How to Be a Rock Star Panelist

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 9.47.37 AM.png

If you’ve been asked to sit on a panel at an industry forum or some other professional event, congratulations! The mere invitation is testament to your expertise and others’ confidence in your ability to share it. You’re doing something right already.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that expertise alone will carry you through. Many a panelist has bored an audience into oblivion with information overload. Often they’re so focused on providing technically correct answers that an hour later, no one remembers a word they said.

Yet others seem to have the crowd listening, laughing and hanging on every anecdote. Afterward audience members line up like teenagers at a rock concert to ask questions and keep the conversation going. Best of all, the panelist’s performance casts a favorable glow over his or her organization and own career.

If you want to elevate your panel appearance to rock star status, take some time to prepare. Here are a few tips to get you ready:

1.) Do some homework: Of course you’ll need to find out whether each panelist is expected to give opening remarks or just field questions. But also learn a bit about your fellow panelists and what distinguishes you from them. Ask if there is anything specific you should cover. Learn what, in the eyes of the host, would make the panel a success.

2.) As always, have key messages. Think ahead of time about what three or four messages (or even adjectives) you want your audience to come away associating with you. Write those in large print on a sheet of paper as you practice answering questions. If you want to be regarded as “industry leader,” “innovative,” “hip,” and “forward thinking,” be sure your remarks include---or at least echo---those terms.

3.) Know that you have three jobs: To ensure you, your organization and the panel all come off well. It’s not as tricky as it seems since in most cases the three will be aligned---or at least not in direct opposition. But remember, if you spend all your time bragging about your company but the panel overall flops, in the end neither you nor your company will look good.

4.) Bring stories. No matter the industry, people want to hear people talk about people. Think of at least three stories you can tell to drive home your messages. Then practice telling them to be sure they’re on the mark, can be told in short order and land the way you want. More than anything else, audiences remember stories. Be sure to bring them.

5.) Prepare to be spontaneous. That sounds like a contradiction but it’s not. Once you’re clear on your role, your messages, and your stories, practice answering as many different questions as you can---always coming back to your key messages and working in your stories along the way. The more you practice, the more natural the process will become. Soon you’ll be able to confidently handle anything that comes your way during the actual panel discussion.

If you follow these tips, your audience, your host, and YOU will all be thrilled with your performance. But more importantly, days and weeks after the program, your audience will still be recalling - and with any luck, repeating - your words of wisdom and the stories that brought them to life.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, visit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

Put Down the Tech and Just Talk

In this age of digital technology, the rules of business etiquette seem to be relaxing. But lately I've seen some especially bad behavior involving public speaking and tech.
A few months ago, I was at an entrepreneurs forum, listening to a panelist describe his business idea, when I was distracted by a man nearby, visibly scrolling through his cell phone.
I know, you're thinking, "Annoying. But not egregious." Well, what if I told you he was the MODERATOR?
Eventually I realized the offender may have been consulting his phone as a notebook. But the message to the audience was the same as if he'd been checking Facebook or sports scores: "I'm more interested in my phone than this discussion, my panelist or any of you."
A few months prior, I attended a conference at which an advertising agency was presenting its award-winning work. After playing a short video, the agency assembled its creative team at the front of the room to take audience questions—which we were instructed should be sent via Tweets that the panel would read from i-Pads. You can probably guess how well that went.
The panelists awkwardly stared at the tablets, waiting for Tweets to slowly come in. Befuddled audience members, sitting just a few feet away, looked at each other and then reluctantly reached for their phones. Finally, one panelist announced he had a Tweet! But wait...he lost his Wi-Fi connection. It was gone.  
At last, one audience member stood up and announced, "While you all get that together, I'm gonna try something different here and just ask a question." Applause erupted.
Yes, I know phones are fun. So are tablets and laptops. And one could make the argument (I don't think it's valid) that it's easier to type notes into a device than write them on paper or to read Tweets off a tablet than to pass around a mic. But no one should ever do that-not when live audience members are sitting just a few feet away.
Digital technology does a wonderful job of helping people who are not proximal communicate as if they were. But remember, while technology can simulate live, in-person connections, it should never replace them.
Live, in-person meetings-whether large or small-are precious and should be treated like gold. Each one presents an opportunity to do something magical. Showcase charisma. Address audience concerns. Win people's hearts. Win their minds. Maybe change their minds. Maybe even change their lives.
If you are lucky enough to stand before an audience, embrace the experience for what it is: Not a chance to show off or play with technology, but a chance to engage with members of the audience on the most human level. Look them in the eye, share your ideas, read their reactions and respond to their questions—all face-to-face.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

The Wingman: Your Secret Weapon for Speaking Success

Just as one pilot supports another during a dangerous mission, your Wingman can protect you from distractions.

Just as one pilot supports another during a dangerous mission, your Wingman can protect you from distractions.

Strong speakers know an important element of a great speech or presentation is focus. Speakers who can block out distractions and zero in on the audience are more likely to be engaging, interesting and effective.

