How To Be An Expert at Research, Part 1

No one I know has a problem collecting information. In this Internet age, the information available to us after a few minutes of searching online is staggering. The key to researching effectively is knowing how to research judiciously. I've got a few tips to help managers or CEOs research well, so that your writing tasks don't take days or weeks (or months!).

1. Always be in gathering mode. This is easy for some who just seem to gather without thinking about it. The problem for natural "gatherers" is organizing and occasional pruning of all this information. Are you one who collects years of magazines and never seems to get around to reading any of them? You have no problem gathering; you just need help focusing. If you pitch junk mail fastidiously and read all your magazines the moment you receive them and then recycle them that evening, well, obviously, you've got everything figured out in your life (just kidding).

2. Diversify your information sources. There are so many options out there! Articles, financial statements, telephone interviews, personal interviews, the Internet, CD-ROMs, intranet databases, microfiche archives, newsgroups, libraries, textbooks, company newsletters, and the list goes on forever. Rather than just read a couple newsletters each month, why not expand your search parameters and look somewhere you've never looked before.

3. Group similar ideas together. Say you're researching a new product and you're gathering information about competitor prototypes, various R&D reports, and feedback from your clients/customers and your marketing department. Say a large part of the research you've gathered shows that your main competitor's product owns the market, but your marketing department believes your product will be superior. Gather that up and find out what your focus group of clients/customers thinks. All those pieces of research that you have supporting your expansion into this market need to be organized together. Invariably you'll have to prepare your findings to highlight why NOT to create such a product.

4. From these groupings, create a generalization about each group. This is when you prepare reports signifying that early findings indicate that moving forward with a prototype project might be a probable next step. Or does your focus group say something else? See what I mean? All this information must be organized or you're left with a pile of papers without any navigational information about how to deal with it all.

5. Compose an "organizational" blueprint for the research you've amassed. This is where mind-mapping or idea charts come into play. Use a white board and get some good company strategists. Is this an idea that you're willing to attempt even though the focus group did not think your product would replace the competition's? Or perhaps the focus group wants the product and your marketing team is struggling with how to position it against the competition. All this is research and information and before you can write it up as internal memos or marketing messages or company goals, you've got to get a handle on what you've got.

In the second half of this post, we'll fine-tune all this research into a thesis for the writing that must happen. It's more of a micro approach to research.

Your Best Presentation Tool is Your Voice

Think of any lecture, presentation, video conference, web conference, speech, or conference call you've ever attended.  What do they all have in common?  Someone is speaking.  We humans have many ways of communicating, but our voices are the main choice.  Since it's so important, how can you improve your voice to help your business?

Bill Lampton of BusinessKnowHow has a list of twelve tips to make the most of your voice.  All of them are helpful, but let's look at three in particular.  First, pauses get both pros and cons in Lampton's article, and for good reason.  Be careful not to pause too often or in peculiar spots.  A good place to pause would be at the end of a paragraph and not after each sentence – or in the middle of sentences.  These "complete thought" pauses give the audience a chance to take in all you have said.

Of course, the pauses also help to give audible cues to significant parts of your speeches.  You can alter your rate of speaking to indicate you are leading to a point. Then after you have made the point, a nice pause solidifies it. You don't want to speak too rapidly so as to lose your audience, but keep in mind that too slow will bore them.  Too fast or too slow will be a distraction from your message.

Finally, remember that no two voices are the same.  This means that as more people recognize your voice, the more unique and special it will be.   If people begin to associate your voice with good solid information or leadership, they will look forward to your speeches.  And as you notice more people eager to hear your voice, you'll start looking forward to your speeches too.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

How to Write Faster

Writing Faster

The trick of writing business communications is keeping up with the high demand. There is always a pile of writing to be done on a daily or weekly basis; many managers and CEOs find themselves quickly overwhelmed.

Want to know how others do it? Read on.

1. Writing requires some thinking. You might want to not write anything (not even notes) and just stop for even five minutes and just think deeply on your writing topic. This deep thinking is like firing up the main engine of your brain. Limit distractions and don’t try to check email at the same time. You need to just stare at the wall or at the carpet pattern and think.

