The Joy of Unplugging 2021 

7 min read Written by: Victoria Ford

This year’s CommsUnplugged was a huge success once again and in our fourth year as sponsors we were thrilled to be part of it.  

A recipe for success 

The CommsUnplugged team have the core foundations of the event down to a tee. The now familiar event marquees in the beautiful Burnbake site in Dorset, the mix of top-class speakers and wellbeing sessions, all wrapped in an inclusive and easy going feel that allows each person to set their own agenda that’s focused purely on them. This is topped with some great social time in the evenings where fantastic conversations fill the air along with laughter, live music and the crackle of a campfire.  

Despite the whole point of the event being for comms professionals to unplug and take some time out from being connected through technology, we were running a workshop called “Communicating digitally”.  This may not be as ‘plugged in’ as it initially sounds, because despite what people immediately think when the word digital is mentioned – it’s mostly about people.   

Communicating digital change  

In our workshop we wanted to share our top 5 tips for communicating digital change given that it’s probably one of the biggest challenges facing communications people right now.   

  • Set the context  
  • Be human  
  • Be creative  
  • Be flexible  
  • Facilitate the discussion  

Spaghetti towers 

We wanted to give the delegates some first-hand experience of applying these topics in a real agile project. In a one hour workshop with no tech, in a field in Dorset, this was always going to be a challenge! Armed with some string, sellotape, spaghetti and some marshmallows – we split into groups, assigned each with a ‘comms rep’ and gave them 18 minutes to come up with a solution to making the tallest tower possible that could hold the weight of a marshmallow.  

As the teams set about discussing, trying, learning, failing, laughing – it was interesting to watch the different approaches taken. Some rushed in and started trying stuff, some started building small and added as they went along, and some spent a lot of time upfront discussing what to do.   

The role of communications 

We’d briefed the comms reps to immerse themselves in the project, but to think about our 5 tips and, as the project was ‘live’, to start thinking about how they would communicate it.     

The whole thing about agile delivery is that to make the communications engaging you need to be honest about what you’re trying to achieve and why but be flexible with the bits in the middle as it can change quickly. When that happens it’s down to the communications team to explain what happened and what’s going to happen next.  

At the end of the challenge, we had a clear winner in terms of the tower – but we were more interested in how they’d communicate what happened. Our three comms reps volunteers did a brilliant job. They set context with some very imaginative scenarios, made the messaging about people and introduced each team member, their roles and skills. The teams were very open about what they tried, what worked, what didn’t and what opportunities they saw as they progressed through their 18-minute exercise.  

And for us it was what CommsUnplugged was all about. Learning some pretty good stuff in an environment that brought people together, facilitated conversation and built relationships. 

Angel delight, gravy browning and the London Underground 

We learned a lot from CommsUnplugged too. And one of the standout moments for us was the impact that digital has on our lives for the better, and sometimes for the worse.  

As we opened a few drinks that night with some old friends and some new, we talked a lot and laughed a lot.   

But there was one moment where the change digital has made to how we socialise really hit us. We were talking about nostalgia, things we remember from growing up and Angel Delight featured. We all started to describe it, remember the adverts and occasions we’d have it as children. Some couldn’t remember it at all. So we described some more. Some remembered. Some didn’t.  

Then we moved on to, randomly, gravy browning. Some had never heard of it. Or knew why you’d use it. Others remembered the gravy browning stained shelves in their kitchens with a square of grease proof paper under them which never really protected the shelves. We described it some more. Some remembered. Some didn’t.  

Then we moved on to the London Underground when someone said that they thought the trains on the underground were only ever horse drawn, or electrically powered. Some agreed, some didn’t, but as the group started discussing the feasibility of how this could or couldn’t be true – we realised something.  

If we’d have had access to our phones there and then, we’d have found those answers, shared the YouTube links of the original adverts, found the images and even the modern-day variants of Angel Delight (in case you were wondering, it does in fact still exist in pretty much its original form!). And we’d have easily proved or disproved the story about what trains were fuelled by on the London Underground.  

But instead, we spoke, we thought, we considered and we challenged. We used our own knowledge to share bits of the puzzle, thought of friends we could ask and involved others in to the (now very random) set of discussions. And we enjoyed thoroughly.   

That’s the beauty of comms unplugged. It changes, for a brief time at least, how you think, how you interact and how you work with others to imagine, figure out, learn or challenge things.   

Save the date 

It was a fabulous event, with fabulous people. We’ve already got the diary booked for next year so whether you’ve been before or not keep your diaries free on the 15 -17 September 2022 and we’ll once again #CUinthefield.  

If you’re interested in the Perago team running a ‘Communicating Digital Change’ workshop with your team or organisation, then please get in touch .