Three Simple Tips for Social Media Crisis Management

The big story over the weekend was Comcast business and residential services being down across the United States. From South Carolina to California, most major metro users experienced a weekend outage that lasted from early Saturday into late Sunday. While watching the issue unfold from my friends on social media, I curiously took a look at the Charter Twitter accounts.

I was surprised to see there had been no update. Doing a search for #charter and #charteroutage showed a lot of customer reaching out over social media and still, the two accounts were silent. In fact, at the time of this writing, they have only addressed the issue in the last twenty-four hours. The lack of reach on social media, complied with the inability of their customer service number to handle the volume of calls left a lot of unhappy customers.

Customer service is not an easy job, especially when there is a crisis. When you’re the one who is responsible for social media, how do you respond to the outcry when something happens over the weekend? If you’re on social media people will find you there and expect a response and for your customers, it doesn't matter if it’s Monday or Sunday afternoon. Here are three quick tips for managing social media when crisis strikes and you’re away from your desk.

Get Alerts

When you manage a social media account, it’s likely that people are going to send you messages when you are not “at your desk”. Part of the responsibility of social media is to have the access to your accounts. To keep an eye on mine, I get email messages when someone sends me a reply, as well as hooking up the account so I also get text alerts. If something is wrong or there is a serious problem, customers will use available channels to get a hold of you. If you’re on social media, that is one of them.

Turn Off Your Auto Messages

One of the things that seemed to upset Charter customers over the weekend was the account of @CharterCom sending out auto responses of a contest. Of course, the debate over auto-tweets will forever continue, but it becomes even more important to be aware of what your accounts are doing in times of crisis. When you’re entire internet system is out nationwide – it’s probably a good time to turn those messages off and respond to the live messages coming in.

Send Out Something

In time of crisis, it’s not always easy to update your customers – especially when you don’t know exactly what the problem is. Since customer service usually is not IT, we get our updates as we can and while issues are being worked through – those updates are always not on a regular basis. IT’s primary concern is fixing the problem. Still, even if you don’t know what the problem is, you should at least send out some sort of notification via social media that an issue exists. @Charter and @CharterCom failed to address the problem at all, which frustrated a lot of their customers.

How do you handle social media in a crisis? Is there a difference in when something happens during the work week versus the weekend?

Secrets to Successful Conference Calls Part Two – The Right Provider


Last week, I talked to you about how planning and execution are important to having a successful conference call. Despite your new found ability to plan a great event, depending on your conference call provider, you could be setting up for a disappointing experience. Not all conference companies are created equally, so here’s a quick little guide to choosing the best provider so that you can have a successful conference call.

How Do You Decide?

In my experience, price is the most common concern for new customers. No matter if they are switching from one company to another, or if they are 100% new to hosting conferences, price is where decisions get made. I understand that – sticking to budgets is important. An excellent rate is imperative, but there is more to consider than just how much you pay per minute. Here are some dos and don’ts of choosing your provider.

DO:

  1. Choose a provider who asks you about what you need / want to do on a conference. This is my favorite question to ask customers, because not only does it help me to define what you need, it also helps me to let you know about other features that are available. If it’s your first conference call and you’re going to have a 300 person conference, I usually suggest an operator assisted event so that you can make sure the call goes smoothly.
  2. Pick the company that provides the quickest response for customer service. When choosing a provider, consider the response time if something doesn’t go correctly. More than once, I’ve had customers switch to AccuConference because other services offered zero customer service. It’s an important consideration in the process, because if there’s an issue, you want someone to answer the phone and be able to work with you to solve the problem.
  3. Shop Around. Most telecommunications providers offer some form of conference call services. However, it never ceases to amaze me when people are shopping around that are currently under contract to pay around 15 and 20 cents per minute. There are better deals with other services, with better reliability. While you’re looking around, take our handy list of questions to use when choosing your conference call provider.

DON'T:

  1. Accept restrictions. We ask to know about any conference that will be over fifty people otherwise you just use the service as you need to. For other companies, that number may be set lower or higher, and could be restricted to the times of day or days of the week. Don’t accept this when you choose a conference company, there are plenty of others.
  2. Use a service that isn't secure. When you choose a provider, you need to find out how their telephones lines work. A lot services will use public lines (and the internet) to route you and your participants to the conference room. A service like ours doesn't use public teleconference lines, so you’re going to have a more secure experience.
  3. Conference without a guarantee. Does the provider you’re choosing have a 100% guarantee on their services? A provider that doesn't work with you when a call doesn't meet your expectations probably doesn't offer customer service the way you need.

You can plan and plot your conference call or online meeting all you want, but without a reliable conference call provider, you and your participants might be disappointed in the outcome. Do ask the right questions and don’t hesitate to call us directly if you have any questions.

Secrets to Successful Conference Calls: Part One – Setup and Testing

Everyone knows that the first step to hosting a conference call is finding the best conference call provider. After you know who you’re going to use as your conference host, you can turn your attention to planning and executing your event. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some of the best tips that we’ve learned in our own experiences, as well as some of the impressively smart things our customers have been doing.

Here are the first two secrets to successful conferences.

