Leveraging the Power of Purposeful Icebreakers

I have written previously about some of the icebreaker malpractice that occurs in meetings. The key question when considering icebreakers as a part of your meeting, workshop, or conference agenda is: 

What ice (if any) needs to be broken to make it easier for participants to do the work they have convened to complete?

In addition to the answers identified, when brainstorming possible activities it is helpful to consider:
  • time available;
  • number of participants; 
  • room logistics;
  • culture of the profession/industry;
  • culture of the organizations that participants represent;
  • learning and engagement tendencies of the participants;
  • facilitator capabilities; and
  • the remaining content for the session.

Let me give you a specific example from a 3.5-hour future trends session I recently helped a professional association design for leaders from several different organizations. The session's purpose is to introduce these leaders to some disruptive industry trends and to help them think about how their organizations can prepare for their impact.

Approximately 85-100 mid-level professionals, about 65% male, will attend.  Futurists and other speakers outside the industry will introduce the trends coupled with self-guided small group discussions and facilitated large group Q&A. Those attending generally will not know many other people present.  They also will not interact with them in the future. Most participants represent professions and organizations that approach change conservatively.

When considering all these characteristics, we decided any icebreakers should help participants be more open to the presenters' provocations and to be comfortable discussing unknowns with each other. In short, help them be less resistant to entertain predictions they might find unrealistic, threatening, or unlikely. We decided to allot no more than 30 minutes for breaking the ice and to do so with two different activities.

Activity One (approximately 10 minutes)
Quotes/Prediction from the Past

Seat participants at tables in groups of six.  Give each table a set of six quotes about predicting the future (some humorous).  Participants each draw one, introduce themselves, share their quote, and briefly react to it.

Basic intros completed. People warmed up a bit to each other and the session's topic. Individuals each contributed to the conversation.  

Activity Two (approximately 20 minutes)
Forecasting the Future

Provide each table a set of 6-8 predictions for society overall. Invite groups to rank the predictions (on flipcharts) in order of likelihood they think they will come true.  Ask groups to post their rankings on a long wall.  Invite all participants to stand, stretch, and review the posted rankings. The session facilitator reconvenes the group, offers some brief commentary about the challenge in forecasting the unknown—using accuracy of weather forecasts as an everyday example—and invites participants to remain open to presenter predictions.

Collaborative discussions and decison-making occurred. Individuals experienced the challenge in managing forecasts. Diversity of thought and opinions surfaced. Opening activities connected to subsequent session content. Energy refreshed via stand-up time.

A few notes about the choices made:
  • Self-guided activities with a high level of structure were selected as the facilitator for the event has yet to be determined and could be someone less experienced.
  • The quote cards in the opening activity loosely connect to the day's content and make it easier for everyone (particularly introverts) to briefly share beyond the usual name, rank and serial number intros.
  • The second activity engages people in low-risk collaborative work in which there are no right answers, hopefully freeing them to participate more fully.
  • Entertaining forecasts for society-at-large in the second activity will hopefully help participants be more open to the external presenters' forecasts for their profession.
  • The collaborative conversations and rankings in activity two model how participants might take the presenters' forecasts from the event and engage their colleagues in making meaning from them.
  • The "gallery wall" display of all table rankings allows people to mix and mingle briefly, refresh their energy, and see the diversity of opinions (and that this diversity is both likely and OK) that may be present in the room.

This is the second post in a summer series on the craft of conference design.
Previous post:

Use Specific Metrics to Drive Better Conference Design and Results

A fair amount of my work this year has been collaborating with organizations to refresh the design and impact of the conferences they offer.  In a few posts this summer I will share some lessons learned.  The first lesson, while obvious, seems vastly under-applied in conference design: specific metrics drive better design and results.

Ask 1000 meeting planners to list the goals for any of their conferences and one of the most common replies will be: to facilitate participant networking.  Ask those planners how they know if their conference will have done so and you will more than likely be met with blank stares.  Herein lies the problem and the opportunity.

