the voice of reason in marketing

September 28, 2016

The secret to extraordinary guest service.

Filed under: Customer Service, Observations From the Field, This is Cool — Christina Miranda @ 9:05 am

Two years ago, Sandra the housekeeper at the Delta Halifax in Nova Scotia stole my heart and forever sealed my loyalty to that hotel.  I thought the happily-ever-after story ended there…but I was wrong.  It gets better.

Since that famous visit (the blog post about it was read/shared more than 100,000 times), I’ve returned to the Delta Halifax often.  And given the widespread recognition of the story, it’s not surprising that many of the staff there know me, or at least know who I am.  I treasure the bond that we’ve forged, and their extraordinary guest service has remained intact on each visit.

The guest in me revels in that consistency.  But the hospitality business counselor in me realizes that the stakes are getting higher and higher with each stay.  Can they keep hitting the mark EVERY SINGLE TIME?  Surely, they’re bound to be off their service game at some point.  What’s going to happen to this magical bond between us when they disappoint me for the first time?  What’s going to happen when they fail?

Happily, on my most recent visit, I learned that The Delta Halifax will NEVER fail at delivering extraordinary guest service.  I discovered their foolproof secret, and here it is:

After a grueling five-hour drive, I arrived at the hotel at 9:30pm…parked right in front of the door, flew out of the car, ran past the front desk agent, said nothing but “Hi, I need the ladies room before I can check in,” and then scooted out of sight.  When I returned to the front desk, the agent (who I didn’t know) had my room keys ready and said, “Welcome back, Ms. Miranda…we have you in Sandra’s section, and will you be needing assistance with your bags before we park your car?”

I didn’t ask how she knew who I was.  Perhaps I was the last check-in that evening.  Maybe they have a photo of me in my guest profile.  Who cares?  I was just grateful for the friendly expediency and headed back outside to deal with luggage and car.

The young bellman gent who shepherded me (and seven large bags and boxes) to my room was also unfamiliar to me, though he too also seemed to know me.  While chatting, I asked how long he’s been working there.  Answer:  three weeks.  After he got me settled into the room, I asked him if I needed a valet ticket for my car.  Answer:  “No worries, Ms. Miranda, we know who you are…just call down when you’re ready for the car and we’ll bring it around.”

I couldn’t hold back any longer.  I said, “You just started three weeks ago…how on earth do you know who I am?”

Answer:  “Are you kidding?  You’re a legend here.  I learned about your pillow story during my orientation, and everyone who works here gets excited when you’re coming back.”  Cue mouth agape and slight sting of happy tears on my part.

But wait.  There’s more.

I gave him a $25 tip when he left my room…that was a lot of heavy baggage AND he parked my car.  A minute later, he knocked on my door to give the 20 back because he thought I mistakenly gave him the wrong bill.  Seriously.  I almost gave him ANOTHER 20, just for being adorable.

Adorable gent gone, I surveyed the room.  Yes, my special towel-pillow was there, with a welcome note from Sandra.  And this time, she upped her game, surrounding my complimentary bottle of water with hearts that she hand cut out of paper water coasters.

fullsizerender-8Life was good.  I was home.

But now I was curious.  Was it JUST me?  It seems that my blog post had earned the hotel some measure of recognition among its peers and corporate office, and Sandra was certainly given praise for her role in the famous pillow story.  But was everyone in this hotel extra nice and helpful to me just because I got them positive attention?  I needed to know.

So the next day, I sat and observed…at the restaurant, in the lobby, outside on the benches.  I watched every single staff member interact with guests at various points throughout the day.  And guess what?  It’s not just me.  They may not know everyone’s name or face, but good heavens…they are THAT NICE AND HELPFUL to everyone.  I saw anticipatory, gracious, and extraordinary service at every touch point – servers, bell staff, maintenance dudes, front desk team, executives walking around…every interaction, with every person.

