Rhodes’ Map to Turbocharged Presentations

Rhodes’ Map to Turbocharged Presentations

When it comes to HIMSS Global Conference speaker proposals, Amendola Communications enjoys a 75% win rate. That means that out of 12 speaking abstracts we write and submit on behalf of our clients, nine are accepted.

Quite impressive considering that HIMSS has a less than 30% acceptance rate. In fact, for HIMSS18, 742 proposals were received and only 224 were accepted, which means 518 were declined.

The process is not easy and takes anywhere from 12-16 hours per proposal. If only clients would invest the same time and energy in preparing their presentations! If clients were willing to carve out time for presentation training or coaching before they get up on the stage, here is what I would suggest.

Grab attention. High tech need not be dry tech. Instead of diving right into your presentation, open with a bang with one or more of the following:

  • Startling statistic or statement
  • Rhetorical question
  • Historical analogy or example
  • Quotation
  • Personal anecdote
  • Something specific to your audience
  • Something to make audience feel good about themselves
  • Promise
  • Meme
  • Short story (see example below)
  • Headline from today’s newspaper (show newspaper)

For this last one, I am quoted in the book Presentations for Dummies (as Marcia Lemmons, my former married name) sharing this very tip. I first saw it used by a business development director at Accenture where I worked in the 90’s. The biz dev director would begin his presentation by holding up a fresh copy of USA Today or the Wall Street Journal. He would point to a headline and find a clever way to tie it to his presentation. This had the effect of making his presentation more current, relevant and way more interesting.

Short stories can be impactful if you can deliver them in 30 seconds or less. I saw this technique used very effectively by a Six Sigma Master Black Belt who would tell “The Dolphin Story” to open a workshop on the Voice of the Customer. It went like this:

“During World War II a mythology developed that dolphins love people. It was a myth propagated by sailors who dolphins rescued from drowning by pushing them ashore. A crew decided to set up camp on a ship to observe this first hand. After a few weeks on the ship, they concluded: dolphins don’t love people…they like to push things…the problem is we never hear from the people they push back into sea.”

State the problem or need. Why should the audience care? Spend one to two minutes sharing evidence, data, news reports or personal experience to illustrate the problem or opportunity. Stating the challenge up-front makes the audience uncomfortable enough that they will want to stay to hear your solution. This is referred to as the “tension-relief” technique used by playwrights.

Establish a pattern. Tell the audience what to expect from you in the next hour. Provide a roadmap agenda so they can more easily follow along.

 Presentation patterns can be in the form of:

  • Lists
  • Chronological order
  • Physical location (ex: Europe, Asia, N. America)
  • Extended metaphor
  • Divide a word
  • Before/after
  • Theory/practice
  • Why/how/what
  • Provider/payer/pharma
  • Classic story (three acts)

Share the solution. This is the guts of your presentation; the knowledge or expertise you have been asked to share. Tip: When creating your presentation, you can get a jumpstart by working on this section first then working on your intro, extro and other slides later. You will find your creativity will kick in once you feel confident in what you have to say and can easily build on top of it.

Finish strong! Remind your audience of what they’ve just heard. In this section you can underscore the problem or remind them of what’s worth remembering. What are they supposed to do or change? Tie your closing statements to your opening grabber so the presentation feels whole and complete; you’ve come full circle. Give a clear signal that “We’re done.”

Rethink Q&A…

Many presenters make the mistake of ending their presentation with the audience Q&A. They take questions from the audience and provide answers that they may not have had a chance to prepare for. This is also the section where it is easy for a speaker to lose control of the room. We recommend taking no more than six questions before bringing your presentation to a proper close with a few choice statements. You might even ask and answer your own question at the very end. For example, “One question CIOs almost always ask me is….” Then provide your well thought-out answer.

Making it work

As a society, we don’t just want to be informed. We want to be entertained too. Just look at the news today compared to 30 years ago. As they say, “Educate the best, entertain the rest.”

