Whether you want to sell a product to a client or sell an ad campaign to your boss, storytelling is the single most powerful way to capture your audience’s attention and to make the not yet tangible real in the eyes of others.

So how do you do it and how do you do it well?

Break it down into simple parts. Remember those story books from your childhood? Why where they so appealing? They were simple. A photograph here, one or two sentences followed. To be effective, you must break your story down into digestible parts. Even if you think it is simple, go even further.

Believe in it yourself. You, the storyteller, need to believe in your story or no one else will. Be passionate about what you are portraying and keep your energy up even if it is the 20th time you are telling your story. Remember that, for your audience, it is the first time they are hearing the story.

The all-important protagonist. Every story has one. Your story needs one too. If it doesn’t have one, you can reference a member of the audience and interlace them into your story so that they become the protagonist.

Set the scene. Create visuals that help you tell the story but do not take away from you telling the story. They should enhance the story you are telling be it a few PowerPoint slides, photos or videos. Sometimes a single photo will do the job.

Know your audience. Do your research and try to put together what the motivators will be for the audience you are telling your story to. This will require that you tweak your story as you go to fit each audience. Don’t be afraid to alter the script.

Watch the body language in the room. As you engage in storytelling be very observant of the body language in the room. Is the audience leaning forward? Has their expression changed? Both are good signs. Leaning away or checking their phones every several seconds; not a good sign. But don’t give up. Adjust your efforts – including inserting them into the story by mentioning their first name – to see if you can engage them.

Practice. Create practice that works for you and makes you comfortable. I tend to mentally run through what I will present in broad themes beforehand. This gives me the flexibility to create as I walk the audience through the story live. If you are not comfortable with practicing and get nervous presenting, contact your local theater. Most offer acting for non-actors and can help you get comfortable as a storyteller.

Your CEO on Social

June 15, 2015

Recently, Weber Shandwick released their Socializing Your CEO report which audits the online presence of CEOs globally. The audit found that CEOs are starting to engage and feel comfortable on social media.

Your CEO can be a powerful addition to your social media strategy. The key is to integrate your executive’s social media presence within the overall brand’s social media strategy. By doing so, it will help prevent one from overpowering the other.

Even though your CEO might be an established brand within his industry offline, social media will potentially reach a much wider segment of your audience globally, therefore, you’ll need to start building your CEO’s credibility out of the gate.

One approach I have used is to create a dedicated CEO account on Twitter as the channel of choice for their voice. The dedicated account is used to express personal opinions, theories and expertise to lead and guide the social discussion within the brand’s issue area.

Crossover with the brand would occur with the sharing of content on the organization’s Facebook page and Twitter account during high visibility events, news or project/product launches.

To start engaging and leading the discussion from the dedicated account, consider the following tactics:

  • sharing organization research, news, updates and new projects;
  • speaking at a conference: share salient talking points, impressions, and highlights;
  • participating in a panel discussion: engage with other members pre and post panel, sharing thoughts and insights;
  • curating other research, news or statements from organizations in the same industry, and
  • starting the discussion by asking direct questions of other leaders/organizations on trending topic areas.

Ideally your approach will be a mix of the above. As you and your CEO get more comfortable, the more you can curate content and start to push discussion on issues or issue areas that may not have entered into the social conversation.

By pushing the envelope and being seen as an initiator and innovator of content and discussion, you will attract more followers and will increase your overall social media engagement over time.

Last month, as a keynote speaker at CSC’s 2015 Conference, I spoke to an audience of teachers on how to harness the power of social media to build their own personal brand. Although their students are active on social, they had yet to really maximize their own potential to expand and share their knowledge. With Facebook now reaching 1.4 billion users worldwide, Twitter 288 million and LinkedIn 347 million the possibilities are endless no matter your age or profession. Below are a few tips to help you harness the power of social media:

Start by defining your area of expertise. Many find this one difficult. Start with your profession and work from there. You may have many interests. The goal is to try to narrow it down to one thing first and expand from there.