Conference Size Estimation

Let me just be blunt with you – if this is your first conference call, you’re likely to overestimate. Let’s say you send out 300 invitations to a conference, my experience tells me that your turn out is going to be around 150. Because you’re going to pay based on how many lines you reserve, you want your estimate to be as accurate as possible. In addition, different kinds of conferences will yield varying results.

Here are three of the most popular kinds of conference and the kinds of attendance results we see.

First Time / Sales Types of Conferences

We have a client who hosts conference calls that are advertised on infomercials - you might have seen them if you’re up at two in the morning. They have three thousand people sign up for one conference call and in the end only about six hundred show up. Make sure the provider you’ve chosen will allow you to make changes 24 hours in advance of your call; you don’t want to pay for over estimations.

Mandatory Events

We have another customer who hosts conferences that are state mandated classes. People sign up for them and her attendance runs around 85%. Anything that is a mandatory meeting will have a higher than average attendance because, well, people have to attend the conference.

Pay to Attend

A conference that requires people to pay to attend will yield close to 99% attendance. No one is going to waste good money to pay for a conference they don’t attend. One of our customers sets up classes they teach through our conference calls. We know if they ask for 150 lines, they will have 150 people show up.

Considerations For Last Minute Events

Remember that the more last minute your conferences, the lower your attendance will be. More than once, we’ve had people set up last minute operated calls where they invite fifty or sixty people and only end up getting ten or eleven total attendees.

If you’re an AccuConference customer, we always suggest using registration pages on conferences where you’ll be sending fifty or more invitations. This will help you to know exactly how many of your invitations have been accepted and filled out.

Testing and Quality

Sound quality is one of the biggest issues we hear about on conference calls. Not all phone systems are created equally and your method can cause any number of poor connection issues. There are two things that can drastically affect your conference sound quality – like feedback, cut outs, and general disruptions to your conference.

  1. Phone Equipment
  2. Phone Provider

Before you start your conference, you need to run down some basic testing steps both before your call begins and while in pre-conference with your speakers.

  1. Get a co-worker and dial into a test conference the day before your conference. Testing is all about creating a dress-rehearsal, so mimic the same set up that you will have when it’s time for the live conference. Use the same phone, put yourself in the same room, and let your co-worker tell you about any sound issues like echo or feedback.
  2. On the day of the call, use a pre-conference to check the same things with your other speakers. Make sure that everyone can be heard and that the lines aren't cutting out.

Correct estimates of conference attendees and testing your equipment before the call are very important parts of your conference planning session. If you need some help planning your next event, give us a call and let us take it from there.

Distracted on a Conference Call – It’s Probably Your Brain’s Fault

If you find yourself distracted on conference calls, you might feel like you have a case of Monday’s – Friday’s. While that may be true, your distraction could be due to your brain feeling out of its element.

Your brain likes to sort out patterns and enjoys when things are predictable. When talking to another person face to face, your brain is able to draw conclusions about what the other person is saying to you and conversation will flow smoothly. It’s like a little computer, taking everything, processing it, and then spitting out answers to questions or making decisions. The problem is that your brain is always looking for data and there are some situations, like an audio conference that can be very hard on your brain.

Why Can Audio Conferences Be So Distracting?

When you and your brain walk into a physical meeting, your brain begins to break down the people in the room.

Cool – there is the speaker and her name is Judy. I can tell because she’ll be in front of the room so I won’t be trying to figure out who is speaking when I heard a voice.

On an audio conference call, your brain is severely limited on the data at hand. You only have voices to go by and since your brain wants to know everything, it starts to feel a bit like scrambled eggs. You’re trying to listen, but someone has a bad connection – which breaks up the predictability of speech your brain is loves.

While you are trying to listen and absorb the information being said, the different parts of your brain are trying to figure out who is speaking and if there is background noise that you can’t recognize, pieces of your thoughts will then be allocated to trying to figure out what that noise was.

So How Do We Combat Scrambled Egg Brain?

Add a visual element to your presentation. A simple PowerPoint will do the trick. Visual aids enhance a speaker’s word and provide positive impacts to your conference calls. Nearly 85% of information is retained when a visual aid is paired with an oral presentation.

Use conference features to limit the noise. Using things like lecture mode or muting your line when you’re just listening on a conference will lower the background noise and give all the participant’s brains less to focus on and figure out.

Have an operator host your next call. While not exactly a “visual” element, putting an operator on your call can signal to the cognitive areas of your brain that the particular event is “special” and deserves some extra attention. Operator calls can also take the names of your participants so that they can be announced by name if they ask a question. This will relieve the brain of some of that “who is speaking” pressure and allow them to focus on the question.

Remember that for as much as we like to say we can “multitask”, our brains do not function like little computers. For every task you add while focusing on another, you take away the available capacity for your brain to fully work on another task. You may be doing ten things at once but each task is only being filled at 5% capacity.

10 Things You Hate About Conference Calls

For the most part, our users see conference calls as a necessity to any business. They save you from traveling long distances to have meetings and get things done without having to congregate into a large conference room.

However, that doesn't mean there aren't things that people don’t like about conference calls. I did some fun little searches like “I hate conference calls!” and here are some of the things I've found people dislike the most about their conference calls.

