Prompting Participants’ Performance

large audience awaiting an apprehensive speakerSo how is a town hall meeting like a theater production or a church service? That’s not a clever riddle, but an actual comparison that came to mind during a sermon by a Zürich preacher who pointed out how a church service and a theater production were alike.

Similarly, in the business world, a town hall meeting or an all-hands meeting or some other staged event for employees is also like a theater production.

It’s easy to draw parallels with the two types of venues; there are stages with microphones, some kind of backdrop and perhaps some props.

Leaders can ask questions and facilitate a dialogue of sorts, with the role of the person on stage as a prompter for that discussion.
But another analogy is that in both cases the people on stage should be the prompters and the audience in employee meetings should be the performers. That role reversal may sound counterintuitive as usually the actors are active and the audience is passive.

Employee events, on the other hand, should engage the audience and encourage them to participate, prompted by the company’s leaders on stage. Instead of just presiding over the meeting and presenting to the audience, the leaders can ask questions and facilitate a dialogue of sorts, with the role of the person on stage as a prompter for that discussion.

Do you need guidance on how to orchestrate an employee event where the audience is less passive and more participatory? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Illustration credit: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig via Flickr

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Another Peek at the Secret Sauce Recipe: Great Consultant Questions

keyboard with WHY keyI once was a journalist, but I’m OK now! As a journalist I prided myself on practicing the trade without too many compromises or comma faults. One of the established tricks of the trade was the interview heuristic that uses the wh-words ”who, what, where, when, why and how.”

Moving into a career in consulting, I tailored that set of questions to suit my needs in the field of communications. I also adapted my ”Great Consultant Questions” from ones I used as a former high school teacher and university lecturer to elicit better writing from my students, such as the dig-deeper, go-further question ”which means what?”

When advising thought leaders on strategic communications approaches, I often relied on some other tried-and-true questions, like ”what then?” or ”why that?” or ”what’s most important?” or ”what keeps you up at night?”

Are you, as a thought leader, answering questions and questioning answers? Are you asking the right questions of yourself and your team? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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A Peek at the Secret Sauce of a Brand Campaign

Stirring the secret sauce of a brand campaignRecently I developed a communications plan for a Company X that was changing to become both a commodity brand and a solutions brand. In designing the campaign, I pulled together a sample campaign theme that emphasized what was the same and what was different after the change.

At the end of this post is a link that leads you to a presentation with some sample themes and tactics and tools for running a rebranding campaign internally and externally. Another resource, also linked below, is a communications plan template for designing your own brand campaign.

Are you ready to launch a rebranding campaign? Do you need help with themes and tactics and tools and templates? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

ThoughtLeaderZone Company X Brand Presentation (pptx)

Company X Brand Communications Plan Template (docx)

Photo by Theresa Carle-Sanders

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Silver Lining Playbook for a Crisis

lake meade with quote from silver linings playbookAt the recent GWI American Water Summit in Washington, D.C., Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, made a comment that brought spontaneous and knowing laughter from the normally staid audience.

Ms. Mulroy was talking about how drought conditions in the Seven States made it easier to sell the message of mutual cooperation and declared: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste!” She said she used the opportunity to raise awareness of conservation issues and to change the public’s mindset about water.

Crisis communications is a frequent topic on this site (read a few relevant posts here, here and here), and the focus is usually on reacting to a crisis and minimizing its negative impact on a business. But if handled well, a crisis can also have a positive impact.

That, however, takes planning and forethought about the types of benefits that might arise from a particular type of crisis.

Have you already outlined some positive, “silver lining” messages in your crisis playbook? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

See related posts:
Global Water Thought Leaders Meet in Washington, DC
Top Tweets from American Water Summit 2013 in Washington, DC

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Sticky Tricky Truths – Part 3

bschiss exhibition titleA small museum in aptly but coincidentally named Liestal, Switzerland, had a recent exhibition dedicated to lying that included lies in books by famous authors. The title of the exhibition was Bschiss, which means something like a trick or cheating.

