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Mandel Communications- Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings

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  • 1. Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings “When we visit your U.S. headquarters, we would like to talk with your product design and engineering team…” (…and that team is 2000 miles away from HQ!) Customer briefings are uniquely powerful sales tools. When well orchestrated, these events create precious opportunities for advancing the sale by connecting your customers and prospects – meaningfully, skillfully, and engagingly – with your best and brightest subject matter experts (SMEs) and with key executives. Even in the best of times, however, presenter availability is predictably a major challenge for the skilled professionals who orchestrate world-class briefings. In today’s world, any travel requirements placed on your executive and SME presenters can severely reduce even further the limited number of briefings in which executives and SMEs will be willing and/or able to participate. Presenter travel adds to the cost of a sale and takes the presenters away from their “day jobs” for much longer periods than just their presentation time itself. Either of those factors can motivate a potentially “perfect” briefing presenter to decline an invitation to participate. Telepresence1 offers a means to expand the speaker availability pool when travel is an unappealing or impossible option. Those who have experienced telepresence immediately recognize that it is a tremendous technological advancement. It can create the realistic illusion that people who are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles are actually in the same room together, with seats around the same table. Telepresence communications environments, when available at both the presenters’ location(s) and at the briefing center location(s), can bring your remote briefers virtually “into the briefing room” with your customers, while eliminating travel requirements for your time-pressed and cost-constrained presenter resources. The challenge, of course, is to ensure that the use of this new communications technology does not compromise the overall customer briefing experience. 1 See Appendix for a definition of “telepresence.” Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 1
  • 2. As with most great new technologies, however, the full potential of telepresence is only achieved through the skills of the human beings who use it. That includes your briefing presenters, facilitators, discussion leaders, and Program Managers. It’s worth the skills development effort. The overarching advantage of telepresence is that it can make otherwise logistically challenging and/or financially impossible briefings happen for you and your customers and happen successfully. Moreover, when used skillfully during a briefing, the technology itself can become an almost transparent background element in support of the powerful “human connections” that distinguish the best of briefing experiences. TELEPRESENCE BRIEFING BEST-PRACTICE AREAS Mandel Communications has the privilege of working with many of the world’s finest Executive Briefing Centers. Our training and coaching helps presenters, discussion leaders, facilitators, and Program Managers communicate masterfully in this high-stakes environment – whether those communications are face to face in the same briefing room or virtual. The telepresence Best Practices offered to you in this whitepaper come from Mandel’s extensive training and coaching experience in helping key organizational communicators to leverage a wide variety of innovative virtual communication technologies – including telepresence systems. Through our ongoing work with the range of fine telepresence systems available, we have identified a number of best practices to help ensure that your briefings delivered over telepresence are effective and engaging, not just second best to face to face. This whitepaper outlines our Best Practice findings, organized into the following five action areas: - EVEN MORE THAN USUAL, THOROUGHLY PLAN AND PREPARE FOR EACH SECTION OF A TELEPRESENCE BRIEFING SO EACH IS SOLIDLY AND NOTICEABLY CUSTOMER CENTRIC - PROJECT YOUR POSITIVE PERSONAL “PRESENCE” - ENCOURAGE ENGAGING INTERACTION - UNDERSTAND AND LEVERAGE THE ROLE OF THE BRIEFING MANAGER - MANAGE THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT These Best Practices areas are in addition to the fundamental communication skills of content development, personal delivery, and interaction taught in Mandel’s “Exceptional Briefing Presentations” workshop and the skills for facilitators and discussion leaders that are taught in other Mandel briefing program training workshops and coaching. Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 2