Facilitate participant networking, while an admirable intention, lacks the specificity required to truly drive results-oriented design decisions. Vague goals lead to vague tactics: “Well, we have an opening networking reception and we encourage participants to sit with new people at our meals.”

In working with one organization to redesign a flagship conference, we explored what type of networking participants would most value. That discussion produced a much more measurable intention and outcome: Participants will have at least five substantive conversations with individuals they previously did not know.

Look at the three key elements of this goal:

At least five
We have a specific number to design for and to evaluate.

Substantive conversations
We aren’t talking about cliché “how about this heat?” buffet line chats.

Previously did not know
We are expanding people’s network, not amplifying their existing connections.

How did this inform conference design decisions?

We first examined the conference schedule for the opportunities most conducive for the discussions and identified four.  We then drilled down into what learning or interaction formats could be used to facilitate the required discussions occurring.

New design choices included different room sets to better enable thoughtful discussions; facilitation instructions with specific questions to help participants dig deeper; meal table seating by different characteristics; and an exercise in which participants build on one substantive one-on-one conversation by joining with another pair and cross-pollinating their ideas and insights.

Ensuring people would connect with others they previously did not know proved challenging. We ultimately decided achieving this intention required that participants be willing collaborators. 

To enlist them in this role, these are some of the tactics
  • sharing this conference goal in the promotional materials and the on-site app and program book; 
  • spotlighting tips for deeper networking from seasoned attendees
  • sprinkling “Got Your Five?” prompts throughout the conference venue via signage, staff and volunteer buttons, and general session slide decks
  • adding a field to the conference badge—“Talk with me about ____”—to facilitate conversations among strangers;
  • scripting into the opening welcome key information about this goal and how participants could make choices during the conference to ensure they leave having meaningfully connected with five new people; and  
  • giving participants a “Got My Five” card to track their conversation/networking progress that, when completed, is turned in for a free registration drawing for next year’s event.

Ah yes, five. How did we address the missing fifth connection I mentioned earlier? 

In the scripted welcome comments about this goal, the speaker will highlight the four moments in the conference schedule designed to ensure a substantive conversation with a newcomer can occur.  Participants are then told that whether or not the fifth occurs is up to them and the choices they make on how to engage with other attendees during all of the remaining events on the conference schedule.

To measure whether or not all of these efforts are successful, a simple question was added to the conference evaluation: How many substantive conversations did you have with people you did not previously know before this conference?

The bottom line:

Vague goals or intentions that cannot be measured effectively are unlikely to inform conference design choices in meaningful ways or produce the intended results. You have to get specific!
How might you use more specific metrics in your conference goals to drive more intentional design decisions and achieve greater results?

Disrupting the Status Quo

If my recent conversations are any indication, a lot of people find disrupting the status quo increasingly appealing. Their motivations range from simply wanting to create meaningful change to positioning themselves in their organizations as unafraid to go bold or big.

Listening to these folks from very different organizations talk about disrupting the status quo, I noticed a potentially limiting pattern: most focused almost exclusively on the programmatic or policy change itself. What they see themselves disrupting is the established way of doing things or a program or policy that has outlived its usefulness ... the status quo.

But what they also are disrupting, and what in many cases will be the real resistance to their efforts, is the status of individuals associated with whatever they hope to change. In short, they are playing with the pecking order of who has what power and prestige in their organizations, something folks generally do not want to lose.

Successfully disrupting the status quo requires effectively attending to the relationship dynamics for those whose status will be disrupted in addition to articulating the merits of the tangible change proposed. Like salt and pepper they go hand in hand.

Facilitated Results Are Not Guaranteed

So you can guarantee we will have a strategic plan completed at the end of the session?

I paused momentarily, looking at both of them and thinking about the question.  I was trying to recall how I might have answered it much earlier in my career.

20+ years of facilitating had taught me the only truthful reply was this:

“No. Regretfully, I cannot.”

Much as one expects to hear “fine” when asking others how they are doing, I don’t think my actual response initially registered with them as they nodded somewhat enthusiastically, almost as if on autopilot.  But as their expressions slowly shifted to incredulousness and concern, I knew I had been heard.

