Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Project Presence: Using video in you communication strategy yields better messages

Key takeaway: Video is a powerful tool to refine your message before delivery

Learn more about Project Presence: Project Presence overview

Video link:


Welcome leaders. One of the unexpected benefits of doing these leadership videos has been the impact on the quality of my messaging. I truly believe that a big part of leadership is about telling stories, about setting the stage for your team, about providing the context, and preparing them to succeed against whatever challenges the team faces -- be they competitive challenges or something else. Those stories, at least in my case, never pour out perfectly the first time. By using video I can develop those messages,  those stories, before I take them out to my team.

I usually come to stand in front of the camera with the topic in mind and a few bullet points. I no longer write scripts -- it simply doesn't work. I stand in front of the camera, I usually take a few takes, by the time I've done a few I have my message, or my story, to a quality I'm willing with you, or when I'm doing a leadership video, a quality I'm willing to share with my team.

For important messages, for the really critical messages, I take the results of my videos and I share the video or share the story in person, further refine, and then come back and reshoot that video. [This process assures] that I have all my points down very well.

It turns out this [process] is a very important tool to improve the quality of those messages before you share them with your team. Rather than standing up in front of them at a meeting with 30 or 40 people in front of you you've actually run through your narrative ahead of time. [Doing so] in a fairly critical mode. No one is going to be as critical of your performance as you are and you get to see your performance by using the video tool.

As always I'd love to hear about the challenges and successes of your Project Presence.

Happy holidays

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Project Presence: Managing Attention with One Message

Key takeaway: Stick to one message per video to maximize attention, retention and action.

Learn more about Project Presence: Project Presence overview

Video link:


Welcome Leaders, Daren Lewis with Leading Visually. On my Project Presence ring the pride of place is given to having one message per leadership video. It is there for a very important reason, because I think it is the single most important element of doing leadership videos effectively. There are a number of reasons for this and we'll get into each of those over time but probably the most important is around attention. This is not a matter of attention span. I believe you lead professionals who can spend multiple minutes watching a video. [Rather] it is around attention to the message. If you have multiple messages the attention of your team, while they are viewing the video and in any conversations or dialog that happens afterwards will be split between multiple messages. We really want to keep people focused on one thing at a time. We process better and we work better on that one issue as a team if we focus on it in that manner.

Now obviously as leaders we often have more than one thing to say. So the challenge then is to increase the cadence of our videos, do more videos, and [continue to] focus on one topic at a time. We'll choose timing of those videos to give greater or lessor emphasis to any given message.

There are a number of other advantages to having one message per video and we'll get into that in future videos.

As always I'd love to hear about the challenges and successes of your Project Presence.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Churchill on brevity

In August 1940, in the midst of the Battle of Britain and just weeks before the start of the Blitz, Winston Churchill issued a memo to his War Cabinet stressing the need for brevity in "papers".

The memo is a good reminder that even in the midst of greatest adversity keeping track of the process matters -- perhaps that is when it matters most.
"To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points." - W.S.C.

Original source:

For leadership and history buffs the UK National Archives has an incredible site with the papers of the War Cabinet organized in timeline format and searchable by documents, people, places and organizations:

Updated 10 Dec 2012

Project Presence: Delivery feedback... and a revised version of "Your audience is here"

One of the seven key elements of my Project Presence model is feedback. In the case of leadership videos I'm focused on:
  • Feedback on the message of an individual video
  • Feedback on the underlying values conveyed
  • Feedback on the message delivery
  • Feedback on the value of the videos as a communications tool
In the case of my recent "Your audience is here" video I received a great example of feedback on my delivery. The essence of the feedback is that I'd once again buried the lede (buried the lead to my non-US readers). 

I shared the fact that I've made a poster that goes behind my camera to remind me to look at the lens. This was important enough to serve as my video intro shot but I didn't share the fact until 1:45 of a 2:00 video. 

In most circumstances the appropriate response to this type of delivery feedback is to incorporate it into your future efforts. In this case I decided to explore how the message would change if I moved the  "your audience is here" poster section to the beginning of the video. This section now starts at the 0:25 mark.

