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!

WAIT! Don’t pack that!

Sorting, packing, moving, stacking.   That’s enough to start the year, right?  Not for Preston Productions! In the midst of our exciting move to our new space, we have been fortunate enough to work on some really exciting shows for a couple of innovative clients.

In January, our team traveled to Las Vegas, NV to work on Rocket Software’s 2014 World Wide SaRocket SKO Screenles Kick Off event.  This kickoff brought together a sales team from all over the globe to connect on a person-to-person level, while focusing their efforts on the year ahead of them.

Using a screen that was 10 feet high and 30 feet wide, we were able to re-create the whiteboard that Rocket’s CEO uses to plot the direction of his company, and bring his team through his thought process on where they stand currently and where they are heading as a unit.

That wide screen then found its way to Reston, VA to help illustrate Harsco Corporation’s rich history and heritage and to be a backdrop during an exciting transition for the company.  Bringing together three very distinct business units can be challenging, but with a mini-trade show, demonstrations and executive team reports, there was a real sense of cohesiveness amongst the group.

Harsco GLM ScreenWhile our clients play in very different industry arenas and face their own unique communication challenges, the Preston team brings tried and true methods to each, using a combination of media, environment and performance to help leaders communicate effectively and build a following within their company.

Showing How It’s Done, Telling It Like It Is

Every business discipline has its own jargon, even communications (consider the ubiquitous terms “content” or “social”).  It speeds up some conversations, but can easily obscure some important ideas as well.  By applying a completely different vocabulary we can gain some insight.

At Preston, we like to talk about leadership communications in terms of theatre.  We use words like script, show, cast and stage even for programs that won’t involve traditional performance.  This sometimes makes people uncomfortable, which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.  It allows us to take a message out of the cozy context of the client’s comfort zone, and examine how it will play to an audience.

I’m struck by how often I hear presenters say, “I don’t want to sound scripted” as if that were the kiss-of-death.  Done well, scripting is a process of mental composition, not about sticking to precise phrasing.  When you are composed in front of an audience – when you know the beginning, middle and end of your story and how you will move from place to place – you can pay attention to your listeners.

When we talk about building a show (instead of producing a meeting) there’s a dual meaning.  Great presentations go far beyond scripts or bullet points; they show that what is being said is meaningful to the audience.  They incorporate illustrations, maybe physical props, even costumes.  (What would it say if you delivered your message in a hoodie instead of a sports jacket?)  This is why we attend conferences, rather than simply download decks from SlideShare: the way people interact in public has an enormous impact on what they understand, absorb and retain.

Then there’s the showHarsco GLM Screen, versus the agenda.  Great business events have an overall flow, unfolding like a story rather than delivering “content” in discontinuous chunks.  Individual performances reflect on, and build upon each other for collective impact.

Over years of doing this, we have noted one important thing:  only a very skilled performer can effectively deliver a message he doesn’t believe in.  If an executive has not composed his thoughts it won’t matter whether he speaks from a prepared script, or off-the-cuff.  This is often revealed in rehearsal, a critical part of the process – about which much more will be said, in another issue!

 

 

Getting a Move On

As comfortable as we had been on St. Martin Drive, last year it was becoming clear that our clients’ growing needs called for an expanded facility. In a new building we could offer capabilities to help customers take advantage of rapid changes taking place in communications technology and practices.  And so we made the decision to pack up and move.

The people at Preston are accustomed to embracing change, and we’d be in trouble if they didn’t. Tremendous advances are taking place with communications platforms and technologies, and the pace of innovation seems to only increase.  They dove into the relocation project, and found opportunities to take our operations to a new level.

At 128 Bartlett Street, we now have better capabilities for our customers: a larger video studio space, with fiber optics to support worldwide webcasting; an improved rehearsal space for presentation services; a shop with more room and higher ceilings to stage shows before sending them on the road; and additional office space to accommodate our growing, talented staff.

All of this will serve, in turn, to help our clients address challenges they are facing. Live connections and real-time interactions are becoming more and more essential in reaching out to employees, shareholders, customers and communities as they navigate change in their businesses. Leaders who can inform and inspire in this environment will excel. Our most forward-looking clients pushed us to stay ahead the curve, and I’m grateful for that.

Preston Productions Shakespeare reminds us that “All the world’s a stage”. Today’s complex and diverse “World Stage” requires a vast array of new tools and techniques. While many companies have struggled to perform over the past five years, those that adapted are expecting a new period of growth and optimism. Our move positioned us to help strong players thrive in a world of new stages, new stories, and constant changes.

