351: Imogene Drummond—How Can A Brilliant Artist Show You How To Communicate Effectively—Online?

Hear how to really hear what people are saying in meetings

Imogene Drummond is a woman whose story I love to share. She is bold and courageous about things she wants to do or learn more about. Today’s topic is how her new program, ACQUITS, grew out of her interest in helping people communicate better, especially in the virtual environments so many of us find ourselves in these days. Imogene’s professional life evolved from her training in psychology to her very successful career as an artist, to filmmaking, and now to working with people to develop their online communication skills. This is so timely. Do enjoy.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Imogene Drummond video

ACQUITS stands for the 10 essential principles for successful meetings

imogene graphic

This process is based on how we must:

  • listen before we speak
  • hear what others are saying
  • adapt our thinking to understand what the speaker intended, not what we think we heard
  • do all this without the body and facial cues we use during in-person conversations

Meet Imogene Drummond

Imogene Drummond is an artist, filmmaker and educator. She has an MSW from Catholic University, was a family therapist in the late 1970s, is the founder and principal of Divine Sparks Media, and is currently Director of Social Media at the Deeptime Network. She studied at MICA’s Mt. Royal School of Art and her work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions from New York to Australia. Her paintings are in private, corporate and hotel collections, as well as the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Her new program, ACQUITS, came from observing how people behave while engaged in zoom calls, and focuses on teaching people how to change their communication strategies to engage better and benefit more fully from online conversations. You can connect with Imogene on LinkedIn, her website, or by email: imogene@imogenedrummond.com.

Want to communicate better? Here’s a great place to start:

Additional resources for you

Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Hi, I’m Andi Simon. I’m your host and your guide. And my job is to get you off the brink. So I go looking for people who can help you see, feel and think in new ways, opening your minds to solutions to problems you may be working with or dealing with, but aren’t quite sure how to solve now, particularly as we emerge from these years of pandemic. You never want to waste a crisis, and it’s a great time for you to learn some new techniques.

And today I’ve brought to us Imogene Drummond. Imogene is a wonderful woman. I’m going to tell you about her. But she also has a program you’re going to be very interested in. It’s called ACQUITS, and it’s a toolkit for facilitating conscious and effective communication for online groups.

Now that is a really interesting topic. You know as well as I do that we are spending so much of our time online. And for women in particular, it isn’t giving us more opportunity to participate. But the dynamics are much more obvious when you’re watching men and women, different genders and age groups, on the screen and how we’re competing for time and space. And what actually happens with communication, people often saying, “You didn’t hear me. I may have said something, you may have thought what you heard, but may not have been what I meant.” And so communication is very hard.

Let me tell you about Imogene. Imogene is an internationally-collected painter, award-winning filmmaker, writer, artist, educator and foremost psychotherapist. You’re going to say, “How interesting, where did ACQUITS come from?” ACQUITS is a toolkit for facilitating this effective communication. The acronym refers to the lesser-known definition of the word acquits, meaning how one conducts oneself. Imogene’s educational course for middle school students combines creativity, self-worth and the universe. That is pretty cool, particularly when we learn that we are billions of years old. And who knows how we ever emerged from a few molecules of this, mixed with the fuel of that?

Options for The Future is the closing piece in a thought-provoking anthology, The Rule of Mars, which was endorsed by Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist and author Jared Diamond. Now, if you haven’t read Jared Diamond’s work, it’s well worth reading. And I have all his books and just love him.

Due to her painting expeditions around the world, Imogene was invited to join the Society of Woman Geographers, whose membership includes explorers of ideas as well as geography, among them, Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart and Jane Goodall. I must tell you that when you discovered who I was, I was an explorer. Now I’ve done a recent self-assessment, and I’m also a philosopher. And I guess that’s why you and I have eclectic interests that come together around helping people see, feel and think in new ways. Thank you for joining me tonight.

Imogene Drummond: Exactly. Thank you, Andi. And thank you for the opportunity to be on this wonderful podcast. It’s great that you create these interesting podcasts that support women’s amazing stories and important work. So I’m honored to be here today.

Andi Simon: Please tell our viewers, who’s Imogene? What’s your journey? How did you get here? Where are you?

