Meeting Report: Silicon Valley IABC

Collaboration Done Right – The secrets of a successful project between corporate staff and outside consultants, by Ian Griffin and Kate Peters

ThumbsAt the March 21, 2013 meeting of the IABC Silicon Valley Chapter vocal impact coach and author Kate Peters and freelance speechwriter Ian Griffin reviewed lessons from a two-year collaborative project at Cisco.

In early 2010, Ian worked as an Executive Communications Manager supporting George O’Meara, the SVP for Services Sales at Cisco in San Jose. He knew George needed presentation skills coaching and found Kate’s book Can You Hear Me Now? on Amazon. He sent her a note asking if she could provide coaching services. That began a highly successful working relationship which lasted until George left Cisco two years later.

Kate Peters is a vocal impact coach, singing performing artist, and author. She focuses on finding each person’s strengths and helps individuals express themselves in ways supportive of their professional and personal lives, whether speaking or singing. She helps public speakers clarify the articulation and organization of their ideas. She aligns their personal brand with the message they want to deliver and enhances presentation content with stories to increase the potential for connection with the audience.

As an Executive Communications Manager at Cisco, Ian’s role was to research and gather content for presentations and aligned the material to the overall corporate message.

Collaboration not competition

Ian hired Kate to work with George on improving his presentation skills, specifically to make it easier for the audience to understand his Chicago accent.

The original engagement grew into a two-year engagement where Kate was closely involved with many presentations.

Ian and Kate were aware that working together brought a potential for competition. Turf battles can happen. This is an obstacle many outside consultants face when they work with staff in large corporations.

Indeed, there were times when Kate suggested enhancement to content, an area that Ian was responsible for. Likewise, Ian, as a long-time member of the National Speaker’s Association, had his own presentation skills suggestions.

The solution, they found, was to work together as a team, not against each other. The benefits of this were apparent in a number of ways. Kate, with a background in music, performance and video, helped Ian make George look better on camera in the many short video messages that were a common way Cisco executives communicated with their teams. Ian became skilled in filming video and became known for his expertise by other Cisco communications managers.

Ian reciprocated by introducing Kate to other communications managers at Cisco which helped to expand her presence across the company.

Lessons learned

Kate lists a number of things to keep in mind as an outside consultant working with staff in a large corporation.

  • We are better together. Our combined skills are better than either one working alone.
  • Be an advocate. Bring attention to the work of the employee at times when executives might take it for granted.
  • Keep in touch. Regular meetings help the employee and consultant work more effectively.
  • Show appreciation. Say thank you often and in different ways.
  • Know when to keep quiet and let the employee do their work.

Ian found there were a number of secrets to success working with a consultant.

  • Choose wisely. Be ready to interview multiple candidates to find a consultant who is the right fit.
  • Secure initial buy-in. Ian sold the executive on the idea of hiring a consultant as a “swing coach” for his presentation “game”.
  • Know the “cut-over point” – where and when the consultant will augment your role, and don’t be reluctant to explore new areas where they can support the outcome.
  • Manage the budget. Keep the executive and managers in the loop on costs and make sure invoices are paid in a timely manner.
  • Respect the consultant’s time.

Advantages of collaboration

The three advantages Kate found when working with Ian were:

  • As an employee, he knew people she didn’t and was happy to put her in front of others who could use her services. The initial $5,000 contract evolved into a multi-year engagement.
  • Ian knew the organization and kept her abreast of important organizational changes and processes about which she would otherwise not have known.
  • Ian did things she didn’t want to do and vice versa.

The three advantages Ian found when working with Kate were:

  • He valued the support she gave the executive. It augmented his role. Some of the least stressful and most effective meetings were between George and Kate with Ian as an observer, seeing results he could never have achieved alone.
  • Ian benefited from using Kate as a consultant who was able to mentor him on his own presentation skills.
  • He found new ways to amplify the unique skills the consultant brought to the organization among his peers.

Relationships that last

Now that Ian has left Cisco, the relationship he established with Kate continues. Corporate employees never know when they might want to or need to go out on their own. Relationships that are formed through organizations like IABC and one-on-one contacts with industry leaders like Kate are useful bridges to life after corporate employment.

Both Kate and Ian acknowledge the value of having a strong professional network both inside and outside an organization. In fact, they are charter members of the newly formed Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable which is a forum for professionals interested in presentation excellence.

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