Getting the Most From External Presenters

As valuable as the external perspective is, unless this voice is prepared to connect with your audience, their presentation can be a huge waste of time – and money. Let’s face it. External speakers aren’t cheap, and you want to make sure you are getting the most audience bang for your corporate buck.

How can you prep speakers to deliver the goods?

Follow the following guidelines for pre-production, onsite, and post-show success.

Before you reach out the speakers, create a one-page cheat sheet about your organization or division. This isn’t a term paper, just an overview of your audience demographics and content expectations. While it’s true many speakers have prepared remarks that they use no matter where they go, the good ones tailor each appearance to the audience.

Your one-sheet should have the following:

  • Name of the organization
  • Audience Size
  • Audience Demographics
  • Audience Interest/Pain Points
  • Reason for Invitation
  • Presentation Date and Time
  • Presentation Length
  • Opportunities for Interaction (e.g. Book signing, Q&A, etc)
  • Additional Information (anything else that you think would be helpful for your speaker to know)

Next, schedule a 30-minute phone call with your speaker. The purpose of this call is to go over the presenter’s content and identify how it will connect with your audience. Remember that this is a dialogue, so be mindful not to dominate the conversation, especially if it involves rehashing what has already been provided to them in the overview document. Expect to answer as many questions as you ask.

Finally, have the producer follow-up – either directly with the speaker or through their representative – with appearance specifics, such as equipment needs, rehearsal schedule, and confirmation of any rider details. The producer will also set a deadline for the speaker to send their content prior to arrival onsite.

Identify a single point of contact for your speaker once they arrive onsite. Exchange contact information (email and cell phone), then walk the presenter through their portion of the event. Some may also ask for an agenda, so have it ready because it helps them understand the context in which their remarks will be taken.

During rehearsal, encourage the presenter to actually walk the stage, meet the crew, and review any media. Let the presenter know where water will be onstage – dry mouth happens to the best of them, as well as stage entrances and exits. This is also the time to clarify the speaker’s introduction (hint: the shorter the better), any sound or light cues, mic preferences, call time and green room location.

Always follow-up with a thank you and ask if there were any opportunities to improve their interactions with your group. Word-of-mouth travels fast for clients as well as presenters, and you want to make sure you’ve done everything possible to make sure your organization’s reputation stay intact.

If you have recorded the presentation, providing a video is a nice touch. Speakers are grateful for the content. And finally, hold a debrief with your team about the presenter and your preparation process. Your notes will come in handy for other departments or organizations that may want to hire the same speaker.

With a little internal prep, your external presenter will be one of the most memorable parts of your event.

Read more about the value external speakers bring in this article.

Don’t Ditch the Moleskins Yet

We love meeting apps as much as the next gear head, but research shows going old-school for note-taking increases retention because you reframe the speaker’s ideas in your own words.

Tip: Brand the notebook with an embossed theme graphic and company pen.

6 Steps to Sell Your Big Idea

The biggest challenge in corporate communications is coming up with new ideas.
The second biggest challenge is selling them to internal stakeholders.

Too often we’ll settle for the status quo because it’s easier and safer than stepping out into the unknown. This hesitancy comes from fear. But great ideas are a precursor to growth. They demand to be heard – or they’ll just keeping nagging at your subconscious until you give them an outlet. Instead of driving yourself crazy with “what if” scenarios, use these 6 tactics inspired by an ex-BP employee on how to change the system from within.

1. Make the Business Case – Why?
Ideas without a strategic anchor are great for your ego – not so great getting buy-in. By stating upfront the business issue your idea addresses, you immediately get past the knee-jerk reactions of “we’ve never done anything like this” or “well, that will never work with this group.” In the back of their mind, your stakeholders are already thinking about ROI, so meet them where they are by stating the return upfront.

2. Show the Practical Application – How?
Demonstrate the thoroughness of your thinking by sharing how you would implement the idea. This does not need to be an in-the-weeds discussion, but rather an overview of tactics – a very simple project plan with tasks, timeline and resources.