Wait. You’re saying you can’t guarantee what we will have done by the end of the session? How can that be? I mean, why would we want to hire you if we can’t be sure what will happen?

I assured them their inquiry was neither unexpected nor uncommon:  “Investing in a facilitated process of any kind is a major commitment, both for the client and the consultant.  Knowing it will produce the desired end result is a logical expectation.”

Yes, it is. That’s why we need a guarantee for the final outcome.

I knew that my personality and approach would be a good fit with this organization; the mission, vision, and core values resonated with me; and I wanted to do the work for them.  So I did something I normally do not do and offered them this:

“I do not normally do this, but I will guarantee we will have a plan completed at the end of the session if you will guarantee me that:
  • The scope of work you have outlined does not reflect any unconscious bias or inappropriate intent either of you might possess as this would significantly impede my ability to do the work we have outlined.
  • All participants in the actual planning process will answer the advance surveys by the deadlines specified and complete the necessary pre-work so that we can maximize the limited face-to-face session time.
  • I will have unfettered and timely access to the people and information I need to really understand the culture of your organization and how this planning process and the work we do fit within in it.
  • All participants will be present and engaged for the full session, doing whatever advance planning is required to focus exclusively on our work and not be making calls or checking email except in genuine emergency situations.
  • The group’s members already possess the level of trust in and knowledge about each other that our strategic conversations and decisions require or they will act towards each other with generosity and open-mindedness if they do not. Purpose will matter most to our process, not politics or personalities.
  • Participants will not sabotage the discussions by acting on hidden agendas, and that they will respond honestly when at the session’s onset I ask everyone to share with us any vested interests they have in our work and any deeply held beliefs or biases they bring it.
  • You understand producing a finished plan requires decisions to be made, not just discussions to occur. Therefore, all staff and all of the session participants will maintain a bias for action throughout the process. In particular, this means during the session we will not expend excess attention or time on wordsmithing the perfect language, opting instead for a standard of “good enough for now.”
  • We collectively agree the process and the in-person session will be messy at times, that this is normal and not cause for concern, and that we work collaboratively through the mess by surfacing what seems to be happening in the moment and how we best respond.”
As you might expect, I had stunned them into silence.
We sat in it for a minute or two as they absorbed what I had just outlined.

So what you’re saying is …

I rarely interrupt, but I cut them off. “Let me finish that thought for you.  What I am saying is that success is dependent on everyone, not just me.  You can never outsource ownership of the outcome. Holding me accountable for my contributions must be matched by holding all other players accountable for theirs, including yourselves. My work is helping all of you do the work.  Whether or not we complete it cannot be my responsibility alone.”

It will be interesting to see what happens next.
Bottom line?
Be a bit skeptical of facilitators who give you a 100 guarantee about what they will get a group of human beings to accomplish … and be prepared to make your own commitments if this remains an expectation you hold.

We Should Do a Podcast!

Only 13 days into the month of March and already I have heard this sentiment expressed in meetings of three different organizations: we should do a podcast!

Awareness and consumption of podcasts has steadily increased for years.  For insights and evidence about the growth in podcast popularity, look to these posts and fact sheets from Edison Research, Ad Age, Pew Research Center, and the always helpful Jay Baer. In fact, I am writing this post while listening to Pod Saves America and Think Again (from Big Think), two of my favorite podcasts.

But a podcast should not, dare I say cannot, be a tactic chasing a strategy.  Yet a fear of missing out (FOMO) seems to drive some podcast advocates more than a clear set outcomes and success metrics for how this potentially resource-intensive media approach would serve their organization's mission, vision, and overall communication strategy.