And yet, more often than not it seems there’s a concerted campaign underway to distract the speaker from the moment he or she arrives at the venue. The host wants to clarify something about the introduction. A guest is clamoring to point out a mutual acquaintance. The AV tech has questions about technical needs. On top of it all, there are legitimate business leads that deserve attention.

How can a speaker possibly concentrate and make final preparations when there are so many other demands for attention?

Enter the Wingman.

No matter the size, formality or venue of an event, if it’s a performance that matters, the Wingman is the answer.

A Wingman can be male or female. Your Wingman might be a colleague, might be an intern, or in some cases, might even be your boss. But in this role, the Wingman’s number one job is to manage logistics, shield you from distractions and do whatever it takes to make you look good.

Think you’re better off flying solo? Consider these ways the Wingman can help:

Before your talk: The Wingman can help you get to the location on time and looking your best, set up and run your technology, run interference with clingy members of the audience, and work the room for leads while you focus on your impending remarks.

During your talk: The Wingman can take photos of you speaking, solve unexpected technical problems (or enlist someone who can), quash distractions like a vacuum in the hallway, and if necessary get the ball rolling with Q and A.

After your talk: The Wingman can help you engage important leads, shield you from less important contacts, and pack up your materials while you’re basking in the glory of a great speech. Maybe most importantly, the Wingman can later can provide you with feedback so you can be even more effective next time.

How you use your Wingman is up to you. The only requirement of the job is that he or she can put you at ease and help you look great when it’s your turn to shine.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

The One Question Every Presenter Should Ask

Clients often ask us to review major presentations at the eleventh hour, hoping we can make the tweaks that will take their material from good to great. In the best cases, our job is to put icing on the cake and who doesn't love to do that? 

But sometimes, the cake isn't ready for icing. In fact, in some cases, everyone is still scrambling around, trying to find the ingredients.

Often those frantic, final meetings are spent searching for photos, fretting over font sizes, adjusting bullets and reordering slides ad nauseum.

While we applaud efforts to continually edit and refine (there's always room for improvement), too often those last-minute efforts are misguided. In fact, the weeks of planning and preparation beforehand are often misguided too. That's because while the team was wrangling over minutia, they forgot to ask the most important question of all: "What's the goal?"

When we ask---and answer---that simple question at the outset, something magical happens: All the other details somehow just fall into place.

The introduction is suddenly obvious.

The slides all point to a singular argument.

Relevant stories, examples and analogies naturally work themselves into the script.

And the closing statement practically writes itself.

All because at the outset, someone asked---and answered---that critical question: "What's the goal?"

Try writing that on a sticky note and posting it to your computer screen. Or if you're working as a team, consider taping it to the conference room wall. You'll be surprised at how much perfunctory content you can suddenly scrap, making way for fresh ideas that are far more impactful.

For example, if the goal is to justify the purchase of new software to the Board, instead of beginning with the technical specs, perhaps you opt to start with the story of how outdated technology almost cost a key account.

If your goal is to attract new talent, rather than bullet-pointing the company's attributes, maybe you begin with a full-screen picture of your latest, cool company outing.

If your goal is to sign a new customer, instead of talking endlessly about your company history, perhaps you share three case studies, demonstrating how you've solved problems similar to theirs for customers in the past.

These are bold strategic moves that can dramatically improve a presentation and its impact. But to attempt them, or even conceive of them, presenters must first have laser sharp focus on their goal.

The next time you're tasked with creating a presentation, pause a few moments before launching into your normal drill. Don't rush to open a new PowerPoint file---or (gasp!) repurpose an old one. Instead, simply take a breath and ask the one question every presenter must ask "What's the goal?"

You---and your audience---will be happily surprised by the result.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, visit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.



Overcoming Speaker Panic: Six Tips

Not long ago, while attending an industry conference I bumped into a smart, professional woman I know. She asked what tips I had for people, like her, who panic when they speak.

"Just power through it," I said. "We all get nervous."

"No, not NERVOUS," she said. "I don't get nervous. I PANIC. I'm petrified. My throat tightens, I get cold sweats, my skin gets blotchy and I feel like I could faint."

Oh. That's different.

We're all a little uneasy when we speak, or at least we should be. Often, merely stepping into the spotlight triggers a burst of adrenaline that manifests itself as nervous energy. That's just our body's way of helping us rise to the occasion. For most, the stage fright wears off once we settle in. 

But for others, the reaction and recovery time are far more severe. For those poor souls, public speaking isn't just unnerving. It's debilitating. 

If you suffer from severe stage fright, a professional speaking coach is likely the surest route to success. A speaking coach can address your specific anxiety and customize a plan to help. Consider interviewing a handful of coaches to find one whose style is a good fit. 

In the meantime, there are strategies you can try on your own. Here are a few of our favorite tips for overcoming speaker panic:

1) Speak as often as you can in low-risk situations.

Make a toast at a dinner party. Stand and speak before immediate family. Lead a meeting or speak at a non-work function. No doubt, those situations bring anxiety too. But they provide a safer environment for gaining confidence. 