Swiss newspapers condemned the Bschiss revealed this summer when a training document from Ryan Air was leaked to the media in the UK. In it Ryan Air flight attendants were instructed to tell passengers they didn’t have change following a purchase and then “forget” to return the money later.

Another Bschiss controversy getting a lot of play in Swiss newspapers this summer concerns the political 1:12 Initiative promoted by the Schweizerischen Gewerbeverband (SGV) and opposed by the Jungsozialisten (Young Socialists).

Overnight this summer the initiative’s Facebook fan “likes” nearly tripled, to the immediate delight of the SGV. But upon further inspection, the sponsors found that the majority of the clicks came from places not necessarily considered Swiss strongholds, like Azerbaijan, Turkey, etc. They deny buying clicks and accuse the Young Socialists of the provocateur action of buying false likes to discredit SGV.

facebook screenshotAccording to the Swiss paper Blick am Abend, the cost of getting 10,000 fans is 450 Swiss Francs (about the same in US dollars). Clicks from click farms are, of course, strictly forbidden on Facebook; but a recent expose on British television showed the ease of arranging for such a service.

Are you having trouble managing your online reputation and confused about how to make social media work for you without resorting to tricks and Bschiss? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help (and that’s the truth)!

Read these other posts from this series:

Lies, Damn Lies, and Sticky Tricky Truths Part 2
Chief Truth Teller – The Risks and Rewards of Full Disclosure – Part 1

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Lies, Damn Lies and Sticky, Tricky Truths – Part 2

facebook smear buttonThe first article in this series recounted some ways to determine whether a speaker is lying to you.

But what happens when physical and non-verbal clues aren’t available for interpretation? How do you spot a liar online? And what should happen when you do, especially when the lies are about you or your beloved or your beloved company?

Let’s focus on the third situation, where your company’s brand is being disparaged online.

Dissent and debate can be healthy, and as Mark Twain once said, ”It’s the difference of opinions that makes a horse race.”

You may be having a disagreement with a customer or a group of consumers. But before you even realize you have a problem, suddenly you have a PROBLEM! Let’s look at a case in point.

promoted tweet screenshotA disgruntled passenger on a British Airways flight bought a promoted tweet to complain about his father’s lost luggage. The tweet went viral, drawing the attention of BA’s competitors, too.

When news — whether true or false or misleading — spreads through cyberspace without any monitoring or appropriate intervention, you can lose control of your brand conversation and those bad messages can stick…and that’s certainly not good.

One popular ”complaint site” is taking steps to ensure companies have a forum to respond publicly to complaints. The petition platform/website, , has just begun offering the targets of an online campaign an opportunity to address any inaccuracies online. Companies that want to be extremely transparent are able to create their own pages that will show all petitions and their status.

Are you ready to take steps to protect your brand in virtual or ”real” life? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help (and that’s the truth)!

Photo Credits: Smear Button, Todd Barnard
Tweet screenshot via

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Chief Truth Teller – The Risks and Rewards of Full Disclosure – Part 1

Pinnochio puppet

“Where are the gold pieces now?’ the Fairy asked.
‘I lost them,’ answered Pinocchio, but he told a lie, for he had them in his pocket. .” ― Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio

In a popular TED talk online, Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, asks whether we are living in a ”post-truth” society. She cites some surprising statistics about how often we lie and are lied to every day and then points out how early lying behavior begins. The trick, she said, is to recognize when we’re being lied to before we accept something as truth. If we don’t question the veracity of a statement, we’re enabling the liar and participating in the lie.

As a cultural anthropologist, she introduced several lesser-known ways of spotting the tell-tale non-verbal signs of lying, such as the liar’s feet often point toward the exit or the liar often places pens or other objects on the desk across from the interviewer like physical barriers. A video clip of a murderer illustrated what she called ”duping delight,” a proud, wicked grin that can’t be suppressed.