  • 3. We offer these Best Practices below in words and phrasing similar to what we would use if we were working with presenters preparing to deliver telepresence briefings. What’s missing is the extensive practice and coaching that we would provide for the presenters to build and inculcate the skills discussed below. Even More Than Usual, Thoroughly Plan and Prepare for Each Section of a Telepresence Briefing so Each Is Solidly and Noticeably Customer Centric On the surface, preparing for a telepresence briefing may not seem much different from preparing for a successful face-to-face briefing. It is important to be aware, however, that there are some meaningful differences. First, when a briefing is conducted over telepresence, it is surprisingly easy for customers to disengage mentally. If customers don’t quickly sense and feel a direct connection between your content and their specific needs, odds are you will quickly lose their concentration, especially if they perceive your presentation to be “canned.” This disengagement seems to happen much faster in telepresence environments than during all-in-the-same-room presentations. In addition, when content gets garbled and/or handoffs between presenters get sloppy, these flubs are often magnified by the telepresence environment. Verbal and physical recovery efforts also are highly exposed for all to see, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Knowing that you are thoroughly prepared and skilled will allow you to engage and interact with the customer in a genuine way and with a spirit of confidence, even though you may be physically thousands of miles apart. Best practices for planning and preparing for a telepresence briefing include:  Know your customer uncommonly well. – Know who will attend and their roles, responsibilities, histories, attitudes. . . . – Understand the customers’ needs, opportunities, and challenges – personal, departmental, and corporate. – Do your homework on the state of their business, including strategies and tactics, market and operational challenges, competitive situation, wins and setbacks, etc. – Make your knowledge actionable: Be prepared to link what you will say specifically to what you know about the customer. (If customers have to guess at the connections, you are going to lose points and lose their confidence – fast.) Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 3
  • 4.  Deliver concise, customer-centered information. – Craft a customer-centric presentation or discussion for each part of the briefing. (We, of course, recommend using the Mandel Briefing Blueprint™ for just that purpose so you can plan the story in a clear, credible, and compelling form.) – Focus on the “must know” information and eliminate filler material and information of interest only to you. – Tell the story from the customer’s perspective, not from yours. – Include “color spots” such as stories, examples, analogies, quotes, and interesting relevant statistics to make your content come alive.  Streamline your use of visuals. – Minimize the number of slides and make each slide memorable. (Death by slide show is just as deadly in a virtual environment as it is face to face – maybe more so!) – The more “canned” your slide deck looks, the quicker the customer will begin to tune out. – Use graphics, not bullet points, whenever possible to make your points. – Consider using a dark background with white or yellow text. – Keep font size at 24 points or more when text is needed. – Use each slide’s title as if it were a newspaper headline in order to make your key point stand out on each slide. – Consider providing printed handouts for dense data, detailed architectures, schematics, etc., rather than slides. – – Use a tablet laptop or a whiteboard for in-the-moment illustrations. Avoid looking down at your laptop or the slides. (Displaying eye contact in a telepresence environment is even more important – if that is possible – than when face to face.) Project Your Positive Personal “Presence” The magic of telepresence is that it creates the very realistic illusion of being face to face. The ability to read presenters’ verbal and nonverbal communication cues from hundreds or thousands of miles away impacts the customer’s conclusions regarding trust, confidence, and credibility – positively or negatively – just as it does when you are in the same room. Unfortunately, in high-stakes communication situations such as briefings – especially those in an unfamiliar environment like a telepresence room – many presenters and facilitators find it difficult to communicate in an authentic, engaging, conversational manner. Their natural energy gets muted, they become a bit more fidgety than normal, their timing seems off, and distracting mannerisms are exaggerated. Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 4
  • 5. Even great ideas and solutions can get dragged down by these human communication falters, and, as a result, world-class recommendations can fail to gain traction with the customer. The good news is that with a little training, adaptation, and practice, a briefing presenter can take advantage of the audience “reach” provided by telepresence and become as good a presenter with a telepresence platform as he or she would be in a face-to-face setting in the Executive Briefing Center. A prerequisite: For presenters who are less effective than they need to be in traditional, nonvirtual face-to-face settings, it is worth serious consideration first to strengthen their overall presentation skills before expecting them to do well in a telepresence environment. In our experience, no one does better in a telepresence setting than they typically do in a live one. Fortunately, with proper skills development, preparation, and practice, most presenters can become equally good in either setting. Best practices for projecting your positive presence in a telepresence briefing include:  Avoid multitasking and side conversations. If you are at the table, it is vital that you appear actively engaged and interested in what’s going on at all times during the briefing, even when it is not your turn to talk and even if you have heard it all a thousand times before. While waiting for your turn to present, do not interact with your laptop or smart phone. (That action will communicate the impression that you don’t care about anything except yourself, and it gives customers implicit permission to multitask as well.) Do not get into side conversations with any of your briefing team members, except when absolutely necessary for the benefit of this specific briefing.  