How was this possible?  The Delta Halifax is NOT a small hotel.  But surely they can’t have simply hired every amazing person in the city?  And surely they can’t just hand out a training manual and teach people good judgment on how to be gracious without being annoying?  If that were possible, then every hotel in the world would be a giant bundle of amazingness.

And then, upon reflection, it hit me.  It’s pride.  Staff at the Delta Halifax are instilled with a sense of pride in the hotel, and in each other.  They enjoy nurturing the hotel’s stellar reputation, and they conspire together to make guests happy.  They care deeply – collectively and as individuals – that guests are made to feel welcomed, special, and loved.  And…here’s the best part:  it’s genuine.  They don’t just act it.  They FEEL it.

Yes, there’s a Delta employee training manual.  And yes, there are workshops, brand standards, performance reviews and all that jazz.  But let me tell you something, folks:  you can’t teach pride. 

Full honors go to the executive team at the Delta Halifax for fostering that culture, because this type of environment can ONLY exist if the management team encourages it, shapes it, rewards it, and reclaims it when it goes astray.

Hospitality managers everywhere…here’s what you can learn from this story.  If your guest service isn’t extraordinary, find out why your employees aren’t taking pride in your organization and fix it.  Why should they love working for you?  Why should they care?  What are you trying to achieve together for your guests?  Fix that, and I guarantee you, all your guest service issues will go away.

Delta Halifax…I take my hat off to you.  You have my loyalty as a guest, and my respect as a hospitality business counselor.  I don’t know exactly how you instill that sense of pride in your staff, but you know what?  I don’t want to know.  Keep that part of your secret, and I’ll just keep coming back to enjoy the magic.

PS:  On the second morning of my stay, the server at breakfast automatically brought me cream with my coffee because she remembered I asked for it on the first day.  Just sayin’.

February 29, 2016

Social media + cool things = your free sales force.

My nephew is going to eat at Roast Sandwich House with his friends, thanks to a picture posted on Facebook (which he doesn’t use) by a girl (who he doesn’t know). Here’s the story…followed by a million dollar marketing question: 

Some girl Amanda (a stranger to me as well) posted this picture on Facebook of Roast’s “Buffalo Organic Chicken Mac-n-Cheese Grilled Cheese.”

IMG_0640

A gent named Chris liked her photo. I’ve not seen or spoken to Chris in around five years, but we’re friends on Facebook. And that photo appeared in my news feed because Chris liked it.  I knew the moment I saw it that my nephew would LOVE it…but I’m not friends with him on Facebook (because no self-respecting teenager uses Facebook).  So I took a screen-shot of the post and texted it to him.  He responded with all sorts of “OMGs” and drooled on his phone…and next thing you know…he’s gathering up friends to go eat there.

So basically, a friend of my friend of five years ago recommended a sandwich to my nephew and his friends. And none of us have ever spoken or discussed this in any way…and most of us are strangers.

Now… here’s the million dollar marketing question: What if Roast Sandwich House offered boring sandwiches?

NO ONE takes a picture of a plain ol’ turkey sammich. Why bother? But a Buffalo Organic Chicken Mac-n-Cheese Grilled Cheese?  That sucker earns you bragging rights on social media.  So, yes…it might be harder on the operation to produce AMAZING sandwiches.  And it might require more ingredients.  And it’s probably much more work.  But it made Amanda take a picture and share it with her friends, and that marketing power is priceless.

The point is…be interesting. Be different.  Be unexpected.  Be unique.  Make the time…make the investment…dedicate the brainpower.  If you do unusual things or offer unusual products, people will want to capture and share the story.  And you’ll be rewarded with an exponential (and free) sales force…even if they’re not on Facebook.

Thank you, Amanda…whoever you are. And you’re welcome, Roast Sandwich House…as you’ll be seeing a lot of my nephew in the future.

November 5, 2015

Your belly button is a marketing tool.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Marketing Strategies, The Power of Persuasion, Writing Tips — Christina Miranda @ 9:56 am

Consumers suck, don’t they?  They need to be rewarded for everything…liking things, sharing things, buying things, answering things.  It’s maddening.

