More and more companies are turning to video as a way to communicate with customers, vendors and the general public. Often the CEO finds him or herself front and center. What can you do to make your leader come across better on camera? Here are five tips from my work coaching on-camera performances from a wide range of national and international leaders.

Hire a makeup artist.  Often makeup is an after thought or considered to be “only powder,” but a makeup professional—one who is trained for on-camera uses, not salon or theatrical makeup—can make all the difference in how your CEO looks and feels.  He or she also has tools to keep bald pates from looking shiny, can keep shirts from wrinkling, and ties from drifting. A good makeup artist is also a conversationalist, making your leader feel more comfortable before the camera. The $600 day rate is well worth it!

Have the CEO review the script ahead of time. Often whoever has written the script will keep it from the CEO until the last moment, trying to avoid a lot of revisions or politics. The result is your on-air talent is now not fully comfortable with the copy.  This tends to lead to more mistakes and copy changes while the cameras (and dollars) are rolling. Making sure your CEO has seen the copy and is comfortable with the style of language. Making the the verbage both accurate but also conversational and easy to say out loud will be critical to your success.

Choose clothing that works for Television. If your CEO is more comfortable in shirt sleeves, don’t make him put on a jacket. If she loves wearing bold colors, bring them on. But avoid tight herringbone patterns in jackets and ties, as these can cause a “moray” or shifting of the lights and darks back and forth when they conflict with scan lines on a monitor. Shooting in High Def can minimize this, but it’s best to be safe.

Use a Teleprompter…Sometimes. If your CEO is comfortable with a teleprompter and there is a lot of copy, it’s best to use one.  Teleprompters are designed to fit over the lense of a camera so that the eye line of the individual speaking goes directly to the viewing audience. I’ve often done training sessions with teleprompters ahead of time, so leaders with less experience feel better stepping on stage and before the cameras.  If your CEO is happy with bullet points, those can also go up on a prompter.

Keep Everyone Out of the Eyeline.  Often a CEO has various press secretaries, assistants, consultants, etc. who must be present any on-camera appearance. Do your best to keep them out of his or her eye line during taping. They can often become an unintentional distraction. They can also raise the anxiety level of someone without extensive on camera experience.  A calm and focused CEO is one who comes across with confidence.

If you have a story about putting your CEO or other leadership on camera but you’d rather stay anonymous here, feel free to share them with me at amy [at] amydelouise [dot] com.

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on us and news stations blaring 24/7 about the states of emergency being declared all around us, my husband and I dutifully prepared. Battery backup for the sump pump-check. Backup pump-check. Sandbags around the pump hole-check. Bottled water-check. Canned food-check. Flashlights-check. Candles-check. Then we headed to the liquor store to stock up for a hurricane dinner party (hey, we live inland, we had to have some fun).

As it turned out, Irene was a flop–at least in our area. But the preparations and evacuations were reminders of the Katrina legacy.  Understandably, no one wanted to repeat those horrific scenes of people who could not be rescued for days. But how would people now respond to what now appeared to be an overblown response?

In some ways, the situation was like a real life drill, so we could see how things worked.  Did our governance structures allow for quick response? Did our communications pathways let us reach affected stakeholders quickly? I was interested to watch each mayor, governor and federal agency leader acting out their own crisis response plan.   Which made me think of the top four things organization can do to be prepared for communicating in a crisis:

1. Build multiple pathways to your customers. Be able to reach them via text, phone, cellphone or email. But boots on the ground may be necessary as well. Newark New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker actually knocked on doors to get people to evacuate. (I noticed he also responded directly to a constituent on Twitter who was worried about his mother’s loss of power and offered to go check on her.) Reinforce the pathways to vital communications by not overwhelming them with junk, or they won’t respond when you need them to. In my area, PEPCO left voicemail for customers warning them about possible power outages. This was useful. But part of the message suggested checking the PEPCO website for updates. Oops.

2. Develop a quick-response team. This may not just be top organizational leadership. It may include others who can connect to different parts of your staff or customer base.  Prepare the team on how to respond to media inquiries.  Ultimately you may bring on a crisis PR group to help, but in the initial hours your own team will need to handle the job.  One person should be the “face” of the organization if you must go on television. This was one of the big missteps during the BP oil spill crisis. For days and days, there were multiple people at the microphone, resulting in coverage that said  “who’s in charge here, anyway?”