Imogene Drummond: Well, speaking of where we came from, the last 7 billion years, my journey has been really a series of evolutions. And I started out as a psychotherapist, and then I decided I really needed to do something for me. And so I became an artist. And I was painting and going on these trips, expeditions. And then I created a script with paper cutouts. So it became an illustrated manuscript. That was really a new origin story that I thought would help children and help the world.

And then I decided I needed to do more with it. And I made it into a film. And I had never made a film and I decided, Okay, now, really, it’s a feel-good film. It’s gotten a nice award. But I mean, it needs to help people to be more practical and functional. So I made it into a curriculum. And it became a curriculum at a middle school, a visionary school in Newburgh. So it’s just surprising because when I started to go on this journey, I just thought, Well, who knows what will happen? Maybe I’ll start painting pastel tulips? I don’t know. So I’m very pleased that I just kept being creative. And I kept exploring new ways.

Andi Simon: You know, there’s a wonderful book, The Secret to Our Success. And in the book, Joseph Henrich talks about his own realization that human evolution has come about because of our shared collective brain. And as I’m listening to you, I think our listeners would love to know, did you go on this journey alone? Or were you picking ideas up from people? How did you begin to evolve? Personally, you didn’t have many careers, you had sort of one person moving through different stages here. How does that happen?

Imogene Drummond: Very interesting question. No one has ever asked me that end. You know, it felt lonely at times. But it’s true, I have had a group of mostly women. I did, my father was like a guide. So he was very helpful. But especially this group of Society of Woman Geographers there, the woman who invited me was herself an artist. I just kept finding people who were supportive, and kind of just finding them. Then I ended up with this group, the Deeptime Network, that I’m on the advisory board of, which is why I made the ACQUITS toolkit. Oh, it’s interesting. It has not been alone. And I think that’s something in our culture, where we’re influenced to think about me, me, me. And really, we need to shift and think about we, so that’s one of the ideas behind the ACQUITS toolkit.

Andi Simon: So I think that the ACQUITS came about because you saw some unmet needs. You’re very much a blue ocean thinker. It isn’t about doing more of the same, a little bit better. It’s really about how do I solve a problem, create a new market, find solutions that may be right beneath us, but could be done in a different kind of fashion. Tell us a little bit about ACQUITS and then you can put up your screen so we can talk about the elements of it.

Imogene Drummond: Well, just to give you some background, I’ve been working with this fascinating cutting edge nonprofit, the Deeptime Network, which provides educational courses to connect us to the cosmos; again, exactly what you’re talking about. It talks about this evolution of humans, and the whole cosmos through this.

They were gearing up to shift from having three-month courses to nine-month courses, somewhat early in the pandemic. And I had been on a number of zooms with diverse situations and groups. And there were a number of things that were needed that were problematic in each experience. And the main noticeable one was that, oftentimes, somebody would speak too long. And so I had said to the co-founder and president Jennifer Morgan of the Deeptime Network that some communication guidelines would be helpful to people. And she said, great idea, Imogene, you do it.

Andi Simon: I have a hunch that it wasn’t a bad idea, anyhow.

Imogene Drummond: Well, I thought, “You know what, I’ve been thinking about this,” which is why I suggested it. And so I thought, “Okay, I’ll run with it.” And that is exactly why I developed it. It is to help people be more conscious in communicating in groups online. The techniques are also good for lots of situations, including in-person.

But, I noticed that it’s difficult to get feedback when you’re speaking in a group on zoom because everybody else is muted. And so you’re not hearing things that you might hear if you’re in a boardroom or a classroom, where people might be drumming their fingernails or rattling their coffee cups or coughing, or being wrapped with the tension. And also with the monitor, you’re just looking at this inanimate technological thing, versus people’s real faces. So you don’t get the feedback online that you do in real life. So I think there are many reasons why there were problems on zoom that aren’t in real situations.

Andi Simon: You know, in some ways, I am wondering two things. One of which is, many years ago, I did a television series for CBS Sunrise Semesters when people got up at six in the morning to get college credit; it was a long time ago. But I remember talking into the camera with no audience. And sometimes when you’re doing a zoom workshop or something, people don’t turn on their cameras. And you’re talking as if you’re doing a television show with no audience. And you have to imagine, and you require a lot of creative emotions.

