workspace offers the possibility to load presentation material for the coaching in advance. My new app reduces email exchanges and streamlines communication. It’s especially useful to busy clients and has improved their customer experience. And Webex is so easy for my customers to use that with just one click, they’re connected to me without needing to register or login anywhere.
Changing Tactics, Changing Minds
The world is slowly reopening, but I don’t see my business completely going back to its previous format. I hope to explore the possibility of bigger client sessions with more participants visible on screen, and am looking forward to improved features in the breakout rooms. The possibilities are exciting and the opportunities are bigger the more I think about it.
With the help of Webex I am currently further developing my presence seminars: Introductory videos can be accessed by the participants independent of location and time. This will be followed by attendance at face-to-face seminars, which will finally be deepened by individual trainings via Webex.
I’m also now exploring recording short video sessions that are about 20 minutes long. These sessions are somewhat like an online course or pre-recorded webinar that I will upload online. By sharing these short videos online in partnership with Cisco, I hope to expand my business to entirely new audiences.
My contacts are pleased with my pivot to digital workshops. While many were initially skeptical about being in front of the camera, more people have become increasingly open to the idea over the past six months and I know I can help take new Webex users on the same journey that I just travelled. The value and convenience cannot be understated for busy, hyper-focused business leaders.
The Drama of a Crisis
In every crisis, there’s a moment where business leaders have to decide whether they will panic or respond with a solution. Many people tend to panic, which leads to a dip in revenue across industries and economies. The organisations that get creative in their responses, however, are made even stronger through a crisis—they become “antifragile” and stand to benefit more after the crisis has passed.
For me, embracing digital transformation and shifting my business online with Cisco Webex has allowed me to reconsider my business model and evolve with the times. Cisco has completely changed my business. They removed the business drama associated with this crisis and replaced it with a clear structure and framework that allows me to keep doing what I do best. Curtains up: the show must go on.
Stefan's contact info:
Stefan Spies, Maximilianstr. 13, 80639 München, 0049-89-50 22 28 24 www.profil360.com