Are Your Emails Clear?

Email, texting, and chatting are very popular forms of communication but these written forms of communication do something that we weren't expecting when we embraced them with open arms.

They are hurting our ability to deliver clear messages

In our company, email is a very popular form of communication - we email customers and each other to get follow ups on accounts or answer inquiries. It's important that everyone in our company knows how to write a great email, but I've noticed lately that some messages are getting lost in translation. When you remove elements from communication like tone and non-verbal signs things become more open to emotional interpretation. Since how someone says something is just as important as what they actually say, email can cause more problems than it means to.

To make sure that you're communicating effectively when using email be sure to embrace these suggestions and start applying to your emails immediately.

When In Doubt...

Have you been emailing with a co-worker or customer a couple of times and there are still questions? Make your last email say something like Is there a good time that I can call you to go over this? Like I said we communicate with our customers through email and many times they need instructions on how to use some of our different features. If a customer has to email us twice to get the answers to their questions, we pick up the phone and give them a call. Simple as that.

Get a Second Opinion

There may be a chance that your email needs to send a stern message. Most often this occurs when you are the customer and you're trying to make your point clear. Just be sure to have a friend or someone else check the message over before you hit that send button. Being stern is one thing - being a jerk is another.

Ask for Confirmation

When setting up plans to meet or set up a conference call if you initiate the contact, be sure to ask the other party to confirm the date and time selected. A simple Just let me know if that works for you and I'll look forward to seeing / speaking with you then can cut down a lot of confusion on who is going to start the call or if it's even a good time for all the people involved.

Email is not a perfect form of communication and when you're communicating in writing, you lose a lot of the other clues in your communication strategy. Be sure you're writing clear and effective emails to your customers, co-workers, or even your friends. What are your must have rules for writing emails?

Laura Interns At AccuConference {Week 2}

By: Laura

It’s week 2 at AccuConference and I’m still learning. I got a taste of link building this week. Although the process is simpler than I expected, it’s definitely more tedious than I realized. So far it may not be my favorite thing to do, but I did stumble across some interesting websites and blogs. I like that I’m learning how to do everything by trying it myself, instead of sitting in a classroom and being told how it’s done. I’m only on the first step though. Maranda told me my work so far was “perfect,” and in my opinion, that’s better than receiving an A+. I still have a lot more to learn, but it’s good to know that I’m doing things right.

I have also been working on an SEO project this week. This includes a lot of writing, which has been much more enjoyable for me. I’m learning about conference calling in the process. I think it’s great that AccuConference not only provides a conference calling service for their customers, but they offer advice, tips, and even eBooks on how to have a successful conference call. I believe that customer relationships are something that a lot of businesses don’t put enough effort into, but for AccuConference it’s something they emphasize.

I was also asked to edit a book they are about to publish about public speaking skills. (The book I half-way named) This is where the stuff I learned in school comes in handy, and makes me thankful that the Mayborn School of Journalism required me to take the hardest test I’ve ever taken in my life in order to register for classes. (GSP Test) I will be putting my copy of this book to good use, as public speaking is an area for which I need to improve.

I started drinking coffee. I have always been a caffeine-addict, but never a coffee drinker. I don’t know if it’s because the coffee here is really good (and free) or because I never get out of bed early enough to buy my usual energy drink. Either way, it makes me feel older!

Waking up early isn’t an adjustment for me, but the days seem to go by much quicker than I anticipated. When I think of people working the 9-5 schedule, I think of the staff anxiously waiting 5:00 p.m. because the days drag on slowly. That is not the case here. I usually don’t even realize the time till my stomach starts growling.

It’s only been two weeks and I already have something to show potential employers. In the end, I know my internship at AccuConference will give me the experience I longed for and help me land my first big girl job.

Improving Communication Skills {Part One}

Part One: Define Exactly What You Want to Improve

The umbrella of “communication skills” encompasses quite a bit. It can come down to every aspect of how another person receives a message from you and this can be everything from your nonverbal cues to the tone in which you use to speak to someone. For me a skill is something that can always be improved and should be evaluated periodically. For example, I’m a good writer, but I just started a writing improvement course, because writing is a skill. I need to practice, define some strengths, identify weaknesses, and work to improve them in a practical way that I can incorporate to my daily life.