3. Anticipate the Objections – Why Not?
Right about now, the naysayers will have a litany of objections to your plan – the timeline is too aggressive, the company doesn’t have the resources…That’s ok. Fortunately, you’ve done your homework and already know how to respond to these issues. Rather than be defensive, show that you take their concerns seriously. “That’s an excellent point, and one that I considered when developing this plan, which is why I recommend X.” Then ask if the recommendation is clear. You may not have answers to all of their objections, but this open the door for a great dialogue.

4. Build Support – Who Else?
Before your presentation, seek out individuals that can support your idea. The benefits are twofold. First, these people will be your tire-kickers to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Second, you can leverage this support in your presentation, showing that a number of people share your perspective. Remember, there is strength in numbers and comfort in consensus.

5. Describe the Expected Outcome – What If?
Your approach has been very practical up until this point – engaging their minds. Now is the time to shift to some blue-sky thinking and engage their hearts. In this stage, you’re asking your stakeholders to imagine a better world – one filled with unicorn and rainbows – well, your company’s version of it. In this cause-and-effect discussion, you link your tactics from step 2 to the expected results – for example, a changed behavior or a cost-saving. It may not be the key to world peace…but it’s a start.

6. Know When to Save the Idea – Well, OK.
As any poker player – or 70’s song aficionado knows – You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away…

Sometimes the timing just isn’t right, and despite your best efforts, your idea simply won’t find traction. Ideas before their time can come across as visionary…and delusional. If after you’ve laid out the master plan, the power that be still don’t see the value of your brilliance, it’s time to preserve your sanity – and their patience – by saving it for another day. You may present a variation of it in a few months, incorporating the suggestions you heard during your presentation. Or you may need to wait for a fresh set of stakeholders. Either way, the idea isn’t dead – just placed in suspended animation.

And don’t worry – you’ll have plenty more.

Ideas without support are just pipe dreams. How do you get the support needed to bring yours closer to fruition?

Make a plan.
Take a stand.
And pave the great ideas yet to come.

Slow Down The Presenter Rush

A bad case of nerves makes presenters blow through their presentations.  Coach them to slow down so the audience has time to process their message by taking deep breaths, punching key words and summarizing main points at the end.

Efficient Brainstorming – The Marathon Schedule

Maybe you need a new theme. Or a new set of activities to better engage your attendees. You could try to develop fresh ideas on your own – just you, your squish ball, and your blank whiteboard. But you risk coming up with a mere variation on a theme, versus an entirely new approach.

An efficient brainstorm lets you bounce ideas off of your colleagues, and kick the tires of each suggestion. They can be a challenge to schedule, but with the right structure, can be easy to manage. By following the sample brainstorm schedule at the end of the post, you and your team will walk out with a sense of accomplishment and clear next steps.

The Process:

Distribute agenda and team assignments in advance
Set expectations early and keep your brainstorm session focused on deliverables – not logistics – by distributing this information ahead of time. And write it on the board as your framework for the day to keep you and your team on track.

Designate a Scribe
The facilitator is not the scribe. Writing while talking is a skill – and if you aren’t that good at it, best to delegate this function to someone else. These notes should be in an outline format and follow the agenda.

Schedule 90-minute chunks
The next time you’re in a meeting, check your watch at the 90-minute mark and note the energy level in the room. It’s probably flagging. The average person’s attention span is 90 minutes – often shorter if they aren’t engaged in the discussion. While it’s tempting to keep pushing ahead, you’ll get more out of your team if you take a break.

Choose 4 Topics to Discuss
Each 90-minute section should focus on 1 area. For a day-long session, you’ll have time for 4 topics to cover. For example:

• Theme
• General Session
• Audience Participation
• Pre- and Post-Communications

You topics may vary, but stick to 4 and let your team known ahead of time what they are. It’ll let their subconscious start thinking about it before they set foot in the meeting.

Work in 30-minute Increments
Break each 90-minute section into 30-minute segments.

In the first 30 minutes, identify the issue and briefly provide any background information. For the remaining time in this first section, you and your team can engage in blue sky thinking. Allow enough discussion for each idea before moving to the next.