We, as you and I are talking, respond to each other listening or not, based on my face and how I’m responding. And then you can take it to the next stage, because you’re trying to figure out, Am I making my point? Or am I not? So it was interesting, as I went back in time to remember the feeling. Somebody once said to me, as I was recording, You’re really good, but you should smile. I went, Ah. He said, When you smile, the thing is that we learn.

But this is very important, because I don’t think zoom calls, webs, are going to go away. In fact, I hope they don’t, because it gives us a multiplier, both of our time and our topics and so forth. But, I’m also not sure that interpersonal relationships aren’t truncated by the very same things that happen in a virtual one, except we don’t pay attention to the same way.

And I’ll segue into you talking about your programming in a second because I’ve been starting to go back and do live workshops, or live public speaking, keynotes. And I forgot the high that I get from being in an in-person experience. Now, the audience, when I’ve done it remotely, gives me great reviews. And, they too, though, are coming back. Because people are herd animals, we like each other. And we must be better when we watch each other. And we can celebrate what others are doing.

Put up your screen, and let’s take a look at what the elements of ACQUITS are all about and how to apply them because I have a hunch our listeners or watchers are going to want to do it. And for those listening, I promise you, Imogene will talk you through what is here so you can understand why it’s so important for the techniques that she teaches and that you can learn.

Imogene Drummond: Okay, thank you, Andi. So, this is a slide from my PowerPoint presentation with all of the techniques together. And through the PowerPoint presentation that I give about the ACQUITS toolkit, we go into each one in more detail. So this is a summary. And the first one is the A is for agree, and everybody in the course or on the zoom call agrees to these principles or these techniques. So you have to get everyone to buy in first.

And also I think it’s interesting because I wrote up these techniques and then it was like, Oh, if we make it into an anagram, it becomes ACQUITS. And there’s two definitions for the word acquit. One is the one we’re familiar with, where you get off, but the other one is about how you conduct yourself. So this ACQUITS refers to how one conducts oneself.

So the first actual technique is affirm, that we affirm others. The next one is C for contribute. We contribute to the conversation. And that means you don’t add something that’s not on topic. You stay on topic and you contribute something that is helpful to other people.

The next is the Q. Ask a question, ask people what they mean or to explain better or more clearly, or in more depth.

The U refers to unite. You want to have a conversation where people are getting feeling connected versus disconnected. So we want to keep this attitude of uniting people.

The I is for include. Let’s make comments that include people; oftentimes there’s a quiet or a couple of quiet people in the group. So it’s important to remember to include them.

The T is for “think gratitude,” is so important, really goes a long way to facilitating connections and good communication.

So the next three really refer to the idea of helping people speak more succinctly and clearly. So Share and Stop. The S means stop, give one idea, not three. Share your one idea, and then stop and breathe, and let other people respond to it.

The next S is for self-regulation, which is to think ahead of time. You know, editing is vital for good writing, right? So, to be a good speaker, we need to edit our thoughts. So if we think that it’s important to edit our thoughts first, before we speak, then we can do that better. And self-regulate is about editing ourselves. And also speaking for two minutes, not more than two minutes; a lot can happen in two minutes. And to set parameters as well, that you should try to express your idea in less than two minutes. So that’s the very basic techniques, really.

Andi Simon: But when you articulate them, we become aware of them. And if we’re not aware of them, we won’t know whether we are self-regulating, or contributing or dominating. We really don’t know how to do better at sharing ideas, and building, affirming each other’s position. It’s interesting, because the nature of the online experiences is that I have to manage my leadership academy participants, for example, so everyone has time to talk. And if I don’t, some of them will fall asleep.

But I mean, there’s an ease with which you go on and off the screen. When we were in person, I had to make sure everyone had an opportunity to talk as well. And the whole nature of talking in a group, it was almost a training session without calling it such. And because I was the orchestrator, as if this was a symphony, and each person was playing a different instrument. But for the whole to really sound like great music, we all had to come together over the same piece of music. What are we here for?

