Get calm and carry on camping

Between Thursday 13 and Saturday 15 September 2018, I was at the second-ever Comms Unplugged on a campsite on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. I’d like to write some more about the content and my own learnings but these are my first, somewhat misty-eyed thoughts. Indulge me.

This morning I was walking barefoot on a pristine Dorset beach, learning the names of tiny seashells.

Last night, I was stood in a dark field gazing up at the Milky Way as it gradually revealed itself to my adjusting eyes.

Yesterday, I was walking through woodland doing nothing but listening to the sound of the birds and the leaves beneath my feet. I followed this with my first ever proper yoga session.

The last three days and two nights have also involved alpacas, charcoal drawing, gin, campfires, a raffle, dog-walking, live music, pizza, listening and laughter. A lot of laughter.

The Comms Unplugged 2018 crew on the beachYou might, like my wife, think this sounds like some kind of a retreat. And it kind of was.

But this was Comms Unplugged: a professional development event like no other I know of, at least for communications professionals.

It might be better called a professional and personal development event. And that’s why it’s so important, so necessary and why, if you work in communications, you should go next year.

I certainly feel enriched, both professionally and personally.

Comms Unplugged 2018 tents at nightI’ve made new friends, not just contacts. I’ve not only put faces to the names and handles I’ve known only from social media, I’ve learned about them as people.

I’ve listened to and taken insights on career and creativity from inspiring people at the top of their game. I’ve also gotten a bit worked up and debated the need for mutual respect between public sector PR officers and journalists with the editor of a local newspaper.

I feel proud that Comms Unplugged was brought to life in my home county of Dorset, by local senior comms managers Sally Northeast and Georgia Turner alongside comms2point0‘s Darren Caveney.

I am proud, too, that it was created by, supports and is largely attended by people from a public services communications background. I don’t think I could imagine a similar happening for agency or private sector PRs. But I’d challenge them to prove me wrong.

Public, and increasingly third, sector communicators are in need of looking after their wellbeing. Working to influence, engage and inform communities in the midst of austerity, the collapse of trust in institutions, 24/7 social media fury and post-truth news confusion, they are hurting. Pressured to be ‘always on’, with ever-higher demands and expectations, they don’t always see it themselves.

What the people at Comms Unplugged confirmed for me was that good comms professionals, whatever sector, are standard bearers for honesty, transparency, clarity and meaningful engagement.

They are good people doing good work. Essential work. They are passionate about the value of their profession, about learning and about the services they support.

They also know how to have a good time.

And you know what? They deserve an event like Comms Unplugged. We deserve it.

If I have taken one thing from Comms Unplugged 2018, it’s this:

Allow yourself the time.

Time to switch off the noise. To listen. To talk. To reflect. To breathe. To drop your guard. To try something different. To look up at the stars.

Give yourself that time. And if you have one, give your team that time.

It will pay off.

And it’s absolutely not a jolly.

CommsUnplugged 2018 Mike


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