Well marketers, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We’ve conditioned people to chase carrots and respond to hoopla…which means we’ve ALSO conditioned them to ignore stuff that’s boring, predictable, trite, and unrewarding.

Where does this leave email subject lines?  At the top of your “spend brainpower here” list.

Think about it…all the time and energy you spend creating the perfect email content is 100% for naught if people don’t open it.  And when sifting through the barrage of daily incoming emails, consumers use three main criteria to determine which ones will get their attention:

  1. How much they care about you vs. how much they care about the rest of the senders sitting in their inbox.
  2. How much time they have available when your email arrives.
  3. Is the content going to be worth their time?

And #3 is why subject lines should get your brainpower.  If your marketing email subject lines are things like “August Newsletter” or “News from (company name)” or even something a little more specific like “Winter Packages at (company name)”… you are relying on the first two criteria – which are beyond your control – to supply the magic open sesame of consumer response.

But if your subject line is something like…

We don’t make linen. (Chilewich, a textile company)

I hate purple. (Also from Chilewich)

The ecosystem of your belly button. (American Museum of Natural History)

Have you ever wanted to create a chocolate sculpture? (South End Kitchen, VT)

Get serenaded by Harry Connick, Jr. (Hotel on North, MA)

…you’re using the subject line as a lure to snap desensitized recipients to attention.  It’s likely that 80% or more of the emails they receive each day have boring subject lines.  Make yours interesting and you’re one notch closer to seducing them into hearing your message.

Here’s the best part.  If you pay heed to #3 (teasing interesting content)…and then you actually ensure that the content IS interesting…over time, it’s going to positively impact #1 and #2.  Remember: marketers train consumers.  And the more you train them that your emails are interesting, the more that #1- they will care about you and your messages, and #2- no matter when your email arrives, they will make the time to read it.

It’s a delicious cycle of persuasive marketing goodness.  And soon you will find that consumers – those picky, aloof, what’s-in-it-for-me monsters we marketers have created – will suck just a little bit less.

October 9, 2015

Catch more flies. Make more money.

A small restaurant in Denver, CO shows the world that when it comes to establishing your business philosophy, honey trumps vinegar hands down. 

Picture this:  You’re starving.  You’re weary after a long day.  You want to shed your troubles with good company, some laughs, delicious food, and certainly a cocktail or two.  And as you step up to the host stand, your request for a table is answered with the single most annoying phrase on the planet:

“For a party of two, the wait time is currently around one hour and 45 minutes.”

If you’re the restaurant owner, what’s the fallout from this scenario?

  • The MOMENT people enter your restaurant, they’re hit with something negative.
  • Most people will just leave and go elsewhere.
  • While they may not actively HATE you, they feel disappointment and frustration.
  • If it happens more than once, many people will stop trying.

Most importantly, you lose the opportunity to form a relationship with people who are just ripe for the picking.  They’ve sought you out and made the effort to land on your doorstep.  And now you have to turn them away?  This chronic problem of busy restaurants makes owners (and their marketing folks) weep.

But the smart, cheerful, positive thinkers who run Work & Class are shedding no tears over this issue.

On a recent visit to Denver, I was greeted at their host stand with that same annoying phrase.  I glanced at the teeny-tiny, jam-packed bar and said to the two hostesses, “Rats. We are only in town tonight and were dying to try this place, but that’s just too long to wait.  Oh well.”

The hostesses could have simply said, “Oh, sorry…come see us again on your next visit!”  And had they done so, that would have been the end of my relationship with Work & Class.

Instead, they said, “hold on a minute.”  And the two of them scanned the wait list, craned their necks to look at the locations of patrons at the bar, and whispered conspiratorially to each other.  Then one of them leaned in and said to me, “See those people sitting at the far side of the bar?  In around 20 minutes, I’m going to seat them.  If you want to wait right here at the host stand, I’ll take you with me when I go to tell them their table is ready, and you can grab their seats and eat at the bar.  And I could bring cocktails here to you while you’re waiting.”

