5 Ways to Avoid Charlie Brown Teacher Syndrome

The impatient drumming of fingers…
The swivel heads that are looking anywhere *but* the stage…
The bright lights of mobile screens that illuminate the ballroom…

These are signs that your audience has left the building – at least in spirit.

According to researcher John Medina, who penned Brain Rules, people check out around the 10-minute mark during presentations. If they haven’t actively moved on to something else, all they are hearing is the waa-waa-waa Charlie Brown speak.

Not particularly memorable.

So how do you get your audience to stay with you for your entire talk? Try these tips from Carmine Gallo, author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

1. Use Video
Most people start their presentations with video, but this is a missed opportunity. Get more mileage by embedding it within the speech.

2. Ask a Rhetorical Question
Our minds perk up when we hear an upward inflection, and when asked, immediately race to answer.

3. Tell a Story
We are hardwired for stories. And as soon as a presenter gives the setup, we tune in. Of course, if you are going to include a story, make sure it’s a good one – with a beginning, middle and end, some characters, and a challenge to overcome.

4. Do A Demonstration
There’s a reason why actions speak louder than words. The audience can listen to you go on and on about the new website, app, or process…or you could bring it to life – via a product demo or even an comedy sketch.

5. Introduce another speaker
Share the load by having another speaker present with you, either on the stage or in the audience. It can be a panel, interview, or joint presentation. We have even helped our clients do presentations from different parts of the room – for example from satellite stages – very effectively.

The most important thing to keep in mind is the importance of breaking the pattern.
(Well, that *and* having really great content!)

Proof Before Production

Invest in a proofreader – or at least another set of eyes – for any PPT/Keynote loops or video before you go into production.

Then do it again before revealing it to your audience.

You’ll save time, money, and headaches!

You Have It In You! Unleashing Employee Potential Thru Internal Communications

This morning I listened to a fascinating HBR interview with Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, senior adviser at Egon Zehnder. He’s the author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who and one of the top thinkers in the talent management arena. His comments on human potential sparked some ideas about how internal communications can support employee engagement.

First, a little background…

According to Fernández-Aráoz, competency is only part of the picture when it comes to identifying and managing high potential employees. But when I think about the way most success stories and awards programs are done, the emphasis is on what the individual or team has done well. Not to be too precious about it, but that’s kinda their job. They are highly competent – and most communications programs focus on this select group of high performers.

But what about the high potentials? How do we identify and encourage those individuals with the potential to be higher performers?

Fernández-Aráoz defined 5 indicators to help spot, measure and manage this potential within each employee:

  1. Fierce commitment combined with deep personal humility

As corporate communicators, we can be so focused on getting the “big story” that we forget to ask for all of the characters – the unsung heroes who made the success possible.

  • Communications Tactic: Find the “assists” – the person who made the introduction, championed the project through R&D, or just kept morale up when enthusiasm waned. At an event, solicit nominations for the best “assist” and share these names at the end of the day.
  • What it does: Gives recognition and makes people feel valued.
  1. Curiosity

The “why” behind what we do is a big motivator in business and personal life. Curious people take everything in, then ask a lot of questions in their never-ending quest to understand. They are open to experimentation, knowing that the “right” way to do something may come after trying several wrong ones.

  • Communication Tactic: Ask employees what question they saw that needed an answer, and what process they used to solve it. At an event, setup a media wall – or a WHY poster board – where people write down what they’re interested in right now.
  • What it does: Highlights your organization’s curiosity and identifies it as a component to success.
  1. Insight

We live in a complex world, and the ability to connect the dots is an essential skill.

  • Communication Tactic: Ask employees for an example where they untangled a lot of data, perspectives, or dependencies. Follow up by asking how they avoided information overload. At an event, hire improvisers to craft a scene with 10-20 audience inputs solicited via an event app. Project these onscreen and check a box each time the suggestion is used. (Low-tech – a suggestion box with slips of paper). Or give attendees a MacGyver Challenge – a box of random items with the challenge of building something the rest of the audience would value, complete with a marketing strategy.
  • What it does: Encourages using what you have to make something great. (Something we at Bricolage love!)
  1. Engagement

Having an idea is one thing. Getting people to believe in and spread the idea is another. True engagement happens when we engage the hearts and minds of the people around us.

  • Communication Tactic: For employee profiles, interview co-workers on how their colleague inspires them, with specifics on what they do or say that makes them want to work with this employee. For events, revamp awards presentations to highlight the impact this individual has on others – not just the achievement itself.
  • What it does: Strengthens corporate culture by encouraging employees to connect to each other.
  1. Resilience

Whether a deadline is pushed up a week, or a mistake is caught just before the product ships, employees who work well under pressure model the type of behavior our Black Swan world requires.

  • Communications Tactic: Ask employees what obstacles they have overcome and how they kept their focus. As a bonus, ask how they manage stress. Everyone has it, but it is our reaction to their stress that determines whether we will be overwhelmed by it. At an event, create a Problem Board with common challenges – better yet, solicit them ahead of the meeting, then crowdsource solutions either in a working session or thru audience responses.
  • What it does: Emphasizes the importance of grit.

