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How to Moderate a VIP Panel

February 24, 2010 11 comments

Heather & me (see my listening face?)

I had a ball at the Mom 2.0 Summit in Houston last week. The highlight? Moderating  a VIP panel – or perhaps I should say VIB (Very Important Blogger) – and living to tell the tale.  Did I mention Heather (aka Dooce) Armstrong was one of those panelists? More on that in a minute.

Here’s how it went down. I had submitted a panel idea to the conference organizers about “Bloggers, Brands and the New Publishing Paradigm.” The topic sprang from a post I wrote last year about how marketers and PR people need to rethink how they approach bloggers; it got nice response and you can read it here.  I was jazzed when the idea was accepted and designated the closing keynote panel.  I figured I’d be one of the panelist and that was great.

Several weeks later I got a note from Laura Mayes (one of the Mom 2.0 organizers and a thoroughly spectacular human being) that I’m actually going to be the moderator and the other panelists will be announced shortly.  I’m excited and just a teeny bit anxious because good moderating takes some prep and I now need to work this into my hot mess of a schedule.

Another couple of days goes by and then I see this In Laura’s Twitter stream:

 

Zoink. I’m moderating three of the most popular bloggers known to man including Heather Armstrong who (for those of you who don’t know) is arguably one of the most famous (and often controversial) bloggers in the galaxy?

My moderator prep anxiety has now gone defcon level 5. And here’s where I must make a confession. I’m a pretty cool cucumber when it comes to professional stuff but you know who gives me the willies? Male CEOs and Very Important Lady Bloggers. Don’t ask me to explain, it’s complicated and for all I know rooted in Freudian issues. Suffice it to say I was nervous about reaching out to Heather, Maggie and Gabrielle to get the ball rolling on panel prep.

But I did and in my neurotic  hyper-organized way — as if preparing an important client for a presentation — start hurling emails into the ether with suggestions about discussion topics and Q & A and conference calls…want to guess how well that went?

Right. Not terribly. 

Very Important Lady Bloggers are important for a reason. They are busy. They are focused on their blogs (which are their businesses) and their families. With three weeks to go before the conference my anal-retentive discussion guides were not yet a priority in their minds.

Well, they were MY priority and there’s the problem. I was not reading my audience. I was prepping on my terms, not theirs. Which leads me to the most important advice I can offer to anyone preparing to moderate a VIP panel:

It’s not about you. It’s about them.

I don’t care how fancy-pants you are, if you’re moderating a big-deal panel you will be eclipsed. As it should be. You are not the headliner, you are the facilitator who if you’re smart will make the headliners look great.

Cutting to the chase, I will tell you the panel went off really well. It all came together perfectly (if not a little last-minute.) Heather, Maggie and Gabrielle were lovely, created content that made the presentation visual and dynamic, and generally rocked the dais.

Moderating a panel of this stature is kind of like being a jockey – or maybe a rodeo rider is a better analogy (we were in Texas, after all). You climb onboard that filly and do your best to stay on. You listen, you listen some more, you roll with the punches and adjust the questions based on the flow of the discussion. You take the mike only to ask the next question or to clarify a point.

You are not the show. Did I mention already that it’s about them, not you?

I’ve been in the audience for panels where the moderator hogged the spotlight. I’ve been on the panel when the moderator ceded control of the discussion to unruly audiences. My goal was to make sure neither of those things happened and based on the crowd reaction, I think we just may have accomplished it.

Fiona Bryan live-blogged the panel here if you want to check it out.

[Image via Sarah Hubbell]

UPDATE:  More great posts about Mom 2.0 from women a) I want to be when I grow up except that I’m older than all of them; b) should come to my house for a slumber party so I can braid their hair and c) I am inspired by constantly…

Gabrielle “Design Mom” Blair (from the aforementioned panel) here

Maggie “Mighty Girl” Mason (also from aforementioned panel) here  

Liz “Mom 101″ Gumbiner here

Jenny “The Bloggess” Lawson (who my god I love so much it makes my eyeballs hurt) posted not once but twice

New Presentation Design Inspiration

January 12, 2010 1 comment
I’m a sucker for a good presentation design book but truth be told, there aren’t a ton of them out there. My bibles are Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte and Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds – well-worn copies are never far from reach at my desk. I was thrilled to read on Nancy’s blog this morning that Garr has published a new book called Presentation Zen Design. Nancy and Garr are close collaborators; watching two people who could be considered competitors collaborate and share is pretty inspiring (a lot of this dynamic plays out on their respective blogs.)  I highly recommend you get to know these two if your work includes any kind of presentation creation.

