displaying empathy and connecting with your teams

Being prepared and present has always been at the core of good leadership. As some of us return to the office while others continue to work from home, it’s important to not only be an organized manager but to ensure you make an emotional connection.

How do we switch gears to foster relationships equally across your entire team? The key is to leverage best practices of communication that work for in-person and remote teams simultaneously.

heard it all before

The biggest mistake you can make during a meeting is to multitask, assuming you know what people are going to say because you’ve “heard it all before.” Take the time to be present, don’t assume or judge. Showing genuine interest and participating will naturally connect you with the team and lead to productive discussions.

Tip: Don’t assume or judge – remember to be present and participate.

positivity

Never underestimate the power of positivity. It’s amazing to see how a “can do,” “we got this,” and “how can I help?” attitude motivates people and turns around a stressful situation. Positive energy is not only reflected in what you say but in your expressions, tone, and body language. Remember to smile and lean in towards your speaker – even if your conversation is over the phone. Just doing these physical acts will increase your positive energy. There’s nothing more disheartening than to see or “sense” our colleague’s disapproval or frown on video or at the other end of the line.

Tip: Remember to smile with open and friendly body language. 

get it right

Make sure you walk away with accurate information after a meeting. Not getting things right after people take the time to communicate wastes time and creates frustration. If needed, reach out to recap what you heard. It builds trust when people know that you care. 

Tip: Get the information right after a meeting. 

Following best practices for communicating with teams in the office or remotely helps build strong emotional connections. Always treat people with empathy and be respectful of the boundaries between work and life. Making yourself present and communicating without judgment will position you as a trusted leader on the team.

 

Mary Poluikis
Group Program Director

there is no “one size fits all”

It was second grade, and I was asked to stand up in front of my class and talk about a current event. My heart was racing, my palms were sweating, and I couldn’t catch my breath, but my teacher kept smiling and saying, “You can do this, just be you.”

The nerves that come with “public speaking” can be crippling and hinder not only your career growth but how you communicate and build confidence. Everyone has something they are working on, but the key to moving forward is diving in and doing the work! Presenting is like a muscle in your body – whether it’s your first time or your 100th, the more you do it, the stronger it gets.

And it all starts with breathing…wait, what??? It sounds so simple but it’s the first thing to go when your mind and nerves take over. Stop and focus on your breath for 10 seconds, right before you go on stage, camera or Zoom. When you breathe it lowers your heart rate and centers you. It will also slow you down, so instead of rushing through your content to “get it over with,” you can take your time so that people can better absorb your content.

And speaking of content – ask yourself a few questions. Why do you care, why should your audience care, and what do you want them to do or feel after your presentation? This is a great way to put your content in context, because if it doesn’t feel like you care, neither will your audience and you’ll lose them quickly. Bring your personality to the presentation and think of it as an engaging conversation rather than a verbal dump. If it’s just about the content – save yourself some time and send the presentation deck!  But if you really want to move people, it’s about how you bring that content to life.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. The only way to bring your content to life is to rehearse – A LOT! Out loud, in front of the mirror, to your pets, in the car and anywhere in between. The presenters you admire don’t just “wing it,” they rehearse it!  Know it backwards and forwards but don’t rely on memorization alone. When you rehearse, you add muscle memory to the mix, helping you learn it better, faster and do more than recite – you’ll be able to adapt and think on your feet.

I didn’t know all of these things when I was in 2nd grade, but when I heard “just be you,” I realized I didn’t have to worry about what other people did. Overcoming anxieties and improving how you present is a process, but it starts with simple things like passion, breathing, slowing down and bringing your best “you.” We’re all different, and when presenting, we should embrace our differences rather than thinking there’s only one way to do it. There’s no “one size fits all” – be remarkable and be remembered for being you!

 

Alexandria Hunter-Whalen

the art of feedback

Feedback is an important part of the creative process, and receiving “negative” notes from a client or co-worker can be discouraging. But just because the feedback feels bad doesn’t mean that you’re bad at what you do. As you navigate the workplace, it’s inevitable that you’ll receive feedback, so here are a few ways to help take it less personally.