2) When preparing your remarks, mentally divide your material into small sections. 
The Open, the Product Overview, the Case Study, the Pitch, the Close. When it's go-time, you won't feel as if you're crossing a raging river, rather stepping from stone to stone until you're safely on the other side.  

3) Rehearse. Out loud and repeatedly. 
I know, initially practice may seem to make things worse. But keep at it. In the end, every minute of rehearsal translates to greater confidence on stage.

4) Physically calm yourself before you speak.

Fifteen minutes prior, step into the restroom and take three or four "cleansing breaths," by fully inflating your lungs, then slowly and completely emptying them. Or try the "power pose," holding your arms high above your head for two full minutes (so long as you don't feel dizzy.) Both cleansing breaths and the power pose send biological signals that stem the physical symptoms of panic.  

5) Begin with a story to create a personal connection. 

This is always a good idea, but particularly for the panicked speaker. By telling a story, you'll create a connection with the audience, then sense their approval and start to calm down. Practice your story beforehand to ensure it's relevant, succinct and on point. 

Finally my favorite tip:

6) Forget about you; worry about them.

When I get too spun up before a speech, I step aside and imagine one person in the audience who desperately needs to hear what I'm about to say. Maybe my remarks will save them money or time or even their job---but they need this. Suddenly my self-consciousness falls away and I'm focused squarely on making a personal connection and driving home key points. Better still, if I fumble or lose my place, I get right back on track, knowing my audience is counting on me to pull it together.

Yes, speaker panic is a real and often debilitating condition. But the good news is, it's also curable. Follow these tips and remember you're in good company. As Mark Twain said "There are only two kinds of speakers in the world. 1) The nervous and 2) the liars."

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog "Let's Be Clear," visit, like us on Facebookor follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.   

10 Tips for a Great Speech at the Holiday Party

Editor's note: Year after year, this is our most popular post. We're happy to bring it back for a holiday encore. Cheers!

Ah, the office holiday party. It conjures punchlines of poor wardrobe choices and over-served sales reps. But in reality, it's one of the more dignified traditions to survive the modern work world. 

And for bosses, it's a moment that calls for reminding everyone why they're drinking (or at least eating) on the company tab. Rather than viewing this speech as an obligation, bosses should embrace it as an opportunity to set the tone for the coming year with remarks that make the team feel both appreciated and appreciative.

Here are 10 tips for giving a great holiday speech.

  1. Thank them. It's the whole point of the speech and, frankly, the party. If you do nothing else, be sure to thank your team for hard work throughout the year.

  2. Thank the significant others. They've made sacrifices on behalf of your company as well, carrying the load on the home front when the employee travels, works late or misses a teacher conference. And no one more influences your employee's decisions whether it's to stay at the company, volunteer for big projects or gripe about the health plan. Here is a chance to bank some goodwill with the spouses.

  3. Mention milestones. Now's also the time to remind employees of what it means to work for a great company. So mention the firm's important milestones whether it's doubling sales or just staying afloat in a terrible economy. But mention some personal milestones too, like new home purchases, engagements, weddings, births and graduations. Helping employees make the connection between a great job and a high quality of life is worthwhile.

  4. Get specific. If your team is small, mention each one along with something memorable about their year. If the team is large, you may still want to call on a few stand outs----and not just the high billers. Some "fan favorites" might be worthy of a mention too, like the IT staffer who doubled download speed or the admin who engineered the office move.

  5. Highlight successes, say nothing of setbacks. This isn't a company meeting. It's a party.

  6. Be brief. Remember, for them the night is about the party, not the speech.

  7. Rehearse. You might think you can wing it, but you're wrong. Take time to draft remarks and rehearse them----aloud and at least three times.

  8. Don't chicken out. In a weak moment you might think a party doesn't require a speech and opt just to skip it. But don't. There is a reason why companies hold holiday parties, but employees won't think about it unless you tell them.

  9. Speak early. Wait until everyone arrives and has had a drink, but not much longer. You want folks sober and focused on you and after more than an hour or so most won't be either.

  10. Save the cocktails for after. You may think you need a drink to calm your nerves, but you'll be better off without it. Instead, sip a soda until it's go-time, then knock 'em dead. You can bask in the glow of a great speech (and a good stiff drink) the rest of the night.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog "Let's Be Clear,"visit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.


How to Pull a Bad Interview out of the Fire

If you sense a job or media interview is going up in flames, use this trick to refocus the conversation in your favor.

If you sense a job or media interview is going up in flames, use this trick to refocus the conversation in your favor.

Ever had a job interview, media interview or even a key meeting that seemed to go south before it started? Or perhaps strayed off topic mid-way and never got back on track?

Whether it’s a radio interview that dwells on what your new product CAN’T do, or a job interview that focuses too much on your shortcomings, you can still pull it out of the fire with one simple trick.

Just as things are about to wrap say, “If I may, I’d like to add one more thing…”

Then deliver a simple summary statement that succinctly states the point or points you need to make.

By being direct and concise, you’ll recapture the focus of the person on the other end of the phone or across the table. In fact, in most cases, he or she will even write down your key points and—even better—remember them.

