Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Above the Noise: Making Your Speech Memorable

As the former editor of a newsletter for marketers I have seen more than a 1,000 speeches and presentations. I would say that 5% of them were memorable and 10% sounded better than I remembered them later.

My favorites were the self-help gurus for business – the Tom Peters, Stephen Coveys, etc. Their advice was basic common sense and most people knew everything they said already. But they made their advice sound new and fresh every time. The simplicity of what they said and their delivery made their case. And I felt like they were talking to me – as though there was no one else in the room.

So I offer these tips for making your presentation or speech have impact in tough economic times.

1. Build Your Speech Around a Single Core Message. What do you want your audience to walk out of the room remembering about your speech or presentation? What is the core message that will resonate with them? Answer that question before you start and build the rest of your presentation around it. If it’s negative that’s OK, but find a positive in the bad news. Get their attention with the bad stuff and then make them focus on the good and on what they can do next.

2. Don’t Talk in Abstractions. We live in a Web 2.0 world and are blinded by messages all day long. The Internet is filled with filmmakers, writers, super heroes if you will, who basically tell you nothing. Don’t put up a lot of charts, graphs, endless slides, or speak in abstractions. I remember once seeing someone explain a logic model that was two dozen boxes connecting with lines that went in different directions. I raised my hand and said – but it’s not logical. And her response, “They all look like that.” Keep your talk direct and simple. That’s what makes it compelling.

3. Know and Discuss What Your Audience Cares About. What will get your audience fired up, make them cry, scream, yell, happy? Use it as an emotional hook. If business is bad talk about how it’s hurting all of us – how people are scared – but that we must rise above that and get through it together. Make your case with passion and purpose. Speak in the first person always. Modulate your voice. People are looking for hope and direction. Hit them right in the gut so they feel
emotionally connected to what you’re saying. Use “we” to let them know you’re in it together.

4. Use Video – It’s the World We Live In. I went to a conference recently where everyone was still using straight PowerPoint slides. Duh people. Remember YouTube? Show and tell – not just tell. My 13 year-old has been making films for three years. Words don’t engage me – images and words do. You are a senior marketer. Invest in a video camera. Go out and get people on video doing what you are talking about. It will make it all seem that much more real.

5. Deal with Doubt. The truth can be pretty harsh sometimes. PR people like to sugar coat things, to make them appear better than they seem. Read the web site of your standard PR agency and its all smoke and mirrors. Jargon and more jargon. What does it say – nothing. When things are bad don’t act like they’re not. Deal with the uncertainty. Acknowledge that it’s sitting in the room with you. Befriend it. Admit to sharing a pessimistic view that things may not get better. Discuss the potential for failure if we don’t rise to the challenge. Then inspire them. Make them feel your pain and your power.

6. Tell Memorable Stories About Real People. Anecdotes are one of the most powerful devices you can use in a speech, but they must be genuine and they should be about real people even if you don’t use real names. If you can’t say who it is then tell the audience “I’ll call her Donna because she wouldn’t want me to use her name.” Don’t ever use blind examples such as Client X, who is in the healthcare industry, got a 50% response rate to a social media campaign. I don’t care and neither will anyone else. Even if this is a real client - it sounds made up. Make the story your champion. And use anecdotes to drive home the main points of what you’re trying to say.

7. Talk to One Person in Your Audience. The best piece of advice I ever gave about presentations was focus on one person in your audience. Have you ever been on a date or at a meeting with someone who doesn’t look at you. How pissed off did that make you? Pick a person in the front row and look at them as you speak – talk to them. You will seem much more genuine and compelling. And don’t be afraid to walk away from the podium. When I give talks I like to sit on the conference table or if it’s a really corporate group just stay in my chair. I’m not the leader, I’m one of you. If you’re in a large room walk out into it. It works for politicians and it can work for you.

8. Finish with a Call to Action. At the end of your talk, ask for something concrete. Outline specific steps that must be taken. Make sure your audience knows what they’re supposed to do when they leave the room. And finish by reinforcing your core message, so it’s the last thing they hear before they leave. It’s OK to say “If I leave you with one thought it should be this.” Then tell them what it is.