Riding through Hell: 2009 World Business Forum Recap

October 11, 2009 1 comment
Blogging live at the WBF. See the back of my head in the front row?

Blogging live at the WBF. See the back of my head in the front row?

It’s Day 1 of the World Business Forum. I’m tucked comfortably into my puffy velvet seat on Radio City Music Hall’s third mezzanine. Despite some wi-fi challenges (what conference is complete without them?) it’s been smooth sailing for the 50 or so of us who are here as part of the official Blogger Hub. Two levels below, the orchestra seats are steadily filling to the accompaniment of the Lite FM-ish smooth jazz flowing through the sound system (you were expecting Lady GaGa?)  Despite the stated “business casual” dress code, it’s a sea of gray suits down there. I’m in standard issue PR girl black head-to-toe, with gold flats and crystal drop earrings. (This is my business casual.)

Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton takes the stage to open the conference, and something he says sets the tone for all the speakers who follow:  “When you ride through hell, you don’t stop.”  It’s an old cowboy saying, but pretty apt right now. No denying things have been pretty hellish for the past 12 months. It’s a common refrain with nearly every speaker – unemployment up, GDP down. American small business dying on the vine. We may technically be out of the recession, but the hard work of recovery has just begun. And there’s the question of sustainability and whether economic recovery will happen at the expense of a planet which, as speaker Jeffrey Sachs reminds us, “is bursting at the seams.”  

How appropriate that climate-related disaster metaphors are a recurring conference theme: it’s Katrina, a cyclone, a tsunami. Cataclysmic. The eye of the hurricane is past but the challenges left in the aftermath are monumental. Hellish indeed. But as Hinton says, this is no time to stop riding. It’s simple in business: Grow. Do. Wherever the market goes next, we must focus on growing. Innovation brings good fortune. It’s always time for ideas. 

There is no shortage of ideas coming from the Radio City Music Hall stage. My head and laptop are swimming with them. I look down at my notes in between speakers and am amazed I can keep up at all (Thank you 10th grade typing teacher. Name: forgotten. Impact on my professional life: priceless.) Themes emerge from speaker to speaker and begin to coalesce on my monitor; here are the two that resonate most powerfully for me:

Truth: Saatchi and Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts tells us the truth is ugly. Don’t be afraid to face it. Bill Conaty, former HR chief of GE, describes “truth and candor” as pillars of a performance culture. Management guru Bill George cautions against denial, says leaders willing to face organizational and personal realities free up their companies to move forward. Or make tough but crucial decisions like, as Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld suggests, killing your company’s sacred cows in times of crisis.

Creativity:  Needless to say, there is much to absorb from the event’s most high profile speakers George Lucas and Bill Clinton. In both cases it takes me a minute to get my star-struck fingers typing, once I do I find my notes coming back consistently to creativity. The Lucas Q&A with film critic Ben Mankiewicz is billed as “The Future of Cinema” but feels more to me like a blast from the past. In a good way, considering how forward-looking Lucas’ past actually was. It’s easy to get so caught up in his role of father of the “Star Wars” mythos that I forget the boldness of Lucas’ business innovations. Small action figure movie tie-ins didn’t exist before Lucas pioneered the model with Kenner and forever altered the movie merchandising landscape.  And when he couldn’t find a production shop able to make the visual effects needed for “Star Wars,” he created Industrial Light and Magic.  I have no idea what enables a human being to have the courage and means to look into a void and simply invent what’s needed. Where others would see a yawning chasm, Lucas saw opportunity.

As for Clinton, creativity as well as collaboration are recurring themes in his speech. He cites interdependence – not globalism – as the word he believes best describes the century we live in.  According to Clinton, it is not just about the movement of money around the world, but the flow of diverse people and ideas. And in his view, there is no such thing as a personal rainstorm. The problems of the 21st century – terrorism, poverty, famine, diseases – will be solved only by cross-border creativity and collaboration. And while there is hope embedded in that message – of people and organizations putting aside individual agendas for a common good – there is a grave warning, too:  “We have to find a world where we can all win, otherwise, none of us will.”

Go here for more blog coverage of the World Business Forum.  