This tactic is so effective, I recommend clients write out a summary statement in advance of their interview or meeting, just to be sure they take advantage of this strategy by the end of the conversation.

Here are some examples of how to put this simple trick to work.

To refocus a job interview:

“We’ve talked a lot about my work history, but if I may add one more thing, I’d like to summarize what I think makes me a strong candidate: I have more than two years experience selling ball point pens. I’ve also worked as a purchaser of office supplies. And my other work history, though varied, all shows I’m a fast learner.”

To save a sinking media interview:

“If I may take just one more moment, I‘d like to summarize why our Teeny Tiny Hearing Aid will be successful in today’s market: One, more people than ever are entering their senior years. Two, for today’s seniors, staying vital and connected is a priority. And three, today’s younger people see hearing aids as helpful technology, not something that will stigmatize them.”

And suddenly, you’re back on track.

By the way, this tactic doesn’t only work well for interviews gone BAD. For strong interviews too, a summary statement can be the bow around the package, tying up a great conversation and making it all the easier for your audience to understand your message and more importantly, repeat it.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

How to Tell a Story with Your Resume

A great resume should read like a story, not a rap sheet.

A great resume should read like a story, not a rap sheet.

Not long ago I had lunch with a former TV reporter who was ready for a career change and wanted me to review his resume. I agreed. But when the resume arrived in my inbox a few days later, I was taken aback. What he sent looked more like a rap sheet than a resume and certainly wasn’t an argument for his success in a new role.

How could someone who had spent a career poetically telling the stories of others come up so short in telling his own? Happens all the time.

All journalists know their job involves more than just cataloging the facts. They must weave them into a relevant, compelling and accurate narrative. Yet, when it comes to telling their own tale, they---like all of us---often revert to a data dump. Every location, title, date and award is recorded. What’s missing is good information about how those previous jobs have prepared them for the next.

Journalists and all resume writers should ask themselves  “What’s the storyline that shows my future employer I’m a great candidate for this job?”

Here are a few ways to use storytelling to improve your resume:

Summarize your storyline. Briefly stating an objective is an excellent way to connect what you’ve done and what you want to do next, particularly if you’re changing careers and it’s not obvious. For example: “Veteran salesman seeks to apply competitive spirit, passion for science, and 25 years success in automotive to new role in pharmaceutical sales.” Just keep it short and steer clear of meaningless clichés like “proven track record,” “results-driven” and “demonstrated success” that typically signal the opposite of what they intend.

Paint a picture. Take the hiring manager’s view and think, “In what way does this person fit our company, our culture and our challenges?” Then accentuate experiences and skills that align with what your new employer needs and let go of some of the others. If you focus too much on the details that don’t apply to the next job, you’ll look like that’s all you can do or want to do.

Use slow mo and fast forward: Movie directors do it all the time: They draw out every detail of a key scene, then compress years or even decades that are less important. When writing your resume, the “real estate” you allot your experiences need not be proportional to the years you spent toiling at them. So long as you don’t distort the truth, it’s OK to elaborate on the few projects that most pertain to your next job while glossing over the time consuming tasks–or entire jobs–that don’t.

Bottom line: Apply a few simple storytelling techniques to your resume and interview process and your job search just might have a happy ending.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

'Tis the Season for Giving (a Good Impression)


If you're among the ranks who dread the annual gifting of bosses and employees, it's time to stop viewing this ritual as an obligation, and instead seeing opportunity. After all, when executed gracefully, holiday gift giving presents a chance to reinforce relationships and elevate one's professional image.

All you need are some guidelines for getting it right:

Gifting Your Boss: The best boss gift is one that serves as a small but thoughtful token of appreciation, like a quality pen, personalized stationery, a favorite bottle of wine or prepackaged specialty foods. If you're close with your boss, more personal items like gloves, a scarf or something for the home are also acceptable. Gift cards aren't ideal here as they rob the employee of an opportunity to show imagination. Plus, they feel inappropriate when given to someone higher on the pay scale. Likewise, an unduly expensive gift can feel awkward and convey a lack of judgment. So don't go overboard.

Gifting Your Employees: For supervisors, this is a chance to show appreciation and reinforce your leadership position. So it's good to be generous. But don't view the gift as another form of compensation. Small electronics, leather goods or travel accessories are classic choices. Gift certificates are perfectly acceptable so long as they are in equal amounts for similarly ranked employees and from an appropriate restaurant or store.

Gifting the Big Boss: The CEO is not expecting a gift from you unless you directly report to him or her. In fact, gifting more than one or two levels above you may invite skepticism. If you feel it's important to communicate something to the big boss, a holiday card with a personal note is usually best.

Gifting Support Staff: Whether it's the administrative assistant who processes your late expense reports or the IT person who replaced your lost laptop cord three times, now is the time to say thank you and maybe even build up some goodwill. A good bottle of wine or liquor or a nice gift card are both fine choices.

Gifting Other Co-Workers: Unless there is already an office tradition of doing so, co-workers who don't report to each other would probably rather not exchange. Let a simple "Happy Hanukkah" or "Merry Christmas" get the job done. If you do exchange, keep it modest.

