Category: Deep Thoughts

3 Lessons from 3 Months of Prepping to interview Michelle Obama

3 Lessons from 3 Months of Prepping to interview Michelle Obama

2017’s professional highlight without a doubt was interviewing former FLOTUS Michelle Obama on stage for the Spredfast Summit in October. Before we go further, the answer to your first two questions are: “Yes, she’s as amazing and warm and brilliant as she seems” and “No, I was not freaking out, I was extremely honored.”

While I learned a lot from Mrs. Obama during the interview (some takeaways here and here), the process of preparing for the day itself was rich with lessons. These are heavily informing my 2018 personal goals and I’m sharing in case they might help others as well.

Review the Game Film – The Spredfast Marketing team who pulled off the coup of securing Mrs. Obama in the first place started me on a steady diet of looking at available previous interviews with Mrs. Obama to critique and second guess everything from editing to question flow. The major challenge is that much of what is available are other celebrities conducting the interviews. While everyone is interested in the FFLOTUS and Oprah comparing notes, I was well aware that the audience was there to hear from her, not me, so I needed to take a slightly different tack.

Preparation sets the table for Serendipity – I ritualistically prepare for keynote presentations by building muscle memory. The better I know the material, the more I can be present in the moment to connect with the audience and perform on the day. While I have done a number of onstage fireside chats previously, I have never actually acted out rehearsals or done technical practices – those I prepped by “warming up” the interview subject in prep calls which was not on the table here. Thus, we needed to rehearse with surrogates. I’m not going to lie, I felt a little (ok, VERY) silly at first. However, knowing that I could juggle interview cards and a handheld mic and had practiced the questions over and over meant that I had more mental bandwidth in a very adrenaline fueled moment to try to actually LISTEN and simply guide the course of the conversation. My favorite moment of that hour was riffing with Mrs. Obama about her comments about making sure to review tweets – a moment only made possible because I wasn’t obsessively trying to remember or get to the next question.

Leadership is Everywhere –  Mrs. Obama was amazing, but truthfully, I learned a something from everyone who stepped in to help me practice and polish – including WPEngine’s CEO Heather Brunner and my own husband who got dragged into the prep process in the final week. Turns out, I don’t turn to the man I walk through life with and ask him hard questions about leadership every day, but he’s pretty wise. While its amazing to be able to ask the former First Lady serious questions about how social media has changed the electorate, what it will take to get the next generation into politics, and how to tell a story through a team, we have leaders in our midst whose perspective is similarly valuable. We should be asking hard questions of everyone.

As I think forward to 2018, I am spending a lot of time reviewing the ups and downs of 2017 – not what happened, but how I reacted and chose to act, to speak, to prioritize, to spend my time and to behave. This year my goals center on being more thoughtful about how I spend my time. I wish to spend more time proactively investing in myself, my children and my community and far less of it in my comfort zone of reacting to incoming items. And I do want to spend more of my time with my remarkable friends, colleagues and my spouse discussing about things that will make a difference in the world or right here in Austin, TX.

Sandsculpting Your Social Strategy

Sandsculpting Your Social Strategy

Archisand sculpts the Intel logo at BlogHer '11
Archisand sculpts the Intel logo at BlogHer '11

Its been a long hot (hottest on record in Austin) summer and its nowhere close to over.

But it has been rich in experiences and inspiration.  The launch of Google+?  The fundamental change in the way we experience earthquakes and hurricanes due to social media?  Interesting enough to get me to follow @irene, but definitely not over the inspiration bar.

This summer, I have had a number of seemingly chance encounters with what I have come to know as “sandsculpting”.  It began when my best friend took her sand work on our annual beach trip just a bit more seriously this year – constructing the “Sand Turtle” still discussed by my 4 year old.  But I don’t think I consciously knew that sandsculpting a professional pursuit until it was out in force at BlogHer’11 (see above).

