Davis & Company has published two books that I highly recommend to my colleagues in corporate communication and human resources. The first is The Definitive Guide to HR Communication by Alison Davis and Jane Shannon. I haven’t come across a better resource for creating clear communication that engages and motivates employees. Their approach begins with steps to understand your employees and treat them like customers—two fundamental areas that are often overlooked when rushing to get communication out. The book progresses through planning, messaging, writing, selecting communication channels and measuring effectiveness. The book includes plenty of examples and case studies that demonstrate how to turn boring, confusing messages into memorable ones. The inclusion of “HR” in the book’s title is somewhat misleading—the principles apply equally well to corporate communication professionals or any executive that creates communication for broad internal audiences.
How to Conduct Employee Focus Groups by Joe DeLuccia, Kimberly Gavagan and David Ptire, is another excellent resource for anyone who wants a refresher on the subject. It takes you through the process from setting objectives to reporting results. I found the book helpful when conducting focus groups for an Intranet redesign project I did at Brocade.
Both of these books can be ordered from Amazon or from the Davis & Company website, which also contains free articles and white papers. Alison Davis also has a excellent weekly blog with insights and tips on employee engagement.
Are audio podcasts still relevant with the explosion of online video including video blogs, YouTube channels, Flip cameras and video-enabled mobile phones? I asked Peter Shaplen, a veteran news producer who has worked for ABC, CBS, CNN, Court TV, FOX, NBC BBC and SKYNews (and many more), his opinion on this question. I saw Shaplen in action at Cisco and was impressed with how he handled the preparation, interviewing and post-production on a segment for the highly-regarded News@Cisco podcast series. He has a passion for the medium and has built a reputation as a highly-skilled producer of podcasts for C-level and senior executives at Fortune 100 companies.
Q: You have worked in broadcast journalism for 25+ years. How did you get into podcasting?
A: I began making podcasts in the form of short, personalized news programs. I was the News Director and Vice President of News and Production for ON24 in the earliest days of streaming media in the 1990s. These were pioneering days of podcasts, even before the iPod or any of the devices we now take for granted.
Q: Why do you like doing podcasts so much?
A: Podcasts are a platform to reach audiences that don’t watch or listen to traditional media. But there’s much more. It is – at its heart – a 1:1 communication between the speaker and audience finessed by the reporter. Well-produced podcasts can be more intimate and conversational than video interviews. Eliminating the camera reduces stage fright that can restrict an executive’s innate ability to communicate authentically. Executives say things on podcasts that they would never have been comfortable saying on camera, not because of some inappropriate proprietary disclosure but due to the comfort and ease of the process and medium.
Q: Why are podcasts such a good medium for establishing executive thought leadership?
A: Podcasts are engaging conversations that allow an executive to effectively convey information and personality in a compelling manner. It can be risky these days to put your executive in front of TV news reporters when you have absolutely no control of the final cut. Thirty years ago the average length of a sound bite on a network newscast was 22 seconds. Today it is 8 seconds. Nothing, least of all an executive’s insight, can be captured as a full thought in 8 seconds. Podcasts are a viable alternative to what is otherwise too often a very negative outcome when left to the editors at a broadcast news outlet.
Q: Photos and videos are more popular than ever on the web. Why don’t you create executive videos instead of podcasts?
A: Great programs are all about sound, just like a podcast. A good interview should be tough, even combative at times, and bring out the authentic person behind the information spoken. The words, phrasing and intonation in a podcast carry significant meaning. Adding pictures, still or moving, doesn’t mean it’s better. Incidentally, producing good podcasts is every bit as difficult and challenging as producing great television.
Q: What are the elements of an interesting, engaging and effective podcast?
A: Intellectual honesty. Reasonable expectations. A complete absence of corporate jargon. A willingness on the part of all the managers and PR leads in the company to let your chief be a chief – speak not spin the message – articulate his or her goals. It gets back to basic communication. The audience wants to believe and trust you… dont give them any reason not to. The audience doesn’t need to be “sold”, especially not a hard sell in a podcast but instead to be gently guided, not coerced, into thinking and believing as you do.
Q: What are the most common mistakes that communications professionals make when producing podcasts?
A: The most common mistake is to think of podcasts as a PR vehicle containing a high quotient of message points and jargon-filled, polysyllabic words to connote intelligence and sagacity. Whew! A podcast is not an alternative vehicle for a speech, a sales presentation or a symposium. Regurgitating messaging points makes for boring and tedious listening. Believe it or not, I have heard many podcasts recorded in rooms where windows were open, sirens were blaring, horns were honking and planes were flying overhead. One doesn’t need the sanctity of the Sistine Chapel, but a little professionalism and audio control is a good thing. Another pet peeve of mine is long openings, music and flourishes. This is neither a sermon nor Hyde Park corner so get to the point already!
Q: What are some of the challenges you face working with executives?
A: Busy, stressed, over taxed executives can be impatient, presumptuous even cocky at times. They can fail to listen to a question or ignore the question while bridging directly to the objective. It takes considerable effort on the interviewer’s part to make the executive aware of these and take steps to overcome them.
Q: What advice do you have for executives preparing for a podcast interview?
- Speak truths and really do believe and understand them so your audience will too.
- Have confidence in yourself, act naturally.