While it's easier to get it right than wrong when gifting at the office, there are two categories you should avoid:

Homemade Items: This is especially true for those above or below you on the org chart. The homemade cookies and hand knit mittens that your relatives find charming can come off as too personal or even frugal as a gift for your boss or employees. Even when funds are limited, if you want to elevate your professional image, it's best to spring for a small store-bought something. (Not to say you can't bring in your famous brownies to share with the staff.)

Overly Personal Items: Perfume, pajamas and back massagers make for awkward office gifts. You may know your supervisor's favorite scent, but as a rule, anything that makes a good gift for a significant other is probably inappropriate at work.

Finally, if the relationship with any of those on your office gift list is rocky, you may be tempted to skip the holiday giving. But don't. Whether it's a grouchy boss or a less-than-stellar employee, this is the time to demonstrate your generous spirit and appreciation for whatever portion of the relationship has worked. And who knows? You just might set the tone for an even better year ahead.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

Bluestone Certified as Women's Business Enterprise

WBE Seal RGB_WBE_09.07.16_v1.png

BIRMINGHAM, MI (June 21, 2017)  Bluestone Executive Communications, the region’s premier provider of executive communication training and coaching programs, announced today it has been certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).

“We are extremely proud of this certification and of our heritage as a woman-owned business,” said Bluestone founder and president, Christina McKenna. “We know our clients are committed to fostering supplier diversity and we’re pleased to add diversity to supply chains nationwide with this important certification.”

WBENC’s national standard of certification is a meticulous process including an in-depth review of the business and site inspection to confirm the business is at least 51% woman-owned and operated. WBENC is the nation’s leading certifier of businesses owned and operated by women. By striving to partner with women-owned businesses, corporations and governments demonstrate their commitment to diversity and to fostering a diverse supply chain.

“This important certification now allows our clients to apply their investment with Bluestone against internal diversity benchmarks and external diversity requirements, often set by their own customers,” said McKenna. “We know our present and future clients will join us in celebrating this development.”

Bluestone is the region’s leading provider of high-stakes communicating consulting for corporations and governments, providing media training, speech and presentation coaching, crisis management and other communication consulting programs and training programs in the United States and across the world. It’s lengthy client list includes General Motors, Masco Corporation, McCann WorldGroup, Magna International, La-Z-Boy, ZF, Cooper Standard, Shinola, SRG Global, Valeo, The Henry Ford, Detroit Public Schools Community District, OESA, the Center for Automotive Research and dozens of other major corporations, associations and government clients.

Bluestone Executive Communications is located at 1025 East Maple Road, Suite #201, Birmingham, MI 48009. For more about Bluestone Executive Communications, visit


A Bluestone Special Event: "Outclass the Competition" June 5, 2017 at 6:00 p.m.

Bluestone Executive Communications is pleased to debut its new business etiquette program at a special event offered in conjunction with the world-class Townsend Hotel on Monday; June 5, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. in Birmingham, Michigan.

"Outclass the Competition," will cover critical business manners, essential social graces and fine dining etiquette---all of which will be offered over wine and an exquisite meal. 

The program will equip professionals of all levels with with the confidence and class to make the most of every business and social interaction, even amid the changing rules of today's digital age.

We hope you'll join us for this unforgettable evening, hosted by Bluestone's Certified Etiquette Instructor, Danielle Kovachevich.

For more details or to register for the program, please visit the link below or email us

Can't join us for the program but would still like to learn more about etiquette coaching and other programs and Bluestone? Please email us at

Bluestone Executive Communications provides a range communication consulting services to help professionals be more impactful in both high-stakes situations and their daily work. Bluestone's lengthy client list includes major corporations, associations, non-profits and government bodies across North America and beyond. Our offices are located in beautiful downtown Birmingham, Michigan, though we serve clients wherever they need us. For more about Bluestone Executive Communications, visit

Regardless of Title, Your Shake is Your Brand

Ick Handshake.jpg

A while back, after weeks of shopping for a new car, I finally decided to pull the trigger and called a salesman with whom I’d been talking. I liked this guy: He had been persistent but never pushy, knowledgeable but not a know-it-all, and in the end he gave me the best price. When we finally inked the contract, we both smiled and stuck out our hands to shake.

And that’s when I almost called off the whole deal. Rather than delivering a warm, firm grip, that reinforced my impression of this successful and confident businessman, he awkwardly clutched my four fingers and lightly, well, squeezed.

If you’re thinking “Ick,” then I’ve described it well.

While I kept the car, I can’t erase the memory of that less-than-reassuring final gesture that instantly–maybe unfairly–made me question the whole interaction.

Of course handshakes and greeting rituals vary across national borders. But when it comes to shaking here in the U.S., the guidelines are pretty straightforward–and fairly rigid.

“Your handshake is your brand and should not vary from men to women,” says Bluestone’s Certified Etiquette Instructor Danielle Kovachevich. “In fact, because you’re making physical contact with another human being, this isn’t the time to get creative or else you might catch your counterpart off guard.”