But it was not the beauty of the creations, but the reasons for pursuing sandsculpting that inspired me to find a renewed love of my own work.  In addition to doing their thing at BlogHer, Archisand had recently built a huge display of scenes from Sydney Harbor at the US Open of Surfing earlier in the week (Video Here).  A colleague who had spoken to them there told me their unofficial story. They were a group of talented architects who got burnt out on what they were using their talents on at work and started making extreme sand castles to blow off steam and flex their creativity.  Eventually some of them were able to turn it into a fiscally responsible pursuit.

This got me thinking about the limiting mindset that much of solid social strategy is “block and tackle”.  The relentless pursuit of relationship and connection can be tedious and exhausting – if we let it.  But good strategy doesn’t have to be “eating your wheaties” alone.  While the basics must be done, it is doing them beautifully that will inspire yourself and those around you.  I have found new inspiration in big, creative sandcastles of ideas (built on the firm base of solid strategy) and insodoing have reawakened my love of my own profession.

If your social strategy has been in motion for a year or more without a second opinion or a new shot of creativity, use your knowledge the weekend eyes of an architect to sandsculpt it into something new that re-inspires you and will be more likely to inspire your customers.

The WOM It Is

The WOM It Is

bruceonpiano3I like to think of myself as Bruce Hornsby Superfan #1, but I know it to not be true (that would be Si Twining of  That being said, you can comfortably place me in the next tier of fandom down the line.  Through the years I have seen Bruce in many different type of configurations – solo, with an orchestra, with the Range, etc, but there is no party like seeing him with the Noisemakers.  This is why I happily schlepped to Red Bank, New Jersey to see the full band at the Count Basie Theater (site of my first live Steve Winwood at the tender age of 20) last week.  What struck me about the show was not just how musically remarkable it was, but how many best practices of word of mouth marketing the Noisemakers experience exemplifies.  Its part of the magic that makes folks like me come back show after show, year after year.  Here they are:

Co-Creation – 5 minutes after the theater doors opened, the stage was covered with cards, letters and notes with heartfelt requests of favorites, standards and covers for Bruce & the band.  He read some of the notes on stage and, while he jokingly responded to someone yelling an arcane request “we’ll play what we like”, he definitely made a point of letting the audience shape the show.  The fact that every show is different drives nerds like me to research setlists and hit multiple tourstops.

Transparency – There is no rockstar or even jazz virtuoso posturing.  Bruce chose to play the highly-requested Harbor Lights solo and explained that it was because the band hadn’t played it fully orchestrated in so long that they would be rusty.  He also apologized in advance for 1 tune that wasn’t good in sound check, but they needed to get used to playing it live (still sounded great).  And for the first time I’ve ever heard, he ended the show saying “I know times are tight and I really appreciate you all coming out”.

Surprises, Mashups, Inside Jokes – Bruce performed a live debut, played the dulcimer (which I had never seen him do), and pulled off a couple of song mashups that were headscratchers even for me.  The encore was technically 1 song – Mandolin Rain – but jammed through pieces of the lesser known Shadow Hand, Halcyon Days and the Dead song Black Muddy River for those hardcore fans hanging on every note.  Another little fun shoutout was a Sopranos nod with “Got Yourself a Gun” during an earlier tune.  Newcomers may not even notice, but there is an element of discovery makes repeat customers feel lke insiders.

Remember Your Roots – 10 – 15 years ago, Bruce regularly also had a live feature where he invited women on stage to dance to Rainbow’s Cadillac.  I even found a video of this happening at his show on millenium eve – memorable because the weight of the women broke the revolving stage (and yes, I was there).  Listen for the chorus of “Women are Smarter” in the song.   I hadn’t seen him do it in a while, and as the picture at the head of this post shows, he brought it back because “they finally got the stank back on it”.  That’s Bruce on top of the piano playing the accordian.   Another example of honoring roots is Bruce always playing The Way It Is, End of The Innocence, and Mandolin Rain.  This is that moment of recall for those who may be less familiar with his work and a chance for him to really push the envelope on how he twists and turns 20+ year old tunes.

