The Sara Lee Brand Pyramid

To bring Sara Lee’s focus on meat to life, we created a charcuterie at the entrance of their launch meeting. Designed and built in less than 24 hours, the structure – a three-dimensional version of their brand pyramid – gave employees a clear sense of the company’s future direction.


Details make a difference…

All On The Same Page

Schedule all of your executives for at least one group rehearsal a few weeks before your event. This give them the opportunity to get feedback from their peers, eliminate redundancy, and deliver an integrated and unified message.

Taking Your Post-Event Comms Online

Being onsite is like living in a bubble where everything has been designed for “maximum engagement” – Team-building! Motivational speakers! Networking! Dine-arounds!

But once your audience leaves the ballroom, the bubble starts to deflate. The messages you worked so hard to craft start to fall by the wayside as daily reality sets in. You can try to tap into your second wind with the typical post-comm strategies like follow-up emails (We Did It!) or swag (Every time you see this, remember – We Did It!), but for a sustained engagement, you’ll need more that these one-offs to really have an impact.

The Meeting Microsite

The web is built on connections. And your intranet is a fantastic opportunity to foster connections – attendees to each another, and between attendees and content. The amount of information covered in a meeting can be overwhelming, and often people need more time to process it. The microsite gives them this time. They can review highlights on their own time, at their own pace, which means greater absorption and application.

Depending on the number of events scheduled during your meeting, attendees may not have the time to network. Or they may need a networking nudge – some topic to start a conversation. Having the meeting content on a microsite gives them this platform, from which they can initiate conversations and start to build a greater sense of community.

What Content Should You Have?

The microsite is a virtual vault of key messages, videos, audio and photos that tells the story of the meeting. Stories help us remember, so the microsite content needs to be organized in a way that makes sense, connecting what the audience heard onsite to what they do every day.

Start at the beginning – if there was a meeting theme, what was the rationale behind it? For each element – motivational speakers, team-building exercises, volunteer activities, explain how the actions tie to the corporate strategy. The more your audience hears the why behind the what, the more they will internalize the reasoning and apply it in their daily activities.

How Do You Make It Successful?

Start with a plan – actually two.

Your first plan will be a communications plan with the themes, talking points and activities of the meeting. From this you will generate your meeting’s story, e.g. Our global sales force achieved record numbers by doing the following 3 things: A, B, and C. Our target of $XMM this year will come from focus in 3 areas: X, Y and Z. You’ll want to develop this story before you go onsite.

Your second plan is your production plan, which has the onsite schedule so you know when to capture quotes, audio and video. Laying this out ahead of time lets you plan for any additional resources you will need to assign to content capture. Essentially, this is your reporting team – it can be as streamlined as one person with a video camera or as robust as a full production crew.

For general session videos, capture highlights rather than the entire speech. Your objective is to create the cliff notes version for viewers. To make the video edit process easier, note the highlights during the speech – either by time of day or time code.

During breaks or walk-in/walk-out, capture attendee quotes. If you can get them on camera, great! But if not, photos with text or text by itself is fine. Remember that the final product is a multimedia experience, so content in multiple formats makes for a richer experience.

Take a lot of pictures – or hire a professional photographer. People love to see themselves – sometimes serious, sometimes palling around, so make sure to mix up the tone, framing and composition.

Engage leaders by giving them a platform. Whether it’s from managers to their direct reports, or from senior leaders to the audience, the onsite video has impact because it has immediacy. Capture as many as your schedule allows and use these in post-show emails to drive traffic to your microsite.

Make the IT People Your Friends – Really

Your IT team is essential. Get them involved early and invite them to share their ideas for what would make the meeting microsite successful. They may suggest developing a smartphone app that creates a shortcut to the microsite as a way to increase engagement…or have file size limits that impact how much content you can capture. Knowing these things early enough in your process lets you adjust as needed and keeps everyone in the loop and – hopefully – happy.

Get Started!

The meeting microsite is an upfront investment of time and money with a long-term payoff. Use it as your post-event communications platform to keep attendees engaged…then deepen the connection – and generate excitement – as you introduce content for next year’s event.

