Content + Delivery = Impact

Way back when, people in business and society were very particular about how they presented themselves. They had impeccable manners and beautiful clothes, they dressed for dinner every day—think “Downton Abbey.” Then came the late 20th century, and suddenly “casual” was cool. Ties and high heels were out; khakis (or even jeans) were in. Formality was also out. Standing at a podium reading a scripted speech meant you were boring, out of touch and probably insecure.

Nowadays we talk about “communicating” rather than “public speaking,” because we have so many more ways to get a message across than just reading words on stage in a nice suit. There’s more reliance on video, graphics and other technology—but if you’re flashy yet have nothing to say, you haven’t succeeded in your mission.

A presentation is a sum of several moving parts, all of which require you to think about what you want to say (your content), how to say and show it (your delivery), and how your audience will react to it (the impact). Taking the time to craft how you’ll come across in terms of both style and substance shows that you respect your audience and care about what they think. This is the Preston formula for success: guiding philosophy: Content + Delivery = Impact.

 

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Authenticity is also very important. If you try to be something you’re not, your audience will see right through it. A middle-aged guy like me could go up in front of a group of millennials dressed like them, saying stuff like “chillax” and “I can’t even,” but it isn’t going to go over well. You need to communicate in a way your audience can understand, but remember: it’s your message, not theirs.

To recap, a successful presentation needs three things: substance, effort and authenticity. You need to have a compelling message, and you need to do the work to get that message across to your audience with sincerity and without over-relying on smoke and mirrors. After the show, you don’t want your audience to say, “Nice light show… what was he talking about again?” You want them to say, “Wow, I really understand what that person was trying to say. It makes a lot of sense. How can I apply this in my own work?”

Communicating is hard, and the Preston Productions team has your back. We’ll work with you not just staging, lights and video, but also on sharpening your stage presence and fine-tuning your message to match your audience. Let us help you present yourself in a way that makes you and your company look their best. Give us a call and let’s start collaborating!

Corporate Shakespeare: How to Dodge Rotten Tomatoes

shakespeare imageWe hear a lot about how hard it is to get attention from an audience these days. Everyone’s online, distracted or caught up with their own concerns.  Surely it was easier, back in the day. Like back in 1599, when you could just open a theater, attract a crowd, and everyone would be enthralled. Right?

The Globe Theatre, commonly thought of as Shakespeare’s own – opened in 1599 with his play Henry V. The full house consisted of those in the pit, paying a mere penny; those in the balcony – merchants, the court and others with means to pay considerably more and occasionally Royalty would attend gracing Shakespeare with their considerable influence. The theatre was in the seedier part of town so there was a wide spectrum of people who would attend and therefore to whom he played. So what was an aspiring author to do? Imagine if you will, the chaos for an evening’s entertainment if the play went poorly!

EMAIL-IMAGE-2Shakespeare wrote with an eye toward keeping his audience engaged – and that meant writing for all of his audience. From the groundlings in the pit, to the Royalty who would ultimately allow him to create stories that would promote the monarchy properly. Imagine the pressure…. If the people in the pit became bored, the noise and disruption could ruin the show for the balconies – and worse, they could be hiding rotten tomatoes! If the balconies were not pleased, they might not come back. Shakespeare and his actors would be broke and the theatre would close. And as for the Royalty….he could lose his head! An excellent play delivered by actors that understood their audience was crucial.

With live business events today we have similar challenges. A Sales Kickoff, a conference, a leadership meeting – every live audience has a wide range of interests and needs that must be thought of when building the content of a show. We spend time thinking about our message and the best ways to deliver that message. But how much time do we spend learning about our audience? When it is an internal audience we can often ignore the “water cooler issues” while turning all our attention to the needs of the shareholders; or the need to push sales and revenue while ignoring services issues. Though management may have their priorities, ignoring what the audience has on their many minds will prevent your message from getting across. Or worse, may become a lower priority due to a lack of understanding.

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Tomatoes, lack of ticket sales and beheading in Shakespeare’s time could end up being disgruntled employees, customer disengagement and lawsuits today!