3. People come first. Not your company/entity.  That means being as honest as possible in responses, as timely as possible, and as transparent as possible about your process for fixing the problem.  The gold standard of crisis response remains the Tylenol tampering scare of 1982. The fact that they responded quickly, put safety first, and changed their packaging were both smart moves for the brand and for the customers.

4. Maintain post-crisis communications. Tell the story of what happened, what you did about it, what you could have done better, and what worked. Giving your narrative and keeping the communications lines open after a crisis builds trust for future response. This may be some of the hardest work ahead for the folks responding to Irene. Mayor Bloomberg will have a delicate messaging job to do in the coming hours and days to ensure New Yorkers don’t roll their eyes the next time he or a future Mayor orders an evacuation. It may not matter today, but it could save future lives if he does it right.

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It’s August and time to kick-start the work of September. Many companies and boards are launching their summer retreats.  Why not make this one an “advance” on your agenda instead? Having led many such working groups, here are a few tips to making it a better experience for all.

1.      Move Out of Comfort Zones. Remember Family Systems Theory? Just like families, boards of directors and staff function according to rules (spoken and unspoken), patterns, relationships and boundaries. Creating a retreat with more interactive time and fewer presentations, mixing up people who wouldn’t otherwise sit together, and using physical spaces that allow people to connect more personally—i.e. no big long tables—can radically change the outcomes of your time spent together.

2.      Engage an Outside Facilitator. Experienced outsiders can offer a new perspective. But even more importantly, they can cut through some of the habits your group may have formed that can sometimes diminish productivity and creativity by drawing out different voices (see below) and using techniques to guide the conversation towards implementable tasks. Plus, using an outside person adds some entertainment value–it’s not the same boss/board chair/department head they are accustomed to hearing from. So this is not just self-promotional talk. (Though if you’d like to vet a project with me, please do shoot me an email at amy [at] amydelouise [dot] com!)

3.      Encourage New Voices.  Often we lean on leaders to, well, lead. They are the ones everyone looks to at the end of the meeting to say what they think or what should happen next. Not so at a retreat.  In this environment, they should hang back and allow other voices to come forward. They will get more fodder for what they ultimately need to accomplish this way.

4.      Think Out of the Box.  Use exercises that encourage your group to look beyond what they already know.  I like to use case studies from competitors, or even from industry groups or organizations in a completely different business area as a jumping off point.  I’m also a fan of giving teams different problems to solve with only certain tools they are allowed to use to solve them. The goal is creative thinking, not same thinking.

5.      Plan for Implementation. There’s nothing worse than spending the day at a workshop and finding that Absolutely Nothing Happens with all those little sticky pad notes and flip charts you filled up.  Spend a good chunk of time at the end of each day (or end of the retreat) planning how to implement the ideas and suggestions made there. Who is responsible for what? Is there a need for a small sub-group to help organize and re-distribute the information? What happens next?

Retreats are great. Advances are even better. Go for it!

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©2010 B. DeLouiseLast week I conducted a social media workshop at a staff retreat.  Most of the participants were using social media for at least some personal or professional use. A small percentage were very active. A couple abhorred the idea, and thought I was there to force them onto Facebook. Instead, we talked about reaching vital communities of customers and prospects who are using mobile web, various social networks, and  downloadable apps. We discussed how by sharing their expertise and building personal brands in these communities, team members could further the organization’s overall marketing and client retention goals.   Then we did an exercise looking at brands in various unrelated fields to see how they were using social media to engage customers and generate excitement.  Suddenly the room was buzzing with ideas.  The group set aside more time post-workshop for planning and execution.

The takeaway? Staff teams need support–including just plain old brainstorming time–to feel confident in supporting your brand. So, how can you help them do this?

Use the buddy system.