  1. Open conferences with more than 10 people.
  2. Confusion over “hold” versus “mute” on telephones.
  3. Conferences that begin or end late.
  4. Reading directly from presentation slides.
  5. The sound of someone typing an email (or beating their keyboard with a baseball bat, sometimes it’s hard to tell).
  6. Intro tones
  7. Dogs, babies, and the cashier at 7-11.
  8. Poor sound quality.
  9. Calls that happen during lunch hours.
  10. A ten minute conversation about what the conference call will cover.

The good news is that these kinds of things are easily managed within a conference call provider’s features or just by preparing your meetings in advance.

Send out an agenda to set in advance what the call will be about and how long it will take, so that there’s less worry over running over at the end, and eliminate the need to discuss what the call is about.

Use lecture mode with any conferences over ten people. You’d be surprised the difference in the amount of background between five participants and ten. You should also turn off intro tones on calls this large, because nine people coming onto a conference at once is a lot of noise.

For smaller calls, let everyone know they can use *6 to toggle mute on and off for their own line so that background noise is at a minimum. This will also prevent the hold button from being used, which many times will deliver some sweet hold music or even a company announcement into the conference line.

Sound quality can be affected on your conference by a number of things from using a cell phone with a poor connection down to the kind of speaker phone you are using. Using a VoIP phone could be affecting the quality of your connection depending on the kind of service you have.

It’s always a good time to review your conference call etiquette and contact us if you have any questions about feedback, noise, or just want to learn more about what you can do with your conference call.

Solving Invalid Code Messages

Invalid code messages are one of the biggest topics we get calls about. Getting an invalid code message happens to all of us and no matter what the reason; the most important thing is being able to get you into your conference. If you are getting an invalid code message, please call us right away and we can look to see why and advise you on what to do there.

Of course, the solution to all of your invalid code messages is to set up QuicklinQ conference lines. With a QuicklinQ conference no code is needed to enter the conference. Just dial a phone number and you’re placed into the conference.

Call us to find out more – 800.977.4607.

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post…..

Here are the three biggest culprits to invalid code messages.

Closed Accounts

When you call us, we’ll check to see if your account is closed for any reason and then let you know what we need to reactivate or who we need to talk to. This is an easy one to fix and once we get an administrators approval the account can be reopened in a matter of seconds.

Technical Issues

Anything that interrupts the transmission of data can cause us to not get the right conference code. These things range from using VOIP phones or even background noise.

Wrong Code / Wrong Phone Number

Sometimes it’s just a matter of using or entering the wrong code.

If you’re getting an invalid code message give us a call right away. We can even call you and join you to the conference if we need to.

How to Introduce Your Company In Presentations

This week, I've been working closely with a new customer about setting up a large event. He’s never done an event like this before and wasn't entirely sure where he should begin his conference. Introducing your company is likely high on your list of things to cover on your conference call, and here is the approach I suggested to my customer. You only have two minutes to get the attention of an audience, so you want to give an overview of yourself in quick, yet succinct manner.

Answering three simple questions will help you introduce your company without taking up a lot of time.

What’s Your History?

Remember those two minutes? Start by giving your participants a brief understanding of who you are. Tell your audience about your beginnings. How was your company formed? What was the idea? Your company story is the key to getting an audience to understand who you are, where you came from, and what you faced to build.

What Do You Solve?

If I were to tell you what we do, it would be that we help people communicate. It’s not about web conferencing, audio conferences, and the other products we sell when introducing ourselves – it’s about how we make things easier for you. Instead of telling your participants that you sell something, tell them what you do. People will be more receptive to this approach rather than feeling like the entire conference was an opportunity for a sales pitch.

What Sets You Apart?

When you’re introducing you’re company, be sure to mention what sets you apart. Whenever I have the chance to introduce AccuConference to someone new, I mention our customer service philosophy, because that is the center of what we do differently. In order to memorable, you need to define the company’s special qualities so that you can be the first thought when your services are needed.

You can tailor these questions to introduce your company whether it’s your next large conference call or a cocktail party. By setting up your company and explaining how you solve problems for your customer will peak the interest of anyone who needs a company like yours.

How do you introduce your company in a presentation?

How Much to Charge for a Webinar

Webinars and conference calls can be a great way to reach more consumers and make connections for sales. More and more it's becoming a viable strategy to educational institutions and companies and before we start to talk about deciding how much to charge, there’s another question you have to answer first.

Should You Charge For Your Webinar?

Deciding to charge comes down to what kind of content you'll be presenting. Not all webinars are created equally and fall within one of two categories: premium or marketing content. Marketing content tends to be the kind that is designed for gaining exposure to a product or brand. Premium content is information that you can’t get anywhere else.

Let me give you an example – we have a customer in the banking industry that offers webinars on recent changes, updates, or new regulations in that field. The information is not available anywhere else and it's education in nature, which makes it acceptable to expect a small payment for attendance.

Now that you've decided if you want to charge for your webinar, you should do a bit of research before you choose an amount.

Start With a Google Search

The truth is that a webinar is online content and a lot of people have the expectation that it should be free. Start with a Google search in reference to the topic that you want to host a webinar about. Even if your webinar is "premium" content, if you see a lot of free content already out there it might not be the best idea to charge.