You probably have 5 high performance stories you can rattle off the top of your head. Now imagine how it would feel to have 500 or 1000 of those stories. By aligning corporate communications to the 5 indicators, you can help realize the potential of every individual in your organization.

That’s your potential.
What will you do to unleash it?



Using Rounds to Boost Recall

A period of reflection after training ups recall by 23% according to a study in Harvard Business Review.

We’re not so foolish as to suggest that your next meeting end with a check-in-with-yourself-moment.

(Because we all know that will mean “check-in-with-your-mobile-device”.)

But we do suggest making people accountable to each other by scheduling a Roundtable Roundup towards the end of your meeting. Small groups (8-10) can talk through questions like:

What was the big takeaways?
Biggest surprises?
Most valuable content that you can put in action immediately?
Least likely to use?

And don’t be surprised if those check-in conversations are still going when your attendees check-in at the gate.

Think BIG! Isn’t Enough

Think BIG!
Act Now!
Be the Change!

If you’ve been to a meeting in the last 5 years, you’ve seen these themes. These are the imperative statements that are supposed to inspire your attendees to take immediate action – you know, wind them up so tight they leave scorch marks on the ballroom carpet when they leave.

Here’s the problem:

They give employees the “what” without giving them the “how.” Think a destination without a map. Oh, they’ll get there…eventually. But how much time and energy could have been saved if you’d said which route to take?

Let’s take a sales meeting where you want your team to emulate the top 5% of performers. Sure, you could do a success story video on their big deals, but unless you communicate how they accomplished those numbers, you’ll have an audience inspired to clap hands and high five, but stumped when they get back to their office and try to emulate their colleague’s success.

To really drive the message home, you need to distill the behaviors that can become practices for the other 95%.  And don’t assume people are just going to “get it” from hearing the story live or watching a video. Break those practices out of the narrative with questions like, “what are the top 3 things you do every day?” then get cut through the corporate speak – “I focus my efforts of maximizing value for my company, its shareholders and my customers” to get to those daily practices that differentiate these top performers. Maybe they spend an hour prep their days the night prior, or get ask current customers for referrals.

Bottom line: find out what they do, not just what they think.

Throughout the meeting, your content should focus on the behaviors that set the mind, not the mindset itself. Fewer pictures of things that are big and more examples of actions from people who think big.

So, the next time you’re developing a meeting theme, just remember:

Perspective (theme) + Performance (By doing these 3 things) = Inspiration your audience can put into daily Practice. 

Connection Is Key

Knowing the corporate strategy is one thing.
Applying it is another.

Use stories – via video, in person, or both – to connect big ideas to everyday actions.

“You Like Me, You Really Like Me!”

All work and no recognition makes employees dull listeners.

Liven up your next meeting with a round of “Happy Birthday” for birthdays in the month, “S/He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” for anniversaries, and “We’re So Glad You’re Here” (Happy Birthday tune) for new hires.

Can’t sing? Don’t worry. You’re not trying to win a Grammy.

Just showin’ a little love.


Lessons Learned From a Big Fat Gay Wedding

When we read the invitation – “kids welcome!” – Lori and I heaved a collective sigh.  Of course we love our kids dearly, but the prospect of sitting through a wedding ceremony and reception with 3 rambunctious kids – ages 8, 4 and 2 – just didn’t feel very celebratory.

It felt like penance.

Standing outside, we went over the rules of proper conduct, squared our shoulders, and entered the venue with some trepidation. But the grooms surprised us – by incorporating our needs into their wedding plans.

They included childcare.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’

While the kids watched Frozen, petted live animals, and had endless kiddie cocktails, we laughed, danced, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Not once did we check our watch, nor did we check out of the experience.

Because our primary needs were met.

The best events do just that – whether it’s having enough charging stations in a general session room, enough time to connect with colleagues, or enough breaks between speakers to respond to email.

Meet your attendees’ needs, and they will reward you with their undivided attention.

Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

The 4 P’s of Compelling Stories

If you studied creative writing, communications or any other major where people ask if you plan to teach when you graduate, then you already know what makes a good story:

something happens to someone for some reason.

But in the business world, the elements of good storytelling aren’t as widely known as say SWOT analysis. So our job as communicators is to bring clarity through process.

Enter the 4 P’s.

  • 1. People – Who are the main characters and what makes them unique? If it’s Sandra from accounting and Tom from corporate services, what details make them people and not placeholders?
  • 2. Place – Where did this happen? Getting specific not only paints a more interesting picture, but also provides an opportunity to highlight other players (e.g. Sandra, out of the Tuscon office)
  • 3. Problem – What challenge was the main character trying to overcome? Every story must have a reason for being told. This is the emotional hook that gets your listeners invested in the journey and its outcome.
  • 4. Props – What processes or desired behaviors did the main character use to solve the problem? If it’s a new internal system, a mindset, or maybe just the values that guide the company, give these elements a place in your story to show how they shaped the outcome.

Whether it’s aligning a success story with the company’s core values or making an executive’s opening remarks more compelling, using the 4 P’s has helped us shape our clients’ stories – making them more engaging and effective.

The 4 P’s wield some powerful mojo, so use them wisely.