The metaphor was interesting because nobody had to duplicate each other. You know, the violins didn’t have to play the cello part. And the oboe couldn’t play the flute. But you can see them visualize, because that’s how we learned what I was trying to achieve on the screen. It’s not that different, and a good presenter knows how to orchestrate it in a way that equips everybody for coming up with ideas, almost preparing them before they come with, You’re going to contribute how and how are you going to regulate yourself? So in middle school, what do you do to teach kids?

Imogene Drummond: Well, what I do in middle school is a whole different creativity program that helps to facilitate their own creativity. I don’t teach art. And that program combines creativity, the cosmos. Again, I’m connecting them to the cosmos and self-worth. So that’s what I’m affirming continually, that in terms of what you just said, they are all unique. There’s no two alike, even if they’re twins. And each work is unique.

So every time, they’re really creating intentional artwork, to express themselves. So every time they do that, I consider it a success, because they have intended to express themselves. And, I just wanted to mention that with the ACQUITSS online, I don’t give the whole presentation myself because it’s about the process. The whole toolkit is about processes.

And so what I do is I involve three or four other people from the program, and we divide up the text and practice it. And then we share different people, give different parts of the toolkit, the presentation as I go along. And it’s been really terrific. It’s really working well and engaging people because it’s very content heavy. And in the program at the Deeptime Network, one presentation included a Sikh from India, a Canadian with a French accent, an Irish American with a beautiful lilting voice, and me.

Andi Simon: And all of those things added quality and color. I misrepresented you. This isn’t being done in the middle schools. Tell us where the program is? I didn’t mean to misrepresent it.

Imogene Drummond: The ACQUITS is really for communication to help people be more conscious online. And so I really think educational programs are perfect for it. I’m using it in the Deeptime Network for a nine-month program. It’s now part of their curriculum. It’s the second week of the whole course. So that people set the ground rules, basically, because it’s really about delineating expected behavior. And I think it really helped optimize what they’re doing on the network in these courses. They’re phenomenal courses anyway. They’re fascinating. There’s a wonderful community emerging out of it.

And the ACQUITS, it’s just made it easier to help people communicate well and be heard. And, for example, it’s interesting, Andi, 10% of the participants returned to take this nine-month course a second time.

Andi Simon: Wow, that’s great. Isn’t that remarkable!

Imogene Drummond: And I think that’s a testament to what the course is, and to that, Steve Martin, the facilitator, is phenomenal. But I think the ACQUITS kind of smooths it, it greases the wheels and facilitates it. And I was really excited when one time, Steve Martin, the facilitator of the course, said that ACQUITS is a good model to improve our relationship with the environment. I would have never thought of that. Yes, brilliant idea. How about if we change our relationship to the environment? And here’s a set of techniques we could use as guidelines, because they are really just guidelines.

Andi Simon: Yeah. But you know, there’s a structure to relating what you’ve created. Whether you’re affirming it or you’re self-regulating it or you’re contributing,it is a structure to relationships. Well, I’m not sure, as a young person growing up, you really appreciate the possibilities of a structure to those relationships as you’re trying to build friendships and play on sports teams. And, you know, everyone is theoretically a guide, but often they don’t have anything to guide you with. So this is really powerful. You know, it’s interesting because I have a hunch you’re leading this somewhere. What comes next for you?

Imogene Drummond: Well, actually, Andi, that’s why I called you because I want to get it out into the world. More people in the Deeptime Network, they’re using it on their own. But I want to give presentations about it in courses or places that have online meetings on a repeat repetitive basis because then you can use it. It’s not like it’s not for some. Oftentimes I give a presentation, that’s just a one-time presentation about my artwork or something. This is not that; this is about setting the ground rules for a course, like you were saying: the structure of the relationships. So they use it in the Deeptime Network now every year for their nine-month leadership course. And I would like it to be used elsewhere, other educational courses, or any kind of group where people meet online for more than one for multiple sessions.

Andi Simon: You know, I hope our listeners and our viewers consider ACQUITS for themselves in their organizations, or to refer you to others, because I know no other programs like this. I think that the time couldn’t be more ripe because as we are rebuilding hybrid relationships, they are trying to figure out, How do I manage other people? How do I build a global business, in a hybrid fashion with the tools that are needed? How do we keep our humanity when we don’t see each other on a daily basis? You’re shaking your head, right?