Ask Yourself What Makes Yours Exclusive

If you decide you still want to charge for your webinar, you need to determine what makes yours exclusive and special. Is there a very popular speaker on the conference? Are you getting insider information that participants usually can’t get unless they attend a conference or pay a membership fee? If you’re going to ask people to pay to attend something make sure that they are paying for something worthwhile. Before people choose to spend money on something they are going to want to decide what's in it for them – so make sure you have the answer to that question ready.

Check the Industry Cost

Do a quick search and see how much it would cost to attend a class at a local university for this information and include any potential travel costs like airfare or hotel. Beating that cost should be easy considering everything you need is online, including materials. Now, find out if your competitors are providing any webinar content like this? Can you beat their costs? Starts there and then adjust your cost as needed to cover any expenses.

The truth is that when it comes to 'what to charge for your webinar' there isn't a perfect answer. There may be times when you feel that charging wouldn’t be the best idea so I say you should always go with your gut. Just remember that your webinar attendance cost should come down to the value and not the money you want to make.

Recording Consent Laws – What to Know

One of the questions we get often is about the legality of recording conference calls. Recent events have raised the question of when is it legal to record a call and, most important, how do you know?

There are two kinds of recording laws – one party and all party consent.

One party consent means there must be at least one person being recorded to agree and everyone else does not need to be notified. Generally speaking this means that a person can record their own phone calls without letting the other person know about the recording.

All party consent means exactly what it sounds like – if you're going to record a conference call or meeting, you must have the consent of anyone who is in attendance. References to two-party consent makes an assumption that there are only two people on the conference, but be advised if you're in a state that is referred to as two-party, and you have three people on the conference, everyone must know about the recording.

Most states have adopted the federal policy of one-party consent, but there are a number of states that require all party consent (California being one of them) and I came across this recording resource for journalists that break down the requirements by state.

Federal law prohibits recording any conversation outside of one-party consent. So if you had an idea of setting up a microphone to hear what people are saying about you – think again, it's not legal.

For conference calls that cross state lines, I want to issue a word of caution here. The law isn't really clear on this one. You are in Michigan, and you call into our conference lines (which are in Georgia), and are joined by people around the United States for a call. Some court cases have suggested that because the call crosses state lines these become federal jurisdiction and the one-party consent statute would apply. The best rule of thumb is to treat any conferences that involve parties from multiple states as “all-party” consent.

So where does the Federal Communications Commission come in? FCC rules state that you can gain consent in a few different ways: gain verbal consent from the parties involved, play a "beep" at various intervals, or announce that the call is being recorded at the beginning. If you've ever had an operator assisted call with us, you know that we always announce that calls are being recorded and it's to ensure that both your call and our company adhere to FCC regulations.

There are limited exceptions to state consent laws – like on conferences with investors, recording is mandatory. When legal warrants are in play for wiretapping, no one has to be notified that calls are being recorded by law enforcement.

While it’s always a great idea to record your conferences, we want to make sure you understand that there are varying laws out there on when you have to disclose. If you need to turn on recording announcements, you can do that through your customer account or give us a call and let us walk you through that.

Disclaimer:This blog post is not meant to give legal advice, but rather to inform you of the different laws that exist in regards to recording consent.

A Film Lovers Guide to Creating Stuff

I love movies. There is nothing more relaxing than finding a good flick on TV or Netflix, curling up, and enjoying it. Sometimes, I want something light-hearted and spend my weekend watching the Harry Potter series. I use my subscriptions to expose myself to movies that I used to love (Airplane!) and to find things that I can’t wait to watch again. What makes a film hold special places in your heart? How do the best filmmakers and directors speak in a way that sticks with you?

All creation starts in the same place – with an idea. No matter if we’re thinking of a new novel to write, a new piece of art, or a film, it’s all about the idea. What is it about a film that stays with us – that something we saw 20 years ago can make us feel just as amazing when we see it again? How do we apply the things that make films special to what we want to create?

Be Honest and Sincere

One of my favorite movies is Girl, Interrupted. I really enjoy the character study, but the film, for me, is sold at the end, when the main characters are finally having it out. (I know the film was made years ago but SPOILER ALERT ahead) When Winona’s character tells a young Angelina Jolie that she is “dead already” it is one of the most riveting moments of the film. It’s point blank honest where one character tells another exactly what the audience was thinking.

People tell stories at the beginning of presentations and webinars that are about the mistakes they have made along the way. The best characters that we encounter in books and movies are the ones that appear as a bit of a mess. Be honest in your creation – don’t be afraid to personally admit or create a character that is flawed. It’s the truth that people want to hear and enables you to be relatable.

Create to Entertain and Not to Sell

I watched this great documentary called Best Worst Film surrounding a little known 80’s flick known as Troll 2. Everyone, including the actors, freely admits that yes the movie was terrible, but the film still has this national cult following. People love both because and in spite of it being terrible. In the documentary the director was asked about how he felt about the critical review of his film and his response was that he wanted to entertain, and if he achieved that, he was happy.