Choose what social platforms you will focus your energies on. Determine who your audience is. Is it fellow teachers or professors or maybe researchers? Discover where your potential audience spends their time on social and establish your presence there. Do not try to be on every social platform. It will dilute your efforts and leave you stressed out trying to manage all your profiles. Start with one or two.

Create new profiles or update your existing profiles. Reinvention is the name of the game here. If you already have profiles, re-engineer them to focus on your expertise. You can do that by updating your profile or by sharing content. If you are just starting out, explore the social landscape within your industry first. Follow influencers to learn how they interact, how often they share and what types of content they share.

Start by sharing content. Share content in your industry that you find interesting. If you find it interesting, others will as well. Get into the habit of doing so daily or every other day until you feel comfortable with it.

Spot trends and start trends. Look for interesting conversations, challenges or solutions that you can share on social from your everyday experiences related to your area of focus. That’s trend spotting. Overtime, this will create buzz. Eventually, you will want to also share your own points of views and experiences either through blogging, publishing on LinkedIn, Medium or in industry publications.

While having lunch with my niece last week in Boston, she had asked me many questions on entering into a communications career. Having just finished her first year of college, she asked for tips to help her develop a film career.

Below are six tips for those just starting out in communications:

Find a mentor who is an expert in the field. It could be a professor or someone you have admired for their expertise and the work they create. Do research to find out who best exemplifies what you would like to become in your career. Reach out and ask them to help you create – and navigate – a similar career.

Experiment with your craft.  Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try on different skills to see how they feel to you. Start doing this in college. Is it filmmaking, advertising, producing or writing that interests you the most? Be honest with yourself.

Hone your skills overtime. You may not reach your goals overnight. It may take 5, 10 or 20 or more years. Get comfortable with this. Stay focused and realize the pay off will come in the end through your dedication and commitment. In the meantime, enjoy your journey.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Failure leads to success overtime. It’s part of experimenting. It may show you where you need to adjust and approach your goals in a different way. And even though its cliché, it does build character and creates humility. We are all just human and mistakes are par for the course.

It’s probably the last thought you have – to create a personal brand strategy for yourself.

But the world of work has changed and expanded beyond your office and your personal circles. Establishing a platform to extend your expertise beyond your sphere of influence is essential to establish yourself firmly in your career as an expert with a unique point-of-view.

Is it hard? No, but it will take a shift in perspective that you may not be comfortable with – turning the magnifying glass on yourself and finding out what your value proposition is. It will also require an ongoing investment in terms of time, focus, and resources.

Can you do it all on your own? You have the skill sets, the tools of the trade and the experience, but you will need at least one trusted adviser, preferably not a friend or colleague, who can be honest with you and whose opinion you trust and respect. It can be a coach or a strategist – someone who has a vested interest in your career development.

Here are some quick tips for getting started:

Establish what is unique about you. Before you start, sit down and write out three to five career attributes about yourself that are different from others in your field. Think about your overall experiences and what others can learn from you.

Determine your audience. Is it professionals in your field? Or professionals in a certain industry? Determine beforehand whom you are targeting and where you need to make an impact.

Create a platform. A platform consists of your online presence. Start with a blog and choose a mix of tools that will most effectively reach your audience (i.e. Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn). If you have existing accounts, you may want to establish new ones under your brand name.

Join the conversation. Establish a following by joining in the conversation through “curating” articles, retweeting and commenting on opinions, and re-blogging. Bring your own personal spin to the online conversation.

Remember that content is king. Great content will create interest. Focus on developing stories that will appeal to a large audience with tips and advice to convey your overall skills and expertise.

Don’t forget the offline world. A great way to extend your brand is through speaking engagements. Develop a speaking proposal and pitch yourself at conferences in your field.