Many executive staff are not digital natives. They’ve heard all the hype about social media. Maybe they are tweeting or on Linked In. But they are not connecting these communities to their day-to-day goals for the company. They need specific, actionable examples of how to use each medium to promote their personal brand, their expertise as it relates to your business, and build their own contacts and communities. After initial training, one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to support this work is by developing an in-house mentoring program, teaming experienced execs with younger staffers. The former understand your brand and customers, but need help leveraging social networks. The latter understand social media but don’t always understand effective networking or customer relations. The two can help each other.

Identify the goalposts.

Everyone loves to talk metrics. I’ve certainly talked about them plenty in other posts on this blog. But the best measurement tools are the ones your own team develops. And good measurement usually starts with good questions. What communications are most valued by current customers? How many contacts does it take to turn a prospect into a client?  What unique expertise can your team offer or curate from other reliable sources? What outcomes will determine your success? If one approach isn’t successful, what’s the next step?

Choose team captains.

To stay with the sports metaphor a moment longer, who will be the key points of contact in the organization for social interactions (and not just online ones)? Are they trained on how to respond to all kinds of feedback and queries? Are they comfortable being the face of your organization in the community? What’s the crisis response plan and what triggers it? These leaders–who by the way aren’t necessarily department heads–can also reward colleagues for innovation and creative thinking (MVP awards).

Review the 50,000 foot objectives.

Key staff are often connected to your organization through only one pathway–their department.  They need to be periodically briefed on new initiatives and the big picture about your brand promise to all of your customers. That includes the experience you promote for your own employees (i.e. the people who report to your key staff).  Everyone on the team needs to be able to easily deliver an “elevator pitch” about your firm and connect it to their own experience–why they like working there, what drew them to the business, etc.  This is where social media really shines, as employees can tweet or post a Facebook update with their own personality and perspectives.

Offer recognition.

Staff need more than their names on the masthead or business cards. They need to be publicly thanked when they do a good job of supporting your mission. When staff receive recognition for bringing their own brand to bear on yours, then others are more inclined to invest more of their time and talents connecting to the wider community.

Helping your team use new tools can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s one worth the effort. When they feel supported, the customer and the company wins.

As part of my series of guest posts from colleagues here is contribution from Kim Foley, president of Professional Image Strategies. Kim teaches credibility workshops for organizations, as well as being a television stylist and author. In a world filled with casual Friday attire, I though she could shed some light on the relationship between branding and credibility.

Everyday my challenge is to help my clients be seen as the credible experts they are. Whether my client is on the cover of a magazine or professional journal, being interviewed on television, or executing a presentation or speech, it is critical that their visual message supports and enhances their verbal message. Think about it – have you ever been watching a TV interview and wondered, “Where in the heck did they dig this person up?”

Your credentials and reputation are only part of the story when it comes to credibility and branding. It is far too easy to dismiss those who do not conform to the picture we carry in our heads of a credible person. All societies and tribes have cultural, unspoken rules about what communicates integrity, and garners trust from those around us. Everyday we all have the opportunity to either enhance or to sabotage our personal brand. The hard truth is – it is impossible to inspire or persuade others if they do not see us as having credibility.

The fight or flight reaction is still part of our primal response. The result of this response in modern times is to either confront or disengage from those whom we do not trust. Everyday in the workplace there are lost opportunities and derailed dreams all because of a person’s credibility. Those with questionable credibility will not get the job promotion they are seeking; those running for office will not get elected; and those trying to sell, persuade or lead will be left feeling confused about why they are powerless.

So how do you assess your own credibility factor, or the credibility factor of those who are representing your organization? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is driving your ‘look’? Is it style? Comfort? Or is it (as it should be) credibility. Successful people are intentional about their choice of clothes, shoes, hairstyle and accessories, and credibility is their motivator.
  2. What are the cultural expectations for your profession or position? When you are introduced to a person of influence, do you fit their view of what a “_____” should look like? Is your look too casual? Is your wardrobe up to date?
  3. Do you understand the subliminal statements of color? Everything from the color of your tie to the color of your organization’s logo should be chosen with care. They are making impressions on the minds of those you meet, visit your websites and receive your brochures. What is the message you want to communicate? Is it strength and power? Is it reliability and trust? The color and design you choose will either support or negate that message.
  4. Do you know what your clothing is saying? Your outward appearance is like the frame on an artist’s masterpiece. It should be complementary, without distracting the eye of the viewer. You want them to remember you, not what you were wearing. Your visual message must support your verbal message.