If you watch both you'll notice that some of the other supporting commentary changes. Overall the key takeaway, to look directly at the camera lens, remains.

Key takeaway: Look directly at the camera lens when recording leadership videos and consider a note or sign as a reminder.

Learn more about Project Presence: Project Presence overview

Video link:


Welcome leaders, Daren Lewis with Leading Visually. One of the lessons I've learned the hard way is the need to look directly into the camera lens when doing these leadership videos. People are very sensitive to where your eyes are when you are speaking to them or listening to them. That's how they know if you are paying attention. The same thing holds for doing these videos.

I use a very simple prompt to remind myself to continue to look at the lens. Right behind my camera I have a large poster, with an arrow on it, that says "your audience is here". It is a simple tool to remind me what I need to do -- which is to look at the camera lens.

It is very noticeable when you look away. Now I'm going to look at the screen alongside my camera. You'll see very quickly that the sightline goes away when we look back to the camera. This is particularly pronounced when you are using a laptop. Because the laptop is close to you -- your image will be below the camera since the camera is in the top bezel. It is very obvious to people that you are not looking at them.

[This issue] shows up in edit. You won't see it when you are recording the video but you'll notice it when you go back to edit or hand it over to an editor to prepare.

Now, I use a similar strategy on my cell phone camera which I use from time to time to record videos and I have the same kind of arrow that reminds me where to look when recording these videos.

So that's it. Look directly at the camera to start. You may choose to do something else in the future. For getting started please remember look directly into the camera.

I'd love to hear about your challenges and successes as you launch your Project Presence.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Project Presence: Your audience is here

Key takeaway: Look directly at the camera lens when recording leadership videos and consider a note or sign as a reminder.

Learn more about Project Presence: Project Presence overview

Video link:


Welcome leaders, Daren Lewis with Leading Visually. Over the course of doing seventy, eighty or ninety of these leadership videos I've discovered that my most common error is failing to continue to look at the camera lens.

Now, there are a couple different schools of thought as to where you should look when doing a video. Common documentary style has you looking slightly off axis of the lens. We're using a more journalistic style here because we're trying to connect directly with our audience, those that we are leading. This is more like what you'll see newscasters doing where they are looking directly at the lens. It is very effective for creating that connection.

There are many distractions. Many of the devices we use have screens attached to them, be that your iPhone with the front facing camera or some other camera phone, or in this case the video camera that I'm using that has a screen right along side. It's very easy to get distracted by that screen and start looking at it. It only takes a few degrees of off axis view, which is what I'm doing now, to be very apparent to the audience. That's because  we are highly attuned to where people are looking when we are speaking to them or they are talking to us. It's one of the ways we can tell if people are paying attention.

I would encourage you, as you are starting out, to use a direct approach -- look directly into the camera. As I've said I've fallen into this trap multiple times. Unfortunately it's not something you'll see until you are in edit because you'll just miss it. What I've done, to remind myself, is I've actually got a poster directly behind my camera with a big arrow on it that points to my camera and says "your audience is here". There a couple other reminders on this poster but this is my single most important one.

So, again, look directly into the camera lens when speaking. You'll be much happier with the results.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Project Presence: The value of your (intro) and outro

Key takeaway: A strong standard outro (finish) for your videos reinforces your leadership intent/values while keeping you on message, providing an "out" after the core of that message has been delivered.

Learn more about Project Presence: Project Presence overview

Associated post on intros

Wikipedia definition of outro

Video link:


Welcome leaders, Daren Lewis with Leading Visually. Like we talked about having a strong intro to your video that wraps your key single message for that video it is important to have a strong outro. This is something that goes beyond that message of the day to speak to your values or leadership intent if not both.

In my Coast Guard duties this has been relatively simple. My [outro] messages are two-fold. One is to say "Thank you for your service", which speaks to our values. The second is "Be safe out there and look to the safety of your shipmates", which speaks to our operational and other duty safety. This is a core portion of my leadership intent. I use this each time.