Now I’m certain that the director of the “worst film ever made” didn’t set out to have that stigma on his film, but in the end, it made people happy, and he’s okay with that. When we start the creative process, I don’t think the primary of goal of making money should be where we begin; our goal should be to create things that entertain. When we start with the idea in our head that we’re going to be a best seller or a top grossing film I think we lose something in the creative process. We start to nit-pick our ideas when we see them through the lens of “well no one is going to buy this” when what we need to do is create something we can love, and if other people love it too, that’s great.

Emotional Reactions

I’ve often heard that when it comes to an audience’s reaction with a film, the filmmakers just want you to feel something. Obviously the preferred reaction would be for you to leave the theatre and say it was the “best film ever” but let’s be honest – the list of Oscar Winners is short. Movies like Schindler’s List do not create those kinds of happy emotions, but they do make you think, and for a film maker that’s a perfectly acceptable reaction.

When you start to create something, you should have an idea of what you want your audience to feel by the end of your creation. Do you want to write a book that will make people happy? Are you trying to create something that will stir controversy and conversation? Determine that in the beginning but don’t be afraid to let something change you along the way. Creation is kinetic.

Creativity begins in many of the same places and just because our end result isn’t that of the film maker, we can still learn a lot from the way they approach their craft, and apply it to the way we approach ours.

AccuConference |

What We Have Read

A lot of us here spend hours reading each week. Whether it’s blogs, news articles, eBooks, or physical books, we like to indulge ourselves in the written word. Sometimes we want to share some of the things we've read. Here are some of our recent favorite reads, things we thought that were interesting, or that we just couldn’t keep to ourselves.


Could reading 'Crime and Punishment' make you better at reading people?

by Adi Robertson, The Verge
This article from the Verge questions what do the arts mean to our lives? To at least some researchers, they're a way that we learn how the people around us think. 

 

Pinterest Is Seriously Valuable
by Lauren Bacon, Medium
Men in the male-dominated tech sector are blown away that Pinterest has become A Thing (and that they didn't see that coming).

 

Doing Your Job Right: Captain Mike and Lt. Norm
GeekoLogie
This is the online chat interaction between Netflix customer service representative Cap't Mike and Netflix streaming user Lt. Norm. Obviously, Cap't Mike really went the extra mile.

 

Reasons to Drink Coffee Everyday
by Renee Jacques, Huffington Post
There really can't be any adult in this great big world that has never tried coffee. It's consumed everywhere, and judging by the amount of Starbucks locations in the United States alone, we love coffee.

 

What Makes Us Happy?
by JOSHUA WOLF SHENK,The Atlantic
Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life?

 

Why 30 is not the new 20
by Meg Jay Video on TED.com
Clinical psychologist Meg Jay has a bold message for twentysomethings: Contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade.

 

Canadian Family Lives Like It's the 80s
Blair McMillan  CBC.CA
A family of four from Guelph, Ont., has banished cell phones and computers, donned cut-off jeans and combed out their mullets, vowing to live the low-tech life for a year.

 

Lost to the Ages
by: Emily Yoshida  Grantland
Lost to the Ages Myst was supposed to change the face of gaming. What is its legacy 20 years later?

(Emily's post inspired our own debate on Myst and what happened to gaming.)

Did Myst Change Gaming?

Emily Yoshinda from Grantland wrote an amazing piece on looking back at Myst and reading the work sparked an interesting debate between Maranda and me.

Did Myst open a door for the games that we know today? Or did human nature slam the door in the face of adventure games in the 2000s?

Maranda disagrees with the implication that Myst and games like it went "kaput" after 93.

"Myst brought the entire adventure genre to life and a lot of really amazing games came after it - like the entire series of Lucas Arts adventure games. Somewhere along the line, we stopped wanting to 'thin' to play. We wanted games to be a 'release' and for most of the buying public that meant taking out aggression on alien life forms or unsuspecting 'ladies of the night'."

"What changed? We did. 'Gamer' was a term suddenly applied to teenagers in their basement hopped up on Red Bull and Mountain Dew. It is no longer about "escaping" into a world. Gaming is different now, because we are."

I see the doors that Myst opened, rather than the ones that were closed as these kinds of adventure games faded in popularity.

How many LucasArts games were there after 1993? I agree that Lucas Arts had some great games up until it’s demise this past year. But, the Myst genre pretty much fizzled out. However, I think it was a needed stepping stone for the open world games today.

Games like Halo and Call of Duty allow you to tackle specific challenges in your own way. This is not just a ‘release’ and you have to think, and think quickly. Although there are some games that don’t require thinking, most popular games require more than just button mashing. Add in the open world games like Assassin’s Creed, and you have quite a bit of thinking going on. Games like Myst have pushed creators to make better games that alter the gameplay as well as the graphics performance.

After a spirited debate, it was realized that while the games might have changed, one thing remains the same: We look at games in the perspective of the games we like to play.

Check out this Kickstarter project for Obduction - a new game from the creators of Myst

Voice Inflection Tips

Inflection is a fancy way to describe your tone of voice when speaking. It’s not just the volume level that you may speak at but also the tone, pace, pitch, and cadence at which the words of a presentation come out of your mouth.

In order to host a successful presentation on a conference call, you usually only have one tool – and it’s the way you speak. Your voice will get participants to tune in, listen carefully, and stay engaged throughout the call.