Not wanting to burst others unbridled podcast enthusiasm in these conversations, I ask probing, yet relatively nonthreatening questions, including:
  • How might a podcast further advance the current communication strategy?
  • What new stakeholders groups might a podcast reach or for which existing stakeholders might a podcast better reach?
  • Which issues or messages might a podcast amplify more powerfully than other media?
  • What stories do we have to tell that might be best served in a podcast format?
  • How might podcasting leverage the caring and capabilities of more volunteers or more partners in supporting our work?  
While your mileage might vary, I have found greater success with these more strategic level questions (whether asking them as a volunteer, a board member, or a consultant) than ones that presume we will do a podcast and all we have to figure out is who, how, and when.  This approach echoes Simon Sinek's advocacy for focusing on the why first, albeit it here on more of a programmatic level.

It is human nature to see others experiencing success with something and want to copy it in our own efforts.  But we must resist doing so without a strategic examination of whether or not doing so aligns with our mission, vision, values, and strategies for success.  Having a set of questions and/or a more comprehensive process in place for doing so needs to be a part of every organization's culture.

Let's Take a Field Trip!

Remember how exciting it was to take field trips as a kid?
Escaping the daily classroom grind for something different and interesting?

I am convinced that field trips, or what I call Discovery Trips, are one of the more effective, but underutilized staff development opportunities around. As I noted in my TEDx talk on lifelong learning (four years ago today), intentional diversity and ongoing discovery are part of a lifelong learning commitment.

To make the most of this simple idea, collectively decide on what would be of value to discover. For what areas or issues do you seek new ideas and insights? What different exposure might help stimulate some fresh thinking? What places or issues have you previously not explored? The answers will help you purposefully select locations and sources for your field trips.

Team members could visit different locations/experienced for broad learning or the same one (perhaps at different times) for deep learning from a single source. Using a common observation framework for notetaking helps facilitate subsequent debrief and discussions as a team.

The debrief and application is critical, but don't make it overly complex. Try this simple framework:
  1. Observation: What did you notice?
  2. Implication: What might that mean for our work?
  3. Application: How do we want to be/do different as a result?
Don't micro-manage trip scheduling. Let people plan their own outings consistent with their energy and workflow. Do give them a deadline for completing their discovery trip and do schedule the team debrief well in advance.

Consider making this an informal and ongoing part of staff development. Imagine giving every team member $10-20/quarter (perhaps less often if you are a very large org) to visit a museum, restaurant, coffeehouse, or store to learn about service, experience design, & more. If you are in a large organization, perhaps require they partner with someone outside their department.

Discovery (aka Field) Trips may be of particular appeal to introverts on your team. They can take one on their own or with a partner.  The trips also can neutralize hierarchy since everyone engages equally, as well as involve people in cross-functional sharing and learning.

I've curated virtual field trips as an appetizer for participants in a strategic planning or design thinking session to do online prior to an in-person meeting. Engaging everyone in field research is an effective way to get them fully involved in discussions from the onset.

Over time, colleagues may start viewing their daily life as a field/discovery trip and bring back ideas from what they notice. Wouldn't that be great?

P.S. For a more comprehensive look at Life's A Great Teacher and lifelong learning, here is a 25-minute video of my talk at an ACPA convention.

Renting Your Seat at the Leadership Table

One of the best lessons my mentors taught me is that you don't permanently own your seat at the leadership table no matter how talented, knowledgeable, or caring you might be. Part of leadership success is knowing when to exit and create space for the enthusiastic contributions of others.

Yet while at the table we do have to adopt an owner's mindset for the responsibilities and consequences of the contributions and decisions we make while still understanding we are temporary custodians and part of an ongoing leadership legacy. This is true whether we serve in a formal leadership position or if we are someone who simply has accrued access and influence that gets us attention.  Unless we are founding members of an organization, many have come before us and many are still to come.

Embracing our temporary role as owners applies to both formal leadership positions and informal leadership in the moment or a meeting: contribute, but ensure others can do so also.  Effective leadership orientation and transition can reinforce this premise.  Here's an example from my distant past.