Swap your shoes

When you receive negative comments or change requests on your creative work, take the emotional element out of it by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Instead of asking yourself “Why don’t they like it?” try asking yourself a different question, like “If my coworker or friend received these notes, what advice would I give them?” This shifts the focus from you to the work itself. Problem-solving mode is engaged and you’ll be able to take an objective look at the work rather than letting your confidence take a hit.

Plan a pause

When we are critiqued, it can threaten our ego or identity – it’s human nature to take it personally and have an immediate emotional response. Prepare yourself for creative feedback by building time into your process to pause and absorb the information. A walk outside or a trip to the kitchen for a cup of tea can give you the time you need to calm your mind and assess the notes more objectively. 

Look at the bigger picture

Before you let negative comments impact your self-worth, try to avoid looking in the rearview mirror and instead focus on the road ahead. Consider the opportunity you now have to practice your skills and make your work better, rather than dwelling on mistakes. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this? How can I use this feedback to improve and grow?” 

Criticism is a double-edged sword. While feedback allows us to grow and understand when expectations aren’t met, it’s hard to stay creative and motivated when every critique eats away at your confidence. Hopefully these tips can ease the post-review panic and help you find the positive in the negative.

 

Alex Miller

what’s your story?

Hey you…!

Yes, you…the one reading this. Come closer. I’d like to let you in on a little secret.  Story Matters. And telling stories helps create memorable content and drive brand awareness. Okay…so maybe it’s not that big of a secret…but it’s worth repeating. “Story” has become one of the most important communication elements in business today. So much so, that the word “storytelling” for a creative director like myself has almost become an “eye roll” cliché. But just because something is cliché, doesn’t mean it’s not true. And now that grabbing and holding audience attention continues to be our fastest growing commodity, a good story is more important than ever. But what makes a good story? And what stories should we be telling? Let me tell you more about it.

Let’s start by outlining what a good story does. Stories help us understand people, places and processes. They help you connect with your audience. Makes sense, right? The hard part, or at least the part many people struggle with, is communicating this idea in a way that captivates and resonates. The world’s largest brands are successful because the audience identifies with their story. They understand what their audience needs from them – not what they need from their audience. In other words, they tell stories that stick. And doing this effectively starts with telling the right story.

According to Kindra Hall, author of Stories that Stick: How Storytelling Can Captivate Customers, Influence Audiences, and Transform Your Business, telling stories is “one of the most powerful means we have to influence, teach and inspire. An organization’s stories, and the stories its leaders tell, help solidify relationships.”  And her book outlines 4 unique stories all businesses should be telling:

  • the Value Story, to convince customers they need what you provide;
  • the Founder Story, to persuade investors and customers your organization is worth the investment;
  • the Purpose Story, to align and inspire your employees and internal customers; and
  • the Customer Story, to allow those who use your product or service to share their authentic experiences with others.

So, if all businesses have these stories at their disposal, the question is – what separates a story worth remembering from the forgettable rest? 

It’s not just about telling an effective story, it’s about telling the right story in a way that captivates and creates value for our audience. In my experience, we often tell the right stories, but weigh them down with too much information, instead of organizing them around the 4 main components every story needs.

As outlined in her book, they are:

  1. Identifiable Characters
  2. Authentic Emotion
  3. A Significant Moment
  4. Specific Details

Now what good would this blog about storytelling be without actually telling a story?

“Once upon a time, a young man left his glasses on an airplane. He tried to buy new glasses, but found them very expensive. ‘Why is it so hard to buy stylish glasses without spending a fortune on them?’ he wondered. He returned to school and told his friends. ‘We should start a company that sells amazing glasses for prices that aren’t insane,’ said one. ‘We should make shopping for glasses fun,’ said the other. ‘We should distribute a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair sold,’ said a third. Eureka! Warby Parker was born.”

Now that’s a story. And it’s a Founder’s Story, #2 on Kindra Hall’s list of story types…not driven by information, but by her four story components: the company’s founding, what makes it unique and its mission.  In 100 words or less, Warby Parker paints a picture that’s both relatable and easy to understand.

