The Second D in Preston stands for DESIGN

This blog is part 3 in a series. If you missed part 1, please click here to read that entry, or here to read part 2.

In part 2, we described how Preston Productions helps you DISCOVER the true focus and goals you need to communicate in your meeting, event, video, or webcast. The next step is the DESIGN phase of our 4D process. This is when Preston and your organization really start to put the production wheels in motion. When we say DESIGN, we are not talking about colors or logos or themes. In this phase, we are going to DESIGN the journey and the experience on which we are going to take your audience.

Woman sketching a business plan at a creative office

Woman sketching a business plan at a creative officeWhere DISCOVERY asked “why”, DESIGN asks “how”. How is the meeting going to flow? How are the stakeholders going to participate? How will we engage the audience? How will it all get done? In other words, how will this meeting be a success?

The first step is to build your meeting agenda. Not to be confused with your day-to-day schedule; this agenda is really the flow of sessions, events, and other activities that will all support the themes and messages that need to be received by the audience. To get started, we will form a small team that will be the creators and managers of this meeting. This team will be made up of a producer and writer from Preston and a small group of stakeholders from your company. Together we will design the structure of the event and plot the strategy for getting the right players in the right place with the right message. We have learned that this small group of collaborators is the most efficient way to get your ideas to the stage.

At Preston Productions, we think of your meeting or event as a show. We pay attention to the tone and tenor of each presentation and work with you to position them, ensuring that the pace and impact of the meeting are in sync with your schedule. When all the elements are strung together with care, the audience’s reception can be phenomenal! From “curtain rise” to “curtain call”, everyone is engaged and receiving the messages set forth by you and the team.. Without that, you’ve wasted a lot of money and a lot of people’s time.

By taking time to DESIGN the meeting itself, we are able to gain more efficiency in the production and create a greater impact on the audience. Our next D will show you how we start building the appropriate pieces that will raise your event to a solid, towering success! The conversation will definitely continue!

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The first D in Preston stands for DISCOVERY

This blog is part 2 in a series. If you missed part 1, please click here to read that entry.

In part 1 of our blog series, we discussed how all of your communications processes have changed. Preston Productions can help you communicate with your people and customers in ways you may have never thought. Our process for doing that is something we call “The Four D’s.” This method is our prescriptive technique to make sure that you are using the right techniques to communicate your message in a way that is not only effective but efficient.

Solution Concept with Magnifying Glass on Chalkboard Background

The first D is DISCOVERY; this is the primary step in helping focus your objectives and making sure your goals are achieved. It will also help decide what is the correct vehicle to reach your goals while getting the most value for your communications dollar. While your need for an event such as a sales meeting or leadership forum may be clear, it is also important to define your purpose for this meeting and make sure that your audience is motivated, aligned, and engaged to receive your communications.

The DISCOVERY process is all about creating the right message. We have learned how to ask the right questions and listen to your goals. DISCOVERY will show you how to set up an important feedback loop. This loop will involve feedback between you and your people, and equally important, your people and your audience. This two-way communication an essential, to make sure that your goal has a solid purpose and that the message you are imparting continues to resonate with your audience after the event.

Our DISCOVERY process will begin to create the backbone of your event. It will identify the messages that need to be received by your audience and who from your team should deliver those messages. It will set you on a path to build an event that will engage and incentivize your audience.

Thorough DISCOVERY at the start will make for an efficient production process right through the event itself. Not only will it add quality to your messaging, but set the foundation for the remaining 3D’s in our process. As a result, your whole event will be more cost-effective and more audience effective!

Our next D will show you how we begin to form an event or communication that will have a predictable and measurable outcome, all the while delivering efficiency and value to your message. The conversation continues.

Please be sure to follow Preston Productions here and on LinkedIn. If you do not follow Preston Productions on LinkedIn, click here and make sure that you connected to us. Please join in!

You can’t spell PRESTON without 4 D’s

Business problems and support
Like it or not, your company’s sales process has changed. Today, sales are not just generating revenue, but are part of your organization’s overall productivity. Everyone in your company is involved in the sale. The products are more complex. The customers are more demanding. And everyone has to be a fully aware member of the sales team. Yes, your sales process, in fact, all of your processes, have changed but has the way you communicate to your people changed?