2. Now for something completely different. Okay, once you’ve done some thinking, now check the email, make some phone calls, read a trade magazine or newsletter. Better yet, go refill your coffee mug or water bottle. Stretch the legs, look out the window, or step outside for some fresh air. This lets the deep thinking rise to the surface.

3. Open up a new document on your computer or get a fresh page and just let it all out. This is unleashing everything that has been brewing inside your head. And I mean let it all out. No worries about punctuation or organization or even legibility. This is your deep thinking release step. There’s no pressure here, so just let it out.

4. Put it aside and move on to another task. This may be another session of deep thinking or the unending email or meetings or phone calls; this is the detachment phase of the writing. This is where you cut yourself off from the creation aspect of the writing in order to get a more critical eye. This is another no pressure step, so don’t waste it by worrying about what you just wrote.

5. Come back for a first read. Print off a fresh copy and get a pencil. Mark places that you feel are overwritten, circle places you think need more work, connect thought patterns, and generally get a feel for the flow of the piece. This first read should not be stressful and you should not be feeling any panic about the terrible shape your writing is in. That’s normal for everyone, so don’t waste valuable time fretting.

Next, check out Editing Business Communications Quickly and Effectively for a series of easy steps to finalize any piece of business writing.

3 Conference Call Habits to Improve

Making a phone call is an integral part of almost all businesses.  Even the street dog vendor occasionally needs to reorder buns.  It's a good thing then that telephones have kept up with the vast changes we've gone through in the past twenty years.  The technology may have improved, but old habits die hard.

1. How many times have you said, "I'll have to ask about that and get back to you"?  How much time has been wasted and progress halted by this phrase or variations of it?  When this happens to you again – and you know it will – hang-up, start a conference call, and outdial the person you were just talking to and the person you need to talk to.  Now all available information is at hand in the call.  Questions and follow-up questions can be asked, decisions can be made, and time isn't wasted.

2. Do you ever get a writing cramp trying to keep up taking notes on a lively discussion?  Ever miss important points on a long list?  Have you regretted not writing down a great speech?  A lot happens during a conference call and this is why most have an "auto-record" feature.

If you don't already, make sure you're conferences get recorded automatically.  It doesn't cost extra and the recordings can be easily downloaded.  The next step is to get into the habit of using those recordings.  Review a meeting to make sure everything got covered.  Listen to make sure your list matches the actual one.  If there was a great soliloquy, you've have it on tape.

3. The mute button is your friend.  It is imperative that everyone in a conference call know how to mute and unmuted themselves.  Muting cuts background noise to the minimum.  It helps avoid embarrassing situations such as kids running into a room, or a loud, suspicious leather chair squeak.  Using a group mute such as lecture mode allows a speaker to talk freely without interruption and lets you choose when to take questions.

There is a flip-side to muting to be acquainted with: mute delay.  If you and your participants are on the ball and mute whenever not speaking, then if a question is asked, there will be a delay.  Unlike a telephone where someone can instantly respond, a muted person needs a few seconds to be able to speak.  Give them that time by how you phrase your questions:

Incorrect:  "What were last week's numbers, Mike?"

Correct:  "Mike, I've got a question for you: what were last week's numbers?"

Saying Mike's name get's his attention.  Announcing you have a question for him gives him time to unmuted.  When it's time to answer, Mike will be ready with an answer.

These three habits may seem little, and they are to a point.  But despite their size, you'll find yourself having more effective and efficient conference calls if you use them often.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Editing Business Communications Quickly and Effectively

Managers or CEOs write a lot for their jobs. Many experience frustration from having to write so much and find the process exhausting and stressful. Most identify the stress as the act of writing itself, but research shows that the act of planning out the writing, organizing the writing, and editing the writing are actually the stressful pieces of the process. We'll tackle the final piece: editing.

How does one edit their writing?

1. Edit for objective. Does the piece accomplish the objective set out for it? Every written piece of communication needs an objective. What are you trying to accomplish and who is your audience? Plus, a piece of communication usually stresses an action for those reading it. If that action step isn't clear, all your communication is for naught.

