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Two-D Productions Dena Levy On Making The Most Of Emotional Intelligence

Effective direct response television advertising often relies on human connection, whether that takes the form of an on-air spokesperson, an expert, or an everywoman or everyman testimonial being able to persuasively engage an audience to take note of an advertiser’s message. Because human beings come in all sorts of shapes and temperaments, directors must possess keen emotional intelligence. Sometimes known as emotional quotient or EQ, emotional intelligence is described by Psychology Today as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.” We  recently sat down Dena Levy, a multi-award winning writer, director, and producer, and the founder of Two-D Productions to get a better understanding of how she uses emotional intelligence on the set to create performance-driven DRTV for clients such as Disney, Fisher Investments, Guthy-Renker, HSN, Lear Capital, QVC, and a host of others.

FF: First off, how do you get someone to relax in front of the camera?

DL: I really just try to have a conversation. We could be on an enormous sound stage, but my objective is to reduce the space by making direct eye contact and having a one-on-one conversation. That requires leaning in and getting the person sitting in front of the camera to engage in such a way that they forget the camera is there. The truth is, people love to talk about themselves and what they do. My job is to listen and let them.

FF: How do you manage it when things are not going quite like you’d like with your on-air talent?

DL: You have to be sensitive to non-verbal cues and pay careful attention. Too often on a set, people are harried and distracted by any number of things: how many shots we have to get, the quality of the light, continuity, when is lunch? I have to have a laser-like focus and recognize what is going on with the subject being filmed both in verbal terms—what they are saying and in what tone—and non-verbal cues. If I sense that someone is uncomfortable, I’ll often ad-lib and try and quickly get to the heart of what is going on. Sometimes I’ll disarm a subject with humor or I might take a break or reduce the number of people on the set. The key is not to try and force the issue. For example, I don’t try and spoon-feed testimonials. I want them to describe their experience in their words so that what they are expressing comes across as authentic and not stilted. Same with hosts. If they are bristling at a line, I’m open to the idea that they might have a better idea of how to say something in their own natural style and words. The key is to be flexible, but at the same time, part of my job is to keep things moving along.

FF: There are a lot of moving parts and a large cast of characters when you’re on a shoot. How do you ensure you’re going to capture everything with the emotional finesse you’re after?

DL: I look at a commercial shoot as a process of reverse engineering. Because I’ve done a lot of editing over the years, I have that edit in my head in advance of the shoot; I know the shots, the cuts, and the sequence I am after. The emotional part is really about intention: what is the connection we are trying to make with the viewer? Is it a rational argument, emotional engagement, to make them laugh, or something else entirely? Once I’ve identified those objectives, I like to sit down with my talent and testimonials and be deliberate about what we are trying to achieve. That discourse draws them in and allows them to be a part of it; to play a hand in helping to architect what I am trying to achieve with their own ideas and emotions.

FF: Any other tips you’d care to share with our readers?

I think emotional intelligence or EQ is sometimes undervalued in our society. As opposed to IQ, which is really more of a measure of left-brain thinking, EQ is really about feelings versus facts. All you have to do is look at social media and what is happening to our society to understand what occurs when people confuse the two. Sensitivity is a hallmark of EQ. We all have the same desires and urges—to be loved, accepted, and successful. I never look at what I’m doing as necessarily ‘selling’ something as much as sharing something—something that has the potential to enrich an individual’s life. One of the great things about my career is that I’ve had the opportunity to work on such a vast array of different campaigns and a broad spectrum of products and services, and to work with a community of people that represent nearly every aspect of life. A fantastic MER is great (note: MER = media efficiency ratio), but it’s the people who are benefiting from those numbers that really count.

You can learn more about Dena and her company here.

Rick Petry (503) 740-9065 Twitter: @thepetrydish

Rick Petry is the CMO/EVP Client Services of DirectAvenue and a seasoned direct marketing professional and thought leader with experience spanning three decades. He has had a hand in campaigns generating over $1 billion in sales and is conversant in all facets of performance-based marketing including off-line and on-line media planning and buying, research, analytics, creative, production, and back-end management, Rick is the author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, and is a past Chairman of the Board of the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) and a recipient of ERA’s Volunteer of the Year award, as well as the Direct Response Marketing Alliance’ Member of the Year award as voted by his peers.