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We have a call with a client about an upcoming Brainzooming innovation workshop. One question (which we think MAY have been included by mistake on the list of topics they sent us) is what we do when energy is diminishing during a workshop.

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Seeing the question about how to boost an audience’s energy level ahead of time (and knowing they’ll want specifics), prompted this list of thirty things I’ve done during my career of designing and delivering interactive presentations and workshops.

Perhaps the most important way to boost an audience’s energy level is number thirty: we make every attempt to design any Brainzooming workshop to re-energize the group throughout the time together. In that way, we plan for doing the best mix of activities in 1 through 29 to keep the energy levels up throughout the workshop!

  1. Tell funny stories
  2. Use self-deprecating humor
  3. Be very silent (uncomfortably silent) until the audience notices and re-engages
  4. Present while walking throughout the room / audience
  5. Stand on a chair and present
  6. Do more activities where everyone must play an active role
  7. Move to the Shrimp creative thinking exercise
  8. Ask questions of the audience
  9. Take a seat at a table and start voicing a person’s internal thoughts about the presentation
  10. Have everyone stand up and stretch
  11. Have everyone stand up and scream (or jump around)
  12. Make the audience the stars of the show
  13. Start doing improv with the audience
  14. Take a break and let everyone refresh
  15. Rearrange things at the break so they return to a new room
  16. Invite someone else to tell a story to the group
  17. Go to the quiet part of the room and present from there
  18. Run around the room (or at least down an aisle) to increase your own energy
  19. Introduce an ice breaker exercise – even in the middle of the presentation (and do funny riffs on peoples’ answers)
  20. Get people to talk and then have fun with them
  21. Call on the people I met before the presentation
  22. Call on someone that is making faces
  23. Call on the person with bright eyes and engage with them
  24. Create a contest right on the spot and give a pair of orange I am Creative socks to the winner
  25. Have people change something to freshen up what has already become familiar, comfortable, and routine (even within this temporary group)
  26. Move people from one table or group to another
  27. Take everyone outside
  28. Speed things up
  29. Use an exercise where everyone can participate simultaneously
  30. Pre-plan (by watching the experience in my mind) so the audience won’t enter a low-energy state

Need a strategy, creativity, innovation or other learning and motivational boost for your audience?

Contact us, and let’s figure out the right topics, format, and activities to design and deliver an interactive presentation or workshop to energize your team during the workshop and beyond! – Mike Brown

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(Adapted from Inside the Executive Suite by Armada Corporate Intelligence)

Two junior team members in chief of staff / program manager roles asked how to best align with senior leaders to successfully share a strategy across an organization. Each was concerned about having enough regular access to senior leaders to feel comfortable in delivering consistent communications relative to what they would be saying in other forums. The challenge is doing more than just sending out a plan and expecting people to naturally understand the organization’s direction.

The Way to Successfully Share a Strategy

What can a senior leader do to share personal perspectives and expectations to facilitate stronger strategy implementation in an organization?

We recommend that an executive team develop its own strategy brief to support better, more aligned communication, and ultimately, strategy implementation. Borrowed from the idea of a communications brief, a strategy brief will:

  • Prompt greater strategic clarity and expectation setting
  • Help team members who are working on communicating and implementing the plan to perform effectively and creatively
  • Facilitate objectivity when judging the effectiveness and success of early strategy implementation

The strategy implementation brief contains three types of information:

  • Objectives – Detailing where the strategy should lead the organization, who it will impact, and what beliefs and action will be most important to success.
  • Preferences – Shares what messages, messaging styles, timing, and reinforcements pave the way for greater alignment.
  • Guidelines – Laying out what the strategy communication and implementation team needs to incorporate and avoid.

Within that framework, here are the questions to answer so your team can most effectively represent senior leadership to the entire organization.

Objectives

  • What is on the short list of initiatives that will move the organization forward?

Answering this question is step one in getting your strategic plan down to a bite-sized aspiration. Of all the initiatives you have planned, which handful are you, as a senior executive, going to monitor most closely? Your answer will determine whether you are going to move the needle or not.

  • What are your beliefs about the organization’s current situation? What do you think the broader organization’s beliefs are about the current situation? How do they need to change?

These questions begin addressing the arc of change you expect the organization to embrace. Is change critical to taking advantage of opportunities? Is a dramatically different direction needed to ward off challenges, but only after you overcome organizational complacency? Importantly, does the broad employee base see the organization’s situation comparably to the senior team? If not, orient the change communication toward what will make sense to THEM.

  • How do you expect the organization to think, behave, and perform differently with successful implementation?

Don’t spell out dozens of things you need employees to address so you can affect the desired strategic changes. Push your executive team to spell out five or fewer thinking and performance changes you are looking for from the organization. Pick only ones that will make a noticeable difference in results.

Preferences

  • What are the most important messages to convey and reinforce?

Identify the short list of messages most important for each target audience. Then do whatever homework you can do to see how those messages will resonate with your audiences. Far better to talk to audiences in ways that resonate with them versus ways that make sense to the senior executives.

