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

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer
Yahoo Inc.
701 First Ave
Sunnyvale, CA 94089

Dear Ms. Mayer,

Note: Unlike the many other “open letters” that have been written to you recently, I offer no sarcasm here. I mean every word I say.

Your recent announcement of workplace policy at Yahoo ignited an exciting public debate. I know you are not alone with frustration about far-flung teams and the challenge of inspiring them. I applaud your decision to focus on collaboration and search for a solution that works. As someone who started in theatre and now assists business leaders to develop strategies to inspire their teams, create collaboration and drive sales, I know the value of “face to face” communication.

The advances in motion pictures, video and the Internet have made many wonder why the theatre still exists. And yet it does and there is still no replacement for actors using their skills in person to deliver stories to move an audience. This correlates closely with your desire to bring your team face-to-face to create excitement and forward motion.

I have seen business leaders in your position, with the same conundrum, who have successfully leveraged today’s technology to create theatre and communicate an inspiring message across the globe. It must be planned well and executed even better, but it can work…even if you cannot get all of your team under one roof or on one campus.

Truly think of it as theatre…you have your actors (the employees) who want to inspire their audience (the customers) with a message crafted by the playwrights (your marketing team, sales team, etc.). You have producers (your investors) who are keen on profits, success and ROI. And you are the director, the one who must put this all in motion in a way that rallies the troops and inspires them all to hold on while the plot unfolds and brings them together, all pulling in one direction toward one vision.

Inspiration from a good director will motivate actors to do their jobs well and the production generated will get good reviews. However, inspiration from a great director will motivate the group to inspire each other, resulting in a production that will generate great reviews. In the end, you want your message to resonate with your team in a way that drives them to work together, to inspire one another.

You can do this whether they are all at desks in the same building, or whether they are in offices around the globe. I’ve seen it done.

Before Tyco announced plans to split the company in 2011, we worked with their leadership team to create a global theatre event that took the company’s siloed teams around the world and brought them together through a video webcast resulting in a level of understanding and camaraderie never seen in their sales teams before. It wasn’t the technology that succeeded. That was just the delivery system. It was the message that we worked to craft and hone with their leadership, like a Broadway script, that attracted their audience. And it was the performance of that message that inspired thousands to reach across silos and invigorate product development and sales. The stage was the floor of one of their Chinese plants and the audience was gathered in groups in large rooms in front of screens and in front of individual computer monitors throughout the globe.

The result was rave reviews from an inspired team that was re-invigorated to work together. We’ve seen this work time and time again when the leader is courageous and willing to create a potent message and hone it until it can’t help but resonate with the audience.

If I understand your memo correctly, isn’t that the end result for which you are striving?

In Erik Brynjolfsson’s book, Working Against the Machine, he concludes that success can be achieved today only if we learn to work with the machine. Inspiring people today requires working with the new methods and delivery mechanisms, not going back to earlier models that have proven less useful over time. Your leadership in finding a balance between face-to-face communications and “online theatre” (of which Yahoo is an inseparable part) will be the answer to your quest.

You certainly have your team’s attention. Bravo. Now, you need to inspire your cast and crew to, in turn, inspire your customers. Imagine the potential.

Should you like to talk about this further, I’m here – and online. I would truly love to discuss your challenge and what success looks like for you.

Respectfully,
Rick Preston
Preston Productions Inc.

What’s in a Theme?

by Contributor Jennie Morris

Conference themes are a staple of business meetings, trade shows and other corporate presentations. A surprising amount of time and expense can go into developing them, just as with brand identities. Sometimes multi-million-dollar competitive bids are won or lost, based upon a selection committee’s reaction to a few words.

As you consider your theme selection process in 2013, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind…

  • A good meeting theme invites participation, by leaving something to the imagination.
  • The theme should also provide a metaphorical framework capable of supporting a variety of activities and presentations, since you are only at the beginning of the planning process and don’t want your theme to dictate your content.
  • A great theme always leads us back to an underlying truth, and embodies the intentions and aspirations of those gathered in conference.

With this in mind, how do you best craft a theme for your upcoming event?

First, look to the central objective of the program. Is it taking place because of a need to train employees or inform a market? Is the mission to gain support for a cause, a program or product offering? Does it seek to overcome employee inertia or customer resistance? Perhaps you need to build trust among shareholders or employees to change attitudes driven by past employees or actions?

Each of these goals calls for a different approach. Begin with the objective and it will lead you to the appropriate theme as you can see below.

Challenges are “call-to-action” statements. They may announce a program or product, motivate a sales force or move customers to act.