Communication skills are the same. Even the seasoned and experienced public speaker or presenter can find things that they can improve on. A lot of speakers chose to tape their events and much like a coach or player on a sports team, will go back after the game and see where they could use improvement. No one is going to be 100% perfect every single time and professionals know that.

So if you’re looking to improve your communication skills you have to first be able to define exactly what needs to be improved, otherwise you’re simply going to be all over the place. A pitcher will work on getting his fast ball perfected, then his slider, and so forth. He won’t try to perfect all of his pitches at once and any skill that needs to be improved needs to be approached in the same way.

I recommend recording your recent speeches or presentations and then reviewing them so that you can spot areas of improvement. Some things to be on the lookout for when you’re watching your video:

  • Are you reading the text from your PowerPoint slides? This should be avoided because it doesn’t encourage the audience to listen to your every word. There’s no fear that they might miss something amazing because you’re just reading something they could read on their own. Use your slides to enhance your presentation but don’t let it steal the show from you.
  • Watch to see if you’re standing in one place or dancing around like an extra from The Nutcracker. If you’re not moving enough then you’re not doing enough to visually stimulate your participant’s brain. If you’re moving around too much then you make it difficult for the audience members to keep up with you. There needs to be a happy medium between the two.
  • On a conference call or a webinar the power to stimulate your audience visually is almost completely gone. If you’re lucky you have your PowerPoint slides to back you up, but it could all come down to the way you sound when you speak. Do you speak too fast and make it difficult for participants to understand you? Are you speaking in a monotone and boring voice that almost always guarantees your audience is going to do something else? When the audience can’t see you, you have to use your voice to mimic the same kinds of movements they would be exposed to – and too much or too little of a good thing is never a good idea.
  • What’s going on non-verbally? The way your body looks on stage or on a video conference can be a huge factor in how much your audience retains. You want your body to be open to the audience and you want your arms to move in a comfortable fashion. If you are standing in front of the audience with your arms crossed over your chest, you’re basically throwing up a wall between you and them and indicating that you don’t care if they listen or not.

Those are just some of the communication improvements that you might notice you need to address. The next part of this series will talk about identifying your strengths and weaknesses within what you want to change so that you’ll know exactly what needs to be fixed. And I’ll tell you what I’m going to work on improving.

What are you going to work on?

{Image Credit to West Point Public Affairs on Flickr}

Communication Relationship: How Social Media Can Affect Our Skills

And What We Can Do To Get Back to the Basics.

Something horrible happened this weekend. I was downtown with a friend having a great time and when she said something funny, I responded by saying, “L-O-L!” My hand clapped over my mouth in shame. What was this? I’m a communications professional and I write about presenting in front of large audiences and now, here I am, busting out “chat speak” in the middle of my conversations. This is an unacceptable influence that texting and social media are having on my communication skills.

I’m almost certain this same influence is bleeding over into my written communication as well. Email correspondence and written letters (yes – I still send things that way) have been effected not only by the dominance of Twitter, SMS messaging, and Facebook in my life, but also in general by my proximity to the computer and smart phone. Things like spelling and punctuation are suddenly less of a concern because something with an artificial brain will now think for me.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln studied a similar phenomenon in regards to the use of calculators in the classroom. A teacher working on their MAT noticed that assessment scores were low for sections on the tests that did not allow the use of calculators and decided to test the theory that technology was taking the students too far from the “basics”. In the end, the teacher found that there was an increase in non-calculator related sections of tests. (It should be noted that her findings were small and didn’t move her to abdicate removal of calculators from the classroom).

Now, I don’t care about math because I’ve never been very good at it, with or without the calculator, but I do care that technology can have detrimental effects on both communication and social skills. And while I support and love the growth of social media – the fact remains that when you find a “new” way of doing things, you forget the “old” ways. (Do you think a five year old would know what to do with a record or an 8-track?) So while you’re Tweeting and texting, take a few moments to keep your communication skills fresh.

  • Write something on paper. Step away from the keyboard. Sometimes, I just can’t help but go old school and write things out on paper. I feel like it helps me to get a better flow when I’m writing and I can always go back and type it later.
  • Make a phone call. If you are at the point where the same question has been asked twice, it’s time to pick up the phone and give your friend a call. There’s a pretty good chance that the person on the other end of the conversation is now inferring your responses with emotions and confusion. It’s time to let your voice take over the communication – a little bit of inflection goes a long way in clearing up the confusion.
  • Read a book. Personally, I prefer the bound with glue and paper kind to unwind and step away from technology, but if you’re going to use an e-reader, make sure it’s a dedicated device (we like the Kindle from Amazon). The reason for this is because you don’t want anything to disrupt you while you’re reading. Using a device like the iPad keeps you exposed to email, Words with Friends updates, and Facebook notifications.