Eliminate visual and audio distractions. – Avoid unnecessary or habitual movements in your chair. (Fidgeting with a paper clip, swiveling, or rocking, which might not be much of a distraction in a traditional face-to-face setting, can become highly amplified and distracting over telepresence.) – Don’t lean far forward across the table. (Your image may be distorted on the remote end.) – Place your laptop at an angle off to the side if you must view it. (Sitting behind it can make you look like a “floating head.”) – Eliminate “ums,” “ahs,” and other such habitual clutter words. (They are particularly noticeable over telepresence.) – Avoid wearing loud, bright colors and busy patterns. – Don’t wear bracelets or watches that may rattle or jingle. (The noise amplifies through the sensitive table microphones.) Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 5
  • 6. – For the same reason, don’t tap pencils or drum the table with your fingers.  Actively connect with your audience. – Mention a person’s name (just as you would in a traditional face-to-face business briefing) when you are addressing someone specifically. – Ask questions in a warm and inviting manner. – Respond to questions directly and with a tone of appreciation for the interchange. – If you’re seated, use more gestures and vocal animation to help make your points. – Ensure that your chair is at the right height to make you appropriately visible and “correctly sized” when viewed from the remote location(s). – Remember to smile periodically and appropriately. – Sit or stand in an open, engaged, relaxed posture. – Speak using your normal voice, and punctuate your comments with pauses.  Adjust your eye contact for the camera. – Make regular eye contact with the briefing participants, both those on screen and those in the room (just as you would in a traditional non-virtual briefing). – Treat the camera as another set of human eyes; look at it as frequently as you would a car’s rear-view mirror while driving on a freeway. – Talk directly to the camera to emphasize a point, answer a specific question, or make a personal connection. (With most systems, people at the remote end will perceive that you are looking directly at them.) Encourage Engaging Interaction Telepresence has the potential to create a level of interaction that in the past could only be achieved by meeting face to face in the same room with customers. There is a possibility, however, that some customers will be mesmerized or a bit intimidated by the telepresence experience. They may simply sit back and enjoy the show. Even worse, if customers don’t feel solidly connected with your briefers, they are even more likely to begin multitasking mentally (and even physically with their laptops or smart phones) than they would be inclined to do in a face-to-face setting. A proactive approach is required to keep customers engaged in a telepresence briefing environment. If you invest the time to plan the appropriate opportunities and moments of interaction, you will create the level of engagement required to produce optimal briefing results. Best practices for encouraging interaction in a telepresence briefing include: Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 6
  • 7.  First and foremost, keep the briefing presentations and discussions tightly and obviously connected to these specific customers’ specific “care-abouts.” – It is relatively easy to get people talking and exchanging ideas when the subject is near and dear to their minds and hearts (and wallets). It is far harder to get them interested in something that is important (as they see it) only to you. – This customer-centric focus takes some serious preparation on the part of the briefing team.  Build personal rapport. – Interact early to get everyone comfortable with the technology and the environment. – As introductions are made, fill in a seating chart for yourself with the customers’ names; regularly refer to your briefing guests by name. – Sit in a center seat to interact best with customers who are only on screen. – Sit in an end seat to interact best with customers in both locations. – Demonstrate that you have done your homework and know (and care) about the customer’s business and challenges. – Link everything you say to a specific customer “care-about.” – Be verbally and visually appreciative of all interactions that customers have with you.  Avoid using the mute button. Using the mute button can create a feeling of distrust and disengage listeners; if you must mute, explain to the other locations what you are doing and why. Decide together whether you will mute jointly or go off camera during breaks.  