So, Kovachevich says, regardless of job title, we all should review a few guidelines to ensure our handshake is appropriate and professional. Here's her advice:

  • Our right hand should be in a vertical position with the web area between thumb and index finger firmly touching the web area of the recipient.

  • We never bend the wrist or grip only the fingers.

  • We keep our grip firm, but not bone-crushing.

  • For a professional handshake, we give two smooth pumps (from the elbow, not the wrist.)

  • For a more social handshake, we give about three smooth pumps.

  • A good handshake should come with good eye contact.

  • We avoid giving a cold, wet handshake by keeping our drink in the left hand.

Bottom line: No matter our line of work, our handshake is a critical physical demonstration of our professional brand. When we’re meeting people for the first time, our handshake can determine whether the conversation, relationship or sale moves forward. When we end an interaction, it determines the feeling with which we send off our counterpart.

“If you’re not sure if you’re getting it right, try out your shake on a few close colleagues or relatives, checking the guidelines above,” says Kovachevich. “It may seem like a big investment in the smallest of gestures. But in reality, it’s an investment that will pay dividends every day for the rest of your life.”

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog posts at “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

Next Time, Try Skipping the Agenda

If you begin every presentation with an agenda, here is a quick and helpful hint to make your next presentation instantly better:

Stop doing that!

Sure, your high school speech teacher hammered home that foolproof formula: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; Tell ‘em; Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” But today’s audiences expect something different----or at the very least a modern riff on that familiar refrain.

When an executive stands to deliver a presentation, then pauses to “review the agenda,” he or she risks slamming on the brakes before things even get rolling. In many cases, the executive senses the audience’s boredom and starts adlibbing details about each agenda point, dragging out the painful opening and stealing the thunder of the actual presentation.

Yes, your audience wants and deserves some assurance that you’re going to cover the points they want to hear. But perhaps a better plan is to craft a great open that leaves no doubt your presentation will be both interesting and relevant. Consider scrapping the agenda altogether and diverting the extra time and effort to a compelling open, persuasive key points and a provocative close.

Of course, if you’re part of an organization that requires presentations begin with an agenda (and don’t assume that because everyone else does it, it’s a requirement), you may have to go along with the program. Still, there are a few ways to comply with company policy without sabotaging your show.

1. Let a paper agenda suffice: Distribute a printed agenda ahead of time so audience members can peruse it before you take the stage. They’ll know what to expect, but you won’t waste precious moments (or their attention span) going over rote details.

2. Give a quick verbal agenda, rather than a visual one. Skip the agenda slide and instead quickly run through your game plan verbally, before launching into your carefully planned open.

3. Outboard the agenda. If your organization absolutely insists that you begin with an agenda slide, treat it as its own entity. Keep it as short as possible. Then stop. Give your audience a signal that the REAL presentation is about to begin by taking a long pause, changing your floor position, flashing a blank slide, telling an interesting story --- or all of the above.

The best way to captivate audiences is to convince them early on they’re about to hear something they’ve never heard before. Do that, and they won’t be wondering about what you’re going to cover. They’ll just be looking forward to it.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog posts at “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

Bluestone Adds Certified Etiquette Instructor Danielle Kovachevich

BIRMINGHAM, MI (January 28, 2017) Birmingham-based Bluestone Executive Communications announced today that certified etiquette instructor Danielle Kovachevich has joined the firm to enhance the offerings of the Bluestone Image Institute, a boutique program focused on helping professionals at all levels distinguish themselves with polish, poise and presence.

 “As workplaces become more anonymous and increasingly casual, there is more opportunity than ever for polished professionals to stand out among peers and competitors,” said Bluestone Executive Communications president, Christina McKenna. “Danielle is expert at gracefully imparting the lessons of etiquette and other soft skills that distinguish leaders–and she does this with an infectious charm that instantly inspires everyone near her to up their game.”

 Ms. Kovachevich will be offering private instruction as well as seminars on dining etiquette, international protocol, digital decorum and a new program developed for young professionals: “Manners for Millennials.” Her programs will be offered on their own and in conjunction with the other Bluestone Image Institute team members who focus on executive style and impactful communication. Bluestone’s core services include media training, speech and presentation coaching and crisis communication.

 “It’s an honor to help professionals elevate their impact and enjoy their work more by fine tuning the details that bring dignity to daily work,” said Kovachevich. “Contrary to popular belief, office etiquette is not extinct, it has only evolved.”

Ms. Kovachevich earned a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education at Michigan State University and studied in the South of France while earning a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Development. Previously, she taught secondary education and wrote curriculum for various school districts.

She is certified in Etiquette Instruction by The Etiquette Institute of St. Louis. She will work with Bluestone clients at the firm’s Birmingham training facility or at client locations around the globe. 