 

We cannot all be Shakespeare but we can learn from him. Every audience member needs our respect and the best of our engagement. How well do you know your audience? During your event how can you listen and learn from them? Our audiences today don’t bring rotten tomatoes but they do bring smart phones. If they listen and the message resonates, they will amplify that message to their online audience (yet another audience!). It’s not 1599 and we are not writing about Kings and Queens but we do have the same responsibility to our audience.

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Don’t Cascade into the Communications Gap!

How clearly does your leadership message reach its audience?  Too often, a dangerous gap emerges between what is being said, and what is being heard.

Comms GapWhen a strategic message needs to reach a wide audience of employees or customers it’s often entrusted to specific “spokespeople” – say, CEOs, executives or public relations staff.  This has the benefit of consistency; everyone involved is likely to stay “on message” in an effort to “cascade” it down through the corporate ranks.

Danger arises when the cascade becomes a charade.  When messages are transmitted accurately, but without conviction, even the most well-crafted will fail its intended purpose.  And without the ability to hear audience reactions directly, and respond effectively, spokespeople are essentially operating blind.

The gap is one of authenticity:  for others to transmit your message effectively, they need to make it their own.  Whether senior executives, mid-level managers or B2B customers, they must restate and develop the message in their own voices.  This may sound risky (what if messages become distorted or mis-directed?).  We believe it’s possible to avoid that and to strengthen message delivery by getting the immediate audience actively involved.

It can begin very literally, by asking audience members to share the stage at a conference or corporate meeting.  Crafting a vehicle for participation (such as storytelling by audience members, live video interviews with respected field personnel, real-time audience polling, or any number of theatrical techniques) invites people to respond to, and shape the message in ways that may connect with more impact than any single presenter can achieve.

Engaging others in your organization or client base to help carry a message forth has enormous benefits.  It transfers ownership, and multiplies the channels through which the company’s voice can be heard.  The fundamental techniques used for this have proven effective over time, even as audience interaction shifts from live environments to digital platforms.

So mind the gap, and start building that bridge from the beginning.

Let’s Have A Conversation

Let’s talk. Let’s chat, let’s comment, let’s collaborate. Discussion is a defining feature of our online world, and it’s changing the way we approach live events.

OfficeCrafting an event agenda that fosters and promotes conversation requires special attention to your audience. Too often, opportunities for conversation are relegated to the “networking” portion of an event. (This can have the effect of making a social occasion feel positively predatory – “I’m not talking with you, I’m collecting contacts!”) But a general session with a conversational tone will set attendees up for more effective and rewarding one-on-one interactions during breaks.

Receptivity is key, so we begin by considering the attendees’ expectations and mindset. What have they come to hear or learn? What preconceptions do they bring, and what anxieties? To get people engaged, we want to address concerns early on, and make it clear that voices from the audience are welcome and will be listened to.

This can begin in advance of the event, be reinforced in an opening keynote, and carry through a multi-day program. Conversation changes the tempo and energizes participants.

A few techniques we use to get things going are:

  • Overtures: Along with event invitations and registration, online polls and comment boards help inform an evolving agenda.
  • Movement and physical interaction: Motion always captures our attention. And by stepping off the stage, into the aisle, a speaker visibly demonstrates interest in the audience and their opinions.
  • Reverse Q&A: Along with the above, a talented presenter can pose interesting questions and bring perspective to the topic at hand. This takes preparation and some find it risky, but the benefits are well worth going after.
  • Real-time polling: Cellphone technology can actually strengthen, rather than distract from presentations. Text-based polling allows the audience to respond anonymously, and see the aggregated results accumulate on a central screen. Attendees can also text in their own questions, permitting shyer introverts to easily contribute to discussion.
  • Short, fast-paced talks: The popularity of the Ignite and TED-talk formats says it all. A brief, expressive presentation commands our attention, and can also raise questions that will spark follow-up dialog.