The assumptions that people make about us when we are first introduced are critically important. These assumptions, or stories, that are constructed in people’s minds, strongly influence whom they do business with, whom they take seriously and whom they desire to build a relationship with. We need to take control of that story. We need to carefully craft the message that we project.

If we want people to perceive us as a person or an organization of value and integrity, someone they can trust, then we need to understand the value of appearance when we are planning and implementing branding. When we don’t take the time and effort to create the visuals that match the message we desire to portray, we make a subliminal statement to everyone around us about how little value we place on ourselves and the organization that we represent.  When we acknowledge the role appearance plays, we can support our personal and professional brand.

–Kim Foley

Periodically, I offer guest posts by colleagues.  Here’s one on crisis communications by Evan Nierman, founder of Red Banyan Group, a public relations and crisis management firm that provides integrated strategic communications counsel to organizations and individuals across a variety of industries.

The famous motto of the Boy Scouts is “be prepared.”  It’s good advice for everyone, but especially for companies looking to avoid dealing with a crisis that could damage their reputation and impact the bottom line.

In this day and age, thanks in part to a 24-hour news cycle and the way social media enables stories (especially negative ones) to spread like wildfire, it is more important than ever that organizations be prepared to face the inevitable crisis which could be just around the corner.  There is no reason to wait for a full-blown crisis to erupt–by the time trouble strikes it is almost too late.

Clearly, some crises are impossible to forecast.  I can recall one past client where the company’s senior executives were blindsided by very naughty personal behavior by the CEO which became instantly public thanks to a spurned wife who was tired of his philandering and drug abuse.  In that case, the company was forced to undertake a strategy emphasizing how capable senior managers would shoulder the workload while the CEO was away addressing his personal issues, and assuring shareholders that the impact on the company would be minimal.

Most companies can predict with some degree of accuracy what kind of challenges they might face in the future.  Government agencies charged with oversight will inevitably make a mistake somewhere along the line, and most nonprofit organizations will at some point face heavy scrutiny and perhaps strident criticism for how they spend their budgets.

Having a good crisis communications plan in place means that the organization can invest time during a calm period where cooler heads prevail to make well-reasoned, strategic decisions without the intense pressure and time constraints for decision-making that are brought on by a crisis.

Who Should Review Your Crisis PR Plan?

  • The person who oversees communications for the organization
  • The organization’s top executive
  • Legal counsel
  • Someone outside the organization with an expertise in crisis PR

For those companies who have not yet developed a crisis plan, having one in place is money well-spent.  It can help provide peace of mind to the organization while eliminating the ramp-up time required by crisis PR experts brought in to fight the fire once it is underway.

Companies which already have a plan in place should update it periodically and may want to have it reviewed by experts in order to ensure that it’s as effective and comprehensive as possible.  At the end of the day, a crisis communications plan is like a strong insurance policy: you never want to be without it when the day comes that you need it. The bottom line: be prepared.

–Evan Nierman

Organizations who want to maximize their marketing communications need to consider two major assets they already have in-house: younger people with knowledge of social media and mobile web and more seasoned employees who understand the organizational brand, the marketplace, and the clients.  Together they could communicate like gangbusters.  But for many reasons, they often don’t connect.

Consider changing that by offering a mentoring program in your work community.  And not just around the areas of primary market or mission.

So for example, while many law firms have a mentoring program related to practice areas, what they could really use is pairing younger and more experienced attorneys for the purposes of marketing the practice groups.  The older attorneys have loads of contacts and knowledge about client needs. They have been involved with local charities and chambers of commerce for years and have a personal brand in the community. They can make introductions and give the lay of the land to newer attorneys.

Younger members of the firm are on Facebook and Twitter. They know how to download apps for mobile web.  They have good ideas about how to make your website more useful. They may understand more about online communities and how to engage them. They may also be involved with charities, but in a different way through groups like

The most successful organizations–and also nonprofit boards–pair these groups together both formally and informally to get the best of both worlds.  Consider a retreat where pairs consider ways to reach new clients/donors.  Send them out together to social functions on behalf of the firm.  Offer them seats together at conferences and workshops and encourage the cross-pollinization. Have a younger staffer help a seasoned one with Twitter or Facebook posts on behalf of the organization.  Let the more experienced team member coach a younger one on how to engage a new client or donor.