Preparing Presenters for Perfection

Everyone has the potential to be a great presenter – the kind who knows how to connect their content with the audience with an enthusiasm that is powerless to resist. They are usually bombarded with questions afterwards, and the topic of many stretch-break conversations.

Then there’s the flip side…the not-so-great presenter who reads verbatim from the slide, often turning their back to the audience, which may be a small blessing since they can’t see the audience checking their phones to figure out when this train wreck will end.

One of the best ways to tap into the great potential within every speaker is through rehearsal. Too often, rehearsal time is seen as nice-to-have, rather than a requirement. But scheduling rehearsal time is one of the easiest and most effective ways to guarantee that everyone – from the presenters to the audience to the crew – has an awesome show.

Rehearsals come in three models – Full, Click and Walk. Think of them as Deluxe, Standard and Streamlined. Use your speaker’s availability and experience – as well as your own comfort level – to determine which model works best.

No matter what you select, there are things you can do for each that will improve their effectiveness.

1. Full Rehearsal
In a perfect world, every presenter would have a full rehearsal. They are a fantastic way to build confidence, not just for them, but also for your crew. From their play-on music to their exit, this is the presenter’s chance to think through their entire presentation. They can see every element, understand how they integrate, and then make any adjustments.

Full rehearsal allows you to talk through any production needs, such as teleprompter scrolling speed, automatic slide advance, audio special effects, embedded media, props, and audience participation. The more time your production crew has to practice these elements, the smoother they will run during the show.

2. Click-Throughs
When you have limited time and experienced speakers, a click-though, when a presenter simply stands on stage and punches through their slides, may be sufficient. Make sure to click through the entire presentation to make sure the slide order and content are correct.

And take a few minutes to introduce the speaker to the production crew, particularly the producer, who can answer any questions about the agenda and room setup questions, the audio technician, who is responsible for mics, and, when available, the floor manager, who is responsible for cuing your presenter to the stage.

3. Walk-Throughs
Sometimes, you really only have five minutes. Provide your presenter with as much information as possible before their arrival onsite so you make the most of this limited time.

When they arrive, brief them on the room layout, presentation time, call time (what time they need to be in the room), and mic process. Take a moment to confirm their presentation length and elements, including any audience interaction. And finally, show them where confidence monitors, clickers, and water will be.

Putting a show together is hard work! Make it count by carving out some rehearsal time. Your audience, presenter, and yes, even your own sanity, will thank you.

How to Scale Internal Communications

When a business has 10 employees separated by the span of their arms, internal communications are as easy as an extra stretch and a shoulder tap. But as a company expands, the need for more structured – and regularly scheduled – communication grows as well.

Without a plan for developing this core competency, those casually outstretched arms will soon feel like frantic flailings in the deep end. Never fear though! By scaling your perspective, those spastic arms will become a synchronized stroke.

1. The Micro View – Laying the Foundation

Start with the nuts and bolts by developing a communications calendar that identifies:

• Your audience (all employees, salesforce only, senior managers, etc.)
• Your channel (print, online, video, event)
• Your content (earnings, announcement, success story, etc.)

Next, create a one-page document with the processes for each channel – from developing an idea through securing content, approvals and production. In this stage, take the time to create templates that will make your life much easier down the road, from standard PowerPoints to sample event agendas with content slots (State of the Business, Department updates, Q&A, etc.).

The key to success in this stage is not perfection, but execution. Just start swimming, but don’t worry if your backstroke isn’t completely straight. Once you start a regular communications schedule, you’ll quickly see what adjustments you need to make so you can stop hitting the wall with your head.

2. The Macro View – Incorporating Best Practices

Now that your feet are a little wet, it’s time to find out how other swimmers are doing. This means making time for your own professional development, through online seminars, conferences, and networking events so you can see what’s working in other companies, such as virtual town halls, employee-generated meeting content, internal TED-style presentations. Reach out to these fellow communications professionals to hear some fresh perspectives and share some of your own.

Someone somewhere has an idea you can use – or a problem you can help solve.

3. The Meta View – Plugging into the Zeitgeist

Whether it’s gamification, three-way communication, portfolio careers, or the latest Hollywood blockbuster, the trends that shape our daily lives have an impact on the people you’re communicating with. Your employees have a life outside of the organization, where advertising, pop culture, politics, economics and more all play a role. To keep your communications efforts relevant, you’ll need to incorporate these external forces into your internal efforts.