2. Edit for macro issues. Instead of editing details, edit the piece of writing as a whole first. Check document design, action steps that make sense, and proper paragraph structure. Consider the logic you're using: does it flow and make sense in this piece? Consider the emphasis: are you using the correct tone for this communication?

3. Edit for micro issues. Now, you can edit for smaller issues such as wordiness, appropriate style, overlong sentences, and word choice. Remember, simplicity is best. No need to add a fancy word for a simple word that works just fine. Also, no need to make all sentences the same length; it is perfectly acceptable to mix up sentence length in a piece.

4. Now edit for correctness. This is the grammar step. If you have specific questions on grammar or punctuation, consult your stylebook. Now is the step to place all your commas correctly, to exchange semicolons for colons, and to make sure your periods and commas are inside the closing quotation mark (unless otherwise allowed).

5. Proofread carefully. Don't just read this on-screen; print out a copy and read it aloud from paper. Double-check for logic, flow, emphasis, tone, and computer-generated errors.

If you utilize the five steps of editing every time you produce a piece of writing, you'll be much more confident when sending out your memos or emails. You'll feel accomplished and professional, and the writing tasks that crowd your to-do list each day won't seem so overwhelming and insurmountable.

Careful Communication

Technology is a beautiful thing. The more you use it however, the bigger the electronic footprint you will leave. Have you ever Googled yourself? It's amazing what you will find. I once found a picture of me in Junior High School, and it wasn't an official yearbook one either – why oh why did I roll my pant cuffs like that?

Some people still don't realize that when you put something on the internet, it's out there forever. Almost all of us will never see it, but it's there. These words I type will exist on some server forever, or at least until the internet crashes or is purged.

Think about your business communications. All of your emails are still out there. Anything you ever loaded onto your website or files you've sent are saved somewhere. Hopefully there is nothing you would take back.

Now think about your personal communications. Yes, they are personal, but we all know how much personal can affect business. Don't limit your thinking to emails, social networking has become huge and it's all public. You should know that anything you put out there has the possibility to be found and used against you -- even your anonymous profile on MySpace.

Peter Shankman recently blogged about such a social networking incident involving a man who wasn't careful about communication. The man in question wrote a post on Twitter when he arrived in a town for a business presentation. The post was a relatively minor bash on the town itself, but he didn't know that several employees of the company he was to present at received regular updates on his posts through Twitter.

This might not have been a big deal, but the town was Memphis, the employees were die-hard home-town folk, they worked at FedEx headquarters, and the man was doing a presentation there on employee communication.

When it comes to communication, for business or personal, write and speak as if the whole world is paying attention. If you don't, the whole world might, but you won't like it.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

5 Tips for Unique Corporate Presentations

The problem with using the best technology, the best techniques, is that soon enough you'll look like every other go-getter. This doesn't mean these things are bad. It just means that you have to use them intelligently to go from mediocre to unique.

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing sees a lot of presentations. Unfortunately, these presentations aren't all good. No, most are just downright bad. In his blog, From Where I Sit, he gives us five rules for better presentations.

The first rule is obvious, so obvious that it's understandable that we've strayed from it. The rule is to remember that the main focus of a presentation is not PowerPoint, graphics, or gimmicks, it's you the speaker. Those other things are there to augment you and your message.

Which sounds more appealing: a lecture or a story? Why can't a lecture be a story? A presentation should have a natural flow going from point to point. It will provide structure and help your audience follow you better. Plus, it's much more interesting to listen to the struggle, downfall, and ascension to triumph of your company's last quarter than pointing to a graph and rattling off some numbers.

The next two rules concern your video presentation support materials, otherwise known as your PowerPoint presentation. These are great to instantly send a message to your audience. However, there is danger in deciding which messages, and how much of each to display. Always remember "Less is more." Constrict text to a few lines per slide, and make it large so everyone can see without squinting.

Hyatt agrees that handouts are a good thing, but with a caveat. Instead of handing them out before your presentation (basically giving your presentation away), or during your presentation (distracting from and derailing your flow), pass around handouts at the end. It reinforces your message, and helps in case your audience missed something. But don't confuse an agenda with presentation notes. An agenda tells the audience the purpose of the presentation, and provides signposts to guide them. Your handouts will point out scenic views and important landmarks, filling in the back story after you have passed by.