In talking about diversity, we often forget how age-ist our corporate cultures can be. It’s time for a change!

Doctors explaining Gabrielle Giffords’ seemingly amazing transition on the path to recovery after her gunshot wound have credited “neuroplasticity,” or the ability of the brain to compensate for damage by at least partly rewiring itself and assigning new tasks to undamaged regions. It made me think about many organizations I know–including my own business–that were forced to “rewire” when the economic downturn hit. Now we’re on the road to recovery, how much of this flexibility can and should we retain?

People: During the downturn, many of my clients became super-multi-taskers (they were already multi-tasking plenty).  When their staff and colleagues were “downsized,” they suddenly found themselves doing additional jobs–sometimes ones they had given up years before.  They had to re-learn old skills and acquire new ones. They had to plug into the hierarchy in new ways. I did the same when I became a solo practitioner, after years of running a multi-person studio.  Skills I’d like to keep: teaming with clients and vendors, avoiding bureaucracy, and using technology to work efficiently. Skills I’d like to lose: making my own coffee (so far, successfully outsourced to my husband and 12-year-old!)

Leadership: The downturn seemed to bring more collaborative leadership styles, perhaps due to a de-layering of the intervening bureaucracy.  Many nonprofits became more tuned in to the skills of their boards, and tried to tap them more effectively. Leaders had to become more strategic about financial management and fundraising, and make up for lost staff talents.  Skill to keep: Board and Leadership engagement with the mission and strategy. Skill to lose: Board involvement in day-to-day decisions.

Money: Several organizations I work with lost revenue sources, but through quick adaptation and administrative and board engagement were able to develop new ones.  In my business model I did the same–adding more workshops and brand consulting to a mix that had included mainly video and multi-media production.  Skills to keep: Making the money last longer. Skills to lose: Under-charging, and penny-pinching that means the end product suffers and the brand takes a hit.

Time: As a corollary to shrinking staffs and less money, we all came to stretch how much time we spent at work.  We are, after all, the “most productive” country in the world.  Or so we think. Skill to keep: Efficiency.  Skill to lose: So much multi-tasking that we aren’t thoughtful and creative.

What skill did you gain during the downturn and do you want to keep it or lose it?

The debate rages on as to whether all students should go to college. Graduation rates vary widely by state, from an abysmal 22% (Alaska) to a more promising 69% (Massachusetts) [NCHEMS]. So that means somewhere between one third and three quarters of college attendees don’t graduate with a degree.  As The New York Times recently pointed out in the article “Plan B: Skip College,” that’s a lot of money to end up without a degree. College isn’t for everyone. More vocational training and 2-year degrees should be available.

That said, I’m still a fan of college.  And since my 25th Reunion is fast approaching, I’ve ruminated on several reasons why.

  1. Time to Grow Up.  College gives you wide berth and time to mature. Honestly, who is ready for a career at 17? ‘Nuf said.
  2. Roommates.  Dealing with strangers up close and personal is a serious challenge, especially for those of us who grew up without siblings. But it’s an ideal course in inter-personal relations and negotiation. Not to mention setting boundaries.
  3. Professors. Learning how to navigate the power relationship of professor-student, particular in the smaller courses where one sees them as individuals, is an excellent primer in dealing with clients or bosses in the future.
  4. Lack of Sleep. Surmounting an often self-induced lack of sleep to deliver a term paper or passing exam grade is excellent preparation for working motherhood or fatherhood. There is nothing like a baby with an ear ache all night to make participating in a morning meeting a serious feat of super-human strength.
  5. Friendships. There are some friends you just know are there, no matter what, and many of these bonds are fired in the furnace of collegiate life.
  6. Extra-Curriculars. There’s nothing more extravagant and wonderful than the smorgasbord of activities offered at college. From the college radio station and newspaper to the medieval club and frisbee team, these choices offer lifelong memories, friendships, and ongoing interests.
  7. Connections. OK, for those of you who yearn for me to cover some “practical” side of college life: I have thousands of connections at my fingertips through my college alumni office as well as my own friends. And yes, connections help in life and work.
  8. Research.  If you don’t know how to learn something new, then you’re stuck recycling the old. It’s amazing how many people don’t know how to find out something, even with the crutch of Google and Wikis. College teaches you how to research information, and more importantly, how to assess the veracity and biases of your sources.
  9. Ideas.  College is not just about book learning or a list of facts to absorb or “career preparation.” It is about the world of ideas and the people who have them, including you. Engaging in the world of ideas is important preparation for life, promoting civic participation and a richer life, regardless of career.
  10. I couldn’t think of a 10th benefit of college, but I’ll bet you can!