If reality shows are all the range, picture how your senior leaders might respond to a humorous all-in-one-house opening video. If selfies are “the thing”, create a contest for the best customer service video filmed on a smart phone. Even those Buzzfeed surveys can be a fun way to engage your employees and give you an opportunity to drive home some strategic content. Just imagine what messages you could deliver through a “What Kind of Company Mascot Are You?” survey.

Without structure, your internal communications are just treading water. But with the right view, you’ll be swimming your way to success in no time.

Mirror, Mirror…

We love to see ourselves.To deepen engagement, look for ways to incorporate your audience into your program. Think video, candid photos, panel discussions, and speaker introductions.

Finding The Extra Spark

It’s easy to send an email blast, but if you want your idea/initiative/announcement to have real impact, you need to use your company’s catalysts.

You’ve seen them – the people who seem to know everyone, see everything and be everywhere. Identified not by title, but by the influence they have, these employees are information hubs for the rest of the organization.

So if you want an idea to spread, you need to tap into their vast network.

Catalysts combine respect with likability – that’s why they are so popular – and influential. They don’t really chug the company Kool-Aid, but instead sip it like a fine wine. If you’re not sure who these people are, ask for recommendations. You’ll soon see the same names being mentioned across the organization.

Using Them at Your Next Event

Pre- and post-event communications usually follow a familiar pattern –

An email – “Hey! Our meeting is coming up!”
App updates – “Here’s what we’re doing!”
A video – “Wow! Look how much fun we had!”

It’s time to change that.

Your catalysts can be a powerful channel for delivering great content to your audience. It takes a little more planning, but will go a long way in engaging your audience.

1. Invite your catalysts to special pre-event meetings.
Consciously or not, your catalysts have worked hard to achieve their elevated status. Why not reward them with an insider track as your plan your next event by inviting them to your brainstorm or planning session?

2. Encourage Two-way Communication
Ask them for their input, then show how you can incorporate it. This is a mutually beneficial relationship, so make sure that you’re listening as much as you’re talking.

3. Provide Talking Points
These are omnidirectional communication channels, so feed them plenty of content to spread your words. But also remember that they are busy, with jobs to do, so keep the talking points simple. Three supporting bullets for each main subject is a good rule of thumb.

4. Co-Create with Them
Since they already have an informal platform, imagine the power of an official one – an intranet blog, participation in a video, or a presentation slot at your upcoming event. Better yet, ask them how they would like to communicate what they know with other employees.

5. Instill a Little Friendly Competition
The best get better by the company they keep. Solicit their ideas for what would make the next meeting even better. Give them parameters so they have a clear idea of what the deliverable can be. (“Elephant rides, no. Employee-provided TED talks, yes.”) After implementing them, take a survey as to what resonated with attendees and then give a prize – and credit – to the catalyst with the winning idea.

6. Make them Look Good
Find ways to showcase their pet projects. This may be something at work – their team’s performance, for example, or an extracurricular activity, like the soup kitchen they volunteer at on the weekend. It’s a simple way of saying thank you for the time they’ve invested with you.

7. Show Them Off
After the event, give them a chance to share what their takeaways were from the event – both the planning process and the meeting itself. And if your budget allows, take your Influencers on tour with a road show. Sure, it’s important for executives to be visible, but it’s equally important to promote your catalysts.

Catalysts are a powerful – but often overlooked – group. By tapping into their network, you’ll create more bang for your internal buck.

Creating More Zing for Zigzag Employees

Company loyalty has gone the way of Polaroids and hypercolor shirts – once the rage, they’re now just a faded memory.

Employees that would have developed their career within a single company now seek opportunities that will amplify their skill set, whether with their current company or outside of it. Constantly on the lookout for the next big thing that will boost their visibility or bootstrap them to a better gig, they know that success in today’s economy means the one who has the most experience wins.

They are agile, attention-challenged, and addicted to high performance.

And, they are one of your most valuable assets.

Engaging this group comes not from persuading them to stay for the long haul, but by making the time they are with the company mutually beneficial, including time spent in internal meetings.

