Connect & Compel: The Solution to Getting Your Leaders on the Same Page
By: Rob Biesenbach
Mar. 1, 2020
If you’ve ever put on a big event featuring multiple speakers from your executive ranks — whether it’s a town hall, an all-hands meeting or a leadership conference — then you know what a huge challenge it can be to develop and coordinate all the content.
A few years ago I came across a really smart solution for managing the process. To get them all on the same page, bring them to the table — literally. But before I get to that, let’s look at some of the common pitfalls many of us experience.
Common content-planning pitfalls
It can be hard enough providing presentation support to just one leader, but when you’ve got a handful of them, the problems just multiply. And as much as we try to control the process, breakdowns occur.
Tell me if any of these issues sound familiar:
• You can’t get access to the speakers you’re trying to support. They put off planning meetings, sporadically send you random ideas without any context or conversation, or delegate responsibility to intermediaries with limited knowledge and authority.
• They change their minds multiple times about the basic direction of their presentations.
• The various speakers issue conflicting directives about roles and content to the staff supporting them, leaving the team to sort things out among themselves.
• The executives realize they need to go back to the drawing board on the policies or strategies they’re planning to communicate, essentially blowing up the work that’s been done to that point.
• When the speakers finally get together in the same room (usually the night before or morning of the event), it’s clear they are looking at their own and each other’s presentations for the first time, resulting in multiple last-minute changes and a frenzied sprint to the finish line.
All of these problems manifest themselves at showtime, with content that is disjointed, repetitive and off-message, delivery that is awkward and halting, and a production that’s marred by miscues and technical snafus.
We can do better, right?
A better approach: The table read
One of the best solutions I’ve found is the table read — an idea straight out of show business where everyone involved in the process gets together regularly to go over the content as it develops.
I’ve seen a few organizations try this — it was often a staff-only process with limited content sharing and minimal involvement by the speakers themselves.
But one of my best clients got it down to a science. Starting many months in advance of the event, the communications team met regularly to go over themes, messages and content outlines.
Then with two months to go, the speakers themselves actually committed to joining the process, sitting down at the meetings and walking through the latest drafts of their presentations, out loud for everyone to hear and comment on.
And this included the CEO and other top executives. It was heartening to see that kind of commitment to communication from senior leadership.
Key benefits: Consistency, quality and accountability
When done right, the table-read process addresses some of the biggest hurdles that we face as communicators. Among the benefits:
• Clear direction from the start: By getting the speakers involved early and together, you’re less likely to experience radical changes in overall direction along the way.
• True thematic and message consistency: Whenever I’m involved in an event with multiple speakers, I make the point that it’s “all one speech.” That is, it’s a single narrative and each speaker is telling a different part of the story — as opposed to isolated fragments that don’t really hang together.
• Smarter thinking: A great client of mine always said that communication drives strategy, which I have found to be true time and again. When a leadership team is forced to discuss how to communicate their ideas, they may rethink what they’re communicating. People test underlying assumptions, tweak strategies and seek input.
• Sharper content: With all the speakers in the room sharing their presentations aloud, it’s easier to spot holes and eliminate redundancies in the content.
• Better-defined roles: When overlap is identified, the executives begin to negotiate among themselves — “It makes more sense for you to cover this topic” or “I’ll cover the details but I need you to tee it up and reinforce its importance.”
• Streamlined decision-making: Hashing out these ideas and differences is far more effective with the actual decision-makers in the room, versus filtering directives through multiple staff members.
• Greater accountability: Content deadlines are easy for busy leaders to blow off — there’s always some other important priority. But when they know they’re going to be in a room together with their peers, or even their boss, comparing ideas and monitoring progress? That tends to focus their attention.
• More authenticity and fluidity: The more they deliver their presentations out loud, the closer the final structure and phrasing will match their own individual styles. This also helps them better “internalize” the content so it comes across as effortless and natural onstage.
• A smoother production: Finally, all this prep work reduces the chance of embarrassing mistakes, typos and technical glitches at showtime.
Of course, the success of the table read depends entirely on leadership embracing the concept, respecting the process and keeping their commitments.
But if they agree that communication is a fundamental requirement of leadership (which they should!), then the logic of investing the necessary time and effort should be self-evident.
Absent that, perhaps the consequences of not doing so will serve as a useful deterrent!
photo credit: jacobs stock photography