It’s important for us as marketers to recognize that we’re at the beginning of a crisis and there is going to be a way out of it. The last thing you should be doing is not talking to the C-Suite. It is critically important now that you open the lines of communication and not go quiet. It’s natural to think, “I don’t want to bother them,” but that would be a big mistake.
We’ve actually had an uptick in interest in our advisory boards right now. Some of the advantages to advisory boards is they port easily to digital; they’re small peer networking groups, they have set organizing principles, and participants are coming to do something. Executives want to contribute and have a purpose to the time they’re spending, and advisory boards give that purpose. Executives can share their perspectives on a particular topic and all members leave, hopefully, feeling like they gave or received good advice.
While the principles of advisory boards translate well to digital, the online meetings themselves are much shorter and crisper than in person, and the facilitation takes a lot of preparation. I spend a lot of time with the presenters and with each individual board member to make sure they know what we’re trying to achieve with the time we have together.
To prepare for the shorter sessions, we need to make sure the presenter’s content is really clear and crisp, and the questions they’re asking for advice on are not too high level. For example, with in-person discussions we’ve always asked questions like, “How is that differentiated? What’s the value proposition that you see and experience?,” because you can ask high-level questions and then rotate your way to the specific. But with online sessions, you don’t want to have a lot of empty, blank air.
In this shorter, virtual environment, we try to spend time with the presenter to understand what the question around differentiation really is, so it’s quite pointed and people know exactly what you’re asking. And because you want the other executives to come with a point of view, I also prepare one or two of them and let them know that I will turn to them first to respond. Not to manufacturer the entire thing, because that’s not the point, but because people usually play off one another.
When you’re in-person you can tell if someone is ready to speak from body language. You don’t have that advantage onscreen so the key to facilitation is to limit the presenter to about two minutes. They have to stop talking, because that’s a long time to listen to someone and people get distracted when they’re sitting in front of a computer. So, that’s the first rule, and I am very clear with the presenter that I’m going to interrupt them every two minutes or so, and they need to make sure their content allows for that.
We’ve also been experimenting with different tools and design thinking apps and taking breaks to analyze the feedback. The number and type of tools you introduce depends on the audience. Really senior C-level people want to talk, they don’t want to type. With this audience, stopping to summarize input and validating with the audience every six to 10 minutes is really important to test that you’re actually getting through, because the purpose of advisory boards – whether online or in-person – is to actually connect.