Some examples of past Challenge themes include:

  • Lead the Way
  • Building Experiences
  • Reach-the-Beach
  • Destination: e-Space

Celebrations use assertive statements or phrases that command attention. These can be used to promote an existing product, recognize accomplishments or raise morale.

Some examples of past Celebration themes include:

  • The Power is On!
  • We are Here!
  • I (Heart) Talent
  • Timeless Solutions, Endless Possibilities

Characterizations apply to occasions that need an identity to intrigue and attract an audience, giving them a sense of what to expect without giving it all away. Most appropriate to events with multiple objectives, such as association meetings or industry conferences, they may be location-specific, when location is part of the attraction.

Some examples of Characterization themes include:

  • Trust Matters
  • A Taste of New Orleans
  • Cadkey Evolution Tour

Your theme is truly your starting point, the springboard for crafting your meeting, trade show presentation, webcast or corporate video. Begin with honest questions, which will lead to your goals and objectives. This will then drive the type of theme statement or event title that gives your project a launch that will inspire those involved. A theme that grabs the imagination of the organization will be invaluable as you guide your team to the successful realization of your ultimate goal.

What You Don’t Say, Counts

So last year’s Best Picture Oscar went to a story about public speaking – and this year, it’s all about what can be done with silence.  “The Artist” makes amazing use of gestures, gazes, graphics and music to engage us in a simple love story.

Corporate stories are rarely quite as straightforward, but business presentations can really benefit from similar performance techniques.  Sometimes all it takes is a couple of dramatic moments to underscore a key message, or focus attention on an important issue.

Great presenters can do this simply by pausing at the right moment.  A moment of silence gives the audience a chance to absorb what is happening and prepare for the next moment.

The right gesture evokes an emotional response without resorting to explanation – and that is key to delivering memorable performances.  Appropriate gestures signal authenticity, and build credibility for the speaker.

And of course, sound and graphics can lend a great deal.  That’s why great presentations are often the result of teamwork among talented specialists.  And if someone can tap-dance like Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, well, that could be a plus!

The Once and Future Jobs

So much has been written about Steve Jobs’ passing, it almost seems futile to try.  But the outpouring of respect and grief from “the rest of us” that consumed the social networks says something important about what we need from our leaders, and what we want from our technologies.

Jobs had an amazing belief that, given excellent tools, ordinary people would do wonderful things.  He was famously tough on his staff – unwilling to compromise his standards, but willing to encourage new ideas and listen to critiques.  He challenged people to make their very best efforts, and we loved him for it.

To engage employees, as we work so hard to do, one must first believe that they want to be engaged.  Leaders do that by listening, by encouraging people to express themselves.  They don’t tolerate apathy, but point the way towards action, and cheer those who head in the right direction.

Business leaders who listen in to social media today can gain tremendous insights.  Given great communication tools, people will become engaged.  Given recognition and challenged to apply their talents, they will make great things.

Anyone who used an Apple product felt empowered.  We’ll miss Steve, but he left a little bit of his spirit in our hands.

All Hail the iPad!

I have been a Mac user most of my life.  And to any Mac devotee that comes at a cost.  (No, not the retail value, though my overpriced laptop still lasts three times as long as that other OS version.)  But what I mean is the price to defend my choice.  For in the “business” world we were the outcasts, the troublemakers, and the enfants terrible of the personal computing world.

Then it happened one day.  The CFO of a major global corporation, prepping for our video shoot, revealed her latest tool: her iPad.  What is this I thought?  A business individual, a numbers person, of all things, embracing the enemy?  Is this a victory for the small guy, the rest of us? All hail the…?

Face it. Despite the worldwide acceptance of the “other” operating system as a business tool, you’ve all suffered from Mac envy.  The sleek lines, the intuitive interface, you can’t deny its appeal. And now you have an excuse to own one.  Because the iPad is rapidly becoming the most successful new business tool to be launched in decades. The consulting firm Deloitte estimates that companies will buy some 10 million tablets this year, the majority of them iPads. That’s companies! Not individuals, companies.

Apple is getting serious about the enterprise.  And Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff described current IT strategies as the “consumerization of IT.”  What’s good for the consumer is good for business. Does your business have a Facebook account? Wasn’t that once for college kids only?

The bottom line is: in the end it’s all about productivity.  Tablets like the iPad have a deep catalog of business apps that turn this mobile device into a real business workhorse. Companies are distributing them to sales people to take into the field to present products, track orders, videoconference and communicate quickly and easily.

And, they are cool.  Admit it, you always wanted to be on our side. Welcome.