– Comms Unplugged – an experience that never leaves you –

HBy Harriet Small

My surrogate Comms Unplugged family have been described in some very unusual ways. We’ve even been likened to a cult, which we are not – and nobody has forced me to say that, I promise. Don’t knock it till you have tried it, is what I’m inclined to say to the unconverted. I’m making us sound like one aren’t I?


Recently, over a glass of wine, I described it as the event of the season. The Coachella of the communications calendar. The time of year when I swap by ankle boots for Hunters, my duck feather duvet for a sleeping bag, and the mindless scrolling for fresh air.

But Comms Unplugged is more than an event, it’s an experience that never really leaves you.

I have often talked about how I procrastinated until I just booked my ticket, and it was the best investment I made in 2018. Not just for my professional development or mental health, but for me as a person. I met some of the most unapologetically authentic people in corporate communications and have become part of something bigger than myself. That last bit isn’t meant to sound like a mantra.

Unlike most corporate events – where sessions are very structured, the room is abuzz with technology, and there is very little time to interact with other attendees – by its very nature Unplugged defies these rules. I spent an afternoon with Phil in the vent tent talking work-life balance, had a 7am chat by the fire with Matt sharing life experiences and had a moment with Bridget walking on the beach getting invaluable advice.

It should be no surprise then that I now turn to the people that I met in this very safe space for counsel, solace and inspiration.

Many people ask, and rightly so: “But what do you actually learn?”

My answer. You learn the things that matter. I am always looking for the magic bullet to better manage a busy press office, communicate effectively to our internal audience and deliver effective behaviour change campaigns. But more and more I find myself searching for ways to turn down the noise and get back the soul of communications.

When I am healthy and empowered, I can produce excellent work and feel confident enough to bring my ideas. With articles constantly being written predicting how our industry is becoming more stressful, coupled with increasing pressure to do more with less, I need to find ways to cope.

Doing this with kin whose feet walk the same journey is a blessing, but also a net which you know you can fall into. Our job descriptions require us to be the ‘swan’ in every crisis, but we too need somewhere we can recharge to come back with the grace that our roles demand of us.

So what has changed a few months on from Comms Unplugged?

  1. I am more of a pirate and break stupid rules. My examples include:
  • Revamping the impact of internal communications by making it more than a broadcast channel
  • Introducing and running the LG Challenge nomination process for our council, giving us 2 finalists in 2019.
  • Refusing to use the term spokesperson
  • And asking myself “why?” more
  1. I’ve been working on my confidence and doing things that scare me. I did a second speaking event in December in front of a group of strangers.
  2. I submitted a piece of work for industry awards despite the initial set back and am taking time to focus more on doing meaningful work that has an impact. I now take more pride in Personal Development Plans and Continuing Professional Development because I’m surrounded by people who value the ethos of taking personal responsibility for learning.
  3. I made my list of things I need to do or learn to be ‘strategic’ and I have been working through them. I know that there are things that will take me years to develop and get better at but being able to make good progress gives me a lot of encouragement.
  4. The best one of all is that I found ways to unplugged. I carve out time to explore coffee shops and journal, enjoy a good spin class, have a soundtrack and have a safe space to breath.

Regardless of where we ‘unpluggers’ bump into each other – a conference, awards event, cocktail party or online – it’s like seeing a friend after many years. But there is also a common understanding that we shared something in a field in Dorset that changed us.

Join us for Comms Unplugged 2019.

Harriet Small is an Internal Communications Manager at Sky. She attended Comms Unplugged for the first time in 2018 and has been a passionate advocate ever since.