Imogene Drummond: Yes, yes, absolutely. Well said, absolutely.

Andi Simon: And when you think about it, we don’t realize what we give up when we go hybrid, or what we have to do when we come in. It’s very complicated. I can’t tell you how many of our clients have people coming in and sitting on their computers doing zoom calls with the people who haven’t come in, wondering, Why they drive in for an hour?

I have one prospective client who was upset because they were having a flywheel of hires who are leaving because there was no community to come into. And so there’s a moment where this is extremely needed. Imogene, as we think about wrapping up, two or three things you want the listener not to forget, other than they have to call Imogene. As you’re thinking through your own program here, you know, what is it that a listener should remember?

Imogene Drummond: Well, I think it’s important that we start thinking in terms of shifting from me to we. We have to be more community-minded and not always me first, me first trumpeting my own work.

And also, I think listening is important, but I think we’re taught to listen because, how often have we heard, especially as children, our parents or teachers say, Listen, listen to me, listen to this. But I think we haven’t really been taught to speak clearly and succinctly in group settings. So I think it’s important to learn to do that, and affirming people asking questions, expressing gratitude. All these are easy, but important things to do that really help and they help build bonds with connections with people.

Andi Simon: You know, Imogene said something that I want to emphasize, if you haven’t read Judith Glaser’s work on creating we, or conversational intelligence. Judith passed away about three years ago, maybe two years ago now. And her work in neuroscience, she was an observational and organizational anthropologist, and she realized that what we were learning from the neurosciences is that the words we say create the worlds we live in.

Others have said similar things, but to use the word AI, your amygdala immediately protects the listener from the imposition of your thoughts on theirs. And the amygdala starts to create cortisol. And it flees it, it fears it, it’s unfamiliar to it; anything that is unclear to it, it rejects. But when you say we, the oxytocin in your brain begins to flow, and you bond with the person who wants to build trust, and it creates a solution.

I know how you said we without that context, so I’ll add the context to it. Because I think that ACQUITS is about a we world where it isn’t about me, or I, but it’s about co-creating meaning. Now remember, humans are meaning-makers. We evolved because we can create meaning on things, as the virtual is an interesting catalytic moment for how to create new meaning about what people are saying, what they’re doing, and how to behave to do what to achieve what is.

And I do think ACQUITS is very timely. And for those of you listening, I think you’re going to want to follow up with Imogene to find out how to become more into acquitting each other for the way we communicate. Imogene, where can they reach you? And how can they find out more about you?

Imogene Drummond: Well, my website is immogenedrummond.com.

Andi Simon: Good, we’ll have all that information for you on the video and on the blog around the audio as well. Let us wrap up a little bit because I think Imogene in her creative way, she hasn’t quite made a film yet about life on the internet, but she might. But I do think she wants you to begin to see that the new isn’t feared, it’s something that can be really embraced. And the gap is between the way we’re communicating and what we’re doing in that communication that could really make for better bonds, the same way she and I are talking here today.

I must tell you that when I do just audio, it’s fine for a podcast, but I certainly love doing the video card because she and I are having a great conversation. And for all of you are listening to it. So enjoy the conversation. Let me thank all of you who have been coming to On the Brink with Andi Simon. We launched this in 2017. And the reception has been just fantastic. I mean, you’ve pushed us into the top 5% of global podcasts. And I’m always impressed with how people find me to say, I’d like to be on your podcast, or bring me people who they think should be on my podcast.

So I open that up: info@Andisimon.com gets right to me. But I have two books out there: Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business and On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights. My third one comes out in September 2023. I can’t tell you its name quite yet, but it’s terrific. And you’re going to really enjoy learning more about how to see, feel and think in new ways.

That’s the whole point of our podcasts and our blogs in the way we are trying to help people do something they hate, which is to change. Don’t ever waste a crisis, I tell my clients. Use a crisis and learn from it, and begin to see how to do things better, or at least differently and test them. I love pilots.

In any event, it’s been a delightful day to share Imogene Drummond who came to you from the Hudson Valley. Thank you, Imogene. It’s great fun. It’s great fun to share your story. And I wish you all to get off the brink. So thanks for coming to On the Brink with Andi Simon, and let me know how you’re doing. Goodbye now. Have a great day.