Formality Is Not Always Good

Formality Is Not Always Good

Associations tend to default to a formal tone in communications. It feels safe. It can be hard to nail being appropriately funny, and no one ever got in trouble for being excessively formal, right?

Well, no.

A colleague recently shared some “tips” that had been sent to presenters for an association virtual event by the virtual event provider. The goal appears to have been to help the presenters look and sound good, and at least some of the points they made were useful ones about lighting and keeping your energy up and reducing distractions. All valid.

The problem was the tone. In an effort to sound “professional,” the vendor sounded condescending.

Further, as any Black woman can tell you, “look professional” has often been weaponized in racist ways to criticize hairstyles that are protective for natural hair and to “other” anyone who isn’t a cis white man. Also, “ladies, wear makeup.” C’mon, man!

The backlash caused a large problem in a small organization, with at least one board member resigning, people pulling papers from the event, and calls to stage a competing crowd-sourced event on Zoom.

What if they’d made the same points with a little lightness of tone?

For example: “Unless you’re going for an ‘I’m in the witness protection program’ vibe, make sure your lighting is coming from in front of you (not overhead or behind).”

Or: “It can be hard to keep your energy up in an empty room. Maybe invite your pet to be your audience?”

Or even just a simple: “We’ve all been in the situation of thinking something was out of camera range when it wasn’t. Remember to do a visual check before presenting to make sure all appears as you’d like it to.”

Or, even better: “We know a lot of you now have a lot of experience with presenting in a virtual environment. Share your tips to help your fellow presenters have a good experience at….”

In short (something I write and talk about a lot): be a real person with your members, not Business Writing 101 Bot.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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