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!

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.

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.

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!

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

 

 

 

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.

Now is the time to recognize your heroes

Events in Japan continue to grip the world in shock and suspense.  Much more will be written about management and decision-making in response to this crisis, but recently attention was focused on the courageous perseverance and dedication of Tokyo Electric Power’s nuclear plant technicians. We all must feel grateful for them – but why does it take an extreme event to remind us?  These are the same people who worked steadily to maintain safety every day, before a tsunami overwhelmed their facility.

Corporate events often feature a speaker with a remarkable story to tell in an effort to motivate employees.   Or they produce a video extolling some extraordinary accomplishment.  These stories capture our attention, and may inspire us to strive a bit harder, but they also imply that outsized achievements are the only thing worth applauding.  We’re happy to tell stories about those who respond to a crisis – but what about those who make sure that the crisis never happens in the first place?

The reality is that we are much more dependent upon the steady, unsung efforts of the daily grind.  As one Harvard Business Review article put it: “It’s hard to argue with the accepted wisdom—backed by empirical evidence—that a motivated workforce means better corporate performance.”  And knowing that one’s daily contributions are noted and valued is surely motivating.   Companies that really lead their industries acknowledge employees on a regular basis.  They pay attention over the long haul, and look for opportunities to applaud those who keep the office humming, the plant safe, the shipments inspected and the environment protected.

In its statement on the situation in Fukushima, the I.B.E.W  points out that there are 15,000 workers at 42 nuclear plants in the U.S. today.  Let’s hope their employers don’t hesitate to let them know how much their efforts are appreciated.