Events of all kinds have moved online during the coronavirus pandemic. Becky shares how Freeman Brothers has joined in…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. With additional offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – the company employs 30 local people, all of whom play a part in the organisation’s breadth of expertise. Today, Community Co-Ordinator Becky shares her recent experiences of giving talks on behalf of the company via Zoom.
As most of us are, I’m in a well-established habit of accepting commitments months in advance – both for business and personal requests! My annual leave is planned around work events, and the schedules of friends I wish to travel with; my business commitments are diarised with several others, and can change for a number of reasons, none of which I ever expected to be a pandemic!
Every time I’ve had to cross out or delete a pre-existing commitment which has been postponed indefinitely, I’ve felt sad for the experience I’m missing. Many of these have been fundraising events we’ve wanted to support, and those are particularly difficult to hear about. But we’re also missing out on the opportunity to communicate one of our most vital messages – the importance of discussing funerals openly and honestly.
Funerals are a complicated topic, and whilst many people are making the most of the opportunity to adopt new technologies, it’s something that we’re still working towards. We’ve found in the past that it’s challenging to accurately communicate the complexity of our messages within even print media, and it’s why we work so hard to deliver blog content which is easy to understand but also relevant and engaging. To share videos of our message often misses the mark, and we’re still not sure how much demand there is for longer videos, so we haven’t yet taken this step.
The more I look back, the more interesting it is to see how events have unfolded: there was a time when I was receiving cancellation notifications regularly, and my entire diary appeared to open up. Gradually, several events were reinstated as digital ones, and then for me it was a slight scramble to prepare materials – and technology – in order to make it happen. Our office environment is well-suited to what it’s normally used for, but unfortunately it isn’t conducive to participating in online talks. Fortunately, my flexible hours allow me to be off-site on occasion, and I have the relevant kit at home to make these things happen.
The first talk I gave from home was for my local Women in Business group. I decided to speak on the topic I’d originally chosen, as I strongly believe that it continues to be relevant – how to choose the perfect event venue. These talks are usually fairly informal, so there had never been a question of preparing slides, which gave me less to think about.
The members of the group enjoyed the topic – it had also been designed as a taster of a half-day course which I run, and was due to take place early this month. I was still pleased to give the talk via Zoom: it gave me a chance to trim the topic down and keep it relevant, and provide some hope that one day events will resume! It has also helped me look forward to rescheduling my own event, and share knowledge which has been hard-won.
I learned a lot during the first talk: I’m used to giving presentations in person, and have attended a variety of webinars in the past, but this was the first time I’d given a lengthy talk online myself. It’s confusing to know what to look at for the best – much as it can be tricky when in a room with several people to know where to rest your gaze – as well as accounting for time lags with sound, or WiFi connection being unreliable. As my next talk was due to be for a greater duration, I decided to seek some advice and have more practice!
I got some great tips from a speaker whose book has proven helpful in the past, plus from a friend. I changed my setup slightly, to find a better method of adjusting my screen and camera, and ensuring that I had good lighting. I also practiced looking into the lens consistently – this is harder than it sounds, as it’s quite tiring to stare into a small camera, and not be distracted by what’s happening on your screen. I also tried a couple of different audio setups, before compromising and using my headphones, which have a microphone built in – I discovered that sound is much clearer when using these, versus the microphone which is built in to the computer.
I had a dress rehearsal, spending the time I’d actually speak for recording my talk, and then watched it back, making notes to critique myself. Happily, I did better than I thought I would, took on my feedback and was ready to go. I also took the time to check my setup at the appropriate time of day: the talk was scheduled for 7pm, and I was aware that lighting can be very different!
On the evening of the talk, I reviewed my notes whilst setting up, then logged in to speak to the group. I spoke briefly about the history of Freeman Brothers, and how my role had come about. Almost three years since I started, it’s still unusual to have an employee of a funeral director dedicated to community engagement and marketing, with a focus on digital communication. Change in the wider industry is slow to come, and it’s exciting to be at the forefront of it.
I explained how the role has developed, starting with my own background being one of the elements which has driven our progress. My expertise in events has enabled us to hold some creative experiences, and my previous roles had given me a strong insight into how to put these together and encourage members of the public to engage with us. I discussed building our digital platforms, and how important it is to us to share our knowledge freely and clearly, and to be a source of information that people can trust.
Surprisingly, there’s a lot to mention about our current circumstances! Whilst it’s sad that much of my role is on hold, I’ve been able to help my colleagues, plus our well-established blog and Twitter accounts have come in useful in terms of providing regular updates to reassure customers and inform them of how to contact us.
The group asked how they could make use of our resources further, and I was able to guide them to our online ‘Big Deal, Small Talk’ materials. I let them know that these may be used independently or as part of a wider group discussion, and they extended an open invitation for me to visit them I person when social distancing again permits.
It’s wonderful to be able to continue to connect with the community at this time. Whilst I’ve been proud to help my colleagues in the office, I have had pangs of longing for my own role, so it’s been great to be reminded of what I usually do and be able to support others in this way too. It’s also nice to have a glimpse of ‘normality’ and be encouraged that, at some point, face to face meetings will resume.
Tel: 01403 254590
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