As we know – all good stories come to an end, and fortunately, so do blogs. But what have we learned? That we all have stories to tell and we can all be great storytellers. And that if we identify who our audience is, understand what they are looking for, and follow a few easy-to-remember tips, we can tell the right stories.  Good stories that are effective,  differentiate our brands and captivate our audiences. “Stories that Stick.”

So…what’s your story?

 

Mark Di Tondo

finding inspiration

We all need inspiration to do good work. And when it’s your job to be creative or turn out creative work, you’ll need a good supply. For me, inspiration comes in two forms: passive and active. Passive inspiration is when you see a movie about hiking and you’re inspired to go on a hike. You weren’t looking for inspiration, but it found you and you acted on it. Active inspiration, on the other hand, is more of a learned skill. It’s how we combat the “blank page” syndrome when we have an assignment due, or find a new way of telling a story when we need to stand out from the crowd. If you google “inspiration,” you’ll find all kinds of top ten lists. You’ll see items like “yoga and meditation” make the list. I find them enjoyable but they don’t give me the kind of inspiration I’m looking for when I need to be creative on demand. So this is my personal list of ideas on finding inspiration that work for me, and perhaps you’ll find some are inspirational to you.

steal like an artist

There is a great book called “Steal like an Artist” in which author Austin Kleon presents the theory that all art is borrowed or stolen…but when stolen ideas are combined with other stolen ideas, something new is created. Pablo Picasso is widely considered the most unique, innovative and influential artist of the 20th century. Yet he found inspiration from so many sources that there is a book devoted to it called “Picasso’s Variations on the Masters.” I’m not endorsing plagiarism of any sort – but if you borrow themes and ideas from other art or media and apply them to your project, your inspiration can drive you to create something new. And once these ideas pass through your copy editor or animator’s hands, they will usually take on a unique shape of their own.

look at other media

Many great creators borrow from other forms of media. Musicians turn to art, writers turn to music and painters turn to current events for inspiration. When creating videos, I used to turn to other videos or films for inspiration. But more and more, I may refer to a colorful Matisse painting when communicating my vision of a set, or the music of Thelonious Monk when describing a rhythm to video editing. When you are stuck for inspiration, try looking beyond your chosen field or media.

change your routine

This one isn’t for everyone because some people thrive on routine. But have you ever been forced to drive a new route to work or take a different train? Do this on purpose and concentrate on being observant. You’ll see color in a mural on a brick wall or advertisements at bus stops that you haven’t seen before. How could some of these items find their way into your work? This has worked for me in the past – particularly if I’m paying attention during my revised routine.

ask others

I’m fortunate to have three seasoned creative directors to brainstorm with here at MK3. But sometimes we find ourselves thinking the same way or coming up with big ideas that might be missing something. I learn a lot when I share my projects with my wife or talk about them with my kids or a friend outside my industry. Sometimes people give you a new perspective, a lightbulb goes off and it becomes a fresh source of inspiration. 

write it down

Always try to be open and ready for inspiration to strike. For me, it used to happen when watching football on a Sunday. I’d see a great commercial, be inspired and forget about it later. Now I always keep a notebook handy to jot down the notes needed to find the commercial after the game. Inspiration can be found anywhere, though, so keep a notebook handy in your car or even when you go for a walk. And it doesn’t have to be as “old school” as a notebook – you can also use the “Notes” feature in your phone. The point is to write it down and create an inspiration “stash” that you can review when needed.   

I hope these ideas help you to get inspired, stay inspired and do great work.

 

John Lawrence

redefining productivity

Working with a team “gone virtual” can sometimes feel like you never leave work. When working from home, people have access to their “office” 24/7 which makes it tempting to send late night emails or feel obligated to respond to one. While this may seem convenient, the lack of separation between work and home hours can have some serious long-term effects on productivity. To avoid burnout, it’s important to step back and find ways to keep your team energized and productive.

set expectations

When your whole team is together on-site, desk drive-bys and set “office hours” make it easy to be aware of what others are working on and when people are available. At home, availability is seen as more “flexible,” which can make it feel like you always need to be ready to jump in. To avoid blurring the line between work and play, set boundaries for yourself and expectations for your team. Weekly meetings and recurring check-ins can help your team gain a better perspective on the group as a whole. When people have a better understanding of what everyone else is doing, communication is more efficient, reducing the need for frantic midnight emails and round-the-clock availability.