Who could say no to that?  Especially since they both had huge smiles on their faces and were clearly delighted to be making my friend and me happy.  We said yes.  A champagne and a whiskey appeared momentarily, and then the best part happened:  we had a 20-minute front row seat to watch the magic of the Work & Class host stand in action.  Here’s what goes down:

  • The hostesses are not robots…they display empathy for each and every person’s plight with the wait time, and they remained genuinely cheerful and positive despite delivering unwelcome news.
  • Because the bar area is so small, the restaurant formed a relationship with the bar across the street to funnel patrons there for 10% off their entire bar tab while awaiting their “table is ready” call.
  • If you choose to stay and wait, there’s a $4 “wait drink.” (brilliant move)
  • The hostesses never – not once – let anyone walk away after hearing the wait time without ALSO hearing another solution… bar across the street, try us earlier or later, join us on Wednesday, come back for dessert, sit at the communal table outside… and the solutions were never the same.  They were based on what each particular diner needed/wanted.

The pounce-on-the-barstool strategy worked beautifully, and as the night unfolded, we learned that the hostesses were not alone in fostering the positive attitude that permeates Work & Class.  Bartenders, bussers, waitstaff, owner… they are ALL just ridiculously happy people.

And the tone of the restaurant fosters that same attitude in the patrons.  The “House Rules” are displayed on huge signs, and they’re written so adorably that you are inspired to follow them:

Work & Class House Rules

You can also read a more detailed version of the House Rules on their website.

Cost-conscious restaurant owners may read this and say, “Are you nuts?  Why would I send people to my competitor, much less pay to have cards printed to send them there?  Why would I discount a ‘wait drink’ when people who decide to wait would end up buying them at full price?  I’ll never get my hostesses to be that personable, and besides that, if they have to spend extra time with each individual person at the host stand, I’ll require more hosts per shift.”

And to them I say… everyone who visits Work & Class is put in a good mood, even if they decide not to wait.  And Work & Class is packed to the rafters every single night.  You do the math.

So if you are visiting Denver, you must eat here.  The delicious food is just a bonus…the infusion of joy is the real daily special.

June 23, 2015

Tell a story without a lecture.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Observations From the Field, The Power of Persuasion — Christina Miranda @ 8:08 am

A picture might be worth 1,000 words…but a few carefully chosen words can often paint an instantly compelling picture.

Take this ad, for instance…seen in the Uptown 1 subway station at 23rd Street:

lower east side film festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With just those two sentences, the Lower East Side Film Festival creates this impression:  “we’re not snooty like those other film festivals, you don’t need to know someone or be on the list, we don’t put on airs, we’re social and approachable, and you’ll make friends here.”  And do I detect a whiff of snarky nonconformity here, sending out seductive signals to attract those with a similar perspective?  Yes.  I believe I do.

Here’s another, seen just last week on the bridge driving into Boston from I-93:

ehrlich pest control

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With just that simple phrasing, Ehrlich Pest Control says this:  “we hire the best people, who have a natural instinct for ridding the world of pests, and regardless of whether they do it for paycheck or for the sheer enjoyment of it…you can be sure that if you want critters gone, our guys will not rest until that happens…oh, and by the way, we’re funny and we have social skills too.” (Note to the Gods of Standstill Traffic: thank you for enabling me to snap this photo.)

What lesson can be learned from this?  Often, the indirect approach to communicating your personality has greater impact.  Don’t lecture people on who you are and what you stand for… just prove it through the way you communicate with them.

As we tell Redpoint clients all the time… don’t say you’re cool, just BE cool.  Explaining to people that you’re cool only weakens your case.

Here’s a parting bonus example that throws in a strategic photo:  the housekeeping tip envelope at Jay Peak Resort. It’s kind of sweet, and yet you’d think twice before ever crossing Alice…a juxtaposition which aptly represents that resort and mountain.