In the next 30 minutes, review your ideas and identify any potential challenges. This is the time to prune the ideas that lack traction with the group.

In the final 30 minutes, resolve any outstanding issues and rank your ideas for presentation to the group later, including identification of any problems and your group’s solutions to these. If you need more information before reaching a decision, flag the idea for follow-up.

Schedule 15-minute breaks
Write these times on the board and stick to them. This gives your participants windows to schedule phone calls and check emails.

Take 1 hour for lunch
The brain needs food to function. Rather than scheduling a “working” lunch, which is often more lunching than working, take the full time to break. This not only gives the mind a rest, but also allows it reset for the afternoon sessions.

Plan Next Steps
Once everyone has completed the report outs, summarize plans for next steps. If there are outstanding issues, task a team member to get the information and report back to the group at the next meeting. Schedule this follow-up meeting no later than 2 weeks from your initial brainstorm.

Sample Schedule

8:30 – 8:45 Intro
• Objectives
• Format
• Schedule

8:45 – 10:15 Topic #1
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

10:15 – 10:30 Break
• Snacks

10:30 – 12:00 Topic #2
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

12:00 – 1:00 Lunch

1:00 – 2:30 Topic #3
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

2:30 – 2:45 Break
• Snacks

2:45 – 4:00 Topic #4
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

4:00 – 4:15 Break

4:15 – 4:30 Group Report Outs

4:30 – 4:45 Summary and Next Steps


Scheduling a daylong idea cramming sessions are exhausting – no question about it. But they are an extremely efficient way to gather and integrate many perspectives. Avoid the creative, but chaotic free-for-all by creating a schedule and sticking to it.

Your colleagues – and their brains – will thank you for it.

The 3 R’s of Good Content

Want your employees to read those email blasts? Follow the 3 R’s for content that connects.


– Avoids “Ugh. Another email. Delete!”


– Avoids “But I already heard about this on the news…Why is corpcomm so late to the game?”


– Avoids “Yeah, right. The last director who said this left 4 weeks later.”

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How to Incorporate External Perspectives

Talking to yourself in the mirror can feel incredibly validating…and redundant. After all, you already know what you’re going to say, so the conversation can only go so far.  The same thing happens when you have the same internal speakers present at your meetings, which is why it’s important to incorporate external perspectives.

Think of these people in the following 3 categories:

People You Serve

These are people your audience interacts with on a regular basis. In this age of customer service, hearing directly from this group can be a valuable experience. You can incorporate these presenters in several ways, depending on the speaker’s content, style and schedule.

Presentation – Invite a customer to give a presentation that supports your meeting’s theme. You’ll want to work closely with them to shape a story with all of the key narrative elements – characters (hopefully ones in your audience), a plot, a turning point (moment of suspense) and a resolution. If they are open to it, also schedule a moderated Q&A following the presentation for some valuable audience interaction. And don’t be shy about planting questions ahead of time to get the ball rolling.

Interview – When a potential speaker has valuable content, but is concerned about presenting, having someone from your executive team conduct an interview can be a possible tactic. The same amount of preparation is still important, but the performance anxiety that can sabotage even the best talking points, is reduced. And now framed as a conversation, the content is often more free-flowing.

Panel Discussion – Sometimes having a number of perspectives on one topic, or different chapters of a single story is more appropriate. This approach also alleviates the pressure on single presenter, particularly if you are concerned about their presentation style. The panel should have a moderator, who can not only provide a framework the discussion, but also be mindful of focus and timing for each panel member.

Video – Sometime, the logistic gods just aren’t on your side. Or a speaker is simply not comfortable onstage. Using video can not only get the story across, but can also provide a richer experience with the inclusion of b-roll and interviews to give a complete picture. If the story is particularly long or complex, consider using it as a 3-part runner throughout the meeting by diving it at key turning points or cliffhangers to keep the audience hooked.