That old saw of communications “Tell ‘em what you’re going to say, tell ‘em what you have to say, tell ‘em what you said” no longer holds up. In an information-rich world of diverse voices, one needs to say something – listen for the responses – then ask what it is the audience has really heard. And that two-way engagement will produce greater value than the original statement can ever have alone.

 

Time to Deliver On Your Corporate Events

When a multi-billion dollar public corporation brings its top 100 global leaders together for three days, what’s at stake? What will justify the time and expense, and make a difference?

We asked ourselves that question when Harsco Corporation once again asked Preston to help plan the agenda for its 2015 Global Leadership Meeting. The company was IMG_4200 copyemerging from a transitional year, with a new CEO, new additions to its executive team, and well-aligned plans and strategies in place. Promises had been made; it was time to deliver. So gaining the active support of this audience would be critical.

Working with Ken Julian, Harsco’s Senior Director of Corporate Communications, and his team, we identified two key aims for the agenda: engage and inspire. This led us to develop a story arc that would move the audience from passive attendance to active participation.

Several agenda topics were set up as conversations, rather than presentations. Burning issues were addressed as the audience engaged in dialog with senior executives and among themselves. Interactive polling and ample networking time also drove engagement.

When our guest speaker, Maestro Itay Talgam, arrived on the third morning, the group was relaxed, receptive, and ready to be inspired. Itay’s TED talk has over two million views, but his personal presence adds even more to the leadership theme. For our Harsco audience, his session offered a new awareness of their role in the company, and of the capabilities they – as leaders – can foster in others.

Finally, to end the conference in a truly active fashion, we crafted a performance challenge. Attendees were sorted into small teams, and given this charge: “tell us who Harsco is now.” Choosing from a variety of settings and formats (skits, game shows, songs, etc.) they summarized the conference experience and takeaways with six-minutes on stage. Enthusiastic competition was part of the process, as teams sought to out-do each other with humor and imagination.

The final message to this group was clear: as leaders, we need each of us to carry the plan forward, deliver on our promise and build the future for Harsco.

It’s the 21st Century: Have You Seen Your Customer Lately?

Customer engagement is a hot topic.   As companies dive into social media and online strategies, buyers have more opportunity to research and discover information about your company – and about your competitors as well. Customers are smarter, more informed and more focused on their own needs and solutions than ever before. For salespeople this is a big change, and an opportunity as well.

So, if engagement is happening online, where do live customer events fit in a virtual world? What is changing and where are the opportunities for your salespeople to build relationships with the customer….face to face?

I spoke with Roy Sanford, a veteran CMO and Sales leader, about how things have changed and how events need to shift the approach.

 

 


 

An Update on the Carter Center Weekend

What would you bid for a hand-built cabinet made by President Jimmy Carter? The question comes up for those who attend the annual Carter Center Weekend retreat. And it sometimes comes up more than once, as auction winners are known to immediately turn around and re-donate their prize to raise additional funds for the organization. This year’s audience contributed a record $1.5 million to encourage heath, peace and democracy.

IMG_9306aThe 2014 Carter Center Weekend at the Cascade Resort in Vail, CO., attracted the largest turnout in the event’s history. With Wayne Jackson on hand to direct production staff, all preparation and logistics involved went smoothly, despite the need to shift into larger spaces to accommodate audiences. “Every year, more content and programs are being offered,” said Jackson, “and despite the beautiful mountain activities and amenities available, attendees filled rooms to hear about issues and solutions.

Wayne’s relationship with The Carter Center goes back more than ten years, beginning with a chance overlap at a venue hosting the BMI event he was managing. Jay Beck, the Center’s senior event consultant recalls: “I soon realized that Wayne is someone who can handle both high-profile dignitaries and hotel employees with respect and efficiency. We’ve built a relationship that minimizes the headaches involved in event production and makes it easier for me to focus on developing quality programs.”

The Carter Center Weekend helps cement long-term relationships with committed donors, whose gifts keep on giving. Preston is proud to provide the skilled professionals who help make it happen.