To much fanfare and hand-wringing, Virginia’s governor has just declared April to be Confederate History Month. One of the great battles of our Civil War has been on my mind, since I just returned from a family trip to Gettysburg. We’d been several times before, but this time we had a private guide who truly brought the scale and devastation of those terrible three days to life. We walked the battle lines of the Wheat field and saw where men fell in lines at the Peach Orchard.  We imagined the cannon firing into the town, scattering frightened civilians.  We climbed Little Round Top and peered over the edge, imagining a sea of Confederate soldiers charging. And we saw the deadly conclusion in Pickett’s Charge.  And as we moved back and forth from Confederate to Union perspectives, I was reminded of my own divided history:   A Yankee through and through, having been raised in New York and Maryland, I have plenty of Confederates in the family, with ancestors who fought and died at Antietum, and southern  relatives–including a Confederate historian–who remain skeptical about northern ways.

Hidden or Banished Differences May Slow  Success

There are many legacies of our divided history, but one is clear: Americans remain separated politically, socially, economically and even spiritually. So why should my readers care? Because we often hide our differences, or operate in communities of the like-minded, thus subverting the real benefits of diverse perspectives and ideas.

For example, how many boards do you serve on where the leadership is predominantly of one political persuasion? What would happen if these leaders didn’t all support the same candidates and agree on the same issues (even if your organization isn’t political in nature)? And what about in business–do the leaders in your company represent diverse views and personal histories? Do they come from varied economic backgrounds? Or did they all attend the same schools and join the same country clubs?  Does your organization push for cross-cultural literacy and encourage leadership development among people of varied cultural backgrounds?  Do you promote gender parity initiatives that mentor and support women through childbearing years, when many fall off the leadership ladder?

Find Your Perspective Gap

Many times firms and organizations feel they are doing plenty to promote diversity, but if they asked for feedback from the people most affected, they might learn a different truth. For instance, according to a recent Bain & Company study, when it comes to gender disparity in leadership, men and women view the workplace very differently. Men think women are treated equally, whereas women don’t see it that way. Why the gap? I’ll let you read the report to see what the Bain folks think, but I have witnessed the “perspective gap” taking many solid nonprofits and businesses off their path of success.

What do I mean by “perspective gap”? I mean asking your staff or board members how they feel about having a different opinion or background from the rest of the group.  Are they encouraged to have a different perspective? Or is it less complicated to remain silent? In his recent book about the amazing technological success of Israel, Startup Nation, Dan Senor attributes Israel’s success, among other reasons, to a culture of people being willing to challenge their superiors, and those superiors being willing to listen.  He gives examples of how this has promoted a faster route to innovation and change.

OK, Amy, where is this going and what does it have to do with Confederate History Month?

Invite Opposition

Here goes. My suggestion is to create your own version of a controversial celebratory month within your company or nonprofit organization.  Let’s call it Contrary Opinion Month.  Invite everyone to make a suggestion that appears to be contrary to company tradition, policy or social custom. If you are a law firm, encourage your newest young associates to speak up at your next committee meeting! If you are a nonprofit, don’t let a unanimous vote obscure hidden dissent in the ranks–bring it on and into the light! If you are a big business, find out what that guy in the mailroom thinks about your new [fill in the blank] policy!

I’m truly curious to hear what happens, so if you have a good story, please email me at amy[at]amydelouise[dot]com.