Moderators: Suck No More!

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Moderators Suck No MoreTo celebrate Advertising Week and its scores of panel discussions, I’m reposting this Drift from 2011.  If you’re moderating, speaking on, or just watching a panel this week, this one’s for you.

Industry conference season now seems to stretch roughly from Martin Luther King’s Birthday to Winter Solstice, and there seems to be a new entrant (or four) vying for our time and attention every month.  And the attendees who move from summit to summit like migrant farm workers trooping from field to field all share one central opinion:  Boy, there are an awful lot of crappy panel discussions!

Indeed there are.  Some conference organizers have gone so far as to impose an outright ban on panels.  But blaming the panel is like blaming the chicken and carrots and rice for being a bad meal.  Somebody was in charge (or, too often, not in charge) of its preparation.  Having moderated scores of them over the years, I’ll take a stand:  there are no bad panels, only bad moderators. As a service to the industry, I’m offering free advice to both conference producers and would be moderators.  Please accept it.  Then go forward and suck no more.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place TOMORROW Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

Rule #1:  Being on Stage is a Privilege. If you’re running a conference, you are doing the moderator a favor by allowing him or her to run the panel.   Establish clear expectations and hold the moderator responsible along the way.  (Side note: If you’re choosing moderators or panelists based on who’s sponsoring your conference, you’ve painted yourself into a corner.)  Talk to your moderators about the level of preparation and scripting you expect.

Rule #2:  The Moderator Works for the Audience. You’re not up there to make the panelists feel good.  (See Rule #1: it’s a privilege for them to be on stage too.)  Be an advocate for audience rights:  the right not to be bored, not to have their time wasted.  If you think a panelist is opaque, confusing or off topic, fix it.  As the follow up question; challenge; redirect.

Rule #3:  The Opening Always Sucks.  Skip it. Those brief two-minute self introductions you let the panelists do are the beginning of a bad panel.  Either introduce them and their companies yourself in 20 seconds or less (and of course NEVER read anybody’s bio!) or just put their names and companies up on a slide.  The audience you work for (Rule #2) only cares if the panelists are insightful, useful or entertaining.  Get on with it.

Rule #4:  Do the Work. Individual pre-conference conversations – or at very least an email exchange – with the panelists should be mandatory.  These exchanges are followed by an email to the group outlining the themes and questions you’ll be including.  The best panels are the continuation of a conversation, not the initiation of one.

Rule #5:  Have a Point of View. Who says the moderator has to be moderate?  Be a flash point instead.  Bring your own views to the panel.  Lay them out and ask the panelists for reactions.  You’re not a potted plant.

Rule #6: Don’t be fair.  Be good. Too many moderators go “down the line” and give every panelist a say in every question. Nobody wants to hear hair-splitting nuance and incremental improvements on points.  Direct questions to specific panelists then move on.

Rule #7:  Look, Listen, Interrupt. Good moderators don’t look at their panelists all the time; they’re constantly looking out into the audience.  This forces their panelists to do the same and keeps eye contact between the panel and the crowd.  Also truly listen to the answers – then probe, challenge and expand on them.  When a comment is sharp, reinforce it.  When it’s lame or meandering, interrupt and redirect.  (See rules 2 & 6)

With all the scary smart people in our business, it’s a tragedy that our primary vehicle for learning from them is so terribly broken.  Next time you’re seeking refuge on your iPhone or Droid during some panel that’s going nowhere, use the time to forward this post….to the moderator.

If you want to see if I practice what I preach, come by the Liberty Theater on Wednesday afternoon at 4:30.  I’ll be moderating “Breaking Through: Media Strategies that Impact and Reach Millennials.”

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The Millennial Reach.

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The Millennial ReachI’m moderating an Advertising Week panel next Wednesday called “Breaking Through:  Media Strategies that Impact and Reach Millennials.”  I didn’t name the panel:  If I had, I’d probably have left the word reach out of the description.

As I’ve told many customer groups over the last few years, reaching millennials is not the problem.  There are a hundred programmatic strategies to put an ad message in front of a critical mass of millennials. Heck, a reasonably well-designed cable buy will get you the reach, if that’s what you care about.  But reach is not the point.  In fact, for publishers and media companies it can be a fatal distraction.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

When reduced to the concept of reach, millennials are the new adults/25-39. It’s just math. When it comes to impact, however, there’s a lot of good work to be done.  Most of what we think we know about millennials is made up of stereotypes and bland generalities.  But one thing is true:  they are the first generation to grow up in a world of constant connection and unlimited media and communication choice.  And that fact informs the ways in which we can truly help marketers.  We need to give them solid guidance on three factors:  distribution, form and tone.