Ask engaging questions. – Plan moments of seemingly spontaneous interaction that can take place throughout your briefing. – Ask thought-provoking and interesting questions regarding perspectives, possibilities, and feelings to open up interactions with the customer about vision, needs, and desires concerning the information you are presenting as it relates to their world. – Plan rhetorical, closed-ended, and show-of-hands questions for occasional use to engage customers and get a snapshot of their opinions and/or reactions to be sure you are on the right track. – Respond with genuine interest to customer answers and adapt what you say to include their input. (Customers greatly appreciate and remember this all-too-rare briefing behavior.)  Invite customer questions and objections – especially tough ones. – Anticipate and prepare for the tough questions or objections that will likely be asked or asserted. Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 7
  • 8. – – – Pause at regular intervals to invite questions. Keep your answers concise and on point. Use a proven model for handling tough questions and challenges. (We, of course, like the Mandel Alignà Respondà Maintain™ model for answering tough questions and handling challenges.) Understand and Leverage the Role of the Briefing Manager The facilitating briefing manager plays a key role in ensuring the success of the telepresence experience for both the customers and your SME and executive presenters. He or she should plan accordingly:            Provide an agenda in local time for each location and take care to schedule breaks and meals that work for all parties in all time zones. Take a break at least once an hour, or before and after each telepresence module. Have the slides loaded on a local computer at the remote sites for backup purposes in case the telepresence connection fails. Make sure presenters have an audio conference backup number available in case the telepresence connection fails. Ask the presenters to have their smart phones available (with the ringers off and “vibrate” on) to receive directional instant messages from the briefing manager or facilitator. Let the presenters know that the facilitator may be intervening to encourage and facilitate dialogue with the customers. Reserve the telepresence connection starting 30 minutes before and ending 30 minutes after the times scheduled for each briefing. Provide name tents for participants at all locations. Provide blank seating charts for all participants and presenters to fill in with names and notes during the introductions. Have a company logo and the city name displayed on the wall in each telepresence room so that these are visible to all participants in other locations. If your customers are new to telepresence briefings, consider giving them a short orientation to help ensure the success of the briefing: Introduce the participants in all rooms (or facilitate having them introduce themselves) to help everyone complete seating charts and feel more connected. Give an overview of the telepresence room and equipment. Identify the distractions that should be avoided (such as hands bumping or tapping on the table, which may be audible, and side conversations, which can be distracting). Direct participants to the camera’s position so they know where to look when speaking. Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 8
  • 9. - Remind participants that, with some systems, standing up may obscure their upper body from people in the other telepresence rooms. Warning: Be very careful not to allow the telepresence technology to become a topic of prime conversation during the briefing or the focus of the customers’ experience with you. Treat the telepresence environment casually, describing it simply as an important investment that your company has made to allow you to engage with your customers in a way that is both time and cost sensitive for them. “It’s our organization’s way of being sure that, without being limited by time or location, you have access to all the key people and resources you will need in order to have a truly outstanding briefing experience with us.” Don’t treat the telepresence environment as anything other than a technological tool provided for the customers’ benefit. If you show it off like the Seventh Wonder of the World, that will place its perceived value above the messages about your solutions that your company wants you to get across during the briefing experience (unless you are selling telepresence systems, of course).  Start and end your telepresence briefings on time. - Give participants and presenters a 10-minute warning before the connection is due to drop. (Unlike a face-to-face briefing, a telepresence connection may be brought down – suddenly – when your scheduled time is up.) Manage the Physical Environment  Keep the table neat. Be conscious of the kind of meeting tone and appearance you want to set. Food, water bottles, computers, scattered papers, and other items on the table make for a more casual (or cluttered) briefing environment. Liquid spills may damage the equipment – especially the microphones – if liquids are allowed on the tables.  Avoid placing equipment in front of the microphones. Objects placed in front of the microphones may distort the sound. If laptops are on the table, to prevent sound from being muffled, make sure no raised computer screen is between a participant and the microphone.  Close the door to the telepresence room. Close the door during your telepresence session and put a DO NOT DISTURB sign up to avoid interruptions. To keep outsiders informed, you might also post the Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 9