Bluestone Executive Communications, LLC is located at 1025 East Maple Road, Suite #201, Birmingham, MI 48009. It’s client list includes General Motors, Masco Corporation, La-Z-Boy, McCann WorldGroup, Magna International, Cooper Standard, Shinola, SRG Global, Valeo, The Henry Ford, Detroit Public Schools Community District, OESA, the Center for Automotive Research and dozens of other major corporations, associations and government clients. For more about Bluestone Executive Communications, visit

Media Won't Cover You? Cover Yourself.

Years ago when I was the lead spokesperson for Boston Edison, the company went through a brutal six-month stretch during which it was pounded in the press for an unusually high number of power outages and accidents---and THEN suffered an ugly labor strike.

So when I heard that, in the wake of a series of Florida hurricanes, our crews were heading south to help restore power, we made a serious round of media calls. I wanted to be sure every local TV station and newspaper got the word that, in this case, we were the good guys, stepping up to help those in need.

Sure enough, on the day our crews were leaving, a bank of TV cameras and print photographers showed up in the parking lot to capture pictures of the caravan rolling off company property toward the freeway.

But that was it! Not a single Boston media member conducted even one on-camera interview about why we were pitching in. And none of them bit on our offer to arrange phone interviews with the crews once they arrived in Florida.

I knew we needed to get a bigger bounce out of this event to offset the negative press we'd been taking on all year. So, I decided we would make our own news.

At the last minute, my colleague and I flew to Florida to meet our line workers, hired a video crew and followed our employees around for two days as they chain sawed fallen trees, installed new power poles and strung the electrical wire that would help Florida get back to normal. We interviewed our workers as well as locals, and captured tender moments of storm-weary Floridians hugging and thanking our crews.

Then we rented satellite time from the local public TV station and offered free feeds of the video to every news outlet in Boston.

That night and all the next day, on every Boston newscast, our guys were the heroes. Why? Not because they did any extra work (they were going to do it anyway.) But because we had video of it and we made it easy, free and irresistible for the media to use it.

If you have a great story that the media won't tell, try making it easier for them. Hire a crew to shoot video, then send it to media outlets in edited and unedited form. Include suggested news copy in the form of a short broadcast script or print story. (Sure, most journalists prefer to write their own, but they'll still appreciate the head start.) 

But don't stop there. Leverage your own platforms for coverage with the audiences that matter most to you. Put a version on your website, play it at employee events and post it to social media so supporters can easily pass it along to their own followers.

After all, if you've got a great story to tell, the media and your other audiences will want to hear it, see it and share it. And if you make it easy for them, they'll do just that.   

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog "Let's Be Clear,visit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.   

The Shiny Object Media Can't Resist

I've attended a number of public relations conferences at which a media panel has been assembled to share insights about how organizations can get more press. On every occasion, across the board, the reporters' answers are the same.


More video. Better video. Different video. Video.

And that's not just the answer given by the TV stations and digital outlets. That's that answer given by The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, Reuters and countless trade journalists.

In today's digital world, all media outlets are video-driven, with their audiences continuously seeking fresh, different and more video. And reporters are not embarrassed to admit that story pitches that come with video are much more likely to capture their attention, spark their imagination and yes, get coverage.

Reporters and editors want more video from sources because we, the public, want more video from media. In fact, we want video from everyone, including businesses, employers and potential employers.

For those of us tasked with using communication to drive results, this should spell opportunity. But in reality, it spells headache! We know we should use video, but deciding when, where and how to get started can be overwhelming.

So here are some relatively quick, easy and inexpensive video projects almost any organization can immediately undertake to increase attention and results:

  • Create a video company overview. Frame your brand with a one to three minute video, detailing products, services, employees or culture---or all of that.
  • Profile employees. Interview three or four employees to showcase the diversity of your team and let them tell others why they love their jobs.
  • Profile executives. Let top brass brag about their employees, products and customers-all the while demonstrating leadership and executive presence.
  • Product Spotlight. Highlight a signature service or product (or a new service or product) to show off what your organization does best.
  • Video News Releases. Bolster any news release by including video of the event, person or product you think deserves coverage.

Need an example? Here's an organizational overview we recently produced for New York law firm, Outten & Golden, LLP, through the voice of founding partner, Wayne Outten. 

This was one in a series of simple videos we created to help the firm connect with potential clients, recruit new talent and show off to media.

If your idea, organization, products, or talent deserve more attention than they're getting, maybe it's time to flash that one irresistible, shiny object that, time and again, audiences say they crave: "Video."

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog "Let's Be Clear," visit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.   

Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Welcome….Me!

When I first started speaking in public, I had a rather lofty image of how each engagement would begin: I’d be summoned to the stage with thunderous applause as a beaming host detailed the many reasons I was perfectly qualified to be the day’s expert.

Screeeeeeeeech. That's the record player scratching as reality sets in.

As well-meaning as hosts typically are, more often than not, they fall woefully short in priming the audience for their guest speaker. If left to their own devices, most hosts will print your bio off your website and read it verbatim, boring the audience with too much unrelated detail and never mentioning information that’s actually relevant.

Not only does this kick things off in an underwhelming fashion, it deprives the audience of context they need to get the full benefit of your remarks. Worst of all, it can throw you off balance during one of your most critical moments: your open.