If you’re finding that participants are less than engaged or everyone seems to be waking up from a long nap when it’s time for Q&A, maybe it’s time to evaluate the way you speak to make some improvements on your voice inflection.

Where’s the emphasis?

Listen to a recording and determine where you are putting the emphasis on your words. Are you putting the emphasis on the end of all your sentences? If you are – it’s not a good thing, as it triggers your audience to think that the statement is a question. The proper emphasis can direct people to focus on strength, confidence, and clue into important parts of the conversation.

Do you speak softly?

While volume isn't the most important thing about voice inflection, it is an important aspect of making a great presentation. There are a lot of distractions around the participants and the last thing that you want to do it make them have to work to pay attention to you. Your voice should command the attention of those listening – even the ones who are completely focused on Facebook.

Are you speaking too fast?

If you’re blowing through the words like you’re that guy from those 1980s Matchbox car commercials (Google it), you’re talking too fast. When it comes to making a presentation, people don’t want to have to work to listen to you – they want their experience to be easy and enjoyable. If they are struggling to keep up with you they are probably just going to tune you out. You want a natural cadence that best reflects a conversational tone.

Improving voice inflection is not something that can be done overnight. If you think you need to work on your speech patterns you’ll want to start as soon as possible by recording your next conference call and evaluating your speech.

How have you improved your voice inflection? What are your tips for improving tone, cadence, and the overall quality of a speech?

Types of Presentations

Once you've been asked to present at a conference or event the first question you need to ask yourself is:  What kind of presentation can I do?

While making your outline, you also have to figure out what you want your audience to do after your presentation is over. Are you just trying to give them useful information? Is it one of those cases where you are trying to make a sale? There are four different types of presentations you can give and their purpose is to invoke different reactions.

Informative Speeches

These are the most common types of presentations and are used to present research. A student who is defending a thesis or a non-profit group that did a research study will use informative speeches to present their findings.

Demonstrative Speeches

These will show you how to do something. In introduction to communication classes, these speeches are usually How to Make Cakes kinds of speeches and include different pictures and steps to the process.

Persuasive Speeches

This kind of speech is trying to change the way you think about a subject or issue. If you’ve come to a health conference you may find yourself listening to why you should change your eating habits or stop drinking.

Inspirational Speeches

These speeches are designed to make your audience move. Also considered a “motivational” speech, this is designed to encourage participants to go after their goals, whatever they may be. Inspirational speeches will tell stories and the hope is that the audience will feel an emotional connection to the topic. These are also a great way to get the audience's attention.

Think about Apple CEO Steve Jobs and the presentations he gave when he introduced a new product. He gives you information, he shows you how to use a new product, tells you how you can use the product to solve a problem, makes you understand why you need it, and closes by letting you touch and feel the product. He lets the entirety of his speech stand for decision making and then by letting you get your hands on the new iSomething, you see why the new product will help you.

In truth, the best presentations will embody a little bit of each one of these kinds, but you can take a specific type to help move you along the right path.

Ready to try out one of these presentations in front of your co-workers? Sign up with AccuConference and one of our event planners will help you take these presentation types to a whole new level.


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

The Hook: 5 Ways to Quickly Get Your Audience’s Attention

Arguably the most important part of any presentation is the beginning. It sets the foundation for the rest of your talk. If you come across as a strong, entertaining speaker at the beginning of your presentation, people will be forgiving if your material gets a little more routine as the talk progresses. Most peoples’ judgment is reserved for those first few seconds of the talk. So if you want to get people listening you need to hook them fast.

Think about it. How many times have you heard a speech that begins with, “I’m here to talk with you today about….” Or “Thanks for coming out to listen to my talk about…” or some variation of these intros. While they do get straight to the point, they do absolutely nothing to grab your audience, to rivet them so they’ll listen, or in other words hook them. With that in mind, here are a few ways to get your audience’s attention right off the bat.

Quote, Anecdote, Rhetorical Question

These are some of the most common ways to hook your audience. You must be sure to use a quote, anecdote, or rhetorical question that segues nicely into your material. If, for example, you were talking about the current recession, you could give an anecdote about the Great Depression and use it to underlie the point of your message. Or you could ask the rhetorical question: Just how similar is our current economic crisis to that of the 1930s? These types of lead ins will get people wondering, and help them tune in to what it is you’re saying.

New Twist on the Familiar

Take a common story, quote, saying, or anecdote and change it. This will give your audience a new perspective on the familiar as well as grab their attention. If you handle the twist skillfully enough, you can actually make quite an impression. Let’s say you were giving a presentation on nutrition in America. You could say something like, “To eat, or not to eat. That is the question.” The bolder the twist, the better the reaction will be. However, you must make sure it makes sense and fits into your material. One of the best ways is to simply find popular aphorisms online and try switching the wording around.

Personal Story

This will help introduce you as a speaker and gives a personal take on the material. Part of what gives you credibility as a speaker is the authority you have to talk about a subject. A good way to do this, for example, could be to lead into your presentation with a personal story about how you got involved in the field, started your business, or became an expert on the subject. The key is to be either funny or endearing so people will trust you.

