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 bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

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 bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.