Social media. We are all using it daily. There is nothing like the rush of increasing likes and follows. But what if you are global? How do you bring your in-country work to social media in real-time and weave it effectively into your global brand story?

I was asked to introduce a first-time social media strategy to highlight the work of a humanitarian organization’s projects and stakeholders in Asia and Africa. The desire – and the ultimate challenge – was to bring country projects and stories to the forefront of all online communications.

Any visitor to their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube sites should know within seconds where they work and the nature of their work. Normally? Not a problem. However, the eight countries we were targeting were the poorest and least secure of any in the world. Getting information out quickly and developing a means to do so was made that much harder by daily technology and communication challenges that you and I take for granted. So what did we do?

Improve staffing. We moved from using an external agency to bringing in a social media coordinator on staff to improve the communication flow between the communications team and country offices. We also bridged the time zone gap by placing an intern in Europe – on the same time zone as Africa and just a few hours difference with Asia.

Open channels of communication between country officers/representatives. The onus lies with communications staff to do this. Once a week contact is preferable either via Skype or email. Your social media staff and country offices should always be connected via Skype for ease of access.

Train one or two members in each country office on taking video clips and photos. Encourage them to take videos when in the field and at meetings. At this stage, quality will come by encouraging quantity. The training can be added on to a larger meeting at headquarters to save on travel and budget expenditures.

Create a dedicated country YouTube (or Vimeo), Flickr and Instagram account for uploading to avoid file transfers to headquarters.

Encourage your country staff to engage with your social media channels by sharing content, liking, commenting and re-tweeting where appropriate and interacting with each other on lessons learned in the field. Your staff will become more comfortable using social media while expanding awareness in-country.

Over a six-month period, we were able to weave in stories of our work in Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Indonesia and South Africa by actively engaging country staff. Through continual communication between the social media team and the country teams, a seamless communication channel began to open enabling us to promote our work in real time and to create story themes between countries.

Do you have what it takes to be a global leader?

A recent survey of 1,000 human resource professionals in eight countries found that one-third of global companies are struggling to find senior leaders with nearly half stating that leadership was “the skill hardest to find in employees”.

One of the reasons cited was the retirement at a rate of 4 million per year worldwide amongst the baby boomer generation. Another reason cited was the lack of leadership development programs for younger employees.

How can you take advantage of this gap and develop skills to turn you into a successful global leader?

Here are five skills to start developing today:

Communication skills. An ability to speak clearly, write clearly and to listen intently will be the key to your success. If English is the official language of your business, remember to slow down and be much more clear in your use of language than you would normally be to ensure all of your colleagues understand your message.

Critical thinking. An ability to analyze different scenarios, data and research as well as patterns in behaviors or systems is vital. You will constantly be assessing projects, goals and expectations across many countries; an ability to identify trends or outliers will enable you to be more efficient.

Cultural dexterity. This one takes practice and it is what I call “leaving your country behind on the tarmac”. You must be able to step outside of cultural constructs. A great tip for doing so is by telling yourself – constantly if needed – that you may be the only Canadian, Singaporean, South African that your colleagues and/or clients ever work with, so leave them with a positive experience.

Global mindset. Being open to new ways of working and seeing the world is essential as well as being able to view challenges and opportunities through a global lens. It will also make your day-to-day interactions with your colleagues more pleasant; however, do not expect to be a pro at this from the outset. That comes with practice.

Team leadership. Having a team mindset and experience leading teams is a must. Your management style may need to adjust depending on the business culture. Mastering an ability to be patient – observe and listen when in meetings and in your daily interactions with your team – will help you decipher expectations, cultural understandings and ways of working.

So how’s your team? Are they motivated, engaged and able to excel?

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to lead teams from 30 globally to 15 domestically, the majority virtual. Each team has been very different in terms of function, collaboration and motivation.

Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years on how to lead and motivate teams:

Coach individually. Make sure you have one-to-one time with each team member on a regular basis. This will enable you to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each employee, how they are evolving and how their job aligns with their future career goals. If virtual, use Skype video, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction.

Provide opportunities for motivation. Find out what their long-term career goals are and make sure that some aspect – if not the majority – aligns with those goals. You’ll have a happier, more engaged and motivated staff member if you do. If they do not align, challenge the employee to develop a project that aligns with their goals and also the company’s goals.

Be accessible. And mean it. If global, some portion of your workday should overlap with members of your team and all team members should feel comfortable contacting you directly. Keep your virtual door open and your office door open. Be willing to stop what you are doing to address their concerns with an open and positive attitude.

Be transparent. One habit that many new managers have is to keep information confidential – often as a way to demonstrate power – some more seasoned managers may do this out of fear. There is no better way to alienate your team. Be transparent in your communication, your plans and with the direction of your division and company.

Have clear expectations. And communicate these often and well. Ensure each team member understands the expectations of their role, their interaction with the overall team and the company. Encourage them to improve and expand upon those expectations and provide the support needed to do so.

Be prepared to adapt. Your leadership style will evolve with your team and should meet each employee where they are. Translation: adapt your leadership style for each team member. Each individual is different and will require a different approach from you over time. A one-size fits all approach to leadership will definitely leave you lonely at the top without many followers.

For those of you leading large teams, the tips above would apply to your direct reports; however, make sure you have an opportunity to engage with the full team on a regular basis – either formally or informally.

Keeping control of your message in a crisis situation can be challenging. Facts and misinformation fly fast and furious. Externally and internally the feeling is that control is being lost and you are running to even catch up let alone getting ahead of a fast-moving crisis. Getting the media to share your message will go a long way in damping down the chaos and will be the first step in getting control back of the situation. Here are several tips for getting the media to carry your message in a fast-moving crisis:

Identify your strongest relationships, across several channels. Cementing several strong relationships with the media is vital at times like this but the work needs to be done prior to a fast-moving crisis.

Keep the media informed by developing your narrative. Communicate as often as possible through updated statements to keep the media abreast of what is being done to fix the issue. Being seen as a reliable source of news in a fast-moving crisis will influence coverage.

Make your narrative simple and straightforward. Keep your eye on the coverage and the reaction to that coverage. This will help you to course correct as you go to ensure you are addressing the most important elements of the crisis with your audience.

Don’t forget social media. Make sure all of your owned channels are communicating the narrative step-by-step as well with links to the updated statements. Do not let your team get bogged down in responses on social. Pick 1 or 2 comments/replies and respond to those.

Be as transparent as possible. State the truth and always focus on the steps you are taking to address the issue. Keep your messages forward focused.

Never heard of a mat release? You are not alone. It’s one of the lesser-known tools of the public relations trade.

Once referred to as matte, they have been in existence pre-internet and were once used to provide content filler to local newspaper across the country. They are still in use today, and more so now that news bureaus have downsized and the need for new and relevant content – referred to as evergreen content – increases with the 24/7 demand for news.

A mat release is a consumer-focused feature article, fully formatted with camera-ready artwork that can be lifted straight by reporters and editors as fillers for daily news editions, digital and print. For public relations professionals, mat releases provide a great opportunity to increase publicity for a brand and to carry messages to the consumer public.

Mat releases can be distributed through wire services, including PR Newswire and Business Wire, which acquired the old distribution service, North American Precis Syndicate or NAPS database.

Quick tips:

Keep the release to no more than 700 words with high-quality content. Remember that even though you seek to gain exposure, it is not a commercial for your brand or product.

Ensure the copy will be of interest to the consumer public – provide tips, advice, and guidance. Inform as much as possible.

Follow a feature format and ensure the article will fit in any of the feature sections of daily, local newspapers, from living to health and food sections. Do your research.

Mat releases can be an effective way to gain national exposure for your brand or client without paying for a costly advertising campaign.