The same holds true for presentations. The more lively and engaging you make it, the more your audience will be interested in what you have to say. Think through the structure, grab their interest from the beginning, and give them valuable insights they didn’t know before and you’ll keep your audience riveted. Then sit back and enjoy the applause.

And if you need a little help, give us a call!

PR Pros: Beware of Busywork Masquerading as “Essential Skills”

PR Pros: Beware of Busywork Masquerading as “Essential Skills”

Some hard truths on the PR skills we really should be developing—for our clients and our own professional development.

A well-known public relations trade site recently ran a “listicle” of so-called essential PR skills for our modern technology-driven era. Included in the list were graphic design, analytics, and even some light HTML coding.

My first reaction was moderate panic. Analytics, I totally get. But today’s PR professionals should now be expected to design collateral, tweak the coding for HTML email blasts and websites, in addition to establish a media presence, build brand awareness and help generate leads for our clients?

Well, being the people-pleasing, “I can take that on!” person so many of us in PR are, I was on the verge of heading over to Coursera when, thankfully, a second reaction kicked in: revolt.

Here’s the reality. Most of us, whether we work in an agency or in-house, already spend way too much time pecking away at keyboards on any number of non-creative tasks, much of it on the administrative end of managing public relations. Add to this an interminable stream of emails to write and respond to, and collectively, these tasks suck up more of our work week than we’d ever want to admit.

Meanwhile, on the in-house side, marketing and PR are increasingly a “catchall” destination for other departments that want to pretty up a presentation, proofread a legal document, properly format a PDF, mail merge an email, and other “this should just take a few minutes” requests that create a lot of job creep and regularly push pressing marketing and PR projects to the back burners.

People, God HELP us if we add coding and graphic design to our never-ending “I can do that!” lists. And heaven help our clients, whether in-house or on the agency side. As we continue to get mired down in busywork, fresh ideas for PR and marketing either won’t get thought of, or will lose their potential in poorly executed campaigns.

Besides, the world is full of poorly designed marketing collateral and glitchy apps. Perhaps because we’re getting what we pay for? Let’s pay for highly skilled professionals who specialize in the high skilled work of graphic design and coding. Not pass it on to a PR or marketing professional who can do just enough to get the job done, but not very creatively.

That way, we can stay focused on continuously improving the following marketing and PR skills.

#1: More persuasively make the case for bold creativity. It’s the only kind of messaging that breaks through, yet it remains difficult to convince clients—even sometimes our own account teams—to take a risk with provocative messaging and concepts. This is something learned over time and with practice, but here are a few pointers: have examples at the ready of successful campaigns that used unusual or daring messaging; bring the client in on the creative process; and—particularly for B2b PR and marketing–don’t be afraid to challenge the conventional thinking that B2b buyers are a conservative market who just want the facts.  These people respond to humor and provocative messaging just like the rest of us humans.

It also helps to foster creativity among your team or—even better—as a company value. Check out this collection of tips from an article I once wrote about inspiring creativity in the attractions and entertainment industries–where regularly unleashing the “wow factor” is a mandate.

#2: Out-argue the lawyers. While legal expertise is needed in many companies, it is often applied to marketing and PR projects with massive overkill. Time after time I’ve seen press releases, bylines, reports, and other copy utterly diluted of any potential impact after a single legal marketing review.

I’m also convinced it was the lawyers at United who advised the CEO to refer to a bloodied, brutalized passenger being dragged off the plane as being “re-accommodated.” No self-respecting PR pro would have greenlighted this horrendous understatement. They also would have predicted that any financial settlement would be a fraction of the billions of dollars in market value lost in the wake of such a dreadful response. A hard lesson learned for United, but one PR departments everywhere can have on hand to bring up in any future debates with legal.

#3: Client relations. Investing in PR isn’t cheap, whether working with an agency or hiring an in-house team. Company leaders are often nervous about what to expect and how they will measure results. Often this is driven by anxiety over a business objective they are directly responsible for achieving. And all clients are different—with their own working and communication styles, and criteria for success. We must be able to put ourselves in many different pairs of shoes.