Do you think your communication has been affected by technology? Are you trying to get back to having those basic skills of writing and speaking to others without the technology buffer zone? What kind of tips do you have?

Image Credit to scubasteveo on Flickr.

Master Your Voice to Captivate Your Audience

An often overlooked aspect of a presentation is your voice. I’m not talking about the things you say; this post isn’t about filler words or the context of your presentation, but about the actual quality of your voice. A study conducted at UCLA by Dr. Albert Mehrabian found that when visual, vocal and verbal sounds are inconsistent, the actual content of your presentation counts for a mere 7 percent of the entire message. Everyone’s paying attention to what you do. In fact, 55 percent of the message, according to Mehrabian, comes from your facial expressions and body language. The remaining 38 percent comes from your voice. Sure, it’s less of a factor than your posture, your gestures, and your facial expressions combined. But mastering your voice gives your message a 38 percent better chance of getting through. With that in mind, here are some tips for improving your voice quality.

Let yourself be heard…by yourself

Have you ever heard yourself on a recording and discovered that your voice sounded different than the way you hear it in your head? That’s because it does. Your voice enters your inner ear via vibrations in your chest, throat, and mouth. This is called bone-conditioned sound, because it hits your inner ear after traveling through the tissue of the head. All external sounds travel through the air, where they’re dispersed, then enter your ear. This is called air-conditioned sound. The latter sound type typically sounds less rich, higher in pitch. So one of the best ways to get an accurate idea of what you sound like is to leave yourself messages or speak into a recorder. You can try different things out and alter the pitch of your voice to get the best clarity.

Animate Your Voice

Some people think it’s best to sound casual when they speak. But if you sound too casual you may come off as dispassionate, monotone, or downright boring. Instead, focus on animating your voice, delivering key emphasis on important aspects, varying pitch and tone. With some practice your talks will become livelier, your audience more engaged.

Physical Vocal Support

There are a number of physical things you can do to improve voice quality. You can sit or stand up straight, which ensures your airway is unhindered. Take deep breaths; the more air the better. As you talk you can use your lower diaphragm to push the air back out, helping your voice to sound clear and confident. You should also focus on using the muscles in your tongue and mouth to articulate the words correctly and avoid slurring.

Paying attention to the actual quality of your voice is one of the best ways to captivate an audience. Though it may seem tedious, taking the time to learn the above steps is one of the best ways to improve your public speaking.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Meet Our New Intern - Laura

I am happy to present to you our latest intern Laura. (We kind of like that name) Laura is a student at the University of North Texas and is majoring in Advertising. I love the opportunity to mentor - so I personally am super excited to have her around.

By: Laura

Excited. Relieved. Nervous. That sums up how I felt when I found out that I got the internship at AccuConference. I was about to start my last semester EVER, with no real experience in the marketing world. Although my degree plan doesn’t require me to have an internship, I feel that is necessary if I want to find a decent job when I graduate. There is only so much you can learn sitting behind a desk in a classroom. So thank you AccuConference for hiring me!

I googled AccuConference when I applied for the fall internship to learn more about the company and to make sure it wasn’t a pyramid scheme or some company using fancy words like “marketing” or “advertising agency” to sucker in naïve students like me into selling their product door to door. (Yes, this has happened to me more than once.) This has taught me to research every company before I apply. After my phone interview I did a little more research and found the blog. I kept up with the blog while awaiting the response from Mr. Byrd about a second interview and I was happy to see that the current interns wrote about their experiences. This gave me a little insight so I somewhat knew what to expect out of an internship at AccuConference.

I was happy to see that the previous interns enjoyed their time at AccuConference and learned a lot about marketing, SEO, and the business world. It’s also always nice to know that the people you are about to work with aren’t monsters and will treat you with respect. Reading these blogs made me more excited about starting my internship.

I spent my first day training in order to learn more about the company. I knew AccuConference was a conference call service, but because I have never taken part in a conference call in my life, I wasn’t sure what it was all about. By the end of the day I was helping out with a conference call for a well known boxer. I had no idea who he was, but my boyfriend was pretty impressed.