Of course with web conferencing, you have to adjust to the fact that your audience members are spread throughout the world. This doesn't mean you can't distribute handouts, in fact because everyone is already at their computer it's as simple as emailing a Word document as you are ending your presentation, or putting a link in the chat window.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

AccuConference |

How to Download Recordings

There are a few ways to download your audio conference recordings from AccuConference. For no charge, you can record your conference calls and they will be available on your customer account to download for thirty days. One of the things we get asked about is how to download the recordings from the customer account. Not just where they can be found but actually where do they go once you click on them.

There are a few ways you can download our recording files (or most files) from a website. Here’s how you get your conference recordings from our site.

Click directly on “Save”

When you click directly on “Save” the file will go to your “Downloads” folder on your computer. This is a special file designated by your preferred web browser to store any of the things you get from different websites.

When you download a recording directly from our website by clicking on “Save” the file will usually go into that folder. It might pop up on a bar at the bottom of your browser and you can double click and play the file or click and drag it to your desktop to save it there.

Right Click and Select “Save Link As” from the Pop Up Menu

This method allows you to save the file in a specific location, rather than having it go directly into your “Downloads” folder on your computer.

After you click on “Save Link As”, you will be able to choose a folder or location on your computer. You can create a folder on your desktop for your conference recordings or save them directly to a shared drive and make them available for all of your co-workers.

Recording your conference calls is a great way to keep everyone accountable and once you have the file on your computer, they are yours forever. You can use them for podcasts, put them on your website, or have them transcribed to meet any disclosure requirements. What will you do with your conference recordings?

Four Inexpensive Tools for Customer Service

If you're considering reevaluating your customer service strategy your main focus is figuring out where you can improve. A business' customer service strategy is not just about what information you're giving customers.

If you want to change your customer service philosophy, here are four inexpensive tools you can implement right away to make a change. I can give the seal of approval on all of these because we use them right here at AccuConference.

Knowledge

One of the most important parts of customer service is that your employees are familiar with your product and your company. When a customer calls in with a question or a concern, your goal is to make sure this is the only call that has to be made. Getting it right the first time makes a big impact on your customers and step one is educating your employees.

Trust

One of the best things you can do is trust your employees and this starts at the very beginning of a hiring process. We have a very specific hiring process that helps us to determine candidates that have the same philosophies and feelings about customer service that we have as a company, and because of this my managers trust me to handle some things on my own and to take a concern to a higher level when I need to.

Voice

This is AccuConference and we are not the droids you’re looking for. (Hah!) We don't use scripting. Sure, we have standard responses to things, but they aren't the product of a script, they are the product of our experience. This is a big difference. Not being on a script gives us the chance to develop a rapport with customers and let them get to know us.

No Bait, Just Fish

An advertisement, whether it is a commercial, a print ad, or even a tweet sets a tone and an expectation with your customers. If you can't deliver on a promise made in an advertisement, then you're suddenly in a position where your first interaction with a potential customer may be viewed as a deception. This isn't a good way to start a relationship and can take a lot of extra work to repair. This is why when someone sets up an account with us they find a low rate, all of our features, and our undivided attention.

How do you approach customer service?

Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Customer

Sometimes we can say things that can be taken the wrong way. When helping a customer, what we say can be the difference between resolving an issue the customer is having or making the customer furious and escalating it. There are words that can have a certain tone or connotation that we may not recognize when we say them.

Blog writer, Keith Agnew, lists words that he believes can kill your credibility. And he makes a valid point with one word in particular. When you start a sentence with the word “actually”, it can potentially have a condescending tone. That’s something you want to avoid when speaking with customers. For example, if you have a customer who believes they have paid their balance in full when they really short paid their bill, you may be tempted to start your rebuttal with “Actually…”. You’re probably just stating a fact, but the customer might think you are being patronizing. Instead, empathize with the customer’s frustration and start your sentence off with something like “I’m sorry for the confusion…” or “Let me see what happened…”. You’ll end up saving the customer the irritated feeling of not being heard and you still get your point across.