Jay Peak housekeeping tip envelope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bravo Jay Peak.  You tugged my little branding heart so hard that I gave Alice 20 bucks for a one-night stay.  Or maybe I was just scared.  Either way…it worked!

 

April 20, 2015

Eight Ways to Apologize Without Saying “I’m Sorry.”

Filed under: Effective Communication, The Power of Persuasion — Christina Miranda @ 8:54 am

Apparently, people everywhere are being naughty. This post from 2011 continues to be the most popular post on RedpointSpeaks.com, drawing in hundreds of contrite visitors each day who seek the perfect words to deliver their apology. So here it is again, my friends. Go forth and mend fences.

the voice of reason in marketing

The phrase “I’m sorry” is supposed to make its recipient feel better, but thanks to a lifetime of misuse, it rarely completes its mission.  Indeed, it often requires assistance to have an impact, such as repetition, further explanation, multiple exclamation points (see why this one won’t work), or even…groveling.

Somewhere along the way of evolution, the words “I’m sorry” picked up a couple of permanent connotation hitchhikers:  assumption of guilt and admittance of wrongdoing.  So when you say the words to someone, there is an implication that you are in some way responsible for the situation.

And yet, the word “sorry” is employed for a laughably wide range of circumstances, even those for which we are not to blame…from condolences over a death (I’m so sorry for your loss) to asking a speaker to repeat a sentence (Sorry…what did you say?) to the absolutely brilliant application…

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February 5, 2015

Four quick tips to strengthen your writing.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Writing Tips — Tags: , , — Christina Miranda @ 10:11 am

Writing is a skill that needs practice, just like your golf swing or your skiing technique.  However, unlike golf or skiing, very few people devote their Saturdays to grammar and phraseology.

Here’s the equivalent of installing a putting green in your office.  Work these four tips into your everyday writing, and give those stagnant brain muscles a workout.

Stop beginning your sentences with “I” or “We.”  You’ll be surprised how often you do it, and making this one tiny change will enhance the power of your message.  Here’s why and how.

Choose descriptive words that pack a stand-alone punch.  There are – give or take – a million words in the English language.  It’s a safe bet that “great” can always be replaced with a more meaningful word (get some help on that here) and the words “very,” “really,” and “extremely” are unnecessary; very happy = ecstatic, pleased, delighted, and so on…extremely upset = livid, furious, incensed, and so on.

Condense wordy phrases into compact ones…or better yet, into a single word.  This reduces the burden on your reader’s attention span and illustrates your point with instant clarity.  For example:

Coming at the wrong time = ill-timed

Covered with decorative elements = ornate

Make this process smoother = streamline

Almost ready to put the finishing touches on = poised to complete

Hard to find = elusive

Aspire to cut your document length by a third.  This measuring stick will serve you well:  in any first draft, at least a third of the words are poorly chosen.  That’s because it’s really hard arduous to write and edit at the same time simultaneously.  Keep your thought process intact while the words flow, and then attack your phrases with a critical eye afterward.

I hope you find these tips useful.

Reprogramming your writing style using these four tips will take awareness, patience, and a thesaurus.  Keep practicing, buy a red pen, and eventually new habits will form.

January 12, 2015

Eat more lamb, Larry Bird.

We humans are an unruly lot…we are busy and distracted, and frankly, we just don’t like being told what to do.  This means that informative and useful signage is often overlooked as white noise competing for our attention amidst a barrage of sensory input.

Savvy businesses know a fool-proof cure for this:  unexpected humor that seduces people into reading the otherwise-boring sign.  It’s a brilliant strategy.  Not only do people read it…they get the message AND they are left with an impression of a business, company, or brand with a groovy personality.  Behold:

Bennett’s Store in coastal Maine could say “No Parking” or it could say…

larry bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wood ‘n Hart Farm at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market in Nova Scotia could say “Lamb for Sale” or it could say…

Halifax sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in NYC could say “Don’t Drink and Drive” or it could say…

Toll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An airport in Fort Lauderdale could say “Pardon Our Construction” or it could say…

airport sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weylin B. Seymour’s glamorous event space in Brooklyn could say “Wheelchair Accessible Bathroom” or it could say…

wheelchair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These signs have stopped countless people in their tracks…and quite possibly prompted them to snap a picture just like I did.  Mission accomplished.