I can’t overstate how important regular communication with clients is to achieve this state of empathetic nirvana. It is the only way to keep a pulse on our clients’ current concerns and long term needs, both of which good PR people should always have a read on. Busywork can suck us away from these needed conversations. Don’t let it.

#4: Setting the stage for a story. I have blatantly ripped this off from a Wired article about one of the most powerful PR pros in Silicon Valley—whose chief skill is not coding or graphic design. It is, as the article noted, creating a memorable scene for a story. So think. The next time we’re pitching, what is the perfect analogy or metaphor to help explain our angle? If a meeting with a journalist will be in-person, what might be a memorable location that underscores what we want to convey?

Again, mired down in busywork takes away the needed time to conceptualize and create such settings. Which costs us dearly in unforgettable media coverage.

#5: Write better headlines. It doesn’t have to be clickbait, but the opposite end of the spectrum is just as obnoxious–those plodding, painful headlines that make use of tired corporates-peak like “ensure” and “leverage” and “enhance.” Shooting for brevity can help alleviate these tendencies, so keep press release titles to 10 words or less, email subject lines to 4 words or less.

#6: Figure out what makes buyers tick. And when. We must insist on having the time to create (or the money to hire someone to create) buyer personas and buyer journeys, to conduct customer interviews, and whatever it takes to know our clients’ target customer audiences inside and out. It is the difference in good versus scant PR results. And so here I will freely admit that yes, basic analytics is an essential skill, unless you have a department that does this for you. Many of us don’t, alas.

#7: Demand generation. We all know by now that most buyers of big ticket items have made up their minds on who they’re buying from before they reach out to a vendor. So it remains critical to get the right information to them at the right time. Demand generation, content marketing, whatever you want to call it – we do need to understand the basics, even if we hire outside firms to put together the logistics for our demand generation/content marketing programs.

#8: Measure results. PR continues to be difficult to link to sales, but there are metrics we should follow and get versed in that help us better connect the dots. Really partner with your client on this, or if you work in-house, with your marketing analytics people. One of my clients has built a special analytics dashboard that shows website traffic by customizable time frames, and where the traffic comes from. I’m able to easily correlate press release and published bylines with spikes in traffic, plus show traffic increase comparisons year over year or month-by-month.

If you don’t have all of the above skills down cold, don’t panic—neither do most of us. But getting rid of unproductive goals will make sure we have more time to become experts in these and other skills that matter most.

Unless You’re Monitoring the Media, You’re Missing Out

In college, I had a journalism professor ask our class how many of us had signed up for Google Alerts as a media monitoring tool to support our coverage areas. Aging myself a bit, Google Alerts was a relatively new idea then. All the same, when no one in the class raised their hand, we all got scolded. It’s a painful memory.

Luckily, I never forgot the core tenets of that lesson. Media monitoring is crucial for anyone with a media life, including healthcare tech companies. If you don’t know what is being said about your area of expertise, it’s hard to keep up with the conversation. And, more importantly, unless you’re actively keeping an eye on what the web is saying about you, you can miss out on valuable media coverage, not to mention all the insights hidden within the coverage you didn’t get.

Today, we’ve gone beyond Google Alerts to include social media and other resources, but the benefits remain the same. Here are four examples of why media monitoring is important for any business:

Is Your Messaging Working?

Are journalists referencing your company in the way you want? How is the media reacting to your marketing, product launch, thought leaders, and public announcements? Is your CEO instilling confidence? The only true way to know is to look directly at the source. You don’t know what you don’t know, and the ability to quickly adjust messaging based on feedback is the only way to ensure you’re delivering a public image that is genuine, unique, and well received by the media and public at large.

