As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy DiBiasi.
Cindy DiBiasi is a Co-Founder of 3D Communications and 3D Executive Communications. As a leading communications consultant to Fortune 500 companies, Cindy specializes in helping executives become powerful communicators who inspire audiences — regardless of the complexity of the issue or how high the stakes.
Cindy started turning complicated information into clear, engaging stories as a broadcast reporter in the United States and Europe. Over 15 years, Cindy’s reporting assignments ranged from serving as the medical reporter for the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C., to working as a correspondent for CBS Radio in Paris, where she covered business, culture, and breaking news.
Cindy serves on the Board of Directors for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association and is on the Advisory Council of World Visions’ Strong Women, Strong World. She has a master’s degree in International Relations from Boston University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started 3D Communications with my brother, and a colleague and long-time friend, nearly 20 years ago — so it was very much a ‘family and friends’ affair. Last year we launched 3D Executive Communications as a separate division. We did it because we had developed so many communications programs over the years aimed at highly-complex industries like healthcare, technology, finance and education, to name a few, that we felt it deserved its own focus. Before 3D, I was a television reporter in Washington, DC. I also worked for CBS radio in Paris, France, and had several other reporting and anchoring jobs in the U.S.
When I was a reporter in my early 20s, one of my first stories was about a controversial strip bar that protestors were shutting down. I was doing a 6 PM live shot and made the owner promise that since it was “family hour” that he would make sure none of the strippers came out during my interview with him. He promised. Cue the live shot — and as I start doing the interview with him (and unbeknownst to me) the stripper started to dance on the stage behind me. I did the whole story with a near naked woman dancing behind me!
People couldn’t believe how “focused and composed” I was during it — because they had no idea that I had no idea she was there. It taught me to “trust but verify” on all things, especially in business — and also to keep things in perspective and have a sense of humor when things go wrong — because they often do.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Yes — and you may be surprised by my answer because it didn’t come from a business or self-help book. When I was 16, I read “Gone With the Wind” which is set in the Civil War and the main character is a very strong woman, Scarlett O’Hara who has faced and stood up to much adversity — a war that ravaged her family, the death of a child and the seeming loss of her love. To me she was the epitome of resilience. And I believe resilience –and demonstrating resilient leadership is what makes a person or a company successful.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
We had a very clear purpose when we started 3D Communications — to help extremely smart people communicate complex information more clearly to their audiences. It came out of a need I saw as a medical reporter in Washington, DC. I was interviewing the top scientists, health policymakers and pharmaceutical executives on a daily basis — the “brainiacs” — best, and brightest in their fields. Yet, many of them — really most of them — could not communicate a simple, interesting concept or “soundbite.” The result was that a lot of their amazing work wasn’t understandable — or engaging — to the audience.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
It’s actually to remember our mission — and what gets us up in the morning. We’re really good at helping people who are busy DOING important work that matters to people — COMMUNICATE that work to their audiences. And because so much of our work is in the healthcare industry — that’s especially critical now during this pandemic. It really helps that our clients trust us. So, when we suffer a “down” we just need to focus on our North Star — that clients are relying on us to help them make sure the great work they are doing is being heard and understood by their audiences — because a lot is riding on that understanding.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I had two personal challenges — one with my daughter and one with my mother. My daughter had major emergency surgery just as the pandemic was starting to hit New York City and Washington, DC and we were in two DC hospitals over a two-week period. Every day I could see the impact the pandemic was having on hospitals — and how it was changing daily. We were anxious to get out before it really hit. And then we had to navigate recovery and the practicalities of after-care (an immuno-compromised family member, getting meds, etc.) in the middle of a pandemic.
My 92-year old mother was in a senior retirement complex near Miami and I was in DC — so we had to get her out of there and didn’t want her to be on a plane. That entailed driving to get her and then driving her back safely. The good news is that both mother and daughter and now fine.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
First is ensuring the safety of our employees. We are mostly a virtual company, but our team members frequently travel to prepare pharmaceutical company teams for FDA advisory committee meetings and coaching executives in other high-profile industries for public presentations and speaking at important meetings. There is a lot riding on those preparations, so we have had to pivot immediately. We did that by turning our in-person process and technology into a virtual service — no small feat!
