EASTRAIN offers online workshop on effective virtual communications

April 20, 2020

Man standing in front of white board.

Seth Pendleton runs a media training workshop during CSG East’s Eastern Leadership Academy in 2017. Credit: Scott Spitzer Photography

As many states in the Northeast enter their fifth week with stay-at-home orders in effect, virtual communication platforms have become essential tools for officials offering critical health, safety, and economic updates for constituents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, CSG East hosted an interactive webinar with media trainer Seth Pendleton to help members optimize their virtual presence, through techniques for setting up a home studio, and advice for appearing more natural in front of the camera and conveying one’s message with ease.

The webinar is among a variety of virtual resources that CSG East is offering state officials to help them effectively communicate with constituents during this unprecedented health and economic crisis.

Pendleton specializes in preparing political, business, and nonprofit leaders for high-profile public appearances, and has trained scores of graduates of CSG East’s annual Eastern Leadership Academy, where he runs his popular workshop on “facing the media.”

During today’s training, Pendleton emphasized some of the key elements needed to connect with constituents through any visual platform: One should appear confident, positive, and ready for combat; show a mix of verbal warmth and strength; and embrace the power of storytelling as a means for conveying one’s message. A good story, said Pendleton, mentions the voters one represents, uses common language, expresses one’s feelings, and has a moral.

Nevertheless, providing those messages through a computer camera may pose visual challenges. Pendleton assured listeners that glitches can be avoided with some preparation, such as using lighting that is flattering, and wearing appropriately colored clothing that complements one’s complexion, but does not distract with busy patterns. Good posture is essential, and one should practice looking directly into the camera — adjusting it slightly to avoid eyeglass glare, if needed. If notes are required, Pendleton said to attach them to something placed strategically behind the camera, like a music stand or a step ladder, “just like cue cards on late night TV. If they’re up and behind you, that keeps your energy up and out,” he said.

A successful visual setup will enhance one’s ability to project warmth and strength through one’s tone of voice and choice of words — techniques that anyone can learn and hone through practice, Pendleton said.

He gave two officials high marks for mastering those leadership skills during their daily public briefings over the last several weeks: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

“I think what’s interesting about Cuomo and Hogan is they’re giving you the facts,” said Pendleton. “They’re giving it to you straight; they know you don’t want to be placated. They’re showing a lot of empathy and they’re saying in each case, ‘we’re going to be okay.’”

Seth Pendleton offers CSG East members one-on-one media trainings following his livestream events. To inquire about future trainings, please contact Véronique Cavaillier, director of leadership training programs: vcavaillier@csg.org.

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