What liars say, not just how they say something, also can give clues to the fact that they’re hedging the truth. We need to listen for overly formal language, distancing language, qualifying language, fact recitation only in strict chronological order and an abundance of unnecessary, irrelevant information.

I’m no expert on lying, but I do know that white lies are a common convention in daily personal conversation. Similarly, in the business world, avoiding the truth — particularly when the truth hurts – can sometimes be seen as an art form.

In an age of open information, full disclosure now – to the extent possible – may prevent worse problems later. 
Communications professionals, in particular, have to be adept at making sure the messages they disseminate are as close to the truth as the situation (and the legal department) will allow. In an age of open information, full disclosure – to the extent possible – now may prevent worse problems later.

The Chief Truth Teller in a company, however, has to be the person at the top of a company, who sets the standard for honesty and integrity in business dealings and communication and then enforces the expectation of truth among the company’s employees.

Are you the type of thought leader who demands that your followers face even the toughest truths?

Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help (and that’s the truth)!

Photo credit: Favio Rava

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How to Paint a Thousand Words Without Using Any

the art of social media

“The Art of Social Media” Photo Credit

As a thought leader, it’s important to build your brand and tell your story in pictures, not just words. The images you use on your social media sites speak volumes about who you are and how you do what you do.

For a handy guide to all the sizes and shapes and measurement requirements for a wide range of social media sites, go here.

Do you need help creating impact with your online presence as a thought leader? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Grammar Matters and Style Rules in Presentations, Too

Before you deliver a presentation, you do a lot of checking. It could run something like this: Notes? Check! Pointer? Check! Water? Check! Cough drops? Check! Glasses? Check! Distracting, shiny name badge off? Check! Distracting, shiny jewelry off? Check! Clothing appropriate and immaculate? Check! Shoes polished? Check!

typo mistake on powerpoint slideBut did you remember to check your presentation itself for annoying distractions like typos and ungrammatical phrasing in the headlines and body of the slide text? Asking a colleague to help you proofread and polish your presentation shouldn’t be an optional check but instead an integral part of the process of finalizing your presentation.

It’s easy to overlook errors that will lower the persuasive impact of your presentation. It happens to all of us. Check back on this site shortly as I’m reaching out to my virtual colleagues in various discussion groups to gather some ”headline howlers and hiccups” that they’ve seen in their industry.

Do you have a dedicated person to help you polish your presentations and make them more powerful every time? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

See also: Grammar Matters and Style Rules, Part 1: Practical Style Guides for Thought Leaders

Photo Credit: Brett Jordan

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Grammar Matters and Style Rules! Practical Style Guides for Thought Leaders

style guidesTeaching is on my mind right now as the schools in Zurich have recently opened. That’s because I once was an English teacher—and once an English teacher, always an English teacher.

In fact, when I moved from academia into the business world, I retained my reputation as a Grammar Guru and a Punctuation Policewoman. I plead ”intentionally guilty” to the charge of insisting on high-quality, mistake-free writing in business documents that matter. And they all matter.

Yes, as a thought leader, even your emails should be error free when it comes to grammar and style. Advanced tools help you to spell-check and grammar-check, and there’s even a fail-safe way to ensure you don’t hit send without taking time to confirm its accuracy one last time. (Contact me if you need instructions on that.)

But more critical documents require more thorough editing and proofreading to make sure your messages have the impact you intend. Subtle changes in style and tone and improve the persuasive value of your writing. Grammatical ”guffaws” and ”gaffes” can devalue your discourse.

Many businesses today are recognizing that reality and trying to rectify it. In a 2012 survey  conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP, nearly half (45%) of 430 employers said they were adding training programs to improve employees’ grammar skills.

Several style guides exist to help you polish your writing style; some of these books you’ll remember from your own English classes.

5 Practical Reference Sources for Grammar and Style

Your company’s communications team may have a style guide of its own or at least a strong preference about which one to use. The key to raising the quality bar is to demand consistency in style and grammar…Consistently right, that is.

Do you need a brush-up on how “grammar matters and style rules”? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Photo Credit: Terry Freedman

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