1980-81 Executive Board, Illinois Association of Student Councils
As a senior in high school, I had the tremendous honor of serving as the state president for the Illinois Association of Student Councils.  One of the most powerful memories I have about assuming that leadership position involves a simple scrapbook provided to me during orientation to my office.  Bulging at the seams, the scrapbook contained a page or two dedicated to pictures, clippings, and written advice from each of the previous state presidents.

During my term, I often returned to their thoughts for inspiration and perspective.  Each reading helped change my thinking about "making my mark" on the association. The pages reminded me I was one of many. My job was to build on what others had created, add my contributions to it, and turn it over to the next person ... both the scrapbook and my seat at the table.

The time to begin planning for leadership transition is the day you come into office, not a few weeks before you are going to leave.

What rituals could you create to reinforce the understanding you want your volunteer and staff leaders to embrace about their temporary seat at the table?

Enabling and Accelerating Value Acquisition

1. Don't forget: joining is not the same as belonging.
Smart organizations transition new joiners to a sense of belonging and identifying as a community member by quickly connecting them to both the community at large and to specific individuals, resources, and opportunities of interest. I recommend at minimum a plan of action for one day, one week, and one month after someone joins.

2. Foster belonging with customized cultivation.
Smart organizations learn about a joiner's needs, interest, and motivations by gathering relevant data in a simple streamlined manner during the membership application process at minimum.

While other data collection opportunities should be used during a member's experience, failure to collect even the most basic interests during the application process means the membership confirmation and initial invitations cannot be customized. The communications sent are generic, impersonal, and less welcoming. The initial data gathering can be as simple as the tangible-intangible question illustrated or a "APICS What's Your Goal?" as described in this Associations Now blog post from Joe Rominiecki.

3. Focus on enabling and accelerating members' acquisition of value.
A key strategic question smart organizations answer is: How do we make it easier for individuals to self-manage as they desire their membership experience, enabling them to acquire the value they most seek as quickly as possible?  Accelerants should be offered in multiple forms such as these approaches for helping joiners feel welcome:
  • a self-guided online tour
  • video welcomes from members with similar interests
  • a phone call from a membership ambassador with common affinity
  • a public welcome on social media channels
  • an invitation (with discount?) to attend a program of interest 
  • an optional new member "sponsor" who serves a one-stop point of contact
4. Invert the invitation.
Historically in many (most?) organizations people had to become members to contribute as a volunteer.  What if volunteering with others might be what sells some prospects on joining your organization? Inverting the invitation, using volunteering and contributing as a gateway to membership, allows prospects to become connected to your community, both its members and its purpose, in ways that may leave them saying "I want to be a part of this."

5. Help prospects "see themselves" succeeding in your community.
If diversity is about attracting people from different groups, cultures, and interests, inclusion creates an environment where they can succeed. Smart organizations ensure member-facing communications use language, visuals, and examples that are inclusive of your existing community and the diversity you seek for the future. Even smarter organizations ensure that the actual membership experience facilitates success for the more diverse prospects they might attract.

6. Target a type of member.
It may be easier to accelerate members' value acquisition if you aren't trying to be all things to all people. Some organizations see serving members "from cradle to grave" as their purpose or ambition. Given the considerable resources such a focus requires, success may be found in a more narrow niche as suggested by Jason Fried in the book Rework.

Fried's assertion is for "customers," so it may not hold the same potential for associations seeking to be the "voice of the profession" or otherwise be the single home for anyone associated with their profession or industryBut even groups seeking to be such broad umbrellas can benefit by narrowing their value propositions given limited resources:
  • We are best positioned to serve individuals who ...
  • We can enable and accelerate value acquisition for those specific members even more if we ...
7. Promote impact and results.
In many instances, prospects can access content, community, and other traditional value propositions from more than one organization.  It is not unusual to see almost the same list of products and opportunities promoted on the websites of organizations competing for the same potential members.

Prove results, however, are a distinguishing competitive factor.  95% of our members report contracting business from our qualified lead web referral system" is far more compelling than "membership helps you grow your business."  Of course, it is difficult to be selling proven impact if you aren't conducting the research to measure it, or worse yet, aren't providing the programs and services that help deliver it.