Audience Participation Exercise

This is useful as an icebreaker, but typically only works in small settings. The simplest example is to have everyone introduce themselves. However, you can get creative, depending on the setting. Often in classrooms teachers will have people work in pairs and find out 5 interesting facts.

The Screening Question

Also known as the “Show-of-hands Question,” this gets the audience to participate, engages them in the material, and gives you, the speaker, an idea of how much the audience already knows.

With all of these options and a dash of creativity, you should be able to think of a good way to grab your audience’s attention quickly.


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

Learning Success Through Failure

It’s October which brings about the winds of change. The air is turning cooler, the leaves will begin to change color, and budding authors around the globe are about to change into energy drink consuming plunderers of the keyboard.

That’s right novelists, it’s almost NaNoWriMo time. I’ve partaken in the grueling marathon of 50,000 words in thirty days since 2009 - but I’ve only won once. That’s almost 1400 words a day at the minimum in order to succeed and get your shiny badge and bragging rights.

Success is not guaranteed though. In fact, it feels like failure is.  NaNo seems easy for anyone who considers themselves able to string a couple of stories together, but when the euphoria of “It’s time for NaNo!” wears off and you’re left with the idea of actually having 45K more to go, it’s pretty easy to turn around and run away. In fact, I admit that in 2011 I completely imploded. About four days in, I threw my hands up and walked away.

This article from Psychology Today suggests that failures might actually shape us in a more definite way than success does. The assertion actually makes a lot of sense. Think about your latest success - what did you learn from that specific success. 2011 NaNoWriMo showed me all of the things I needed to do in order to have a better chance in 2012.

When I won in 2012, I knew it was because of two very big changes I made in light of the previous year - I outlined the entire novel and did word games with friends to give big boosts to my word count in a short time. In 2011, I took a very solo approach to NaNoWriMo despite that my friends we were working hard on theirs as well.

I can't do it alone. 

Getting a 500 word boost in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes puts a huge dent in your daily goal. The task was less daunting when I had someone to work with.

Creating an outline meant I wasn’t going to get bogged down in the direction of plot or “what happened then” questions. I had every move that each character was going to make down on the page, so all I had to do was create the story around it.

I honestly think that without my utter and complete NaNo meltdown in 2011, I would not have been able to “win” 2012 NaNo. I learned a lot in 2011 and I applied all of those “well, I’m not going to do that this year” thoughts, which I think helped me succeed. One might even say that my failure was the reason I succeeded.

What’s going to be most interesting to me is competing again in 2013. Will the same drive push me to finish, or will I feel more complacent in succeeding? I wonder how much is to be said for being a back to back NaNoWriMo winner.


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

Active Listening Skills for Customer Service - Updated

Update:  After putting my head together with some of the other operators, we determined a couple of other things that can improve your active listening skills. 

When we bring on a new employee, the first thing they learn is customer service, and the most important skill we focus on is listening. Customer service is about being an active listener. You can't just "hear" what people are saying, you have to really be grabbing onto the words and turning them over in your head.

What does it take to be an active listener? There are a lot of rules to active listening but we break these skills down into basic steps. These steps have improved our customer service responses and our communication.

(NEW) Clarify The Message

One of the best tools when speaking to a customer is the ability to clarify the message they are trying to send.  You never want to make assumptions when trying to decide what a customer wants. Most of the time you will get that assumption wrong and have to go back to the customer. It's always better when you're not clear to make sure you understand. A lot of times a customer uses words or phrases that might not be what you would use. You can just repeat it back to them in another way. "It sounds like you need..." or "Let me make sure I understand..." are great ways to start.

(NEW) Test Your Listening Skills

The Active Empathetic Listening (AEL) measure has eleven key items that test how well you sense, process, and respond when you listen to someone else. Sensing is the way you indicate you are taking in the information, processing is how well you construct the narrative delivered, and responding is how you ask questions to make sure you understand.  Take the AEL test and find out where you stand as a great listener and how you can improve. 

Focus on Understanding

Engage in communication with the goal of "understanding" instead of "understood". When your customer is speaking, it's best to focus on what the customer is saying, rather than trying to get a head start on how you're going to respond. Once someone in a conversation goes on the defensive, you are less likely to come to a resolution.

Give Your Undivided Attention to the Person Speaking

This may seem like common sense but devices like cell phones and the constant access to email are roadblocks to active listening. When a customer calls, disengage from the emails you’re working on, the spreadsheet you are clicking through, or the text message that might be waiting on you. Engage fully in the conversation that is present and not the one that is waiting for you to type a response.

Play Pretend

The more I can act like I'm face to face with a customer, the better our conversation goes. Imagine the customer across from you and nod when you understand. Responding to the customer as you would if you were face to face, you will be an even better listener. I will smile while I speak and even nod my head as the customer tells me what’s going on. It makes me feel like I truly understand the customer's needs.

It's not always easy to listen and even more so when we are immediately trying to figure out what we are going to say or have too many things going on at once. If we can just stop for a moment and become a more active listener, it will improve our communication with everyone.


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

Your Body Language and Confidence

A few years ago, I was hanging out with some of my younger cousins and surprised the “country girls” by wearing a snazzy pair of zebra print purple heels. They asked me how I managed to walk in those shoes and I informed them that I “walk with authority.”

