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.

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!

Why the King matters…

As you might imagine, my vote for best picture this year is The Kings Speech.   If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do…today!  Not simply because of its numerous Oscar nominations, but because you will rarely see the significance of trust so well expressed.

In this elegant film, the coach Lionel Logue sees courage and possibility in the Prince of Wales, while the future King can only focus on the barriers his speech impediment creates.  Lionel demands trust from “Bertie,” which is the foundation of building trust in his own leadership potential.

I believe we have many exceptional leaders whose awkward speech hinders their effectiveness.  And today we desperately need them to be effective, and not to be stymied by anxiety.

It’s no wonder this is common: the risks associated with taking messages public, and the negative impact of less-than-effective performances can be magnified upon replay.  Contemporary examples of bad message delivery abound:  the tone-deaf remarks of BP’s ex-CEO Tony Hayward, President Bush’s public praise for his FEMA chief, Howard Dean’s excessive enthusiasm in front of the microphone.  Political leanings aside, we cringe to see leaders pilloried in the media after a misstep – because it discourages those who may have the ability, but not the confidence, to take on a leadership role.

Delivering messages successfully is not about talent. It is about hard work.  It is about taking the resources you have, building on them and pushing them to their limits.  And as this film illustrates, great performance is not just about the physical characteristics of the task.  That is just the beginning of the work.

To get to the true power of performance, you must find the courage to let go of those demons that would limit you.  Have the courage to share your beliefs, principles and ideas.  Embrace the task of understanding your audience and use your own best abilities to reach them.  And as the audience nods their collective heads and realize that the speaker is speaking to their needs, beliefs, principles and desires, a well-delivered speech connects with people in ways that surpass volume and diction.

Who wouldn’t want their leaders to have this capability?  It’s powerful.  King George VI spoke with the voice of one who faced down personal limitations and overcome them. He did so because it was his duty to inspire confidence – but also because someone trusted in his courage, and gave him the ability to help lead a great nation through crisis.

Enough for now!  Hope you enjoy Oscar night.

An Ear to the Groundswell

Keeping up with the breaking news from Egypt in recent days was a challenge for anyone, including experienced news analysts.  But the most clueless comments of all came from then-President Hosni Mubarak.  Clearly, he just wasn’t listening to “his” people.

Sadly, many leading business executives seem to have similar challenges.  They may be good at listening to their peers, or their advisers or leadership teams, but the voice on the shop floor?  Not so much.  And the impact of that is demonstrated by numerous cautionary tales ending in bankruptcy: poor labor relations at Delta and US Airways, whistle-blowers ignored at Enron and WorldCom, excessive risk-taking at Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual.  Not to mention dozens of firms that struggled to profit from ill-conceived mergers with baked-in cultural issues (can you say AOL?).

Perhaps those leaders were so caught up in what “the message” coming from the executive suite ought to be, that they failed to hear the warning sounds outside their windows.  The message from the ground in Tahrir Sq. was “we know what we need, and it isn’t you.”  Leaders who take time to show they are listening before a crisis hits are more likely to remain standing when it has passed.