I've known Bronwyn for some 5 or so years, and have never had a conversation with her in which I didn't learn something. I've also never had a conversation with her in which I didn't end up laughing with her until I cried. Always a marvelous quality.
Because she handles corporate PR and presence consulting in both advertising and tech, I thought it would be valuable to ask her to answer a few questions on how her business relates to ours.
Note: Catalyst:SF has no economic relationship with Bronwyn's own company or her new joint venture.
1. For those that don't yet know you, can you tell us a little about your background and experience?
I’ve been doing PR for nearly 15 years now, focused mainly on technology and professional services companies. I’ve managed global media relations programs for start-ups and well established companies alike, including Organic, Interwoven, Onyx (through Reidy Communications), E*TRADE, ClearStation and others (through Blanc & Otus) Carat Fusion, Isobar, Propel Software, Savvion and others as well. What I’m known for in the public presence space is my playful, irreverent approach to coaching, combined with a knack for delivering “tough love” in a way that allows executives to achieve true breakthroughs. I encourage clients to be authentic, engaging and approachable. As a result, many of my clients have garnered coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Businessweek, CNBC and others. And make the most of speaking engagements at Ad:Tech, AAAAs, Under the Radar, Demo, and other top industry events.
2. You have a special interest in helping women build and refine their public presences. Can you explain how the "rules" of public speaking and presence are different for women than for men?
When you get down to it, the rules of public speaking are essentially the same for men and women. The special challenge women face is that we get so few opportunities to be on stage. If you think of the last several conferences you’ve attended, the ratio of male to female probably leaned overwhelmingly male. When a woman gets an opportunity to speak or present, she REALLY needs to nail it. She has to do twice as well as her male counterparts, so that next time the conference planners will be more open to booking she and other female executives. There are of course preconceptions the audience may have when a woman steps onto the stage, but those are easily dispelled if she finds a way to entertain, educate and inspire – in that order.
3. How much of being successful in public speaking is a function of learning the rules versus knowing yourself?
What a great question! What a great metaphor for life as well. The show stoppers are those who learn the rules, toss out the rules that don’t serve them, and have the courage to bring their authentic selves forward on stage. This takes a tremendous amount of confidence, creativity, and passion. But it’s an irresistible combination for an audience.
The best advice I can give to anyone about public speaking is this:
A) Treat each opportunity as if it may be your only shot, and give it all you’ve got. The good news is: the bar is set low. 95% of public speakers are god awful and painfully dull.
B) Don’t begin your presentation planning efforts in PowerPoint. You may end up there, but it’s not a good place to begin. Start by asking yourself “What do I want the audience to learn? What do I want them to feel? And what do I want them to do with the information I give them?” Start building your story from here. Once you have it outlined, then open PowerPoint.
C) Whatever you do, don’t be boring. Give yourself license to be creative. Adults don’t learn new information by staring at words on a slide. We learn through storytelling, and often humor is a great way to impress an idea in someone’s mind. Some of the best advice I ever received about public speaking was from Pat Morrissey, back when we were working at Scient together. Before a speaking engagement I had, he said, “Bronwyn, the minute you set foot on that stage, you are in the entertainment business.” What he meant was we need to educate the audience, but if we’re not interesting, no one will hear what we’ve got to say!
4. What special challenges do women face in owning a room and having the impact they deserve?
Many of us tend to fall into unfortunate stereotypes or archetypes when we are in a public speaking setting – be it a crowded meeting table or a speaking engagement. In some instances, we perceive that the room questions our credibility or experience, which can sometimes trigger defensiveness. In other instances, we may put on the old armor of sexuality, and use flirtatiousness as a shield. Other times we worry about preconceived notions that we are busy mothers -- distracted and emotional -- so we become icy and abrupt.
Women who have learned to observe the feelings that trigger bad habits are those that pave the way for a new generation of women who won’t have to worry about overcoming these stereotypes and preconceptions.
5. I read on your blog that you are in a new sort of partnership with Kristine Schaefer. Tell us about the new partnership and the services you are offering.
Kristine Schaefer is one of the best executive communications in the country, and has coached hundreds of top executives. Recently, she and I began discussing the issues women face as they grow in their public speaking abilities. We realized that most women in business don’t get the opportunity to participate in our corporate coaching sessions, so we developed a workshop that was accessible to them as individuals. Hence, The Power of Our Presence workshop was born.