It’s amazing how a clothing change or a new pair of shoes can make you feel more confident. I wrote about success on the debate team being somewhat wrapped into my power shoes, but what are some other changes you can make in how you walk and move that can boost your confidence?

Carry Yourself Well

How you hold yourself plays a role in how you see yourself. So the first place to start in making changes to your body language is to hold yourself a little higher. To appear more confident, you need to act more confident.

  • Posture is the most imperative part of carrying yourself. Put your shoulders back and keep your spine straight.
  • Hold your chin up when you walk. Looking down at the ground while walking is an indicator of unhappiness.
  • Make eye contact and smile to strangers. Not only is this a sign of confidence, but it also makes you feel better when you smile.

Movements Send A Message

Any movement you make can send a message. These messages can be positive or negative, so one of the most important body language changes you can make is to be aware of how you’re moving.

  • Putting your hands on your hips is an indication of being mad or having lost patience. Even if you feel like you’re just in a resting position, the message sent is one of disapproval.
  • Try not to make fidgeting gestures like shaking your legs or tapping your nails against the table. Not only will your nails create an annoying sound, but it indicates impatience.

Your Hands and Arms Serve as a Door

The movements made with arms in communicating tells a lot about the openness of a speaker. Those who cross their arms “close the door” to others feeling welcome to chime in or discuss.

  • You can make gestures open by holding your hands apart with your palms pointing upward.
  • Clasping or wringing your hands in front of you or touching your hair or face is a sign of anxiety or being unsure.

The good news - you can control your own body language. Remember you have complete control over the way you carry yourself which translates into the way you are perceived. How will you walk with authority today?


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

Will Reading Fiction Make You More Empathetic?

David Kidd and Emanuele Castano released a study regarding fiction and how we experience empathy in others. David and Emanuele show a link between better empathetic skills and "literary" fiction. I can easily see how 'literary' fiction provides different perspectives on people than mainstream fiction. More research is needed to be conclusive, however I do believe as readers we should mix up the genres we read.

Reading is like working out for my brain. When I read non-fiction, I think. When I read business books, I get creative. When I read fiction, I relax (unless it's a tense scene). This is like changing which weights or exercise machine I'm on. I wouldn't stick to just dumbbells for my entire workout. Switch it up.

I also think it is important to pace yourself. Besides the fact that I get heavy lidded after reading for an hour, unless it's a story that I get sucked into, information overload can happen around 60 minutes of straight reading. You need to let that information percolate in your brain for a bit.

Maranda Gibson recently came to the realization that she hasn't learned anything in a long time. "I went to the bookstore and bought three different historical nonfiction novels about the founding of the United States and the Civil War. One is the published diary of a Baton Rouge girl that begins just as Louisiana succeeded from the Union and ends six years later."

"That’s a lot of time to see such a historical event from the perspective of an insider. We often get the watered down, text book history version of slavery and states’ rights. Reading a book like that helps you to remember and understand that for as long as there have been conflicts – there have been two sides of every story."

Social skills are derived from the way we interpret events and in reading any kind of book, whether it be your favorite romance novel or something like a diary of a Civil War survivor, you have to practice the interpretation of events to understand the story.

For Mary Williams, "Reading helps me take a break from my personal life. I like to read anything from suspense novels to science fiction. If I can place myself in the character’s shoes, then it becomes hard for me to put the book down. A good book will allow me to become enveloped in the story and with the characters; almost as if for a moment their life becomes my own. After I'm done reading, I sometimes find myself thinking about situations the character was in and how I might have handled them. And of course, it helps ignite my imagination for my own creative writing."

Reading helps us to learn things, understand people, and escape. Not all genres are alike, and some may be more helpful than others. Do you read only one type of genre? What's your favorite genre to read?

{Image credit to The New Yorker}

To Better Assist You, Please Hold

I am amazed how often our customers are surprised to reach a real person on the first ring when calling AccuConference.

In this automatic world we live in, the "To better assist you, press 1 for billing, press 2 for account information, press 3 for sales, etc." is fooling no one. If you have to think about what button you fall into, your needs have already been minimized. It is especially cumbersome when you have to press * to repeat the options again.

Technology upgraded and offered us voice recognition "to better assist you." Well my mother was born and raised in Portugal. She does not have the ability to form the T-H (THA) sound. Voice recognition technology "assists" her into eventually yelling, with her heavy accent, the number TREE, TREE, TREE and then hearing "We’re sorry, but we did not recognize your response."

When a customer reaches out by phone, having an automated system that does not guide them properly can make the first, second, third…impression one that is remembered, but remembered poorly.

With most automated systems, if you continuously press 0 enough you may get lucky and get an operator to assist. But, those systems are catching on to this workaround and now you hear, "We’re sorry, but that is not a number we recognize." And worse, is when you choose a number that is not recognized and you hear the words "Goodbye"!

Unless you are the only game in town, then keeping the human spirit as your greeting is still a priority. At least it is here. When the company started in 2002, answering the phone on the first ring with a real human was a top priority, and it still is. At AccuConference, we answer the phone without making you wait.

This post was written by Debbie Vaught, an account manager here at AccuConference.