And now we have ordered PPE equipment so our team can safely fly to our clients. Of course, there is also the emotional side of keeping people calm and focused. One of our employees had a very bad case of COVID-19 early on and was almost put on a respirator. She is recovering. Then you have the daily issues with team members home-schooling their children, dealing with their aging parents, and worried about re-entry. We closed our headquarters in Raleigh, NC early on and enforced work-from-home, told employees we did not want them travelling. On a lighter note we held a workout competition and weekly happy hours with team games to keep up their spirits. Fortunately, we have also been able to keep them busy with client work — and being productive is a great antidote to this situation.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We keep reminding ourselves how lucky we are. There is a great saying that “Fear and gratitude cannot occupy the same space.” Fortunately, most of my family is living with other family members or friends and we get great comfort in that. And we’re facetiming with family and friends to stay in touch. I also manage my news intake, getting most of my news from trusted print publications. I watch very little TV news, which as a former television reporter is ironic — but I found that it was starting to bring me down — and it’s important to keep spirits up for both mental and physical reasons. The worst thing you can do for your immune system during a pandemic is add stress to it — so that was an early strategy. Also, I’ve been working out and have added Vitamin C and Zinc into the daily routine.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I expect that we will see a lot of entrepreneurial start-ups that will address the COVID-related issues. There’s a great saying in business that the way to be successful is to “find an itch and scratch it.” There will be a lot of “itches” moving forward! If you look historically at epidemics and pandemics, you can see that a lot of major advances were made post-pandemic — sanitation improvements, housing improvements, health improvements.
Also, we are seeing an evolution — if not a revolution — in how Pharma, Biotech, Medical Devices and Technology are cooperating. I think we will see a jump-start in many of these areas — from vaccines and new treatments for COVID, to Artificial Intelligence and robotics. I HOPE it also leads to a re-thinking of how we value healthcare over other industries. This pandemic has been compared to a “war.” There is no question that we are under attack — but we need masks, respirators, and healthcare workers to fight it — not guns, missiles, and military. I expect to see a lot of conversation and policy changes regarding that.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
From a communications / meeting perspective, I think one of the biggest changes will be around business travel and meeting in-person and in big venues. Are executives going to want to travel far to get to an event where hundreds, if not thousands, of people will be in the same room? What do post-COVID internal and external business conferences look like where so much information is exchanged, learning happens, networking is done?
Therein lies the opportunity. We are high-touch — three-dimensional beings. The people or companies that crack the code on how to communicate effectively in the post-COVID world — how to get and keep teams motivated, keep innovation happening, and build businesses — will jump ahead. Are we looking at social distancing in a ballroom? Behind plexiglass? Or do we step up the virtual game with holograms?
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Fortunately, on the executive communications side — where we coach executives to deliver engaging presentations — we had already built a variety of virtual services and technologies that allowed us to service our global clients remotely. That includes what we call 3D Remote Coach™ where we can record speakers on-camera and then immediately render the video and play back their performance. This enables us to coach them in real-time — which is a game-changer on how speakers can get better. They need to immediately see and correct what they’re doing wrong — and I can tell you it’s even more important in a world where all we do is deliver to a camera. I know this firsthand from my days behind the newsdesk. We’ve tripled our capacity to do that — and will likely triple it again based on demand.
On the FDA services side — we coach pharmaceutical teams to present before a public FDA Advisory Committee meeting. We’ve developed a back-end communications technology so that dispersed teams can have private conversations during the meeting and get the data and slides they need to present in a heartbeat. This is critical because when speakers present under pressure, it’s essential to have a reliable technology and a system they can easily use — so they come across as confident and in control of their data and story.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Stay positive, flexible, and proactive — be on the lookout for new opportunities. This crisis opens the door to jumpstart or reinvent many industries — from healthcare to technology — and many more. The people and companies that are proactive and look for ways they can transform their services and business to shape the market, instead of react to it, will thrive; and I believe those that don’t will stagnate or fail.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Going back to Gone with the Wind and Scarlett O’Hara. In the very last line of the movie, she says, “Tomorrow I’ll think of some way…after all, tomorrow is another day.” Resilience! I have integrated that into my life — both professionally and personally — and now it may be more appropriate than ever.
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