8. Renew more than just the financial commitment.
As I have written about before, I see renewal as being more than just dues payment, important as that is.  We describe the process as membership renewal, so the strategic question is: What member affinity do we seek to renew in addition to the financial commitment of dues? Smart organizations view the process as a chance to not just re-up the financial commitment, but also the emotional commitment and connection to the community and the pride and value one feels from being associated with it as a member.


During a recent panel conversation on membership in which I participated, my fellow panelists and the attendees discussed Member Get a Member campaigns.  A light bulb went off for me during that conversation and I suggested a Member Sponsor a Member campaign. Say what? 

As an experiment, imagine your org inviting a small group of existing members to recruit a prospect and sponsor their first year of membership, These sponsors could be afforded discounts to offer their prospect ... on membership, attendance at your annual conference, etc.  The core principle is that instead of just getting someone to join (and then fend for themselves), sponsors help facilitate the transition from joining to belonging for individuals they sponsor.

For more on this topic, here is a PDF with nine posts about cultivating engagement.

Moving from Ideas to Action: Nine Simple Ways for Workshops

In author Daniel Pink's most recent "infrequent and irreverent" enewsletter (you should subscribe), he highlighted six book recommendations in a simple, but powerful way: sharing a core idea from the book's content and his take (or one from the book) on how to put it in action. By making these takeaways explicit, Pink helped me determine if I might wish to read the book itself.

Moving from ideas to action is a goal for many (if not most) learning experiences and content in all forms.  Yet often we leave this up to readers or learners to do for themselves. Nothing is wrong with doing so, but in our information-overloaded world, we may wish to emulate Pink's approach to increase the value of the content we share.

Let me model doing so with this post.  The Idea: using an Ideas+Action summary to increase the value of a learning experience and to facilitate insight sharing among workshop participants.

The Actions: Here are ways to use this format and tool during an in-person session.
  1. Create a workshop handout with multiple Idea+Action spaces. Throughout your program (after major content blocks, before a change in topic, or at other logical intervals) invite participants to reflect on the session and to complete one or more Idea+Action blocks to capture their learning. Here's a PDF of a takeaway sheet I used for a recent masterclass that is similar in spirit.
  2. In the workshop outline/schedule shared with participants list the core idea for each content segment and provide a blank action space for participants to complete as the session progresses.
  3. Make Idea+Action cards. Have learners complete and post during a session. Invite people to browse others' learning during breaks or schedule a "Gallery Walk" for them to do so as a part of your actual session content. Scan all cards and distribute a PDF of them post-session.
  4. Or do a rapid "read and pass" of all the completed Idea+Action cards. Have people pass their card to another, read the one they are given, and then repeat until time is called and cards are returned to their creators (make sure to add names to cards to facilitate this).  To add a bit of physical energy you could have people stand during the exercise.  People also could dot vote on ideas they really like and top vote-getters could then verbally expand on their thinking.
  5. You could pair people for a Think-Pair-Share. Individuals note an idea on a card and then trades cards with
    their partner who then completes the action section. Cards are swapped back and the ideas are discussed. Pairs could join together, swap cards, note additional possible actions, return cards, and discuss.
  6. Mindmap the ideas+actions. Provide a mindmap with all of the ideas noted. Participants branch off the ideas noted and add actions associated with each one. The mindmaps could be personal size, poster size for tables to complete as a small group, or mural size to decorate a wall in your meeting room.
  7. Do an Ideas+Action Drawing. Have participants complete cards and place in a box or bowl when instructed.  Periodically during your session draw a few completed cards, give a prize to the people who submitted them, and invite them to expand in their takeaway.
  8. Display a core idea as a slide and invite participants to Tweet corresponding actions using a specific hashtag to facilitate post-session searching.
  9. Engage small groups in moving from ideas to actions. Provide a few cards to small groups and have each group's reflect on a content segment and note one core theme/idea per card. Have groups swap their cards with another group. Each group now notes possible actions related to the ideas on each card. Repeat this swapping process as desired.  
    What are other simple ways you find effective to facilitate workshop participants capturing core ideas and identifying useful actions?