9. Don’t Disappear. If your audience is engaged and inspired by what you’ve said, they want to talk to you. I recently saw a world renowned scientist make some dire predictions about the damage we’ve done to our planet. She read from her notes and didn’t look up much. What she said was so scary that we all paid attention. But after she was done speaking her entourage took her out of the room as though she didn’t want to sully herself with us. Stay for questions – you can put a time limit on them. Shake hands afterwards, exchange cards. It makes you seem accessible and real and memorable.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Edvard Munch: Master Painter, Master Marketer

Art lovers like to believe that inspiration and talent comes from the heart and soul of an artist but a new and quite fabulous exhibit called Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety and Myth at the Art Institute of Chicago says not always. It showcases the life and work of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, who painted images of anxiety and despair almost too disturbing to look at.

Munch is most famous for The Scream, a haunting work that reminds us all we are just one step removed from madness. A modern day Scream: I once saw a middle aged business man in New York’s Penn Station walking in circles around and yelling at a pole.

Marketers today can learn a lot from Munch whose style/unique selling proposition crystallized and evolved as he grew as an artist and he saw what would sell. The more succinct his themes – the more powerful his work. He was also one of the first artists ever to charge admission to his one man show, well before his work became famous.

Munch’s most marketable style? Dark human portraits such as Blossom of Pain in 1898 where blood pours from a human heart that sprouts into a lily and Salome in 1903, a shadowy portrait of the operatic heroine who cuts off her lover’s head and then mournfully sings to it.

How could anyone paint such dark images in the Impressionist heyday of frothy, colorful works evocative of light and shadow?

Smart Marketing. Munch played a central role in his own mythmaking and reputation building. The exhibit suggests that he was not insane, in fact far from it. Curators say he cultivated the impression of his own insanity to sell paintings, giving viewers something to latch onto. Stress related brain ailments were under exploration by scientists at the time, and in 19th century society madness was quite popular.

The exhibit shows how Munch, who lived from in 1863-1944, was a technically talented painter who spent his early years soaking up motifs, painting styles, technical tricks and aesthetic postures of contemporary Scandinavian artists and European Impressionists.

The Art Institute, which has one of the most extensive collections of Impressionist art in the world (thank you robber barons of the early 20th century), has laid out the work so you can see the artist’s influences from the brightness of Monet, to the Norwegian emphasis on nature, Nordic myth and folklore, to the German symbolists and their themes of sickness, death and femme fatale.

Munch’s paintings are paired with the work of artists who influenced him – so you can see the connections right in front of you.

In one painting – the image isn’t enough – Munch literally writes copy advertising his vision for the painting. At the base of a young woman’s ruby lipped portrait he has written

“A pause when the world stops revolving. Your face emcompasses the beauty of the whole earth. Your lips, as red as ripening fruit, gently part as if in pain. It is the smile of a corpse. Now the hand of death touches life.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What is Marketing?

Let's start with the Wikipedia definition -

Marketing is defined by the American Marketing Association as the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. [1] The term developed from the original meaning which referred literally to going to market, as in shopping, or going to a market to sell goods or services.

Sorry AMA but that's gibberish.

My definition - Marketing is creating, positioning, and growing your product or service (brand).

That's why I'm the writer and they aren't. In an effort to get everyone to think about their business in marketing terms here's what I do.

What are the elements of good marketing:

Positioning - What you bring to the market or the point of difference of your product or services compared to others in the marketplace. They used to call it the Unique Selling Proposition.

Aimee Stern and/or Stern Communications brand is expert in transforming complex information into marketing and communications campaigns that are accessible to all. I'm a writer who can strategize and market. (Most people can do one but not all three).

Branding - What does your company stand for and how do others define it? If you're doing it right they should be the same.

Public Relations - How, where and why you share information about your company and the service/product you offer. Includes broadcast, radio, print, online, social media, etc.

Advertising - Paying for visibility and placement in the above.

Competitive Intelligence - Knowing what your competitors are doing. In our case it's PR firms in the DC area who compete in the science, education and health arena. Making sure when I don't win an account I call them back and find out who did and why.

Pricing - Charging the right price for the perceived value of what you deliver to the markets you are in. And of course making a profit. A wise colleague once said to me - most people don't know the difference between good, excellent and mediocre. He was talking about writing. Many people will hire an average writer and think what they get is good. They also pay less.

If you are really good - and we are - then you charge more and raise the bar. It may cost you business sometimes (and in this climate that's hard to do) but it also means you know what you're worth and you don't cheapen it.

Distribution - How you get your products and services into the marketplace and to those who purchase and use them.

Research - Making sure you know who your customers are and keeping up-to-date on how what they want, need, purchase is changing in a world that moves at lightening speed.

If you think I'm wrong let me know.