Another phrase you shouldn’t use would be “We can’t do that”. Even if you can’t do what the customer is asking for, giving them a flat no isn’t going to solve anything. The customer knows that you can’t perform miracles, but they do like it when you’re able to come up with a solution that fits their needs. I had a customer who needed to have an international call and wanted to use our International Toll-Free Service on their account. There was a problem though. They had a custom conference line with a custom greeting and they would lose the greeting if I added the service to their account. Instead of telling the customer “We can’t do that”, I started my sentence with “The only problem with doing that is…” and explained to them the reason why we couldn’t keep the custom greeting if they switched. I then suggested that they could still have their international call and keep their custom greeting if the moderator outdials to their international participant. Instead of telling the customer we couldn’t do something, I provided a reason why what they wanted wouldn’t work and offered a reasonable solution.

There’s a list of things that you shouldn’t say to a customer when you are trying to help fix their problem. People have even written books about customer service etiquette. Which tells me that those who recognize the importance of what they say and how they say it will have a better chance with understanding their customers’ needs. What words are on your list of things that you shouldn’t say to a customer?

The Fake Smile

Only those who know you, recognize it. It is a disguise to protect you and mask your true reaction. It is frequently used when facing a loss; whether it is a job, a promotion, a loved one, your youthful appearance or even your hair.

Recently, I had a fake smile day. I found myself dreaming most of it and not getting much done. I am a "Doer" not a "Thinker", so checking off a list at the end of the day has always been important. This day, I allowed myself to dream. Dream of what could have been, should have been and what I still want to be. I allowed my dreams rather than my actions to be a better part of the day. It made me cherish existence a little more when I was able to snap back to reality.

I started my day with a fake smile and somewhere along the way. I felt the smile and allowed it to be real. I set this feeling free. It is a not a great day, but I challenge myself to make it a good day, because I realize that life is a gift and a dream can make it even better. If you can use the fake smile long enough, it may evolve into you actually feeling like smiling. And if you take some time to dream, you may find a reason to smile.

Follow Your Instincts in Customer Service

A few weeks ago, something interesting and terrifying happened while refilling my gas tank. When I looked down, there was a puddle of gasoline under my SUV and gas was dripping down the wheel well. Since defects in gas tanks are actually pretty rare I suspected that it had to be overflow from when I was filling up.

Still, something didn't feel right. Even as I told myself that it was simply an overflow issue, I didn't fully accept it as the answer. After driving a block and half, I realized my miles to empty display had dropped nearly ten miles. I decided to take the vehicle to the dealership and lo and behold, there was a crack in part of my tank that needed to be replaced.

Cracks and defects in the gas tank are rare in vehicles. Who knows what could have happened if I had continued to drive around slowly dripping gas? I went with my instinct that something was horribly wrong, and I was completely right.

Instincts are a huge factor in why and how we do something. No matter if you want to call it your intuition, sixth sense, or your gut feeling, we do put a lot of importance on our instincts. They are a piece of us and driven by our personality and our makeup, so there are different instinctual reactions for everyone. Using your personal instinctual reactions at certain time when dealing with customers can be a boost to how you provide service for them.

Jump in When It's Right

If your instinct is telling you that your customer needs help, don't be afraid to go with your gut and jump in. Recently, I was walking a customer through some of the steps and after some of his questions indicated he needed a little extra help, I offered to put his invitation together for him. I want my customers to learn how to do things and I'm highly dedicated to not just answering their questions, but educating them on how everything works. There is a time and a place for education, but there is also a time for taking care of it so the customer doesn't have to.

Step Away When It's Not

It is possible to be unable to adequately communicate with a customer. As a customer, you think you're asking all of the right questions. As the operator, you feel like you're answering them, but you're both getting frustrated. Letting the customer talk to someone else doesn't mean that you're passing the buck, it means that you’re going to send the customer to someone that might have a better approach. We all learn differently, we all have ways that we are comfortable, and there might come a time when you are not able to speak to the customer in the way they need. Don't be afraid to step away from a client if your instinct is telling you that the conversation is going downhill fast.

In Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, he talks about how our spontaneous decisions can sometimes be better than the ones where we agonize over every little detail. Once we become an "expert", according to Gladwell, we can "thin slice" and use limited information to make a decision. This cuts out a lot of the information that can sometimes cause us to over think a solution. Instincts are a powerful tool in making a decision.

Do you trust your instincts?

Stop Procrastinating and Get Your Hands Dirty


Have you ever looked at your to-do list and put off the things that you’re not the least bit excited about doing? Of course you have. I do it, too. We all do. And even though I put off those tasks for later, I know I have to eventually get to them before they start piling up. Whether it’s work related or in our personal lives, procrastination seems to tempt us at one time or another. But if we know we eventually have to get our hands dirty, why do we wait until the last minute?

The Task is Outside of Our Comfort Zone

Psychiatrist, Phil Stutz, and psychotherapist, Barry Michels, have asked the question as to why we procrastinate. They point out that many of us hold off on certain things because it’s outside of our own comfort zone. One job I used to hold was an analyst position. I always procrastinated on the detailed excel reports because the math that went into all of it was overwhelming. And all of the formulas and equations had to be triple checked because those reports were sent to senior executives. It caused a lot of pressure on my end and sent me mentally outside of my comfort zone. I would wait until the last minute to do the reports and cause myself needless stress to have them done by their deadlines. I always met my deadlines, but I made myself sick in the process. Now, I take a different approach. If I come across something that I feel is overwhelming, I take a deep breath and dive in. I find it’s better to tackle the most stressful tasks first and save myself from the unwanted stress.

We’re Waiting For the Perfect Moment

Sometimes we tell ourselves that right now is not the right time to do something. And in some cases, we’re right. Right now may not be the right time for you to buy a house or start a family. But for lesser life changing events, like filing your taxes or asking for that promotion, procrastination won’t benefit you. If you want that promotion, you have to show that you’re not only ambitious but that you deserve it as well. If you procrastinate because you don’t think it’s the right time to ask, then you’re letting the chances of a better future slip through your fingers. Instead, make that leap and take a chance. The worse that can happen is you’re told no, but you can walk away with the confidence knowing that you at least tried.

The Task is Too Boring

Honestly, I hate doing laundry. It’s one of the most boring chores I ever do. I find folding and hanging clothes to be so tedious and mundane. But I know that it has to be done. When I first lived on my own, laundry would be the last chore that I would do. What I then realized was that I was having to stay up late to make sure that all of the laundry was done, making me pretty tired the next day. It was then that I learned that if I wanted a decent night’s sleep, I would need to start doing laundry earlier. I also decided to incorporate music into my laundry routine. So now I rock out to Maroon 5 or some classic Depeche Mode to help push myself through a chore I’d rather not do.

No matter what the excuse is, procrastination really does nothing more than prolong the inevitable. If you’re ready to take charge and get things done, make one of your goals this year to be to stop procrastinating. You may find those things you were holding off on doing really weren’t that bad to begin with.

Leadership Lessons Learned from Olympians

Jared Zezel.

Does that name ring any bells?

No? Okay, how about Allison Pottinger?

Allow me to shed some light on our mystery guests. Jared and Allison are members of the 2014 USA Olympics team who will compete for Sochi gold in the sport of curling.

Heh? Curling? What's that? I was exposed to curling during the Salt Lake City winter games and while it may not seem very exciting, I've found it to be more edge of my seat than some of the other winter sports. (Maybe it's because I have no idea how it's judged but I find myself waiting to hear the teams calling out instructions and then cheering as one stone slaps against another.)

There's no one who wouldn't agree that in order to be an Olympian you have to work your tail off, but the curling champions of the world compete in a sport that lacks a sexy or romantic flair. Major brands are not going to approach the gold medal curling champion and ask them to promote the hot new car or next big thing. No, brands and advertisers want Shaun White flipping over the top of a BMW or Gracie Gold cutting figure eights around a bowl of cereal. (Editors Note: IOC regulations prevent Olympians from promoting products during the Olympic Games, but the games are an opportunity to make a "name" for yourself.)