  • What are the rallying points you will personally use to build momentum? How consistent do you expect to be in your own communication and messaging?

Share the talking points you expect will work best for you when you are interacting personally with audience members. Spell out how comfortable and confident you are in staying consistent with your messages. If you expect to shift them or are prone to get swept up in the moment and venture into new territory, let your team know to check back frequently for updates.

  • What emotions are relevant and okay to leverage to increase communication receptiveness?

Even if you’re data-driven and uncomfortable with emotional appeals, they do play an important role in business communication. Lay the groundwork for integrating appropriate emotions to move hearts in addition to minds.

Guidelines

  • Where are you looking for the team and others closer to the broader employee base to exercise their own creativity?

Once you’ve provided the foundation for your implementation team, let them know where they have room to bring their own ideas and variations to your thinking. Don’t expect them to be order takers, simply carrying out everything you dictate. Give yourself the advantage of tapping into the team’s expertise.

  • What touch points and feedback do you want from the implementation team?

This goes along with the previous direction. Share how involved and active you expect to be with the team. Make sure everyone understands how much latitude they have to act vs. circling back to the executive team for frequent check-ins.

  • What adjustments are you prepared to make if things seem off track?

Knowing your commitment level to the current direction helps the team plan for appropriate levels of change. Have you chosen an unwavering path, or are you experimenting your way into a new strategy, expecting to learn and adapt for the foreseeable future?

To Successfully Share a Strategy, Don’t Keep Your Implementation Team in the Dark

While it’s hardly statistically projectable, the two individuals asking how to align with senior leader messaging are likely voicing the sentiment of junior team members on the hook to implement your senior-level strategies. That’s why a strategic implementation brief is valuable for paving the way for an organization’s successful strategy implementation. – Mike Brown

 

fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Make a Strategic Planning Process More Fun!

Yes, strategic planning can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”

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Mike Brown

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I lector at several different Catholic parishes around town (since, as one priest put it, I’m a Roamin’ Catholic). One parish provides an annual guide to the primary Bible readings included at mass. It contains background information, pronunciation guides, and verbal cues for reading the Bible passage to the congregation.

My reading assignment for Holy Thursday mass was a passage from Exodus. In it, God gives Moses and Aaron instructions for how the Passover meal is to be prepared and consumed. The background information discussed how central the Passover is to the identity of the Israelites and their relationship with God. It highlighted the three ways Passover is ingrained in the community’s identity through:

  • Creed – God’s identity is frequently described in relation to freeing the Israelites from Egypt
  • Story – Communications that point to and reinforce God’s role with the Israelites
  • Ritual – Prescribed celebrations (i.e., the Passover) that the entire community participates in together

These categories resonated with me as we work with clients on brand identity and culture change engagements. The structure conveniently organizes ideas. More importantly, it is valuable for generating new ideas to solidify and reinforce an organizational identity.

Let’s slightly adapt the categories for use in business and professional settings as a means to solidify organizational identity. Consider using:

  • Beliefs – Fundamental principles organization members believe and that shape their identity and relationship to the organization.
  • Stories – Messages that convey the organization’s past, present, and future among its employees and other audiences.
  • Ritual – The actions and behaviors organization members display to signal their belief and commitment to the organization’s purpose.

Put simply, how are you cultivating and reinforcing what your organization believes, says, and does to strengthen your organizational identity? – Mike Brown

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We were working with a client’s C-level team to develop its strategic plan. To help them articulate the organization’s strategic direction, we used several branding exercises. These branding exercises focused on identifying:

The combination of branding exercises effectively identified new language to describe its strategic direction and supporting strategies.

During the exercises and conversations to develop its big strategy statement, we discussed the role that expertise plays in the organization’s brand. Because expertise is central to the organization’s products, it has only considered a very strict definition for the attribute. That can be okay, but in a fast-changing market, ensuring everything is 100% proven slows solutions customers need. It also allows new, more nimble competitors to set the ground rules for important product features.

When we questioned the narrow use of expertise, they played back the attributes on the left as the defining characteristics for what expertise means.

We then added all the attributes on the right.

Our point was that the organization’s unquestioned expertise allows it to extend this attribute to work harder. Expertise COULD involve exploration and prototyping, where customers actively test and help develop new solutions. It’s unlikely that any long-term customer invited to test a product in development would see a potential glitch as evidence that the brand lacks expertise.

One meeting participant said this type of strategic thinking was a breakthrough for them. It opens up a whole new array of potential options.

Is your organization laboring under similarly narrow perspectives about your brand attributes?

If that seems to be the case, rethink your narrow definitions of brand attributes. Look at your brand attributes as platforms to innovate, expand, and introduce broader meanings that deliver greater value for your customers.

Or better yet, contact us, and let The Brainzooming Group take you through the business and brand strategy exercises to open your organization to a wide variety of growth opportunities!  – Mike Brown

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Create the Vision to Align and Engage Your Team!

