Yes, Virginia. Stories Still Matter

At a recent rehearsal for a national sales meeting, a Marketing Director launched into a new campaign with a very thorough – yet painfully dry – overview of the project’s development. As he clicked through his PowerPoint – chock-full of segmentation data and charts – all I could think was, “Wow, this is really dull.”

Midway through his presentation, I stopped him.

“Hey Dan,” I started. “Was there ever a moment when you thought this campaign wouldn’t happen?”

He stopped pacing, squinting into the lights overhead, then took a few steps forward.

“Yeah,” he sighed.  “Right at the outset.  We were looking for people – real people – to feature in our campaign, but it’s a really sensitive subject.  I remember we had reached out to our network for recommendations and our contacts kept reassuring us that people would come, but…”

He shook his head.

“We’d booked this hotel conference room in Ohio – you know, ‘The Heartland’ – to meet people.  It was January, record low temperatures and the room had a chill.  We were expecting at least 20 people to interview and there was no one.  Just me, sitting there, watching the hours roll by. I kept checking my phone for messages, walked over to the front desk…nothing.

“It was a complete failure.

“I started packing up, wondering how I was going to explain this to my boss when in walks this guy, Steve – out of breath, apologetic. His car wouldn’t start, then he couldn’t catch a cab, so he ended up taking a bus, then a train to get to me. He didn’t have his phone or he would have called…Poor guy, he was so flustered. But all he wanted to know is whether I still wanted to talk to him.”

I took off my coat and poured him a cup of coffee.  Then I listened for the next hour about how the work that we do changed his life.  I’ll never forget it.”

He cleared his throat, coming back into the room.

“Open with that,” I told him.  “It shows how high the stakes were and how much this project means not just to you, but to your customers.”

The next day he told an abbreviated version of that story. During the break, he was surrounded by audience members who thanked him for his perseverance. Maybe they wouldn’t remember the specific metrics around the studies underpinning the campaign, but they knew how much this project meant to the company…and to Dan.

Just as Dan would always remember Steve, the audience would always remember Dan.

Stories instantly connect speakers to their audience, which is why they are such popular openers.  The stories that work best follow a simple formula:

Beginning + middle + end

Help your presenters identify the main character, the challenge overcome, and their reason for telling that particular story, and your presenters will thank you.

They may even tell a story about it.

We Still Can’t Hear What You’re Saying

A bad phone connection can ruin the best conversation. You catch a few words here and there, offer some non-committal affirmations, but you’re basically missing 80% of what the other party is saying.

That’s what your audience feels like when there’s a sound issue. While your exec may be breaking down the tactics to crushing the competition in 2014, your audience is shaking their heads muttering, “I have no idea what he’s saying,” or “she sounds weird. I had no idea her voice was so thin.”

So how can you make sure the audience hears what the speaker is saying?

  • Hire a pro for your sound board.

It may not sound like rocket science, but mixing sound is a definite skill.  These audio professionals can make or break a meeting. So spend the time to communicate the agenda, stage flow, and speaker presentation styles to them before your event, preferably before or during your rehearsal.  It’s not something you want to leave to chance. And nothing ruins the vibe of a good meeting faster than a screech, pop or – gasp – silence.

  •  Get the right equipment.

Every room is different, which means that the audio package that worked for your last meeting may not be right in a new setting.  Depending on the size of the audience, the number of speakers and the type of presentation, you may need a larger – or smaller – configuration.  The worst way to approach this decision is with your budget glasses on.  Be aware of costs, but also keep in mind that cheap equipment will give you a cheap-sounding meeting.  And after all of the hard work that has gone into putting the meeting together, is that really the result that you want? Instead, work with your producer to choose the best equipment you can afford that still meets your needs.

Worrying about quality audio for your next meeting shouldn’t keep you up at night. But it is something that you – and your production team – should have on your radar. By putting some forethought into your onsite needs and event agenda, you can rest a little easier knowing you have the right equipment and people to make sure those speeches your presenters have been meticulously crafting will actually be heard.

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

When your room is too cold, your audience tunes out. Warming them up stimulates their emotional warmth processing and makes them more receptive to new ideas.

But if you’re really worried about them falling asleep, don’t freeze them out.

Heat up your content instead.

Lavs and Handhelds and Headworns, Oh My!

“You can get a 3mic package with 2handhelds, or we can use a 5mic system with the 4 lavs and a handheld as a backup….So, how many people are going to be talking on stage at once?”

You’re still in the process of wrangling your panel guests and still don’t quite know how many may be available. And while the new CMO won’t do anything except a headworn mic, you’re pretty sure your CIO is going to want a handheld.

How can you manage all of the equipment options and still choose the best audio package for your budget? As the adage goes, knowledge is power. So here’s a primer on managing your mic selections.

1) Handhelds
Maximum flexibility, old school style


  • These are great Q&A’s and – in a pinch – when someone is presenting for a short period of time.
  • Use for casual panel discussion where wireless lapel/lavalier mics are not available
  • Good to have close to the stage in case of lav failure (it happens!)


  • Presenters find them awkward and need to be reminded not to eat, drop, hit or otherwise abuse the mic. (Well, I suppose they could drop the mic to make a point, but still…)
  • Panel discussions can be a mixing console nightmare when everyone decides to speak at once. The mic is literally the talking stick, so when one person is holding it up to speak, everyone else needs to put their talking sticks down and listen.

2) Lavalieres/Lapel microphones


  • Talk about inconspicuous! Some of these are the size of your pinky nail, but they still pack a lot of power.
  •  Look Ma! No Hands!” Presenters are free to gesticulate as much as they want.
  • Tip: Proper placement is approximately 6” down from the chin and centered.


  • They are extremely sensitive, which means that lanyards, necklaces, etc. should be removed or you’ll get sporadic – and annoying – brushing/clinking/whooshing…and yet…
  • Extreme turns of the head will negate any quality audio when the mic is placed off-center. Just remember, mics go in the middle.

3) Headworn microphones


  • They have the best quality because they are placed over the ear with the mic to the side of the mouth. This does not mean touching the cheek. Then you get a weird skin-rubbing sound that you definitely want to avoid.
  • For video recording, they provide the cleanest audio, at the highest level before running into any feedback issues.


  • Some presenters haven’t had exposure to them, but after a few minutes of practice, they’ll feel like they were born with a silver mic in their mouth (well, close to it anyway.)

Finding the right combination is the sweet spot of good audio design. And knowing what your options are, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions about what makes sense for your meeting.

If only getting guest speakers was as easy…

Twitter Best Practices from Aldous Huxley

“But life is short and information endless: nobody has time for everything. In practice we are generally forced to choose between an unduly brief exposition and no exposition at all.   Abbreviation is a necessary evil and the abbreviator’s business is to make the best of a job which, though intrinsically bad, is still better than nothing. He must learn to simplify, but not to the point of falsification.  He must learn to concentrate upon the essentials of a situation, but without ignoring too many of reality’s qualifying side issues. In this way he may be able to tell, not indeed the whole truth (for the whole truth about almost any important subject is incompatible with brevity), but considerably more than the dangerous quarter-truths and half-truths which have always been the current coin of thought.”

– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited (Forward)