Allison Kluger teaches Strategic Communication and Reputation Management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and has over 25 years of experience in broadcast media and entertainment. In Spring 2017 she will co-teach a new class together with model Tyra Banks on Personal Branding, called Project You: Building and Extending your Personal Brand. Allison also works for various clients as a media consultant and freelance writer and has been Emmy-nominated four times. We couldn’t ask for a better expert to interview about Communication, Personal Branding, and Executive Presence.
Allison, you had a long career “on air,” first at Good Morning America, later at a Home Shopping Network and on The View. What lessons have you learned in front of the camera that shape how you communicate today professionally and personally?
I was fortunate to produce segments at Good Morning America and coach guests who had never before been on-air. I observed celebrities, politicians, authors and musicians, to name some types of guests. With The View, I was in the control room, and I was in charge of that day’s show and its content. Between these two positions, I was actually an on-air talent at two separate Home Shopping Networks, Q2 and The Global Shopping Network. Whether you are hawking a product on a shopping network or coming on a show to talk about a movie, a book or yourself–it’s very similar because you are always selling something. By being an on-air Host, I learned how to connect through a lens, without actually seeing my audience. I would use all the tools I had: verbal, vocal and visual cues to tell a story, demonstrate a product and convince people to pick up a phone and buy something. To do this, you need to be authentic, entertaining, genuine and persuasive.
You also have to understand who your audience or demographic is. Depending on the time I was live on-air, I would change my sales pitch. Late-night audiences viewed electronic retail as entertainment and looked at their hosts as friends and people they knew intimately because they came into their living rooms or bedrooms on a frequent basis. Other shows, like memorabilia, would air right after a sporting event, and this type of show would be for collectors who were just interested in getting a product that was rare or valuable. Utility vs. luxury vs. value vs. fashion were all considerations in my personal “sell.” In my five month reign, I was one of the top sellers.
I still use the same skills of persuasion and connection when I coach and teach today. Every “feature” must have a “benefit.” Never just give someone a list of qualities or attributes. Always describe a feature and then tell the person the benefit: “What’s in it for them.” It shows a greater understanding of their interests and needs. I always encourage students and clients to understand what an audience is expecting, what the intent of a communication is, and what your message is. The foundation of every great communication is human connection and warmth. Information is not just enough. For people to want to listen to you, they need to like you and consider you trustworthy. Once they do that, then they will consider what you have to say and make a call-to-action. On the personal aspect of communication, I really enjoy people. I eavesdrop in coffee shops, am a connector by nature, love to hear stories, and am not afraid of emotions. I believe we all have strengths and frailties and that’s what makes us unique.
In your new class “Project You” that you will be co-teaching with Tyra Banks you help students create a personal brand and brand strategy. Why does a personal brand matter and how would a young professional go about building their brand?
It used to be that a Brand would have a nameless, faceless person behind it. But more and more we now have a person representing a brand: Steve Jobs was Apple, Phil Knight is Nike, Kanye is behind Yeezy, Richard Branson behind Virgin and now Tyra behind Tyra Beauty. Even Mark Zuckerberg is behind Facebook. A brand is an embodiment of certain values and a culture that supports and puts forth the brand into the market. It’s not just the product, but the lifestyle that is promised along with it.
We are witnessing in the age of social media, as every Millennial and Generation V (Viral) is glued to their devices, putting their face, image and thoughts “out there” for public consumption, that this exposure starts to feel like the norm. No one is incognito anymore. CEO’s and Entrepreneurs and leaders want to literally be part of the fabric of their vision. So it is important for them to understand who they are, what their personality, demeanor, physical presence, outward appearance, ability to communicate inwardly to their teams and outwardly to their public actually says about them and their brand. To go about building their personal brand, we need to break it down into steps: How do you define your personal brand? What qualities do you have? How are you broadcasting them? What platforms are you using (social media, print, broadcast, etc.), How are you presenting yourself to the world? And how do you track your success and failures in the market so you can pivot if need be?
How do you maintain and promote your personal brand throughout your career? What tools and channels do you recommend?
I have always said a major part of success is reputation, contacts and networking, and it starts from as early as you can remember while working with people. If you treat people well, work as hard as you can, leave a great feeling in your wake when you move on—those people can be future advocates, investors or evangelists when you start your next venture. The core tenets of your personal brand should be consistent throughout. I took a survey with Marketing Expert and author of How the World Sees You, Sally Hogshead, who might be a guest in Tyra Banks’ and my Personal Branding course. Through the survey, it was determined that my brand was the “Quick-Alert” which means I am Prolific, Thorough, and Diligent. All three words definitely describe me. I think there are many other words that also describe me, but the point is to fine-tune the words that come as close to your strengths and core talents and then use this then to brand yourself. So If I were to stick with what this survey said, I can’t deny that I have been prolific, diligent and thorough throughout my entire career.