People like to think that athletes are in it for the money and the sponsorship deals. It's a bonus, yes, but we can learn a lot about drive and leadership from the champions of both popular and the little known Olympic sports.

Hard Work and Dedication

Nothing comes easily and we would all do a lot to remember that we can't just wish for our dreams to be fulfilled. We have to go out and fall on the ice or face plant into the snow. When you get up and brush yourself off, you try again, and you have a better idea of your mistakes. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication to be considered as the "elite" of anything - be it curling, writing, snowboarding, or basket making.

Set Goals Early On

Not all athletes want to be Olympians. Not all Olympians dream of a day when they can enter their sport professionally. No matter what they want, they decide at a young age what they want to be. Going pro versus being an Olympian might take you to different circles of competition or choose a different coach. Setting a specific goal from the get-go can help you determine the path that you need to take, rather than just wandering in the weeds with no real direction.

Success is What You Make of It

The champions of the sport of curling will likely never get a multi-million dollar deal to promote a brand or product. The Jared and Allison's of the Olympics will likely never be featured on the front of cereal box, but yet, they are still competing with all of their hearts and souls. Success isn't always about being the biggest, baddest, and most well-known name in a field. We won't all get to that point and in truth, almost none of us will. Set your success along the way in a manner that you can be happy with them. Reach for more, of course, but understand the importance in making strides in a consistent manner. For many athletes, being an Olympian means more than being the "face of the Olympics".

I highly encourage you all to watch the lesser known events during the Sochi Games and be sure to get to know Team USA as we go for the gold in 2014.

Three Ways to Boost Your Conferences in 2014

Towards the end of 2013, I had a customer call in and ask me one simple question: "Is there anything we’re not taking advantage of?" There are a number of features we include, but customers might not know about. We went over a couple of things that I noticed he wasn’t using and suggested using things like web conferencing and conference call recording for his calls in 2014.

Here are three of my favorite features to suggest to customers.

Brand Your Conference Calls

Add a custom greeting to your conference line so you can brand your events to your company. You can also use it to share news and events. It’s easy to do and we can update the message as often as you like. A lot of our customers like this option because the participant knows who is hosting the conference and is reassured that they have dialed into the right call.

Custom Hold Music / Greetings

A customer in financial planning uses custom hold music to play a recorded message about the different services his company offers. This is a great use of a free option to turn the waiting room before the conference begins into a virtual billboard. You can also upload some of your own music and participants can jam out while they wait for the call to begin.

Registration Pages

One of our customers sets up luncheon events and uses registration pages as part of their invitation. These pages can be fully customized to add your logo, images, links to your site, speaker information, and more. Using a registration page lets you track attendance and know if you’re marketing your conferences to the right audiences by giving you a metric to measure your response rate.

All of these features can be a part of your next call with AccuConference. If you have questions about them, please give us a call 800.989.9239, or just give us a call to see if there’s anything more you can do with your conferences to get your participants involved. (Seriously, we like helping you.)

Sticking To Your Goals

Recently, I wrote a post about why it’s hard for us to stick to our New Year’s resolutions. Now, I want to take a look at some ways that might help you follow through with your goal planning. Here are some tricks that can help you stay on track.

Broadcast You Resolution

I’m not talking about paying for an expensive TV ad to let others know what your plans of change are (although that might help make you more accountable if you did). But telling your friends and family and posting about your resolutions on Facebook or Twitter may help you commit more to your goals. It gives people an idea of what you plan to do, and it may even encourage them to do the same thing. In addition, you can post weekly or monthly updates so people can see how well you’re sticking to your guns. Posting your updates might even make you feel better about your ambitions and help you gain the encouragement you need to follow through. It may also help if you’re seeking advice from people who have accomplished goals similar to yours.

Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

An article from The Baltimore Sun suggests setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. These are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Think about it. If you tell yourself that you’re going to lose 50 pounds in 2 months, you’re setting yourself up for failure. While the goal is specific with the time and the number of pounds you want to lose, it’s not very realistic nor is it very healthy. However, if you tell yourself that you’re going to lose 10 pounds in 2 months, you will have a greater chance of achieving your goal. And you may leave yourself some room to surpass your expectations.