Beyond conveying that intent and conveying the values message around thankfulness for my member's service this also serves as a very important tool as I do the videos. It gives me an easy out, it is an exit. Often I find I'll have a strong core central message. That one message will be strong but I'll tend to get to the end of it, to the natural break point or the time to take the next step and I'll start to ramble. I'll think of other things, I'll lose the strength of that message because I'll pile on. If you have a strong outro that you've developed and that your are confident about using, using that outro at that stage gives you the out. The video is over. You've kept the video short, you've stayed on message, and you've wrapped it with the intro and the outro. You are done, you can go on to your other leadership tasks for the day.

Thank you. I'd love to hear about the challenges and successes of your Project Presence.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Project Presence: The value of your intro (and outro)

Key takeaway: A strong standard intro helps set the stage for your message.

Learn more about Project Presence: Project Presence overview

Video link:

My current intro & outro:


Welcome leaders, Daren Lewis with Leading Visually. One of the things I find really helps when doing these videos is to have a strong, and common, intro and outro -- the things I say at beginning of my video and the things I say at the end. While I focus on having a single message, having strong intro and outro, that are common to every one of my talks, helps frame the talk and frame that single message as well as get me started and give me a strong finish.

Let's talk a little about the intro. In the case of my Coast Guard videos this is relatively easy. I say "Hello Shipmates" or something that uses the term "shipmates". This is the term we use for each other. It is very strong and has great resonance in our organization. It harkens back to our core values so it is a great way to start every one of my videos.

Your organization may have a term you use for each other, or you may have to create one, or perhaps come up with another introduction.

In the case of these videos I've chosen, for the moment (and this can certainly change and evolve over time), "Welcome leaders". Again, it sets the stage for who I believe my audience is. It helps me get started strong. It helps launch into whatever that one message is with confidence, with energy and with enthusiasm. It reminds me of my audience each time and what my deeper objectives for that audience are.

Thank you. I'd be very interested to hear about your challenges and your successes as you launch your Project Presence.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Project Presence: Simply Start

Key takeaway: Don't announce your leadership video project, simply start.

Learn more about Project Presence: Project Presence overview

Video link:


Welcome leaders, Daren Lewis with Leading Visually. It can be very tempting, as you kick off your leadership videos series, to start with a video talking about why you are using video, how often you plan to do videos (or your cadence), and to promise certain topics or cover certain issues.

I strongly recommend you don't do this. Simply Start. Choose a topic or issue you'd like to cover, do a video, and put it out through your existing channels -- sending it as a link in an email, putting on your blog or posting it to your company intranet. You've got to give your project some room to breathe. You've got to establish the cadence by finding what works. You've got to pick the issues by finding what works -- and you have to prove if this has value for you and for your team by giving it a try.

If you commit yourself to a cadence or a set of topics you will find you are essentially just putting yourself in handcuffs. Rather than do that simply start.

Thank you. I'd love to hear about your challenges and success as you pursue your project presence.

Thursday, November 1, 2012



I'm a great believer in the value of thankfulness as a leadership tool and as a personal leadership value. For me this manifests itself in the way I communicate with people, the way I end my email messages, the way I begin and end any speech, and in personal interactions with members of my team and those I work with and for.

Now, I find great value in having some prompts in these situations -- and a number of years ago I came across a fairly simple exercise in the practice of thankfulness. I don't recall exactly where this came from. I've done a number of Google searches and haven't been able to find it but it is a fairly simple principle and it is based around ten pennies. The idea here is that you put ten pennies in a pocket and every time you have an opportunity to say thank you, after doing so you take one of those pennies and move it to the other pocket. The entire exercise is moving those pennies from one pocket to the other and back. It acts as a way to keep score.

Very quickly you find you don't need the pennies anymore. This becomes part of your practice. I still use this [technique] as a prompt from time to time. You don't have to use pennies, you can use any currency. In the U.S., if you want something a little weightier, dollar coins do a great job as well. You really feel that you have them in your pocket, they are a good weight there. Also, as opposed to pennies, the dollar coins let you buy a cup of coffee or two for people along the way... so they have a little bit more tangible value if you find you need them.