See the Crisis Coming

When things go wrong, sometimes the media is the first to know. Even with proper damage control procedures in place, you can’t always prepare for the worst. Accidents happen and things go wrong, and, honestly, the crisis may not even be your fault – maybe a customer had an unrelated emergency you’d like to respond to. Maybe it’s something that can be easily corrected, like your CEO being misquoted in a magazine. Regardless, the only way to respond in a quick, effective way is to know what’s happening, so you can manage a proper response and put all that crisis planning into action.

Do Your Research

Media monitoring should be as much a part of the research phase for a new product or public awareness campaign as test groups and customer surveys. Dig deep into the news and social media buzz to see what people are saying about a similar product or idea. This has the double benefit of allowing you to avoid previous pitfalls others may have encountered while also allowing your campaign or launch to improve upon those that came before it.

By thoroughly digging into the noise of the internet, you can also get a better sense of the area you’re entering to see how well you’ll fit. Sure, the surveys and focus groups matter. However, sometimes looking outside your bubble completely will reveal information you never thought of, possibly inspiring completely new ideas.

Smarter Outreach

A major benefit of media monitoring is simply to get a roadmap of who is out there and what they’re covering. New journalists pop up on the radar all the time, and some of them may be covering your niche area. It’s nice to know who they are so you can get your brand and experts top of mind, in case they need a source in the near future. For any media relations strategy, monitoring what’s already published is a crucial to get more leads and generate new coverage. Further, knowing what coverage your competition is earning helps you get a general sense of how well your own outreach is going, so adjustments can be made in order to maximize the possibility of success.

Since the days of Google Alerts, media monitoring has become much more sophisticated. Where Google Alerts will reveal what the search engine indexes, that’s simply not enough in today’s market. By employing PR software, subscribing to the right RSS feeds, and digging into social media, we can paint a picture of what’s being said, who is saying it, and what that means for a larger media relations and public relations strategy.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work – and Delivers Results

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work – and Delivers Results

Everyone knows that success is not created in a vacuum. Teamwork permeates everything we do. In sports, we know the names of some standout players, but it is how they work together that delivers wins.

In public relations and marketing agencies, clients depend on team members to not only know their craft but serve as an extension of the marketing teams. How individual stars execute as part of a larger, cross-functional team is where you will really see results.

What do you need to build a great team? Some of the best groups share a few key elements.

Shared Goals

Being part of a team is entering into a relationship, so remember your parents’ advice – find people with similar goals. Working toward the same objectives builds comradery as well as teamwork. Clearly stating those goals ensures everyone is on the same page.

Complementary Strengths

Having a group of people who are carbon copies of each other, for those of you that remember print forms, is not only boring. It stifles innovation. Remember what Winston Churchill said: “If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.”

You want people with different experiences and assets to round out your team and bring ideas that you may not have come up with on your own. Identify what characteristics are needed to succeed. Know your strengths and recruit people that have different ones. Then, offer enough autonomy to let each member’s expertise shine.


Proper communication is the backbone of every good collaboration, so it must take into account people’s personal preferences. Colleagues can each react differently to how information is presented, so it is important to understand the nuances of your team.

Proactive feedback is also important to keeping the team on track. Don’t wait until there is a problem – keep responses consistent to prevent issues. The ability to brainstorm, strategize and work through challenges is the result of good team communication. There is also an added bonus created from this – trust.


This takes communication to the next level. For teamwork to thrive, each member needs to execute off of the same playbook. Ensure your PR and marketing teams are in the know about your organization – functionality in development, your key drivers, business decisions motivators, and the skinny on your customers’ favorite features. This enables teams to proactively act in your best interest and deliver real results.

Individuals can certainly accomplish many tasks from the outside; however, it is like passing to the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski – the ball will be caught, but maybe not as gracefully. Expertise is not always enough. Transparency removes the handicap and creates synergies that deliver above and beyond your expectations, tapping into resources that will best guide your programs to reach your business goals.

Public relations and marketing are about building your brand in a way that supports overarching business goals – creating thought leadership, increasing brand awareness, motivating behavior from select groups. Don’t get lost chasing tactics. Keep your objectives in sight and build the team that will get you there.