(image via)

PR Mama Gets Schooled

May 3, 2009 3 comments
Rainmaker, Patron Saint of New Business

Rainmaker, Patron Saint of New Business (via comicvine)

A month ago our agency didn’t advance past the first round of a very big search for a retailer you’ve heard of. And though I’ve already blogged about how it was for the best and yada yada, truth is — we should’ve made it at least into the semi-finals. Something didn’t work, and as the person responsible for this stuff, I didn’t have a clear sense of what to fix for next time. So I was delighted when my boss decided to invest in some new business training for us.  

We’ve historically been a pretty insular crew (this happens when you’ve been around and doing well for 31 years). But things are different now and without laundry-listing why (because I’m guessing you and I live in the same economy, with the same land grabs going on across all marketing disciplines, with the same pressures to protect the top-line and manage the bottom-line, etc…), let’s just say getting an objective third party to talk to us was a good idea.

Enter Select Resources International, a consultancy who handle agency searches for Fortune 200 companies and see presentations from countless agencies every year, from boutiques to the global big boys. I got a lot out of my day with SRI Senior Partner Dan Orsborn, a great guy who’s known our agency for some time and has seen us in a number of pitches. In his affable way, he made me realize that we’re kind of …just like…everyone else.  Oh, we’re good (we are, really!) but ouch — it’s not coming across as powerfully as it could in pitches.  Eye. Opener.  

Herewith, five humbling things I learned from Dan:

#1  Four words not to use.  

  • Smart
  • Strategic
  • Passionate
  • Creative

Everybody uses these words. Everyone. It’s kind of like, don’t say you’re funny? Remember that one?  Much better to demonstrate through your response to their brief that you are smart, strategic, passionate and creative.  

#2  Rethink your reels. Good chance you’re presenting to marketing people who — guess what — see presentations from every marketing discipline, not just PR. And unfortunately, advertising agencies are light years ahead of PR shops in the quality of their reels.  I know, I know. Apples and oranges.  Ad agencies have commercial directors and copywriters and producers at their disposal — true.  Still — you want to win this pitch?  Rethink your sizzle reel.

#3  We all look the same.  Most humbling moment of the training: Dan spreads about 25 documents across the table, agency responses to Requests for Proposals (RFPs, for those who don’t know) including some from DeVries. RFP responses are crucial — step one in any search, the document that determines whether you’ll get invited to a “chemistry check” second round. Seeing our carefully crafted, neatly bound documents in the pile with all the others, I realized how very, very similar agencies look.  What will you do to make your RFP response stand out?

#4  The pitch is not about you.  Sounds counter-intuitive but really — it’s not.  All the client prospect wants to talk about/hear about is THEM. Yes, of course, you need to present your capabilities and case studies but boy you better make sure you’re putting that through the filter of the client’s brief as overtly as possible. They’ll be seeing lots of agencies in the course of their search — don’t make them connect the dots as to why you’re the right agency for them.  

#5  One person can kill it.  Oy, this is tough. Pitches have been lost because one person on a team of many did not click with the client.  This happens for any number of reasons — the senior person who greedily dominates the Q&A. The CEO who comes across like an “empty suit” or worse, a “clownish master-of-ceremonies.” (I did not make that up, nor am I referring to my boss — in case you’re reading, Jim.) The creative who can’t channel their brilliance and ends up alienating the client team.  Am still noodling through how to deal with this. For now, I’ll make sure we’re casting the pitch team correctly — consider personalities as well as expertise and be willing to tell the suits to stay home (easier said than done.) Build in way more rehearsal time than you think you need (we are terrible at this, I admit) so you can anticipate client questions and decide in advance who will field — hopefully engaging all levels on the team in the responses. And have the guts to sit a colleague down and give them candid feedback if they need it — and invite others to do the same for you.  I’ve developed a reputation as a good presenter, but I have my off days and I probably need to invite my team’s feedback way more frequently.  Are you doing the same?

So there you go.  I hesitate to hit “publish post” because then you’ll know my secrets and will start beating us in pitches.