My first assignment from Byrd was to think of a new title for the book they are about to publish. After our brainstorming session at Starbucks, I can now take credit for the first half of the title. It was nice being able to contribute and to know that my ideas could actually be used for a real business. I felt a little sense of accomplishment. I hope I will get many more of these opportunities in the next few months.

I was also introduced to SEO with Maranda. I quickly realized my 3 week summer course on online marketing has taught me nothing. Well, maybe a little but I still have a lot to learn. I’m a “hands on” learner, so I am eager to get started!

How to Spoil Your Audience

I’m an addict for television spoilers for many of my favorite shows. (I’ve been doing confessions a lot lately, but they are fun). It makes me crazy to not know idea what is about to happen to my favorite couple or if the loner character will finally find love. I have to know everything – it gets me invested, it gives me something to look forward to. It makes me want to count down the days until the show premieres. It’s a reason why season finales are often filmed with cliffhangers – because it generates the “oh my God I can’t wait” factor for the audience. Take my brain candy show, Gossip Girl, for example: at the end of the last season, the final scene was a shot of a positive pregnancy test, but no clues as to who it might belong to. I have been biting my nails all summer and with spoilers coming out, I’ve been hoping for some clues. (Alas: there are none. This secret is locked up tighter than Fort Knox.)

Create that nail biting experience for your audience.

Take it from Alan Ball – it’s all about marketing. The Trueblood writer is a genius at cutting and editing his promos to get you excited about next Sunday. When you start planning the meeting, event, or conference call you have to give the potential attendees the highlights and move on. You want them to read a headline or a bullet point and wonder, “What’s that all about?” They need to want more.

Don’t be afraid to tell them why it’s worth their time.

Most shows start to advertise messy promos reminding you of the new season before the new season starts to film. The team over at the CW Networks will take the most delectable highlights from the recently concluded season and use them as a marketing tool so that you have the show on your mind. In your reminder emails, send out highlights from a previous event, the link to the old live blog stream, or a compilation of what other people said about your event.

Sneak peeks are the spoiler junkie’s favorite thing.

I love that Grey’s Anatomy releases a number of sneak peeks the week before an episode airs. A lot of times, for season premieres or finales you will get to see the first 5 to 8 minutes, but they always cut off at the part where I’m on the edge of my seat, about to scream at the screen. In invitations or reminders, include enough attention, but back it off. You want them to bite their nails, remember?

Above all – deliver.

If you’re going to promise me an “awesome” promo or an “unforgettable” episode – you better deliver; otherwise, I could be tempted to think twice about choosing to watch your show the next week. The same goes for your presentation – you can spin it, build it up, tease that it’s awesome all you want, but if you get in front of the audience and it isn’t exciting, then you’ve let the audience down and they will think twice about attending your next event.

As a spoiler addict I want – no I need – to prepare myself for what to expect on my favorite shows. I can’t stand watching most shows without something to look forward to. Your audience wants to look forward to something too, so give them that little something. What are you doing to spoil your audience?

We Remember 9/11

I like to think that I’m honest on this blog. I like to think that I give you all, you wonderful readers, an insight into what my real personality is. If I’ve represented my way in the hopes that I have then you will understand when I say that this post had to be written today.

As you know, Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks against the United States. In the aftermath of these attacks everything changed. Life as we knew it would never be the same. It was the same year that I graduated high school and over the course of a single summer the world would overwhelm me.

On the eve of the anniversary of the attacks, I’d like to just take a moment to ask that if you see a member of the fire department, police force, military, or an EMT out where you’re eating dinner or getting coffee, take a moment to thank them for what they do.

In fact, it’s something we should to a little more of.

With that being said, this post is dedicated in memory and honor to all civilians, first responders, Port Authority officers, and military members who lost their lives on such a day.

5 Keys to Gaining a New Perspective

The The Prop Comics Guide to Public Speaking

This post kicks off a series on what a prop comic can teach us about how to present to an audience. We hope you enjoy!

I’m assuming that most of you would recognize the name Carrot Top. No? Okay, I’m wrong. How about the name Gallagher? (Come on, even I know that one) Both are comedians, but not the typical kind of get up and spew jokes into a microphone type – these two are prop comics.