Podcasts: 4 Tips to Prepare for a Great Guest Interview

Someday, you may be able to tell your grandchildren you lived through the golden age of podcasts.

From the humble beginnings of first being listed in iTunes in 2005 to the emergence of “Serial” as the medium’s first breakout star in 2014, podcasts have evolved from “the nichiest, wonkiest content platforms to a star-studded, self-contained media ecosystem with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual advertising revenue,” according to Wired.

Plenty of Americans have noticed. A report last year from Edison Research found that 112 million Americans had listened to a podcast, a jump of 11 percent from the prior year. Overall, 40 percent of Americans age 12 or older have listened to a podcast at some point, and the demographics don’t skew as youthful as you might think. For the first time, more Americans aged 25 to 55 were monthly podcast listeners than those aged 12 to 24, the report found.

Podcasting has, of course, made its way into healthcare, just as it has with other industries. Popular healthcare podcasts include TEDtalks Health, Harlow on Healthcare, Mayo Clinic Radio and Healthcare Tech Talk, just to name a few.

So there’s a fairly strong chance that you or an executive you work with will be asked to appear as a guest on a podcast – if it hasn’t happened already. If and when that happens, following the tips below will help ensure a successful podcast, and hopefully a return invitation. (Many of these recommendations are applicable to media interviews, in general.)

  • Research the podcast and host: In short, do your homework. Nothing says, “I have no clue why I’m doing this interview, but my public relations person told me I should, so here I am,” like an interview subject who doesn’t know the name of the media outlet (podcast) or reporter (podcast host) that he or she is speaking with. In such circumstances, trust me that the host is not blind to the apathy and indifference the subject is showing toward the podcast, and it will immediately start the interview in a negative place. Research the host’s background and listen to a few episodes. What topics does the show cover? Does it have an agenda, or is it fairly neutral? What is the background of other guests? In some cases, interviewers will use a standard opener (“Tell me about yourself and your company.”) and closer (“Anything else you want to mention?”). By identifying those routine questions ahead of time, it’s easy to be prepared to knock them out of the park.
  • Hone your message: Really, there’s no reason not to knock virtually every question out of the park, as long as you’ve prepared a few talking points. Here’s where the research you did in the prior step comes into play. Once you’ve identified what the show is about and who the audience is, tailor your talking points to individuals in those professions. If it’s a podcast about a niche like electronic health records, for example, you can bet the audience is generally very knowledgeable on the topic, so feel free to get as far down into the weeds as you like. If it’s a general healthcare podcast that runs the gamut of the industry, keep the talking points more brief and high-level. Be sure to write out your talking points, keep them in front of you during your interview, and hammer these key themes multiple times, so listeners have no doubt about what you and your company are about.
  • Think about sound quality: To state the obvious – podcasts are something people listen to, so sound quality is kind of important. If you’re being interviewed over the phone, use a landline. If the interview is via Skype or a similar application, be sure your internet connectivity is strong. In either case, using a good quality headset is definitely a plus. Find a quiet place with a closed door away from dogs, kids, coworkers or any other distractions. Finally, be sure to have a cup of water (or another favorite beverage) next to you at all times to avoid a scratchy, hoarse-sounding voice.
  • Promote the interview: Before the interview, post messages on your social channels previewing it and sharing your excitement about appearing. Tag the host, who will notice it and appreciate it. After the interview do the same, thanking the host for an enjoyable and stimulating conversation. Post it on your website and include it in any relevant e-mail campaigns, too. You worked hard to prepare for the podcast, so be sure to get as much mileage out of the appearance as possible.

Podcasting is certainly enjoying a cultural moment, but the medium likely has more staying power than just a moment. Despite the surge in popularity noted in the statistics above, Edison’s report found that just 60 percent of Americans are “familiar” with the term podcasting.

That means podcasting holds strong growth potential as the other 40 percent of the nation begins to discover the medium in the coming years. When you or a colleague receive your first invitation, remember these tips to prepare for a successful podcast guest interview.