Distribution:  To the cable programmer, the connection has to be made on its own channels; to the web publisher, it’s all about who comes to my site or spends time with my app.  But that’s becoming a fool’s errand.  We must understand and offer strategies based on how young consumers will really experience, participate in and share the conversation.

Form:  Is the banner ad a dead issue in persuading millennials to do anything?  Pretty much.  And the canned 15 or 30 second pre-roll ad is not far behind.  And the kind of typical social posts executed by many marketers today are also headed for the boneyard.  The question we need to help marketers answer is, “when it comes to millennials, what will replace the ad unit?”    In the short run, we can advise them on things like ad size and video length, but that’s really just kicking the can.  Millennial consumers reject ads.  We need something else.

Tone:  Perhaps the best way for publishers and media companies to make a difference for marketers is to become their millennial translators.  Too often, the marketer’s attempts and native content, social participation or influencer marketing have the same effect as your dad showing up at the bar where you and your friends hang out.  And if he’s grown a hipster beard and tosses out cliché buzzwords, all the worse.  Finding an authentic and legitimate voice in the millennial conversation is what is most imperative to the marketer.  You can help with that.

Care to join the conversation?  Post your comments below and plan to join us on Wednesday, September 28th at 4:30 at the Liberty Theater on 42nd Street.  Walker Jacobs (Fandom), Kathy Kayse (Yahoo!), Andrew Capone (NCC) and Ben Dietz (VICE) will help us unpack the issues.  If you’re not registered, go here. See you next week.

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The Interview That Wasn’t.

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As I’m about to begin the search process for a new team member here at Upstream Group, I’m thinking a lot about the challenging, often-flawed, interview/reference-check/hiring experience that so many of my customers go through all the time.  In an industry as dynamic and talent-starved as ours, the “people challenge” seems even more exaggerated.  So best not to make it even more difficult by flubbing the interview process, right?

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

So here are a few thoughts on what so often goes wrong and the easy fixes that we seldom adopt.

Everybody Plays it Safe.   The interviewer asks predictable questions about career progression, reasons for leaving past jobs, and what the candidate knows about the company.  The applicant dutifully answers just the questions that are asked and doesn’t seek to introduce any new information or insights.  Instead, be prepared with a wildcard question (“Tell me about an experience or quality that’s not on your resume that somehow defines you?”) and see if the candidate introduces something provocative and meaningful.  Better yet, ask them to run half of the interview.  (“I’ve got a few questions, but I want you to be prepared to run the last 15 minutes of the interview.”)  This will tell you a lot.

The Hiring Team Isn’t Organized.   Many companies conflate “thorough interviewing” with “a lot of people meeting the candidate.”  The vast majority of those seeing the candidate will have had the resume and cover letter in their possession for somewhere between 30 minutes and half a day.  Instead, the interviewing team members should each have a specific role or area of concern to explore with the candidate.  So Josh then weighs in on collaboration skills, Rachel focuses on the strength of the candidate’s customer relationships, and so on.

The Talk/Listen Ratio is All Wrong.  Perhaps it’s because we come from sales backgrounds, or maybe we just feel strongly about where we work, but most interviewers end up “selling the company” to the candidate (even candidates they don’t feel strongly about) and eating up most of the airtime. Instead, aim to create an environment where the candidate does 75% of the talking.  This will allow you, the interviewer, to really evaluate the quality of the answers and ask important short follow up questions.  The second question you ask on a topic yields by far the best information.

We Ask the Wrong Reference Questions.  The one question you must ask previous employers is a simple one:  Would you hire her again?  Any pause, hedging or qualification to the answer is a really important clue.  Many past employers are loathe to give someone a bad reference due to liability or the desire to simply not make an enemy.

We Don’t Close.  And They Don’t Either.  Like flawed sales calls, flawed interviews end with a whimper.  As interviewer, you can conditionally close the candidate.  “Knowing what you know so far, if offered a fair package would you want to join our company?”  Again, listen for the pause.  You want to know whether you’re first choice or the safety school.  Even better, ask the candidate “What final question do you want to ask me?” and see if they ask you for the job.