The same-old-same-old will drive this group away faster than you can say, “greener grass.” So challenge yourself to find new ways to connect with this cohort with the following approaches:

1.       Convincing Content

From senior leadership’s opening remarks to the supporting media within, every content element should connect the “big idea” – the new strategy, focus, BHAG – to what it means for the audience.  Less “WIFM” – what’s in it for me – and more “WIFMWP – “what’s in it for my work portfolio”?

Go beyond “a more innovative culture” or “increased efficiency” to the specific work opportunities and skills that will come from the new strategy/focus/BHAG.

Tip: Find stories that feature employee successes directly tied to a skillset or opportunity. People love seeing themselves on screen, even when they’re just thinking, “That’ll be me soon.”

2.       Free Flow

When designing the agenda, schedule time for internal networking…but not your grandfather’s networking, the structured kind with a project and desired outcomes, like building a ship from parts in a “mystery box”.

Trust your attendees enough to give them unstructured networking time – to either form new connections or strengthen existing ones.

Tip: Distribute the agenda before the event so individuals can schedule meetings ahead of time. And clearly label this allotted time, “Networking”, as opposed to “Break” so employees know they will have ample time to take care of business…and business, because who you know is just as important as what you know

3.       Bonus Breakouts

Deep dives within a functional team are clearly important, but so are cross-functional sessions that span divisions. Imagine the discussions that could happen if a skills breakout – like Contract Management, Negotiation, and Marketing – brought together individuals from different teams.

Can’t picture it?  That’s the point. After all, if you already have a sense of the answer, why bother with the question? The discussions that come out of these meetings can spark new ways to work or solve existing problems, which is why they are so valuable.

Tip: Solicit suggestions from attendees before the event for the expertise they would like to develop. Then, build the breakout content around the responses to give attendees the most value for the time they invested.

Making each moment matter takes some extra work, but it’s the individual moments that do make our work matter.

No matter where that work may take us.

The 7 D’s of Delivering Great Meetings

How many times have you been asked to create a meeting that is “fresh”, “innovative” and “relevant”?

You may answer with a confident, “no problem!” But internally, you’re wondering what these words really mean for your next event. In fact, you may immediately go down a road of rethinking the agenda, seating, breakout sessions, etc.

But this misses a critical first step.

You need a plan.

Without it, you risk throwing random ideas at a moving target. Not exactly a receipt for success.  Instead, use the following process to generate targeted ideas that not only meet your audience’s needs but also preserve your team’s sanity.

1.       Discover

Find out what your stakeholders want, from your senior level speakers to your first-time attendees. This can be done easily via survey or a series of brief interviews. Ask questions like:

  • What meeting activities are most important to you?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • How do you like to give/receive information?

2.       Define

Clearly articulate what you are doing – for example, a 2-day meeting, a global town hall, or an executive roadshow. And be sure to identify any pre-established parameters, such as location and duration, or elements, such as a general session or awards recognition, so you and your team know how big the sandbox is and what toys are in it.

3.       Discuss

This is your brainstorming period – with some guidelines. Specify a length of time to blue sky ideas for each element or parameter, including whether the element should be removed all together.  It is also important to incorporate any information gathered in the Discovery Phase.

4.       Develop

Ideas without a plan of execution are just sticky notes on a wall. Too often brainstorming comes up with big ideas that generate big high fives, but then can’t be brought to fruition. Eliminate this potential roadblock by making the “how” part of your brainstorm. If any information is lacking – “Does anyone know the max file size for our intranet?” – assign someone to get the answer and report back to the team.

5.       Decide

Now is the time to cull your ideas, determine which fit within your organization’s culture, budget and abilities. Save any ideas that don’t make the final cut for a later discussion. You may discover that they are appropriate for a difference project or may serve as the catalyst for another idea.

6.       Deliver

Present your ideas to primary stakeholders, with a brief overview of the thought process, needs met, and anticipated response. Keep the discussion high-level, delving into the details when asked, but being careful not to overwhelm with minutiae.

7.       Debrief

After the event, meet with the same brainstorm team to review how well the ideas worked and what could be improved.  This provides the foundation for brainstorming your next event, which will, no doubt, be even better than your last.

By bringing more structure to your brainstorm session, you and your team can design a meeting that is as easy to ponder as it is to produce.