So, the next time you have something important – but boring – to communicate, take a few minutes to answer the question:  how can I make this message interesting?

Need more inspiration?  See what the Inn at Manchester did with their housekeeping tip envelope.  Seriously…if they can make THAT fun, anything’s possible.

December 18, 2014

How one hotel housekeeper won my brand allegiance…and my heart.

She stopped me in my tracks.  And prompted me to track her down on property to give her a hug.

That’s no small feat for a hotel housekeeper to achieve.  As a hospitality consultant at Redpoint who trains hotels on marketing and guest service, I’ve stayed in more than 500 hotels around the world…from the barest of guest houses to the most luxurious of resorts.  Some even came with my own personal butler.  Many promise to deliver anticipatory service.  And yet none of them…not a single one…captured my heart (and my future business) the way the Delta Halifax in Nova Scotia did, despite all of them having the exact same opportunity to do so.

And it’s all thanks to Sandra the housekeeper.  Here’s how it went down.

A decades-old neck injury makes it most comfortable for me to sleep with a pillow that has laughingly been referred to as “a few sheets of loose leaf paper stuffed inside a pillowcase.”  I no longer travel with it (preserving its precious life span), so when I sleep at hotels, I remove the big fluffy pillow from the pillowcase and replace it with a folded-once towel from the bathroom.  I repeat this procedure every night of my stay because the housekeeper always restores the bed to its default state and the towel to the bathroom.

Imagine that habit solidifying into autopilot after around 500 times of having to repeat it.  And then imagine walking into the room after two nights of a four-night stay and seeing this on the bed:

Small note, thin pillow, big surprise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That note (highlighted in the photo so you couldn’t miss it) was handwritten on the back of a water glass coaster and resting on top of a precision crafted bath-towel-pillow.  Thickness?  Perfect.  Edges?  Neatly tucked.  Here’s what the note said:

housekeeping note 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After giggling with pleasure for a few minutes – who doesn’t love a good surprise? – I wrote Sandra a heartfelt thank-you note and left it on the bathroom sink for her to find the next morning.  And then the next day, I returned to my room to find this:

housekeeping note 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That did it.  I left my room immediately – coat on and all – and went to find Sandra.  We met, we hugged, we laughed.  And then I went to find Sandra’s boss to ask how on earth they train their staff to be so observant and thoughtful.  His answer was identical to the one every other hotelier delivers when asked about their approach to guest service:  “we look to hire those kinds of people, and then as part of our training program, we encourage them to use their judgment to make a guest’s stay more personal and memorable.”  If I only had a nickel for every time a hotelier said those exact words to me.

The difference here is…the Delta Halifax has actually achieved it.  Sandra – while the hero of this story – was not alone.  The front desk person checking me in recognized that I was from the U.S. and whipped out a city map unasked, just to orient me with my surroundings.  The breakfast server brought me a to-go cup with fresh coffee – also unasked – after a chat revealed that I was running late and didn’t have time for the extra cup I wanted to savor at the table.  The maintenance guy stopped what he was doing to help me carry a load of awkward packages to my door.  And on, and on, and on.

Hoteliers, take note:  the Delta Halifax could do with a renovation.  The rooms are dated, corridors need a refresh, and I’m sure the GM and Director of Ops walk through that hotel every day and dream of what they’d do with a nice fat capital expense budget.  And to them, I say:  It didn’t matter one whit to me.  The place was spotless, the shower heat and pressure was just fine, and never in my life have I felt so cared for by a bunch of strangers.  You could leave the rooms as-is for the next twenty years and I would stay there every single time I come to Halifax…no matter how many cool hotels spring up or renovate around you.  The moral of the story?  Truly amazing service wins brand loyalty, despite any other real or perceived shortcomings.