Want to hire better?  Then run better interviews.

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Are You In?

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Are you inTo the casual observer, sales looks to be all about power.

It may look like a bunch of confident, charismatic sellers in command of their material and in charge of the room. The successful seller is the one who can talk a blue streak and who is at ease in any crowd.

But looks can be deceiving.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

Many of the greatest sellers I’ve been privileged to work with are not the ‘life of the party’ types.  Many would probably be classified as introverts.  What these sellers have discovered – perhaps by default – is the power of vulnerability.  They’re willing to own their opinions and feelings, take risks and commit to the moment.

They are present in a way that many of their competitors are not.   They’re OK with moments of silence and even the occasional awkward pause.  It’s in that moment that something unusual can happen:  something authentic, something meaningful, something real.

A significant number of the people I meet in sales are ambivalent about being in sales.   They call themselves account executives, business development people and strategists, and they seem to really gravitate to the word “partner.”  One reason for this “sales avoidance” mindset is that these introverts have never made peace with the popular notion of what it means to sell.

Now they don’t have to.  And neither do you.

Start taking risks.  Share a little more than you feel comfortable sharing.  Take a position in your discussions with customers.  Tell them what you think and then ask them what they think about the position you’ve taken.  Be curious.  Don’t fill up the quiet moments.  Be generous. Let things happen.

This is how you get to an authentic place with your customers.  You have to get in…all in.

If you’re in sales but feel like you’re playing a role much of the time, you are not only cheating your customers, you’re cheating yourself.  This can be a life filled with really terrific moments, but only for those who are truly open to them.

So be open.  Be vulnerable. Be real.

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Chief Leadership Officer.

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There is frequently one that stands out from the competition be it people, companies, or objects.With the possible exception of the most cynical, we’d all like to work for mission-driven companies with a strong, clear leadership vision we can rely on every day.  Statistically, I’m guessing maybe five percent of us are  working for one of those companies today and 10-15 percent of us will get the chance sometime in our careers.  If you’re working for one now, feel lucky.

This leaves the chief revenue officer and other sales leaders in a bit of a bind.  Sales and account management live and operate in very close proximity to the customer.  And when those close to the customer become disillusioned, dysfunctional or disengaged, there’s an immediate and very damaging set of outcomes.  Sales and account management just can’t have a lot of bad days; your company can’t afford it.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

The answer is to create a culture within a culture.  In the Army, G.I.s understandably joke and complain about their bosses and the stifling bureaucracy and wacky decision making by “the brass.”  But within that same army there are Special Forces units like the Rangers and Green Berets.  (And to be clear, I am in no-way diminishing the military or suggesting that what we all do for a living has any parity with the lives of soldiers.)  Within our companies, it’s up to the CRO to become the Chief Leadership Officer for those under his or her care in sales and account management.  This means fostering a sense of mission for those who drive and activate revenue and customer relationships even when the larger sense of company mission may be absent or unformed.  It takes creativity and discipline, but I’ve seen it done.  Here are a few ideas.

  • Spend time and effort getting meetings and communications right. Focus on recognizing, rewarding and – if needed – enforcing standards for internal meeting preparation and respectful exchanges. The rest of the company may keep each other waiting or look at their phones during meetings, but our people don’t.
  • Foster a Culture that Leads and Collaborates through Intent. Watch this video.  If you’ve got 100 people in your department and they’re all waiting for 5 people to tell them what to do, then 95 of them aren’t thinking – or making good mistakes or taking decisive action.
  • Eat Lunch Together. This sounds a little nuts in our multitasking, make-every-second-count world.  But as Brian Wansink of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab found out, “Workplace satisfaction is so much higher if you eat with your colleagues.  You like your job more – and you like your colleagues better.”  Firefighters understand this.
  • Dress a Little Better. No, this is not about bringing back the suits and ties.  But within the cultural norms of your company and industry, many team members – especially us men – could step it up a little.  Publicly let your people know when they look especially sharp, and privately give them the advice they need about not looking shlubby at work.  It matters and you’ll be doing them a favor.

There’s obviously much more to it.  But start here.  At the end of the day, this is the culture you own and must rely on.  Start creating it today.

60 sales leaders will be gathering on September 14th to talk about these issues at the Seller Forum.  There are four spots left.  If you’re qualified and haven’t been invited, request your invitation today.

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