- Be clear, concise and targeted. Audiences don’t want to listen to a 20 minute speech that could have been conveyed in 5 minutes.
- Treat the interviewer’s time with the respect and courtesy you would expect.
- Choose your words carefully; simple is better; being concise is essential.
- If you want to win audiences over to your point of view, work hard to create common ground with the listeners, establish your agenda, make your arguments.
- Listen to the questioner – don’t just parrot messages that have been created by others, force fed into bullet points, and provided as rehearsed nuggets by a media trainer.
- Go with the flow of the process with the confidence that true success will be the result and the long tail of the program will be satisfying.
Q: What is the secret to creating a fabulous podcast?
A: Hire me. That’s a great question but a proprietary answer.
Peter Shaplen can be reached on LinkedIn or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What makes a live expert panel a success? This question came to my mind today during today’s Brand Management in the Social Media Jungle panel held at Electronic Arts. Here are the reasons why I enjoyed the event.
- Solid Panelists: Jeanette Gibson (Cisco), Garnor Morantes (eBay), and Jaap Tuinman (Electronic Arts) were joined by Joel Postman (formerly with HP and Sun). All of them have deep experience in cross-functional communications roles with high visibility, and each have been responsible for significant social media or community programs at their organizations.
- Good Stories: It is always enjoyable to hear stories like Cisco Fatty and Tiger Woods Walk on Water from insiders. What came as a bit of a surprise were the multiple examples Electronic Arts discussed where they admitted they failed to engage with their community in the past. They demonstrated how they have addressed this oversight with a variety of social media programs that continue to the present.
- Celebrity Guest: Jeremiah Owyang made a brief appearance before dashing off to speak at the Intel Developer Forum.
- Qualified Moderator: Larry Vincent (Siegel and Gale), an expert in branding, held his own with the panelists and kept things moving.
- Designated Tweeter: Rebecca Murtagh (@virualmarketer), tweeted key updates and status updates throughout the session at #SVBF. She monitored incoming tweets, voiced questions to the moderator, and then tweeted the answers back. Her tweeting came in very handy because the venue did NOT have wireless access. This was the biggest disappointment of the event.
- Twitter Feed on Giant Screen: This was fabulous! A Twubs window set to #SVBF was projected on a theater-sized screen behind the panelists. Talk about transparency! This is a best practice I would like to see on every panel.
- Engaged Audience: The event was attended by some 70 mid-to-senior level professionals who had plenty of questions for the panelists.
- Leisurely Pace: It was nice to have 3 1/2 hours for one panel and Steve Farnsworth’s presentation on monitoring. It didn’t feel rushed.
This was my first event with Silicon Valley Brand Forum , a group founded by Kevin Heney 10 years ago. He and his volunteers seem to have the formula down. Unfortunately (for us) they host only two events per year. I look forward to the next one. For additional video clips of the seminar, see the Silicon Valley Brand Forum site.
What can a 25-year-old with a degree in Classical Languages teach senior communications professionals (Gen-X and Baby Boomers) about personal branding? As it turns out, quite a lot. I came across Dan Schawbel’s work last night while catching up on my online reading. He describes himself as “the leading personal branding expert for Gen-Y and the author of the bestselling career book, Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success (Kaplan, April 2009).” I just ordered my copy on Amazon
You can’t help but be impressed by the fabulous reviews and endorsements for Schawbel’s book and blog, as well as the volume of work he has produced at such a tender age. Clearly he has worked hard and is a good marketer. However, I also believe he has applied and embodies some fundamental social media principles that all of us can leverage, regardless of where we are in our professional development. Here are a few that stood out to me:
- He gives a lot of information away. Take a look at the index of his blogs and articles in the Starter Guide on his http://www.personalbrandingblog.com page. You don’t need to buy his books or engage in his services in order to understand and benefit from his expertise.
- He has clearly articulated his own vision and mission and openly shares it on his personal web page. He identifies his brand attributes as prolific, ambitious, energetic, resourceful a creative. His dream is to become the bridge, where qualified applicants can cross to land the positions they deserve and to create a personal branding class in every school internationally, helping students follow their passions. I credit him for the courage to dig deep, find his passion, articulate it and share it so clearly.
- He reframes his weaknesses into his strengths. Schawbel doesn’t apologize or hide the fact that he has a degree in Classic Languages. In a recent article, he talks about how this experience has helped him be more effective in his work. All of us have experiences that we probably don’t feel is relevant to our profession. My experience has been that further reflection has revealed that some of my experiences are more relevant to my profession than I expected.
- He melds personal branding and social media. Schawbel has the benefit of growing up in the digital age where your online presence IS your presence. I agree with him that this is the direction all professionals must take to be successful.
- His site is a model for how to leverage social media. His site is chock full of social media capabilities and he invites conversation.
- He is authentic and transparent about his life. He is open about his personal and professional life. He comes across as a real guy who would be interesting to meet and converse with.
As the title of this blog indicates, I see Schawbel as a mentor to his Gen-Y peers, as well as Gen-X and Baby Boomer professionals. Some organizations approach reverse mentoring as way to expose older executives to the perspective of a younger generation, thereby making the executives more relevant. I like to think of it as simply learning from a smart individual who happens to be younger than me. I can learn a lot from Schwabel and other Gen-Y trailblazers. Thank you for continuing to inspire me!