6. Can you identify a prominent corporate leader that you think embodies what are the keys to effective presence and gravitas? And what is it about the way they present themselves that makes them so powerful?
Whether you agree with her management philosophy or political position, Carly Fiorina is an excellent presenter. Here is a link to a wonderful example from Stanford’s speaking series: The Dynamics of Change and Fear.
She projects a feeling of confidence and credibility, without being intimidating. Notice how she uses her body movement and voice to tell a story and engage the audience. She is fluid, she is strong, and she is completely at ease in her skin. Also notice she is not chained to a presentation deck. She is connecting with the human beings in the audience, occasionally using notes to support herself where necessary. Lastly, she knows how to use silence to bring emphasis to her points. When making a particularly powerful statement, she pauses afterwards to let the idea sink in. This gives weight to these sentences. If she’s struggling to find the right word, she pauses. She doesn’t fill the space with “ums, uhs” etc. She is poised, she’s in control, and she’s delivering a set of messages that are compelling to the audience. Bravo, Carly.
7. I know one of your specialties is in helping people present themselves better in public. How has the advent of all of the virtual communication tools affected the importance of face-to-face presence and interactions?
I had a revelation along these lines recently when I participated in a video conference meeting. I noticed in fairly short order that the energy in the room (both the room I was in, and the room I was virtually peering into) was incredibly low. Even when people were making emphatic points at each other, there was just no real connection, no real feeling of presence. Suddenly I realized that the skills I teach executives for CNBC appearances are the very same skills we need to employ in these situations.
When a client goes in for an on camera interview with CNBC, he or she needs to make eye contact with the camera lens as if it is a human eye vs. a cold black metal circle. For those hoping to have presence in video conferences, they need to find that camera lens and treat it just like an extra set of human eyes – and connect as they make their points in the conversation. As executives, we need to find that “human eye contact” metaphor for whatever the medium is… how do we really reach out and connect if we are an avatar in a SecondLife meeting? On a conference call line, etc? We have to make a conscious effort to bring out our personalities and presence into every interaction – be it virtual or real – otherwise, we become another forgettable voice on the other end of a hopelessly long conference call.
8. So I have to ask. Half the PR people I've met say it's all about connections, and the other half say it's all about strategy and inventiveness. Which is it?
20 years ago, connections made all the difference during the days of the martini lunch (oh how I wish I could have been there for those days;). Now, it is an entirely new ballgame. While connections are important of course, they don’t get you very far when suddenly many of the reporters you’ve worked with over the past 10 years are now unemployed and calling YOU for leads on new jobs. The reality is that there are too many PR people and too few reporters. The print media industry is in crisis, and readers have interest in reading only so many different online publications. So you have a few key journalists and a few key bloggers (many of whom have become syndicated) to work with – it’s a small world indeed.
This new media reality requires PR people to be equal parts strategist and news-chaser. For example, you could pitch a story your client is excited about for weeks with no success. Why? Because the overtaxed reporter is covering 5 different beats -- responsibilities that may not completely intersect with the story you’re pitching. Meanwhile, if you see some breaking news happening in that sector, and offer up your client for commentary, you’ve got yourself a golden opportunity to give a reporter what she’s looking for – insightful commentary on something she may not know a lot about. Assuming the interview goes well, you now have a good relationship with a reporter that knows you’re actually paying attention to her needs. She may even listen to your story idea next time.
9. A lot of your focus is doing PR for agencies and tech. How have bloggers and citizen journalists affected how you market companies in these two sectors?
It’s very easy to write off smaller bloggers or citizen journalists, and many companies do. Actually, what such new media people are is yet another means of connection with the outside world. While a company may not have the time to individually respond to each blogger, that company does have the ability to make a blogger’s life easier by distributing news in a more “grab and go” format. Most of the smaller bloggers or citizen journalists don’t expect to get an interview with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but they better be able to grab a screen shot of a new product or easily grab a quote or two from a press release. You would be surprised how few press releases include visual assets – even something as basic as a company logo. Luckily, the PR industry is getting better about this, and many of the wire services offer excellent social media press release formats.