You’ve Got Talent!

iStock_000017088878MediumClients often come to us to find specialists in disciplines that aren’t a “core competence” under the corporate roof. It takes visual designers, audio technicians, digital editors, and more to put together a great event. But within our client base, we often uncover hidden talents that add just the right touch and sensibility to resonate with the audience, and help take the show from good-to-great.

Here are some recent examples of clients who had hidden talent employees;

  • Rock my conference world: Every show we create needs its music interludes, the walk-in, transitions and stings that set the tone. This year, we were able to draw on the formidable musical knowledge of Doug Mow, Courion Corporation Chief Marketing Officer, who crafted a playlist that lifted the spirits of all who attended the annual Converge customer software conference, in New Orleans, LA.  In addition to classics from groups like Cream, Dire Straits and the Allman Brothers, Doug’s playlist introduced us to great music from Galactic, Four80East, Down to the Bone and others. The combined conference soundtrack reflected Courion’s message and mindset, helping to deliver a memorable customer experience.
  • Bring the heritage to life: Any long-lived industrial firm has gone through a lot of change, and has stories that a current generation of leaders can learn from. To bring those stories across, it really helps to have a champion of history like Ken Julian. Ken is Director of Corporate Communications at Harsco – a multinational firm whose roots go back to 1853 – and a railroad buff. At the recent Harsco Leadership Forum, we built four multimedia segments to build awareness of the extraordinary company legacy and evolution of its businesses. Ken not only guided our scripting and editing: when last-minute agenda updates forced a change of direction, he became the face and voice of history, providing live narration of each segment on stage.
  • Customers take the prize: Tradeshow raffles are a marketing staple, but Rocket Software raised the bar by several notches when they began giving away custom electric guitars (created by employee Steve Bice) at the annual IBM Information On Demand conference. Rocket sponsored a live concert by Fun this year, but what attendees didn’t know is that Rocket CEO Andy Youniss is an accomplished guitarist himself. So with a bit of urging by friends and fans (Preston included) he was persuaded to play on stage before doing the guitar giveaway and introducing the band. Even someone with Andy’s playing skills doesn’t find it easy to face an audience of thousands in a packed arena. So we helped him prepare with advice on timing, sound check and crew communication. The result? “People came up to me afterwards,” he said, “and told me, ‘I thought you were with the band!’” That, along with a very cool video clip for the next Rocket promotion, took the prize.

Every company is made up of individuals, each with a hidden talent waiting to be shared with the entire world.

The Carter Center: A Round of Applause For Peace, Health and Understanding

The_Carter_CenterWayne Jackson talks about his relationship with the Carter Center.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter founded Carter Center in 1982 to promote global human rights and welfare can claim remarkable achievements.  From eradicating persistent diseases to fostering democratic processes in numerous countries, the Carter Center sets a standard among NGOs for influence and effectiveness in program execution.

None of that would be possible without generous financial support. But Carter Center fundraising events are not like the typical ball or gala. Contributors come for information, education, and to connect with the dedicated experts who carry out the programs. Of course, a highlight of these occasions is the opportunity to hear from President Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter, and to ask questions in an informal forum.

Preston Productions helps the Center stage The Carter Center Weekend each year.  Every time, the agenda holds a few surprises, and perhaps a few last minute additions.  The presenters come from all over the world, and their very busy schedules are often subject to change.  Part of my role is to ensure that each one of them gets the kind of support, respect and recognition that the Carters themselves would provide.  We create a setting that is dignified but comfortable, designed to foster open and productive conversations.  The same applies to serving the audience: by making sure every aspect of the agenda flows smoothly and minimizing distractions I hope to ensure that attendees will feel both rewarded and generous!

The highlight for me is the opportunity to work with this team.  Carter Center staff are extraordinarily dedicated and focused on outcomes.  The attention to detail (something I’ve been told I take seriously) is second to none, and it feels great to work with this like-minded, considerate – and fun! – group of professionals.  Knowing that what we are doing contributes to such honorable causes really ices the cake.

Right now, my team is currently on site working on the Carter Center Weekend which began June 25th.  I look forward to reporting more on that in our next newsletter!