People You Pay

If there is a book that your company or audience is reading – or should be reading – invite the speaker to deliver a keynote. By giving your attendees access to this level of expertise, you immediately add value to their investment- be it in time, attention, or money. Moreover, you shortcut their learning curve because these keynotes usually hit the highlights just hard enough to provide insight, yet are enticing enough to encourage people to learn more. Be sure to spend time prepping the speaker about your audience and objectives so that they can tailor the content. And ask about additional elements such as Q&A’s and book signings. These are things you’ll want finalized well in advance of your meeting.

People You Respect

Sometimes the best external speaker can be found right in your own backyard. People often think of “external” as meaning outside of the company, but we have seen companies successfully leverage the expertise found within the company, but at another division. The key to making these internal speakers resonate is to find success stories or outcomes that parallel your audience’s experience. These presenters provide valuable insight into the challenges unique to the organization and what tactics they used to overcome them. They can also strengthen the relationship between divisions and open the door to future collaboration and shared learning.

Audiences appreciate hearing a new voice. By working closely with presenters to develop the most targeted content, and choosing the presentation approach that best supports it, you’ll deliver external ideas that everyone will listen to.

You Need An Onsite Production Office

When working your event onsite, plan on having a designated, lockable work space for you and your corporate team. It should have full office capabilities, including internet connectivity and networked printing, along with a set of office supplies.

(Snacks and drinks are optional but go a loooooong way to keeping everybody smiling!)


Engagement in the Age of Distraction

Standing at the white board, dry erase pen raised, I invited the participants of a recent brainstorm I led to list the challenges that the upcoming annual meeting posed for the communications team.

“The problem today,” said Jackson, one of the meeting planners, “is people are too busy looking at screens to pay attention to what’s on stage.” He said this without a trace of irony as he scrolled through his phone, never once looking up.

We live in an age of distraction – where what’s happening now takes a backseat to what’s happening now, albeit somewhere else. While this is a great environment for people who must be in the know for all things known, it presents quite the challenge for those of us tasked with corralling this audience’s fleeting attention span.

Rather than raging against the machine, make tech your new BFF, starting with the moment this tech shows up in the room.

Most meetings start with a “please silence your cell phones” message. These voice-overs and/or graphics can be played straight or spun for humor. While most of your attendees will double-check that their smart devices have been set to silent, it will not keep them from furtively checking for any urgent messages…or just updating their social media status.

Why not change things up? Start your meeting with an invitation for everyone to check their phones one more time – send that last email, compose that last tweet.

Next, state exactly when the next break is coming up, complete with the number of minutes away. This not only alleviates the anxiety that many of us feel when we’re not checking our phone, but also puts the time away in perspective. It’s only 35 minutes, or 50 minutes. If it’s more than that, you may want to review your agenda to see if you are including enough breaks to accommodate what has become a natural tendency.

Since longer presentations have a natural lull around the 20-minute mark. If your presenter’s content simply must extend beyond this time, introduce an online poll for your attendees here. Not only does it bridge the gap between the stage and the audience and keep both engaged, it also lets people use the devices that have become such a natural extension.

If your budget can accommodate it, consider using a meeting app that an audience can use not only during breaks but during the presentations themselves. These apps can provide a richer meeting experience for individuals who like to dive deeper into content that interests them. The app can store not only the presentations, but explanatory videos, background graphics, team profiles, a glossary, and links for additional content (possibly housed on your intranet).

Invite your audience to become your onsite candids photo crew by having them send their best shots to an email address or web storage folder, then post these photos during breaks. Of course, this is something that you will have planned before you arrive onsite and surprise your production team with this request. (Not that they couldn’t handle it! But it’s good to know this need ahead of time so any potential tech issues can be flagged early.)

And finally, remember that just because your audience’s devices are always on doesn’t mean they always want to hear from you. Be selective in the post-show content you push to attendees. Use this open connection to share content that doesn’t just look back on the event, but has relevance to their work moving forward. For example, if a project was unveiled onsite, ask attendees if they would like updates before they leave the meeting, then send video or graphic updates.

Technology is here to stay – no question about it. And the more you can incorporate this technology into your meetings, the more your attendees’ attention will stay with you too.

Choose Your Words Carefully

“Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair-trigger balances, when a false, or misunderstood, word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.” – James Thurber, American writer