Aside from staying consistent, and keeping great relationships so people can champion you as you pivot, you need to learn how to fold in new skills that you acquire into the bigger picture. When I left producing Good Morning America after seven years to be an on-air Home Shopping Host, I thought, “Well, that’s it for me! Cheeseville, here I come!” However, I learned so many amazing skills having to sell products on air. Gifts of communication and persuasion and being calm under fire. Then when I transitioned to being a producer in the control room, all the on-air Talent wanted me to produce them because I was so sensitive to their needs as I was a former Host. All these talents created a much better brand for me when I went to The View and started producing from that control room.
When I moved to California, I started a dot.com without really knowing what I was getting into. Yet again, I knew how to create great content and convince people to come on board (it’s called “booking” in TV). Through my innate skills of producing, persuasion and management, I created a very robust content site. I then went onto interactive television where I managed large groups of creatives and engineers. As I learned new skills, I was always “the Television Producer” with broadcast and on-air experience coming into their midst. That brought a lot of cache and expected skills that made me unique. So my brand was strong. However, with each new pivot, in each new role, I would expand my brand to reach a wider audience. When I started my career at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, again, it was with my brand as an experienced media and television expert who wanted to develop a course about reputation and communication strategies. The lesson is that your brand can evolve and be broadcast along different platforms to different audiences, but the core skills and value usually remain the same.
You also teach seminars about Executive Presence, helping managers carefully cultivate their authentic image they present. What does it take to have a great presence in a room and how can we work on getting more of that “wow factor”?
Executive Presence is, fortunately, something everyone can attain if they are conscious of how they present themselves. We as people communicate verbally, vocally, visually, kinesthetically and then with our own unique gifts. We all make first impressions, yet many of us underestimate the power of that first impression. It’s those people who don’t waste a first impression, who already have a leg up on Executive Presence. I like to say to my clients and students, “Making a first impression is not a choice, it is an inevitability, so make it count.”
By dressing as the leader you want to be, by projecting your voice to show credibility and confidence, along with warmth, you create the aura of power. By standing up straight, not fidgeting, making direct eye contact, being an active listener, not interrupting but following the natural course of a conversation, you are taking your audience into consideration. By anticipating the needs of your team, visitors, guests, executives, you are showing gravitas and sensitivity. By volunteering in the face of chaos when no one else does, you are reassuring and authoritative.
Finally, there is the natural “it” factor. Do you have a special skill that you can broadcast? Are you a naturally funny person, quirky, engaging? Can you bring people together through some force of your personality? Are you able to make people notice you in a room without appearing arrogant or obnoxious? Do you make sure to know the people who are around you? Personal details of their lives? What matters to them? To be a leader you have to act like a leader. People look up to leaders for cues. So when you walk into work angry, frazzled, surly, unhappy, it definitely trickles down.
There is so much more I could talk about concerning Executive Presence, especially concerning Executive Presence for Women. Suffice it to say that it’s the overall effect of how you present yourself and carry yourself in its entirety. It’s a conscious decision until it becomes a muscle memory and until you actually feel like the leader you are. To insert a “wow” factor, however, you need to feel comfortable in your own skin, be true to the values that are genuine to you, and to make others feel good in your presence. As Maya Angelou says, “People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s what “wow” factor is all about.
Many of us frequently attend social or professional events where we aim to connect with new people, be it at a conference, networking party or wedding. Do you have any tips on how to show up authentic, confident and make others and ourselves feel more comfortable?
This is a great question. We all feel awkward going to an event and making small talk. Either we are shy, exhausted from a long day, are having a bad hair day, just want to be home watching Game of Thrones, or feel worried we will say the wrong thing. My tip is to look at these occasions as an opportunity to make a great new connection. Always remember that First Impressions count. So smile and be present when you are introduced to someone. Have a firm handshake. Ask them to repeat their name if you didn’t hear it. Say your name again to be clear.
And then ask questions. People love to talk about themselves. It takes the work away from them thinking about what to say. Ask where they are from. Why are they here tonight? What sort of work do they do? Have they traveled during the recent holiday (there is always some holiday), do they have friends are colleagues here? Do they have kids or pets? Prepare ahead of time some of these questions that make sense before you get there. Always know your audience. Obviously, if everyone is from the same company, you don’t have to ask if they have friends or colleagues here. But you can ask what they do in this company? Then ask specifics: How long have you worked here? What made you interested in this field? Did you move here from somewhere? Once you get started, the conversation usually flows more naturally.
To be a likable conversationalist, you need to be an active listener and be present. Maintain eye contact. Don’t look over shoulders looking for an escape or a better conversation partner. If you see another person to bring over, you can say, “This is Dean. Dean is in engineering and moved here from Marin a few years ago.” Attention to detail is a plus and very flattering. If the conversation can lead to a connection of some sort, even better.