Delta Hotels and Resorts…I sure hope that ALL your properties are as gracious and extraordinary as the Delta Halifax.  Because I now plan to stay in a Delta property whenever I can while in Canada, and thanks to Sandra and the whole crew at Halifax, you’ve got some VERY big shoes – and pillowcases – to fill.

October 28, 2014

Four secrets to delivering successful presentations.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Effective Presentations, The Power of Persuasion — Christina Miranda @ 10:59 am

If you’ve been to a Redpoint presentation before…you know what this is: texture.

This morning, when my business partner Vickie saw the 78-slide presentation I’m delivering at a conference tomorrow, she asked, “Um…HOW long are you speaking?”  At my response, she gaped, “FOUR HOURS?…you’re talking to the same group of people for FOUR HOURS?”

My response:  “No Vick, I’m entertaining them for four hours.  The fact that they’ll learn something along the way is just a bonus.”

The secret to engaging an audience of any size is not in the content…it’s in the delivery.  Sure, the content has to be relevant, accurate, and educational.  But the seductive charm comes from the bow you wrap around it.

I’m often asked how I can stand up in front of large audiences for two hours or two days and manage to deliver just the right amount of content and still hold people’s attention to the very last second.  Well kids, ssssshhhh.  Just between you and me… here are the four things I think through when crafting every single presentation…before I even start typing one word of content:

HOW MUCH TIME IS ALLOTTED?  Time parameters dictate the quantity and choice of content.  For example, if a 45-minute presentation includes a 5 minute video, an allowance of 10 minutes for audience interaction, and 5 minutes for everyone coming in and getting settled…that leaves only 25 minutes available for actual content.  If 15 of those minutes must cover technical information critical to the takeaway…that leaves only 10 minutes available for “original” content.  So, when you think you have 45 minutes to fill…in reality, you may only have 10 minutes.  Choose content wisely.

WHAT ARE THE GOALS?  Sounds elementary but most people don’t think through this crucial step.  The goals are not the same as content choices, but rather answer the question:  what do you want the end result of this presentation to be?  I recently presented a keynote session at the Vermont Travel Industry Conference (VTIC), and the goals of that session were:  1- Provide value to VTIC attendees by delivering useful educational content; 2- Infuse joy into a conference that (as instructed to me) needed it; 3- Make the VTIC look cool; 4- Create a positive impression for Redpoint.  The topic – The Magic of Surprise in Guest Service – was incidental.  The goals would have been the same if the topic had been crisis management, social media, or how to carve a turkey.  Deciding on your goals helps you make choices about HOW to present your topic (for the VTIC, I surprised the audience with beer, pretzels, and an eight-piece jazz band – watch that session here), and in what order the information needs to unfold.

WHAT SHOULD BE THE FOCUS?  It’s better to cover a few key topics deeply and slowly, than a dozen topics lightly and fast.  Choose your core messages and don’t stray.  You will hold your audience’s attention and make a lasting impact.  A great line I heard years ago that’s served me well is… overwriting is just a failure to make choices.

HOW CAN TEXTURE BE ADDED?  You will lose people to daydreaming, their mobile device, private troubles, a desire to be elsewhere, and even a need to go to the bathroom.  Texture – doing different things and breaking patterns – is the best way to combat that.  Texture is anything that snaps people out of their thoughts and back into what you’re saying.  There is no formula for texture…in fact, the unexpected element is what makes it so successful, and it has to be natural to the presenter.  Handing out prizes/gifts, stopping to talk to one particular audience member, showing an unexpected picture, singing a song, making everyone get up and switch seats, calling up a volunteer…ANYTHING to break the monotony of standing up there and talking at them.  Find a natural way to infuse texture into your presentations, and invoke it when you need it.

That’s it, friends.  Those are my big fancy presentation secrets.  And now they are yours too… go knock ‘em dead.

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