Prop comedians use everyday objects to create humor. Carrot Top and Gallagher are two of the better known names. For example, a prop comic will use a breakaway chair or a street sign as a visual representation of their joke. Sitting down in a chair and falling to the floor can be a little bit funnier than saying “he sat in the chair and he fell”.

Prop comics are (sometimes) funny because of the way they see the world. They have a completely different perspective on life than we do. This changes the way a joke is delivered and makes the old seem new again. Speaking on the same subject over and over again can start to feel the same way but if you take the prop comic’s stance and look at things from a new perspective.

Look at things from a new perspective is simply a fancy way of saying use your imagination. If you don’t feel like you’re very good at that – don’t fret, there are some things that you can do to rekindle that old spark in your brain.

  1. Talk to a child. Children see things in an incredible way. Talk to a child about different objects and watch their imaginations run wild.
  2. Drive a different way to work in the morning. This one was my boss’s suggestion and I loved it. A different perspective isn’t always a different way of thinking of things. Sometimes, it’s simply seeing the physical world from a change of direction.
  3. Take an art / writing / other creative class. There is very little that can open your mind like simply being educated. Classes like this help to teach you how to harness the imagination you had when you were a child and put it into practice.
  4. Go to the city / country. People in the country do things differently than people in the city. Everyone knows it but taking a little trip one way or the other will remind you that you are not alone. Visit the grocery store and observe how the local family owned grocery operates differently than the chain store you attend.
  5. Go people watch at the mall. Make up stories about the different couples and people you see. If you haven’t seen our post on how to spin a story from a moment, I urge you to go over there and follow these steps at the mall. Making up a simple “who, what, when, where, why” for people you don’t know will put your imagination into overdrive.

The reason a prop comic can be really popular is because they are looking at items that we see every single day in a new and exciting way. By doing this with your presentation topic you can breathe new life into an old discussion and get your audience moving in a different direction.

How Do I Avoid Decision Fatigue?

In a given day you make hundreds of decisions. What time to wake up. What to wear. What to eat for breakfast. New research published in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has discovered that each decision taxes our brain’s ability to make decisions, so that as the day wears on and we make more and more decisions, our ability to ponder different options and choose wisely becomes hindered.

In the NAS study, they offered the following example (via the New York Times). Three Israeli prisoners went before a parole board on the same day. Prisoner 1: An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud. Case was heard at 8:50 a.m. Prisoner 2: A Jewish Israeli service a 16-month sentence for assault. Case was heard at 3:10 p.m. Prisoner 3: An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud. Case was heard at 4:25 p.m. Of the three prisoners, can you guess which one was paroled? The researchers analyzed 1,100 decisions over the course of the year. In their research they found a pattern: prisoners whose cases were heard early in the morning received parole 70 percent of the time.

Prisoners whose cases were heard late in the day were paroled 10 percent of the time. True to this statistic, the prisoner whose case was heard at 8:50 a.m. was the only one who was paroled, despite his case being very similar to that of the prisoner who appeared at 4:25. For the late prisoner, the judges’ brains had given up. Their ability to make tough decisions had been sapped. Studies similar to the above have been duplicated time and time again. In another instance, for example, people on a diet were offered M&Ms and chocolate-chip cookies throughout the day. A control group was offered nothing of the sort throughout the day.

Later both groups were given difficult geometry puzzles to solve. Researchers found overwhelmingly that the group who hadn’t forced themselves to turn down chocolate-chip cookies and M&Ms all day, the group who hadn’t sapped their will power, were able to stick with the problems and more likely to solve them than the other group. The M&M- and chocolate-chip-cookie group simply gave up more easily. So what can these findings teach us about making decisions in our own lives? Here are a few things to try

  • Schedule important decisions in the morning – In the morning your mind is fresh and ready to think. Your decision ability hasn’t been drained.
  • Make decisions on a full stomach – Giving your brain a dose of glucose, which is contained in food, can recharge your decision-making ability and your willpower. (Unfortunately, a catch 22 for dieters!)
  • Establish habits which avoid things that test your willpower – For instance, schedule a workout time so you go every day, no matter what. This makes it a habit, something you don’t have to force yourself to do, which eliminates the mental effort of making choices.
  • Schedule downtime in between important decisions – Simply allowing your brain some time to idle will give your willpower a chance to recharge.