I'd encourage you to give the ten pennies exercise a try. It goes beyond simply thanking the members of your team and thanking others; it also encourages a spirt of thankfulness in yourself. I find tt makes me more effective throughout my work and professional life... having that thankfulness focus.

In that spirit thank you for spending a bit of time exploring this leadership tool with me. I'd be thankful for any feedback. You can comment on the video or send me an email:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cadence of all-hands at LinkedIn - every two weeks

Jeff Weiner recently gave a bit of insight into the cadence of all-hands he uses as CEO of LinkedIn - every two weeks.

Take a few cycles off for holidays and LinkedIn conducts 24 all-hands per year. Most companies consider quarterly all-hands the right cadence.  LinkedIn talks to their team six times as often.

Six times as many opportunities to discuss vision, mission, strategy, objectives, priorities, culture and values.

Most importantly, the entire team is involved in an ongoing conversation about the company. The team is taken along on the journey.

With quarterly all-hands this conversation doesn't really exist. The senior team understands that the changes and adjustments over time are often subtle. Those outside the executive bubble perceive a major pivot each quarter simply because they are not included in the conversation. Add to this the tendency to create drama and intensity in the quarterly all-hands and the perception of a pivot by the audience is even greater. This perception is distracting for your team, saps team member confidence in the leadership, and results in members of your team working at cross purposes.

Consider experimenting with shorter and simpler all-hands meetings at a significantly higher cadence.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Project Presence Introduction

For the past few years I’ve been making short leadership videos to support my volunteer activities as a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliarist. Over the course of 70+ videos and the associated feedback from my shipmates I’ve identified a number of key elements to successful leadership videos. Hopefully understanding these elements will help you incorporate video into your leadership communication toolkit. Associated with the key elements are three technical areas where leaders can improve the quality of their videos to maximize impact using simple, inexpensive tools.

Project Presence Key Elements:

  1. One message 
  2. Values driven 
  3. Authentic 
  4. Regular cadence 
  5. Feedback 
  6. Your team 
  7. Start & practice 

Project Presence Technical Elements:

  1. Cameras and editing 
  2. Maximizing audio quality 
  3. Set and lighting 

The goal

The availability of video recording in simple consumer cameras, on our laptops, and on smartphones means all of us have the basic tools to record video. This has led to an explosion of video content. Most of those we lead are already watch online video every day -- they are online video natives. Our goal is to produce video that engages and motivates action in those we lead.

Project Presence Element 1:
One message

A leadership video should be short and have one key message. By short I mean less than three minutes.

By one key message I mean talk about one idea. If you have more to say make another video.

Why one message & shot?
  • Keeps you focused on the most important idea and makes you say it succinctly.
  • Keeps the attention of your audience.
  • Helps support an ongoing cadence (see element 4).
  • It is easier for the leader to execute.
  • Allows for reuse, like when onboarding new team members.

Project Presence Element 2:
Values driven

One message does not mean that you don’t also reference and reinforce the values of your organization and your leadership intent or leadership principles. Hopefully you already have organizational values and some core intent, principles, or themes of your own. These serve as the fabric in which your message of the day is woven.

In my volunteer life I lead people who operate boats and aircraft in inherently risky situations assisting and rescuing boaters in peril. We work hard to minimize the risk by policy and by leadership. To that end I finish each presentation, talk, video and conversation with two things. A thank you for their service and a call to action -- “Be safe and look to the safety of your shipmates”. This is the context in which I present the message of the day.

This is particularly important in those instances where the current message isn’t welcome or represents a major change. By intentionally presenting the message in a larger context I can remind my team of the whole endeavor we share. If done artfully the current issue can be addressed positively and the negative impact mitigated.

Project Presence Element 3:

Leadership is personal. I too often hide behind formalism in the first draft of any communication to my team. It is an easy shield hide behind.

Keep your messages personal. Seek a conversational style. Be the same leader on video that your are in real life. Have a little fun -- in the early stages this may be fun at your own expense.

Project Presence Element 4:
Regular cadence

These videos are a tool in your toolkit, not a grand strategy. Don’t announce that you will be doing X number of videos per month. Start, do a few, see how it works and then find your natural cadence.