 

Preston Productions is now located at 128 Bartlett Street, Marlborough, MA 01752

When the Client Gets It & the Results Don’t Lie

By Rick Preston

Last week, we were very excited to work on a project with a great new client. The CEO is one of the courageous leaders we love to work with. He has vision, he listens, he takes risks. After the online video broadcast that we did with him, which we considered very successful, I received the following email at 10PM the same night…

Today was a special day. I want to thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone (once again) to help me communicate my message to our global community in an effective, impactful, and fun way. Thank you for helping me take this from an idea to an amazing event, show, and broadcast and for making this event totally engaging for those in the room and for those watching online. Speaking of those watching the broadcast from around the world, here is some of what they shared with me afterwards:

“Fantastic, very engaging, and I think it is a perfect format for getting multiple ideas across.”

“I loved the new format. So professional!”

“Great job on the new format. I am a remote worker, but I felt like I was there with you all.”

Score!
Notice I say that this CEO has vision, he listens, he takes risks. However, the only way we get hired a second time is when the results from the field confirm that the vision is understood and the risks that we recommend are working. When I started in this business more than 25 years ago, it was all about face-to-face communication with big groups at trade shows and product launches and conventions. It was about glitzy sets and powerful slide shows (yes, slide shows). There are still components of that in our work.  However, the larger challenge now is to communicate that vision, that product launch, that investor confidence, when everyone is looking at a screen in a different corner of the world.

When someone experiences our work with a courageous leader and says, “I am a remote worker, but I felt like I was there with you all,” we do high fives at Preston Productions. There is no higher praise or more meaningful feedback. It proves the risk was worth it and the medium is right.

Thanks to all the clients who share the results with us. It’s the best way for us all to learn together about the most powerful way to deliver a message.

Five Things a Leader Must Do To Be a Courageous Communicator

by Rick Preston

At Preston Productions, we think a lot about what it takes for a leader to be a courageous communicator on stage. Over the years we’ve worked with executives who are charismatic, bold and visionary. We have also worked with those who are scared to death to stand up on a stage and speak their truth, even when they are a force for innovation behind a desk. It is our job to help those leaders articulate their vision in a way that connects with their followers.

To some courageous communicators, the fear of being on stage becomes a deterrent to sharing brilliant concepts and ideas. It is imperative that this fear does not get in the way.  This is easier said than done, but often a dissection of the fear can help a leader realize how important his or her message really is.

Author Marianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”

With that in mind, here are five essential things I believe a leader must do to be a courageous communicator…

1. Believe in your message.
It is impossible to deliver a message well if you don’t believe in what you are saying. It doesn’t have to be a popular idea. It doesn’t have to be an idea that is easy to grasp or understand. You just need to believe in the message and we can find a way to craft it in such a way that it makes an impact and moves your followers.

2. Invite a real conversation.
Courageous communications are designed to elicit a response. They are not simple orations. They should never be a one-way street. You are making a statement to your group, because they have a stake in the message. They will respond and you should want to engage in that conversation. The reason to stand on a stage is not to dominate the message, but rather to deliver it to many people at once, as it would often be nearly impossible to have more intimate, one-on-one conversations with each member of the audience. That doesn’t mean you don’t want the delivery to trigger a reaction. Language that engages and inspires requests a response.

3. Speak to everyone in the audience.
Assuming you have invited the right audience to the meeting, presentation, training or other venue, you should be able to speak to everyone in the audience. The reason to deliver your message is to transfer your belief, to educate your audience and to prompt an inspired response. Your job as a leader is to lead change, give credit and require accountability. In this triad of communication, there is something for everyone in your audience, so leave no participant untouched.

4. Speak simply.
Courageous communications do not need to be complicated. In fact, one of my favorite Albert Einstein quotes is, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Einstein totally gets it. One of the challenges in helping leaders craft courageous communications is to get them to break down the message. Your audience should have no reason to say they didn’t understand the intent of the communication. Simplicity leaves nothing ambiguous. The vision is clear. The mission is actionable. While the expected result may be challenging, there is no doubt what it is.

5. Transfer your belief.
When you start with believing your message, then your mission in delivering courageous communications is to transfer your belief to the audience. Belief is at the root of success as a communicator. When you let your light shine, you unconsciously give others permission to be their best as well. When you let others into your message and allow them to see themselves as part of the vision, you suspend fear together. The word “inspire” means “to breathe into, to inflame.” When you transfer your vision to another, you imbue that person with your belief in the fact that this can work.

Your courage as a leader and communicator gives safety to others. Whether your message contains news of a new product or direction, shares a challenge that is plaguing the audience individually or uncovers a truth that only you knew before you communicated it, your courage in sharing this information is key in the organization moving forward. Confronting the truth allows those following you to join the conversation. It gives them meaning in the situation and allows them to communicate as well.

Courageous leadership requires the passion to build extraordinary content and the courage to deliver it to your audience. It defines true leaders and the success of organizations large and small. We honor those who want to face their fear, find the center of their courage and inspire others to be great right along with them.

For more on Courageous Communications, visit http://www.prestonevents.com