Or will you?  Just wait till you see the revamped DeVries Sizzle Reel — oh, sorry, gotta run. Ridley Scott’s on the line…

How to Create an Elevator Story

February 9, 2009 3 comments

image via subtraction.com

Ever been asked by your day-to-day client contact to distill the essence of a program concept you were trying to get approved, so they could in turn sell it up the line to their senior management?  Chances are, you’ve been hit with the notorious “elevator speech” challenge.  As in, “Hey agency, if I can’t sell this idea in the course of a 60 second elevator ride with my boss, than we won’t be able to secure those incremental funds you asked for…” 

I recently found new inspiration for nailing elevator speeches at sociablemedia, the great site created by Cliff Atkinson, creator of the “Beyond Bullet Points” methodology.  

Required reading for Powerpoint jockeys

Required reading for Powerpoint jockeys

Atkinson’s method centers on story-driven presentation creation, and if you visit his site you’ll find lots of downloadable goodies,  including a template for setting the stage for the story that will fuel your presentation.  

Which inspired me to think about the elevator speech differently.  The next time you’ve got to come up with one,  try this approach.  It starts with the basic elements of any great story — protagonist, conflict and resolution.  

Step #1:  Put your client’s brand in the role of story protagonist.

Step #2:  What conflict can this protagonist (brand) help resolve? Conflict arises from tension between two opposing forces, or from a fundamental imbalance. What imbalance does your protagonist have the credibility to address (e.g.,  the tension between an unmet consumer need and a gap in the marketplace)?

Step #3:  What exactly is the protagonist (brand) doing to bring about resolution?

If you can answer those three questions, you might just have the solid outline of a good elevator speech. 

The epitome of career girl chic the year I graduated from college ("After" Tess, that is.)

Tess (the "after" version) was the epitome of career girl chic the year I graduated from college. Along with J.C. Wiatt from "Baby Boom."

Oh, and for great moments in cinematic elevator speech history, fast-forward to 5:52 in this clip to see  Melanie Griffith working her magic on Phillip Bosco in Working Girl .

Back in Business!

January 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Blog Confessional.  I’ve been in a rut.  Since the holiday– Xmas, by the way, not Martin Luther King Day.  Practically a month, in other words. I don’t mean to say I haven’t been getting work done, of course I have.  But until this morning, there’s been no…creative mojo.  No inspiration.

Meanwhile, the January to-do list was rapidly expanding. Lots on the plate — Big Brain stuff – from new business to current client work to agency leadership matters (billing philosophy, recessionary strategies, global capabilities…stuff like that.)  No amount of group brainstorming, blog-wandering or competition-scanning could shake me out of my doldrums.  Not even go-to inspiration sources like Communication Arts and Monocle were doing the trick.

So finding this post at the Duarte blog today was good timing. (I’ve posted previously about Nancy Duarte’s slide: ology; great book about presentation creation, equally great blog.)  So the blog post is a three-parter on how to craft a presentation “story” with humble tools like index cards and Sharpies.   Maybe because I have a Sharpie fetish (fine point), maybe because I scaled academic heights in college using an index card-based research methodology (really)…whatever the reason, a light switched on and suddenly I was back in business (cue jazz hands!)

We loves it! The Precious!

We loves it! The Precious!

(Image Via)

If you need me, you’ll find me hunched at my desk behind stacks of index cards covered with manic phrases and sketches, scribbling with my beloved Sharpie about parenting and snack crackers, the difference between leading and producing in a professional service firm, or the true meaning of fresh breath.

Powerpoint Geeks, Rejoice

January 9, 2009 2 comments

slideology2

Can’t wait to read Slide: ology by Nancy Duarte, the mastermind behind the Inconvenient Truth slideshow and highly-regarded presentation design guru.  Check out book highlights and other juicy stuff at her blog here.   Have already reserved a spot on the most important shelf in my office bookcase (located in my little powder room, alongside my Samuel Adams “standee” and my certificates of recognition from my Pantene clients.)

sam2

You thought perhaps I was kidding?

The other must-read for Powerpoint geeks is Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen.  Wonderful graphic inspiration but also super-smart advice on how to conceive a powerful presentation (e.g.,  don’t start at the computer screen.  This will paralyze you and lead to working and re-working of the same sentence for 2 hours.  Better to bust out the Post-Its and map your thoughts that way.)

Reynolds and Duarte collaborate often, online and in speaking engagements.  In fact, they’re leading an all-day presentation seminar in Santa Clara this March which I’m dying to attend (have already hit up the Boss to let me go, I will not be denied.)   Here is a great dialogue between them at Reynolds’ blog specifically on the creation of the Inconvenient Truth slides (which were done with Keynote, not Powerpoint…for the geeks who care.)

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