Five Tips for Giving "Good Interview"

Three interviews in seven days. That hasn't happened to me in a long time. But in the past week, I was interviewed for a one-hour podcast and two magazine articles. In reflecting on these three experiences, a couple of takeaways surfaced that may be of use to you. The podcast, which focus on intentional professional development/learning and much more is available for free in the iTunes store.

1. Prepare to Be Present

Each interviewer shared 4-6 advance questions to help me prepare. Particularly for folks who are detail oriented, the challenge is to not overprepare. For a podcast interview that should sound conversational, this is especially important.

My preparation standard for each interview was the one I use when designing a workshop: prepare to be present.  The question to ask yourself is: What preparation (including reference notes) will allow me to be present, to be actively engaged in the conversation as it unfolds in real-time?

Maybe you need to think through every possible piece of information you will share. If that gives you confidence, have at it. Do overprepare, but just underpresent during the actual interview.

My notes were a single sheet divided into two columns: (1) key points and (2) stories or examples. For each advance question, I noted one or two key points and a practical illustration or two for each point. ProTip: I typed and printed this out in a large font for easier reference during the interview rather than rely on my increasingly poor handwriting. 

2. Pace Yourself

One interview danger is giving rambling answers that make it difficult to follow your main point.  But it also is unhelpful if you are so concise that your comment lacks color or fails to offer a good follow-up prompt for the interviewer. The sweet spot is somewhere in between. In face-to-face conversations, an interviewer's nonverbals can help us with that calibration.

Lacking those cues in a telephone discussion, I create a feedback loop for myself. Every time I start to answer a question, I initiate the stopwatch on my phone. This gives me a real-time indicator for how long I have been speaking and helps me keep my answers thorough, but not excessively long.

3, Get Comfortable and Conversational

Vocal inflection and speaking rhythm make a podcast interview come alive. Who wants to listen to a one-hour recording that sounds like a dry doctoral dissertation defense? The podcasts I find most compelling make me feel like I'm eavesdropping on a conversation among passionate people eager to learn from each other. To project that to a listener, it is important to get comfortable so you can be conversational.

When interviewed for the podcast, I was in relaxed clothing, with a cup of my favorite coffee blend, and seated in the most comfortable chair in my house: I was in my element.  For this interview I had printed out my two-column notes in an extra large font and taped it on an adjacent wall easily seen from my chair. Why? I wanted my hands free so that I could gesture just as I would in an actual conversation. For part of the recording, I even stood while talking to bring even more energy into my voice and responses.

4. Provide Implications and Applications

You want to convey both your personality and the content or insights that readers or listeners can use. To ensure the latter, make an effort to include the so what (implications) and now what (applications) for any ideas or trends you share. Readers and listeners are bombarded with content. Help them to see the relevance of your key points and how they can use your information. Here's an example from a question I was asked for one article: What is one of the best investments an organization can make to enhance the participant experience at its conferences?
My key point (the what): Too many presenters lack training in how to present. Better speaker preparation can yield great returns for a relatively low investment

Implication (the so what): Subject matter experts often lead conference sessions. While they may possess content mastery, they often are less confident and capable in designing meaningful ways to engage participants with it. Session quality is uneven and participants don't get the knowledge they seek.

Application (the now what): I recommend at minimum three simple speaker support resources: (1) teach the fundamentals of great session design and facilitation in a live webinar and/or on demand video clips, (2) provide "before and after" outlines showing transforming traditional session designs into more engaging learning experiences, and (3) gather and publish practical tips from your top-rated volunteer speakers.
5. Offer a Memorable Shareable

No pressure, right? But just as a conference speaker tries to create at least one catchy takeaway that participants share on social media, so does a good interview subject proffer at least one interesting sound byte that an editor jumps to use as an article pull quote.  Help them out by crafting a memorable way to express one of the points you hope has staying power with the audience.

What else have you found helpful to make yourself a better interview?