Give it Away Now – If you love something set it free.  Bruce’s new record company has just put up a complete livestream of his new album – 5 weeks before release.  Will it stop me from buying the real thing?  Far from it.  It gets me excited now and has me making more concert plans.

All of the above principles give me a real, multidimensional story to tell about Bruce.  Are you feeding your customers’ hunger for conversational capital?

Social Media & Swine Flu

Social Media & Swine Flu

I had never heard the phrase “pandemic flu” before my arrival at Ogilvy 18 months ago.  Having never worked in public health or (thankfully) lived through a scare, it wasn’t anything that crossed my consciousness.  Upon coming here, however, and learning about the great work this team did with the US Department of Health and Human Services Pandemic Flu Leadership blog, I started to learn about the role that personal preparedness will play in preventing a Pandemic and the power of social media in spreading that message.  It was also an example of the potent combination of a credible author (then Secretary of HHS Michael Leavitt) with a controversial topic and a social media platform for discussion.

In the last 48 hours, there have been some mainstream media articles pointing fingers at Twitter, where #swineflu has been the #1 or #1 trend for the last 3 days, as the culprit of spreading hysteria and bad information.  While I’m not particularly interested in long tail analysis on swine flu OR in taking medical advice from my Tweeps, social media can be a quick and powerful way to amplify some very credible sources of health information.  Looking at Twitter as a detriment is pointless when it can have power to spread correct information.  The CDC has embraced the tool and the 3 month old @cdcemergency handle is up to almost 40k followers who want to get their health information from the horse’s mouth, but on a platform that they already embrace.

Ogilvy in Asia has additionally put together a very helpful aggregation of up-to-the-minute credible sources of health information on the Swine Flu.  If you are wondering about something you have seen on facebook, the news, heard from a friend, etc, this is a great resource to check that information against the CDC and WHO.

Another source for interesting analysis from the science side can be found over at which has put together a great collection of perspectives on the issue from a peer-reviewed, science-based, hysteria-free perspective.  And with that, I’m off to wash my hands for the 5th time today.

Lessons from Jeffrey Eugenides

Lessons from Jeffrey Eugenides

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Jeffrey Eugenides speak about the writing of his Pulitzer winning novel Middlesex.

As Prof. Eugenides was talking about the NINE YEAR experience of researching, writing and rewriting, it struck me that his craft is in some ways the ultimate MACROmedia – the antithesis of trying to distill your thoughts into 140 characters and belching them out in real time.  There were, however, a number of nuggets of wisdom that he shared as a novelist to which a social media content creator can relate:

1) Eugenides shared that the most hated comment he receives after introducing himself is “I always wanted to be a novelist – I just never had the time” – implying that pretty much anyone could write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel given enough “time off”.  On the social media front, we often hear “How do you find time for that crazy stuff?  I’m too busy!”  Social media can indeed save you time used correctly and allows you to maintain more and different types of relationships at once.  It does not replace the in person networking that most businesspeople consider to be part of their careers, but it can greatly enhance it.  In short, you make time for the things you deem important and once you do, you’ll be surprised how efficient you get.  (Check out Ian Sohn’s great piece on making time for social media here).

2) “You can’t do too much research, but you can put too much in your book.” This is a helpful guiding principle to anyone who gives presentations on a regular basis.  The point of a presentation is never to download the complete exhaustive sum total of your knowledge on a subject – it is to include only what is relevant to your audience in a way that is compelling and will make an impression on them.

3) Individual identity trumps gender.  “I” is more important than “he” or “she”. This is a takeaway specifically from Eugenides’ struggle with the challenge of writing from the perspective of an intersex narrator, but I found it to be an applicable concept to my life.  Social media and the ways it allows us to express ourselves – in words, images, avatars, and connections enables self definition and expression that breaks the old business rules.  Social media can help us defy the paths that used to be set by education, company, old boy networks, etc.  Social media + the economic flat spin should make this even more true – the time is now to craft your own social media “I”.