I can’t remember exactly why, but I was wearing a tie and jacket over my dress shirt. Not just any jacket, but one that matched my dress pants, so that I was wearing a dress suit. And I just don’t feel like a suit kind of guy. Perhaps I equate them with tuxedos, and off the top of my head I can only think of three or four reasons to wear a tux: getting married, receiving a Nobel Prize, and playing the lead role in a movie about a super-spy gambling in a casino before or after a torrid tango with a sexy co-star. And, okay, maybe as a much more interesting man pitching Dos Equis beer in television adverts.
My feeling about business suits was dramatically reinforced one memorable occasion when I traveled across the ocean with my boss to connect with a business unit that had been acquired a couple years before. The airline lost our luggage, and we had to go to our introductory meeting wearing the clothes we’d traveled in; blue jeans and collared T-shirts (polos). Our reception was enthusiastic, in large part because all the previous visits from our acquiring company had been from arrogant vice-presidents wearing three-piece suits, who flew in, crapped on everything, and flew away never to be seen again; a perfect illustration of the meaning of the term “corporate seagull”. So, things turned out much, much better than if we had worn our suits.
I’m not sure, maybe it was one of those meetings/conferences I’d worn a suit to merely to prove to myself that I could do it, but there I was, in my monkey suit, listening to a DG presentation which ended in less time than was allotted for it. I’m sure the organizers thought ‘no problem, we’ll have more time for Q & A’. But, once the floor was open for questions, there was silence, a long silence. The organizers got a bit nervous, because the speaker had a huge reputation, and it had taken quite a bit of effort to get him there. Was it going to be all mostly for naught? Candidly, the speaker had done such a good job presenting the topic in all its permutations that he hadn’t really left any aspect unaddressed. In other words, he’d been so good there wasn’t really any need for questions. Nonetheless, one of the organizers addressed the silence by looking at me and asking “Gene, do U have any questions?” Well, that in itself wasn’t memorable to me, but then several other attendees swiveled in their seats to face me, and one said quite clearly, “Yeah, Gene, U always have questions.”
Having been put on the spot, I did actually come up with two questions, one of which was so minor I’d been planning to ask the speaker privately after the session, but the other of which I somehow pulled from thin air. That got things started, other questions occurred to others in the audience, and although the topics gradually went far afield from the presentation, the entire Q & A time was filled with productive interchanges.
I did get a little teasing over lunch, with some friends playfully accusing me of being able to talk at great length about anything or even about nothing. A little embarrassed and a little complimented, I did make later use of the concept, and at a few different conferences (summits, fora, meetings, whatever), in cooperation with the organizers I’ve had a standby presentation ready to deliver in case another presenter takes ill or doesn’t show up. And it’s occasionally been needed!
Nevertheless, as COVID-19 took huge chunks of my business away from me, my flow of words seemed to dry up. It’s almost as if my interactions with training class participants and audited customers and regulatory enforcers fueled my ability to have something to say about DG in general. My sources of new perspectives to ponder mostly evaporated, leaving more napping on the Porch Swing than writing columns for HCB (hcb). To be fair, the concurrent dramatic decrease in regulatory changes also gave me less to think about, and thus to talk about. And despite my efforts to be a positive person about the events of life, I was kinda depressed about whether my business would eventually bounce back or whether face-to-face DG training would forevermore be a rarity.
My voice is coming back, as this column attests, and, as when it went away, the trend of my business preceded it. Old customers, a couple trained via Zoom or FreeConferenceCall.com or equivalent in 2020, have expressed a desire to return to in-person training, and although the time isn’t right just yet, some’ve booked time slots in October and November. Other customers have asked for one last webinar class before returning to the “good training”. And even for training delivered “virtually”, so many people have become well versed in the complexities of Microsoft Teams and Zoom and other similar tools, that I’ve been assured I can have a virtual class ‘break out’ into small groups for assigned in-class projects seamlessly. What once involved moving some chairs and books to different corners of the room can now be done with the right series of computer clicks.
Do I think we’ll get all the way back to where in-person, face-to-face training was before the pandemic? No. Do I think in-person, face-to-face training is still the most effective method to ensure compliance and safety? Yes. But I think we’ll get further back than I had expected. And I think the sophisticated tools needed to make virtual, live, interactive training more effective have become widespread and more user-friendly, so that virtual training doesn’t necessarily have to be of low quality. I am definitely more optimistic than I was six and ten months ago.
I’m welcoming back some of my business, and I’m welcoming back my voice. Any questions?