Senior Leaders on Video: How to Draw Out a Better Performance


Klaus Schiang-Franck, owner of the film company Citizen Dane, vies for one-on-one time with senior leaders before filming. He often starts a shoot by asking the executive to tell him, without looking at a script, what he or she is going to talk about. Klaus says that when he does this, “You can see that this complicated thing can be explained so easily. They just tell me the story in a fraction of the time it would have taken to read it from a script. I encourage them to be short and precise, and they really like having the chance to just sit down and explain the story. It builds their confidence.”

In these moments Klaus makes sure nobody else is in the room. If someone on the communications team asks to participate, Klaus explains that he’d like this to be one-on-one time. If someone really wants to be involved, he asks them to take a role similar to his own: Stand back, don’t say anything, and let the leader tell the story in his or her own words.

Deep, honest communication can only come through in an atmosphere of trust and respect. I call this atmosphere the “sacred space,” and it exists between you and the director and team. The sacred space is an environment where you sort out your message together and work to impart authenticity on camera.

Hollywood director and practicing Buddhist Peter Werner introduced me to the concept of the sacred space many years ago. He believes that of all the elements that go into a project, what happens in the sacred space is paramount. “With all the activity on a typical film set, all the technical gear, the noise, the sprawl, the people running around setting up lights, you can sometimes forget that the most important activity is often incredibly intimate: It’s happening in a small space between maybe only two people, two actors, or the director and an actor. And it’s the director’s job to hold that space in the middle of the chaos, to allow for that connection to happen.”

Many people in corporate communication don’t have a theater or film background. (If you’re a corp comm pro with this experience, you have an edge on your peers.) That means the sacred space is often a foreign concept to anyone who isn’t on the film crew, and it takes some explaining. Some leaders have an in-house confidante who makes it his or her job to preserve the sacred space.

At American Express, Bob Florance holds the intriguing title of VP, Executive Electronic Communications. It’s his job to help executives get the right stuff on video and stop the wrong stuff from ever happening. A huge part of this role is guarding the sacred space. If you’re lucky enough to have an experienced video person or director on staff, he or she can perform the dual function of making sure you’re great on camera as well as ensuring that you’re telling your story—and the company story—effectively.

I’ve worked with Bob for years, at several companies, and it’s amazing to witness his attention to detail when it comes to getting the job done right. He’s extremely aware of what needs to happen and is not worried about throwing himself under the bus in the process. For Bob, it’s all about building trust and integrity with the CEO he is there to support, and that trust is earned over time. Sometimes it involves asking an opinionated corp comm or PR person to leave the room during a shoot. Other times it means discreetly passing a tissue to a CEO so he can wipe his brow before going on camera.

It’s common for a team to approach filming as if it’s all about the words, not realizing their mind-set may inadvertently create a barrier that keeps the leader from being vulnerable or real. The sacred space is the only route to getting a true, human performance. The advice here is practical and proven, and if embraced, can transform your video appearances.

Try This: B-Roll's Welcomed By-Product

Taking a leader out to film B-roll before we shoot any speaking parts is a great way to establish trust before we ever step on set. It allows him or her the chance to become familiar with the crew, the camera, and me without the pressure of being “on.”

Shooting B-roll is also the perfect way to introduce a leader to the process in general, by praising good work and spontaneity during the sessions, helping a subject build confidence almost immediately.

To read more about 'the Sacred Space,' see Leadership in Focus.

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