Big strategy statements shaping your organization needn’t be complicated. They should use simple, understandable, and straightforward language to invite and excite your team to be part of the vision.

Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!


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You’re working on an important new employee or customer communication to further your branding strategy. You’re trying to say things succinctly. Perfectly. But as you’re looking for just the right word that will have just the right impact, it’s not coming to you.

What do you do?

The answer is obvious: you go to an online thesaurus and look up synonyms for the tired old word you would typically use. Or maybe you will settle for a little inspiration to imagine what the right new word could be.

Either way, I have a request to make.

STOP loving those generic words in the thesaurus.

I mean, if you REALLY think communication supporting your branding strategy will be fine with just any old generic word, than I suppose you can go ahead and do it.

On the other hand, if you want to use language that sounds like your intended audience and resonates with them, don’t make the online thesaurus your first stop for ideas.

Instead, explore previously-well received communications you’ve delivered to your audience. While you may be looking for new ways to communicate key elements of your branding strategy, chances are what works with your audience has more to do with building up consistent language that means something to them than it does with constantly throwing new terms at them.

Another great source to draw from?

Revisit comments and language that your audience already uses to talk about your brand. Those can come via documentation from online surveys, online collaborations, customer service calls, emails, testimonials, or content they have shared through social media.

If you have some time and/or the means to do it, reach out to your audience with questions that allow them to talk about the area of interest to you.

In our experience, any of these options are better, more on-target sources for meaningful language than an online thesaurus.

Why?

It’s because these words come directly from the audience. That makes the language more likely to score on its simplicity, understandability, and resonance.

So, yeah, I know it can be tough, but do yourself a favor: step away from that thesaurus.

Your audience will thank you, and so will your ROI.  – Mike Brown

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“Is there a way to decide how much content brands in a multi-brand family can share, and how much needs to be different among the brands?”

I’ve been asked that question multiple times recently after delivering Brainzooming social-first content marketing strategy workshops.

My answer?

Return to the fundamentals we teach for building a content marketing strategy. In these cases, however, you can approach things in reverse order, unpacking your brand strategy framework to answer this type of question.

3 Steps to Find Multi-Brand Content Marketing Strategy Similarities

Step 1 – Audience Personas

The first step is to identify what personas are in use across the multiple brands. Are there separate personas or are they the same? If they are different, how much do their interests overlap with one another?

Step 2 – Content Preferences

Next look at how much the personas’ content preferences and profiles match one another. Which themes and topics are going to be of interest to all the groups? Do they represent a large or small portion of the overall content?

Step 3 – Brand Promise Components

Finally, go through a three-question branding exercise that we use in many situations. In this case, it helps you understand your audiences’ expectations and tolerances for unique content:

  • What does each brand’s audience EXPECT in the content the brand shares?
  • What types of variations from that content will the audience ACCEPT from the brand?
  • If the brand delivers the optimum content, how will the audience REWARD the highly-targeted content?

Across this series of questions, you can begin to form conclusions about your options for creating content that is common across all your brands. – Mike Brown Download Fast Forward Today!

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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“What am I missing? What is the insight I’m not seeing that could make our content marketing strategy make sense?”

An attendee at the 2018 Social Media Strategies Summit conference in San Francisco made that comment. She works for a major non-profit organization. She’s trying to manage through three strategic expectations the senior management team and board have regarding a content marketing strategy:

  1. They want to keep everything on one Facebook page.
  2. They have two important audiences that are each interested in different types of content.
  3. She can’t change either of the first two strategic expectations.

She’s beating herself up for her inability to find an amazing branding strategy insight. The one that would allow her to get around the contradictions posed by her senior management team’s decidedly non-social-first content marketing strategy expectations.

As we discussed her organization’s situation, I suggested various ways to target content to the two audiences based on what they are interested in hearing about from the organization. While the ideas were sound strategically, each one directly challenged the expectations in a way she was certain she couldn’t do.

After a few minutes, I assured her that she isn’t missing any big branding strategy insight.

The problem is the management team’s decisions about the content marketing strategy. Their stipulations are all about brand-first, not social-first, content.

She told her management team that she would return from the conference and write the organization’s social media strategy. She didn’t see that happening without the big insight.

I suggested she instead focus on creating a strategic conversation with her management team. Her first step is to address what they want to achieve as an organization with their two audiences. She can then start suggesting how social media contributes to realizing those business objectives. The more they want to push a brand-first content strategy, the less wedging in a few social-first content marketing tactics will successfully fix things.

Maybe THAT is the insight she was seeking: you can’t pursue the smart thing (a social-first content marketing strategy) when management’s every strategic expectation runs counter to doing so.

Not a great situation. As least now, though, she has a pathway to attempt to help them work their way out of it! – Mike Brown

Boost Your Brand’s Social Media Strategy with Social-First Content!

Download the Brainzooming eBook on social-first content strategy. In Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, we share actionable, audience-oriented frameworks and exercises to:

  • Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  • Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  • Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

Start using Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content to boost your content marketing strategy success today!

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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