There’s a better way. Next time you’re invited to speak, take these preemptive steps to ensure your remarks---and your audience---get the intro they deserve:

  • Well before your talk, take a few moments to write your own brief (brief is key) introduction, customized for the speech you are giving and the group to which you’re giving it.
  • Don’t wait to be asked, but rather email the introduction to your host ahead of time, indicating that in the past, hosts have found it helpful to have introductory remarks prepared for them.
  • Just to be safe, on the day of the event, bring with you three copies of your introduction, printed in at least 20 point font so that anyone can read it well, even on the first pass.

You’re not out the woods yet. If you arrive at your venue and realize no one plans to introduce you at all, recruit someone from the audience: your host, a friend, anyone with the slightest bit of charisma (or even a pulse) to help you out. (Here’s where those extra copies come in handy.)

Finally, if you MUST introduce yourself (yes, it happens), don’t do it right off the bat. Instead, begin your remarks exactly as you planned with the killer open you so carefully crafted and rehearsed. Then, just before you launch into the heart of your talk, pause and say “Let me take a moment to tell you about myself and why our hosts have asked me here today.”

Next go into a short version of your intro that offers just enough info to give you the credibility you need. Though not ideal, this should allow you to keep your remarks mostly intact, while earning extra points for style under pressure.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 






Really, No Questions?

If you open your talk up to Q and A but get no takers, try asking yourself a question to get things rolling.

If you open your talk up to Q and A but get no takers, try asking yourself a question to get things rolling.

You had them on the edge of their seats the whole talk. They nodded at your insights and laughed at your jokes. But suddenly, when you announce you’ll take questions...crickets.

What seemed to be a soaring success suddenly feels more like a flop. Though it’s hard not to feel the audience is using its silence to give you the hook, don’t dash off just yet. The final moments of your talk are a big part of the impression you’ll leave. Here are some tips for avoiding an awkward silence when no one asks a question:

Give them time to prepare. Often the switch from speech to Q and A is a bit abrupt. You may be such an engaging speaker that no one is even thinking about questions yet. Just before your conclusion, consider offering a remark such as “I’m going to take some questions in a moment, but first I want to tell you one more quick story.”

Have a plant in the audience who can kick things off.  Before you get started, ask a friend or even your host to jump in if no one else volunteers a question at the end of your talk. Often audience members just need someone else to break the ice and they’ll come around with their own questions.

Ask yourself a question. This tactic is especially useful for CEOs or other leaders speaking at town hall meetings where employees may be reluctant to stick their necks out. Simply fill the awkward silence with something like “One question some of you might be asking is ‘Will the company continue to match our 401k contributions?’” or “Something I usually get asked is ‘What kind of feedback have you had from customers?’” It might give someone else the courage to jump in. At the very least it helps you fill the emptiness.

Offer one final comment, then concede the stage. If you’ve tried the above and the audience STILL doesn't jump in, offer one final insight. This should be a brief comment you’ve saved just for the end to tie up your talk, show you’re not rattled, and leave on a positive note. Then do leave the stage. But later follow up with audience members or your host about the lack of questions. Perhaps an overheated room or the alluring scent of lunch arriving next door made the audience impatient. Or perhaps you weren’t as engaging as you thought. Regardless, that’s one question worth asking---and having answered.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

Facing Your Own PR Crisis? Better Get Your Story Straight

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 12.54.13 PM.png

Good public relations practices are scalable. The same strategies that can help a global company navigate an epic crisis can hold true for individuals fighting to manage their own bad news---like an untimely departure.

None of us likes to think about losing a job. But if the day comes when you find yourself packing that cardboard box, here are three PR moves to help keep your image in tact while you regroup.

Get your story straight. Sure, you’ll want to vent to your personal inner circle. But before you share the bad news much further, come up with a narrative about what happened and what you want to see happen next.

Regardless of the reason for the separation, you should be able to frame it in terms that highlight your professionalism. Most importantly, you want to draw a picture in which the listener can see you moving on to even better things.

No matter the circumstances, resist the urge to paint yourself as a victim, even if you are one. People feel sorry for victims, but they don’t hire them. Instead summarize the situation and emphasize what YOU are doing to take control of your future.

Get Some Good Buzz Going. Once you have your story straight, start spreading it. Reach out to as many people in your network and their networks as you can---and not just people in positions of power. In fact, while people high up the food chain can be very valuable at helping to close a deal, they are not as useful at the front end of a job search when you need to dig up leads. Make the rounds electronically or better yet in person. Ask for informational interviews to learn about new companies and get the momentum going. All along the way, let folks know you’re interested in new opportunities and would appreciate them keeping their ear to the ground for you. You’ll be surprised by who in your circle turns out to be helpful.

Malign No One. Talking ill of someone else only calls into question your character, not theirs. So take the high road when it comes to speaking about your former company, supervisor and colleagues. If you can’t say something nice about them, focus instead on the opportunities you were given to grow and do good work. You’ll win points for graciousness and professionalism---and you’ll be that much closer to your next great thing.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, visit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.