Prepare for Setbacks

Sometimes life throws us a curveball and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. So we have to prepare for the setbacks we’re faced with. Many times, people find themselves faced with a setback and it discourages them from continuing on with achieving their goals. While setbacks can be frustrating, you shouldn’t allow them to derail you. Take the late Steve Jobs as an example. During the beginning stages of Apple, Steve encountered many setbacks. A notable one would be in 1976 where he confused his first order of 50 Apple I computers. He delivered 50 circuit boards instead of finished machines. He could only take partial payment for the order, which gave his company a financial setback. However, he didn’t let that stop him. By the end of the year, they delivered 150 finished computers.

Saying you’re going to achieve a goal and actually accomplishing it are two different things. One takes thought while the other takes action. If you’re having a hard time following through with the goals you have planned, try using these steps to make them more attainable.

Is Your Smartphone Making Life Worse

I love my iPhone and my iPad. I use them to listen to music, play games, text with my friends and family – in fact, I can freely admit that I will choose to text someone rather than make a phone call. It's quick, it’s easy, and it doesn't distract me from something else. Recently, I realized that I checked my phone before I walked out to go down to my car and once I got into the drivers' seat, I checked it again.

Why? Did I really think I was going to miss something that was that important in a time span of three minutes? No, I didn't, but I’m addicted to checking my phone.

Recent studies suggest that the average smartphone user checks their phone 150 times a day.

We use these kinds of devices for everything. We keep our lives organized in the calendar applications, read all of our books on screens, and we share messages and videos with friends and family right from the palms of our hands. It's great to live in an age where being able to talk to my brother while he was deployed was as simple as an internet connection, but our reliance on technology is not all fun and games.

Smartphones have recently been proven to cause insomnia. Harvard researchers published results on how our dependency on technology has crept to the bedroom and is now throwing off our body's "light-dark cycle", which is spurning an increase in insomnia. Head researcher, Charles A. Czeisler, reports that as we expose ourselves to more artificial lights we "dramatically changed the timing of our endogenous circadian rhythms."

Overexposure to devices that think for us have caused an interesting phenomenon dubbed by Psychology Today as "The Google Effect". Research from a 2011 study found that people are encouraged to think less as we have more access to search engines right in our hands. Have you ever watched a movie and thought "hey I know that guy" and then turned to Google to type in a long and vague question to see what pops up, rather than trying to recall his face in your memory bank? That is the Google Effect.

Your brain at rest can actually be one of your most creative and productive times. Research in the early 1990s showed that your brain never really stops, even when your body is at rest. A resting state allows your brain to entertain ideas that seem random in nature. In contrast, when you are focused on a detailed activity, your brain devotes most of its energy to the task at hand. I think that being constantly tired to a device limits the ability of our brains (at least my brain) to allow those random thoughts and ideas to flow.

It’s not just your brain and creativity that can suffer from overuse of your smartphone. An Auckland chiropractor reports a rise in cases of cervical kyphosis. The curvature of your spine at the neck is developed as baby during "tummy time" when you practice holding your head up. Cervical kyphosis is the straitening of the vertebrae at the base of your neck, and many medical professionals are cautioning cell phone users to the dangers of looking down all of the time.

That's not to say that smartphones don't do a lot of good for us and social networks. Studies have been conducted after disasters (like tornadoes) that give credit to social networks and text messages for helping to get messages to those in the paths of dangerous weather to seek shelter.

The development of applications for your phone range from games to technology that allows you to save money – like with the Nest learning thermostat or can even keep your medical information on hand in the event of something happening to you. Applications allow you to store your current medications, dosages, and even if you have an allergies. In the event of an emergency, EMTs or doctors can have quick access to your medical history so that they can best attend to you when you arrive at the emergency room.

Smartphones can enrich our lives but I think it's always important to remember that too much of a "good" thing can be bad. Change your habits by putting away your phone for thirty minutes to an hour when you get home and letting your brain "idle" or delete applications that you’re constantly checking.

Are you up to the challenge? (I don’t know if I am but I'm going to try.)