recharge with rest

Without the commute to bookend the workday, or the lure of leaving the office for lunch, it’s easy to forget to take a break while bulldozing through your to-do list. When you’re working in an office, there are natural breaks built into the day — stopping by a coworkers desk for a chat or spending a few minutes at the “water cooler” catching up — while at home it can feel like you’re drowning in an uninterrupted stream of work. Keep your head above water by consciously building breaks into your day. Taking just ten minutes in between video calls to stretch can make all the difference.

shift your focus

Though we’ve all been learning and adjusting over the past year and a half, many still feel they are living and working in an uncertain environment. Under conditions like these, setting large outcome goals can be daunting and leave people feeling overwhelmed…which can lead to…you guessed it — burn out!  It’s easy for a team to be discouraged when unforeseen problems wreak havoc on schedules and cause projects to pivot. Instead, try setting smaller weekly or monthly goals for your team as checkpoints throughout a project. These more bite size, cumulative accomplishments can help keep your team motivated and feeling successful, while still leading you to reaching your ultimate goals.

The structure of the workplace is continuing to change at a rapid pace, and looking forward, we predict many of these changes will remain in place. Some companies have given up office spaces entirely while others are implementing practices to get their team back to their communal workspace. Here at MK3, we’ve adopted a bit of a hybrid model, with the majority of our team working remotely while a few choose to come into the office. Regardless of where you feel most productive, we need to continue to adapt and work together, even while we’re often apart. 

 

Alex Miller

dear client

Dear Client,

I apologize.

Script writing is one of the many creative services offered here at MK3, and since writing is one of my areas of expertise, chances are I’ve touched your script. And chances are there’s a part of my script writing process that may have disappointed you.

I don’t track changes.

I’m sure that tracking changes during the creation of a document is an integral part of your creative process since your work is often passed among partners, departments and collaborators. For you and your team, it’s important to see where the document was and where it’s going, in real time.

But to me, a script with tracked changes looks like an autopsy, with its guts pulled out and spilled all over the margins…or an electrical engineering schematic, one loose connection away from a short circuit.

By the time it gets into my hands, a script is no longer a document to be dissected, but a creative element with a life of its own. Its visual presentation is as important to me as the words all lined up in a row…and I can’t concentrate on a story that looks like a dish of tri-color pasta.

So when a “colorful” first draft arrives in my Inbox, I hit Accept All Changes and Stop Tracking, and then get to the work of writing. And please remember that during each revision and review process, I’ll keep track, lose track, run track, back track, fast track, track time, track down, get side-tracked, stay on the right track, cross the train track, wear a track suit, use a laugh track, create a soundtrack…but I won’t push the Review button and Track Changes.

And so, on behalf of the MK3 Words Department, I apologize…retroactively and in advance.

 

Jonathan Markella

lessons learned from the pandemic

Imagine a world where people roam freely, travel, interact with each other, and even…socialize! For almost all of 2020, what once was our reality became a fantasy, almost overnight. Now, with the advent of vaccines and COVID-19 treatments, our former reality could be making a comeback. But what will this “new reality” mean for content producers? Will there be a “roaring 20’s” of video production and live action shooting? Will in-person events flood venues around the world? The answer, of course, is…maybe. How we return to producing content is going to change, and in some cases, for the better. The pandemic created a lot of things, including opportunity – an opportunity for you to make your videos more relevant, engaging and inclusive.

In our pre-pandemic world, video production values were always the goal, for good reason. The overriding belief has always been that the more thought, design and effects you could “see on the screen,” the more engaging and effective the story would be. These high-quality productions were either filmed on-location or created entirely through digital post-production.

Stories, however, don’t stop. Companies like yours have always had stories to tell, but during the pandemic, it became difficult to tell them in a relevant way, especially with in-person location shoots nearly impossible to produce. How are you going to interview subject matter experts or get footage of your new manufacturing plant? DIY. People started generating their own video content, and while some was good, most of it did not have the production values any of us are used to. So while it got the job done, something even more interesting happened.