Every day is too many. Once per quarter defeats the purpose. Your cadence will depend on your team, your role and your objective. Think in terms of one every two weeks, or one per week in periods of major shifts.

My goal has always been to take my team along as my thinking and our strategy adjusts. The danger of quarterly updates is that the last one is poorly remembered and the accumulated small changes in thinking, approach and strategy look like big shifts to your audience.

Project Presence Element 5:

As leaders we always need feedback. There are two schools of thought on feedback - that it should be direct and that it should be anonymous.

I highly recommend asking for direct feedback. The goal of being values driven and authentic works best when these videos spark conversation. You’ll get questions that become topics for future videos. It is important to know who on your team is really giving thought to the dialog and asking the important follow-up questions.

Anonymous feedback does have a powerful place in this approach. There are times that it is appropriate based on the questions you are asking. By saving the anonymous feedback for these critical times you retain the power the tool. Asking for something different will be noticed.

Please use a reliable third party service when asking for anonymous feedback - the anonymity must be believable.

Project Presence Element 6:
Your team

You may have a complete executive communications team. Hopefully you at least have some friends, colleagues or partners you use for counsel. Again, this is a tool not a full leadership communications strategy. Your communications team can provide counsel and help assure these videos fit into your overall strategy.

I find it helpful to be able to produce the raw video myself, on my schedule, when the need or thought strikes. I also manage the editing, posting and promotion. If you have a team to help with these tasks, or even assist regularly in the filming, use them.

Project Presence Element 7:
Start & practice

Talking to a camera wasn’t easy or natural for me. Like any other activity worth doing it takes practice. I’ve gotten better and I can see I still have a long way to go. Your team will make allowances for the rough bits. Maybe some of them will be inspired to do some videos of their own.

Starting is the hard part.

Technical elements

There are thousands of places to get advice on the technical aspects of making video. There are a few items that really make a difference.

Technical Element 1:
Cameras & editing

I have shot these videos on iPhones, waterproof point-and-shoot cameras, digital SLRs with video, and on my laptop camera. Most of the time I shoot in my office with a standard video camera. It is simply easiest and provides consistent results.

There are many approaches - you likely already have the gear you need to get started.

An first tip: Your audience is on the other side of the lens. Look at the lens not any screen you may have. I’ve even used a post-it with a reminder. There is nothing as frustrating as editing a very well delivered message and realizing your eyes were looking elsewhere. 

Just like video recording is becoming ubiquitous - editing software is as well. Mac’s come with iMovie, Windows PCs have a free download, there are online editing SaaS tools, and you can even edit on many mobile devices.

Technical Element 2:
Audio quality

It may be counterintuitive but one of the most important elements of good video is the audio.

If you buy anything your first dollar should go to a wired lavalier microphone and any adapter required for your video device. Lav mics start at $20. I’d happily use a lower quality camera with sound input that a fancy camera without.

An first tip: $35 buys a lav mic, an adapter, and an iOS video app with sound monitors for your iPhone. Add something to hold the iPhone and you have a very competent video setup. The iPhone 5 even has a 720p front facing “Facetime” camera so you can see yourself while recording in HD. This setup is also ultra-portable.

Technical Element 3:
Set & lighting

Beyond sound the next upgrade is to do a little set work. A few shop lights or low cost studio lights will make a poor camera produce much better video. This can be a few CF bulbs in desk lamps.

I like clean black or high-key white backgrounds to minimize distractions and give my video a more professional look. A 100% black background can be achieved for about $50 and a bit of technique. A 100% white “high-key” background is easily achieve from scratch for $150.

A bit of attention to lighting and sound makes an amazing difference and overcomes many deficiencies in other gear.

What’s next

As per element 7 - Start.

I’m currently building a set of videos on each of these 7+3 elements and also planning to do a series that covers other related topics and digs into some of the technical options. These will be posted here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hanging out a shingle

One of my favorite quotes seems particularly appropriate this week.

'But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money--booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!'

- W. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951
So the sailing is indeed booked.