The customer has changed too. Today, customers are able to learn more about you and your products or services by viewing your webpage, reading white papers, or any number of data points that are easily accessed online. The customer may be a purchasing agent, an engineer, an administrative assistant, or just about anyone at the client company. Yes, the customer has changed, but has the way you communicate with them changed too?

Now, more than ever, it is important to communicate with your people to keep them motivated, engaged, and aware of their part in the company’s sales process. Simply saying “help out!” is not going to cut it. Face-to-face communications are the most powerful tools a leader has to get everyone on board and participating in a meaningful way.

How will you know if everyone on your team is all on the same page? Over the next few months, we will share with you a series of articles about our formula to help leaders organize their ideas, focus their message, and communicate with all the people who are part of the new processes. We call it “The Four D’s” and we will roll it out over the next several weeks here on our website. We hope by sharing these ideas we will start a conversation.

Please be sure to follow Preston Productions here and on LinkedIn. If you do not follow Preston Productions on LinkedIn, click here and make sure that you connected to Preston Productions. Please join in!

Leadership Communications

Profiles in Leadership

 

How does “Leadership Communications” play into your role as a presenter at a corporate event? It all has to do with audience engagement. Your talk, your presentation, your performance, is your opportunity to show that you can communicate like a leader. To do that, you have to be able to connect with your audience and understand that you are not just showing data or repeating someone else’s plan. You are the leader, and you want every face out there to follow your lead. You are actually looking for their engagement in your presentation and their participation in your company’s success.

Looking at the calendar and realizing that the big meeting is fast approaching can be a bit overwhelming. Communication is often far down the list of a leader’s priorities until it isn’t! No need to worry. Here are some pointers to help you get in the right frame-of-mind to focus on your leadership communications.

Don’t be a megaphone. Be a telephone.

Always prepare your presentation as if it were a two-way conversation. Expect feedback, even if that feedback is non-verbal. Design your presentation around your audience. By allowing – and expecting – their buy-in, you can make sure that they are active listeners.

You have to be an active listener as well. Be prepared for questions. If there is no time in the agenda, make yourself available after the speech. You can also use meeting apps and social media to field inquiries and respond quickly, helping to establish lasting connections. An effective presentation will continue the conversation long after you leave the stage.

Who do you lead?

Make sure you are prepared to speak to the people in the audience. Are they your reports, your customers, your staff? Often leaders lose sight of who is the actual audience. Focus on the people in front of you. Speak to their concerns. Addressing what your audience wants to know will make them sit up, listen, ask questions and participate in your presentation.

It’s all about integrity.

Be authentic. By speaking your truth you will display your own authenticity, and you can build integrity with your audience. Everyone wants to succeed and be appreciated for his or her expertise and effort. Bring that feeling into your presentation. Ask questions. Point out those who have contributed. Have a little levity. The audience will follow your lead and will appreciate and want to offer their integrity in response. Not only will that help you feel better on stage, but it will also confirm that the audience is engaged and listening to you.

Make it a performance.

You don’t need to be a classically trained actor to turn your presentation into a performance. All you need to do is step out from behind the podium. Step out of your comfort zone. Be courageous – your audience will appreciate the effort. Make sure your speaker support actually supports your speech. When you put something on the screen, you are requesting that the audience read it. If you put your entire script on the screen, you have negated your reason for being up there. Let them hear from you. You’re the leader!

Don’t go it alone!

You probably have a lot of help at work from associates, colleagues, and consultants. When you need expertise in the business, you get it. You should do the same with your presentation.

Preston Productions is known for our professional direction for speakers from any industry. From writing a presentation that is authentic to your own voice to building the visual support for that presentation, Preston will get you ready for your moment. We will also help you with your performance. Starting with  rehearsals, to the moment you go on stage, we will be there, making sure you are confident, comfortable and effective. You are providing Leadership Communications, why not call on Preston Productions. We have the Communications Leadership to help you succeed.

 

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.