  • 10. time for the next break on the door so people outside will know when they can expect to pass a message to a briefing team member or customer.  Close the window blinds/shades. If the room is not a specially built telepresence “suite” and has windows, it is best with some systems to keep shades and blinds closed during telepresence sessions. Test it out. Most telepresence units are precisely color balanced, and additional light may distort the quality of the virtual experience. These Best Practices range from the strategic to the very tactical. Each has proven to be important for getting the most out of your telepresence briefing investment and optimizing the customers’ briefing experience with you. If at all possible, have your briefers practice in preparation for their initial telepresence briefings – hopefully with a skilled virtual communications coach on the other end of their telepresence connection to give them feedback – so they can avoid having to “practice in front of the customer.” It is our hope that this information will – in a meaningful way – help you provide more engaging, memorable, and profitable telepresence briefing experiences for both your customers and your briefing teams. If you have any questions, or if we can help in any way, please contact us. Much success to you and your Briefing Program! Sincerely, Your Mandel Training and Coaching Team Contact: Mandel Communications, Inc. 820 Bay Avenue, Suite 113 Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 10
  • 11. Capitola, CA 95010 USA 1-831-475-8202 info@mandel.com mandel.com v3.8 Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 11
  • 12. Appendix Telepresence Defined “Telepresence is the science and art of creating visual conferencing environments that address the human factors of the participants and duplicate, as closely as possible, an in-person experience. “While a variety of methods can be used to deliver telepresence solutions, they typically offer some combination of the following improvements over the “talking heads” experience of traditional videoconferencing:  Life-size participants  Fluid motion  Accurate flesh tones  Studio quality video, lighting, and acoustics  The absence of visible technology  True eye contact, or the approximation of eye contact in large group settings  Immersive and/or mirrored environments where participants feel as if they are in the same physical space  A consistency of quality between disparate locations” Source: Telepresence, Effective Visual Collaboration, and the Future of Global Business at the Speed of Light: Research and Analysis from the Human Productivity Lab. Howard S. Lichtman. Copyright 2006, Howard S. Lichtman. p. 3. Best Practices for Using Telepresence in Customer Briefings Copyright © 2011 by Mandel Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. 12
  • 13. About Mandel Communications When the stakes are high, the quality of what you say and how you say it can make all the difference. Every day, worldwide, organizations are turning their people’s communication skills into a strong competitive advantage through Mandel’s training, skills-building practice, and expert feedback. Call on Mandel Communications whenever your organization needs to: 1. Build the Skills to Improve High-Stakes Presentation Results  Sales Presentations  Customer Briefings  Presenting Ideas at the Executive Level  Technical Presentations  Executive and Manager Communications 2. Build the Skills to Sell Effectively at Executive Levels 3. Develop Trusted Advisor Relationships Working with Mandel, you will gain a unique combination of demonstrable benefits:  Rapid skill improvements that can make the winning difference. Mandel-trained professionals, managers, and executives can quickly create content and messaging that are listener-centric, clear, and compelling. Equally important, your communicators’ personal “presence” will become increasingly “real,” reassuringly confident, credible, and interactive.  Job performance improvements whenever masterful spoken communication skills are a key requirement for business success. We will precisely tailor all that we do for you to achieve your organization’s unique business goals, and our skills-building processes and tools will concentrate directly on producing your desired on-the-job results.  Global skill-building scalability. To align with our client organizations’ global activities, Mandel has expert trainers and coaches located throughout Europe, AsiaPac, India, and North America, and we build new communication skills in fourteen (14) different languages.  Face-to-face and virtual delivery options. Clients consistently evaluate Mandel’s faceto-face group training workshops and coaching services as world class in all aspects. Equally impressive are our capabilities to use digital delivery media—such as virtual meetings, virtual collaboration platforms, and telepresence—to create outstanding skillbuilding results for you when face-to-face work is not the best option. Please contact us whenever a significant improvement in spoken communication results could benefit your business performance. It would be our privilege to discuss these benefits with you. Mandel Communications, Inc. 831.475.8202 USA www.mandel.com