Experienced content producers developed a few DIY ideas of their own…and began using existing technology to remotely capture content at a higher level of quality than ever before. Combining remote recording technology with live remote directing, content producers were able to capture people saying or doing things anywhere in the world…without any COVID concerns, and with much smaller budgets.

Here’s an example of how these new pandemic techniques could be used to everyone’s benefit in a post-pandemic world.

Your company is producing a video showcasing your revolutionary new product. A production crew has already shot interviews on location, captured beautiful b-roll, and the editing process is on schedule to finish the video in time for next week’s sales conference.

But then, you get the call. A key opinion leader in Australia needs to be included in the video and is only available next week. A few years ago, this type of call would turn your entire production process on its head, but now with a little scheduling, a pre-production meeting and ensuring basic equipment is onsite, you can easily and efficiently record the interview remotely. An experienced director can help ensure the new interview footage will be consistent with the rest of the video, and monitor a screen to review the shot and direct the interview…all at a fraction of the time and cost it would have taken to send a crew around the world to shoot one interview.

Will this workflow replace traditional video production? No, probably not. Will it become another valuable and effective tool storytellers can strategically use to make sure your story is told efficiently?  Yes, I think it will.

Content providers and their clients are going to have a hard time letting go of some of their new pandemic-inspired “best practices.” And that’s a good thing. Because many of the inspired innovations made us all think of projects in a different way and gave us increased flexibility as a result. Like everything else in our post-pandemic life, it will be a balancing act between “business as usual” and “lessons learned.”  The pandemic didn’t teach us anything – our reaction to it did – and it may have opened up a world of possibilities…especially in a world that soon will be fully open.

 

Jamie Tedeschi

3 tips for building strong post-pandemic partnerships in the workplace

When everyone is in the office, there’s a buzz of ongoing communication and problem-solving that happens organically…popping your head in an office to ask questions, bumping into a colleague in the hallway, or hashing things out over a lunch conversation. Most of us have been physically away from the office over the past year and have developed new ways to communicate with our colleagues and clients. And while there may have been an overload of video conference calls with our most talkative co-workers on mute; we’ve all upped our “technology” game and are successfully getting our jobs done.

When the pandemic is over, or at least “over-ish,” some of us will return to the office full time, while many will remain remote. How do we switch gears to foster relationships and find the communication approaches that work for in-person and remote teams simultaneously?

1. Make the Connection

The most important step is to take the time and get to know your team again. The pandemic has made an impact on all of us and has forced many to reevaluate their priorities. Take the time to understand what’s important to your team members – in the workplace and their personal lives. Showing a genuine interest will naturally form connections, enabling you to uncover what you have in common and how you are different.

Tip: Don’t always be “all business” – remember to be human and socialize. The stronger you connect with each member of your team, the easier it will be to foster strong partnerships!

2. Be on time, be prepared, be present, and participate

These are best practices for all meetings, whether remote or in-person. If you are facilitating the meeting, make sure you have a clear agenda that can be accomplished during the scheduled time. Don’t make people afraid to attend your meetings because you always run late. If you are attending the meeting understand that you are accountable to be actively engaged, to listen and to participate.

Tip: End each meeting by confirming key decisions and next steps. This ensures that both you and your team walk away from the meeting with the same expectations and allows anyone who is unclear the opportunity to ask questions. 

3. Discover what makes your team the most productive

Discover what types of communication work best for your team. Stop sending the same email that no one responds to or scheduling the weekly team meeting without an agenda. Pick up the phone and have a conversation, reach out for relevant topics the team wants to address, or schedule morning coffee with a colleague to catch up. Bottom line: if team communication becomes stagnant, change it up. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find the sweet spot to jump-start conversations and engagement.

Tip: This will likely be different for each of your team members and clients, so being flexible is an important part of being an impactful and productive leader. 

​Following best practices for team communication – remotely and in-person, helps build strong connections and fosters collaboration. Always use your team’s time wisely and be respectful of everyone’s work and life boundaries. By making yourself accessible and open to communicating in a way that works best for them, you’ll continue to hold your team’s respect – as an expert and as someone who’s genuinely concerned about their well-being.

 

Mary Poluikis
Group Program Director