Can You Hear What I’m Saying?

One of the biggest issues facing businesses today and in the next few years is communicating effectively. The ability to communicate effectively is still the same: know your audience, speak in their language, and hear their questions.

But how do businesses do it?

The Business Ledger for Suburban Chicago discusses keeping current clients as the best way to navigate through the current economic conditions, and cites warmer, more personalized communications tactics as the best way to go.

"A continuing dependence on technology is also a barrier for attorneys to overcome when trying to develop more personal relationships with clients. With the emergence of e-mail as the primary communication tool in business, attorneys now must make a conscious effort to stay in close contact with their clients through phone conversations and face-to-face communication.

'I try to continue to have face-to-face contact with clients,' said Kenneth Clingen, a partner in Clingen Callow & McLean. 'Some younger lawyers are a little reticent to pick up the phone and call clients. They're more comfortable communicating by e-mail.

'It's an advantage to those lawyers who will continue to try to have face-to-face contact with their clients. If you don't have that, it may affect your ability to strengthen the relationship.'"

A surprising truth to most business leaders or managers seeking better ways to improve their leadership skills is learning to communicate.

Furnitureworld.com cites the importance of looking at communication as a two-way street and provides a helpful (and doable) list.

"First, you must realize and accept that clear communication is always a two-way process. It's not enough to speak clearly; you have to make sure you're being heard and understood. To facilitate this, use the following two-way communication primer:

1. Prepare how you'll communicate

  • Clarify the goal of the communication
  • Plan carefully before sending it or meeting in person
  • Anticipate the receiver's viewpoint and feelings

2. Deliver the message

  • Express your meaning with conviction
  • Relate the message to your larger goals
  • Identify the action to be taken
  • Confirm the other person understands

3. Receive the message

  • Keep an open mind
  • Identify key points in the message
  • Value constructive feedback and use it to grow
  • Confirm your understanding

4. Evaluate the effectiveness of the communication afterwards

5. Take corrective action as necessary"

In short, if you're talking in a vacuum, who is listening? You need to make business communications personal and relevant to clients, and above all, think of it as a conversation, not a lecture. Sometimes the most important things you'll ever learn about your business are things you'll "hear" from your own clients.

Another Multifaceted Approach to Team-Building

Channel 8 News in Austin recently reported on a story that highlighted the philanthropic aspect of team-building.

"It was a double surprise when dozens of Frito Lay employees thought they were assembling bikes Wednesday as part of a team building exercise.

Later in the day, rather unexpectedly, 44 kids turned a corporate exercise into a much more meaningful event.

With numbers in hand, the children walked into a conference room to discover the bikes were for them.

One Frito Lay employee said it was the most worthwhile team building exercise they've done so far."

The London Free Press reports on a team-building exercise that has seen marvelous results from participants.

"Viewers of the Amazing Race know that participants rarely emerge from the contest unchanged.

Sometimes the twosome is drawn closer together, their friendship strengthened by the intensity of the experience. The more entertaining couples go the other way, bickering their way around the world, straining whatever relationship they began with.

The creative minds behind Conundrum Adventures Inc. hope their clients fall into the former category, working together to solve puzzles that lead them through downtown London.
‘It started with the idea of corporate team building, but we've also had a large family reunion do a Conundrum,’ says Teresa Boere, a recent addition to the company. She runs the London arm of the business, which is based in Toronto."

And to dig a little deeper into this subject, Ephraim Schwartz of InfoWorld.com talks about the essentials of global team-building, which focuses less on activities done together to build a team, but highlights essential education and knowledge required when going into a truly global team space.

"Just as a company puts a localization strategy in place when opening a new plant or launching a new product overseas, company leaders must learn about communication styles, attitudes toward meetings and deadlines, even the very notion of what makes a good leader in a given culture before entering into business negotiations with an organization overseas.

In the United States, a direct approach -- even when critiquing a team member -- is admired, but in most of Asia, directness is not regarded as highly. A leader who practices that approach humiliates the person she is criticizing; moreover, in the eyes of the other team members, she humiliates herself."

As business deals spread across the globe, taking care that your communication and assumptions are correct and appropriate goes a long way toward a strong team effort, probably more so than just solving a puzzle or building bikes for children. The essence of team-building is more complicated than a simple exercise, and we’ll be discussing this much more in the near future.

Business Bending Toward Gen Y; Frustrating Other Generations

Generation Y vs Generation X

In the United States, learning to communicate between different age groups is the new challenge of business communications. Why? Generation X and Y groups speak differently than the Boomer generation.

- Diane Stafford, writing for the Kansas City Star, reports, "The entry of the techno-savvy Gen Ys is getting far more notice than the smaller, quieter absorption of Gen X, the demographic group sandwiched between the boomers and Gen Y.

Whereas Gen X pretty much got with the boomer program, Gen Y has a style of its own. That's created a cottage industry of commentary and consulting about the communication difficulties among the four generations at work."

In the 2008 World of Work survey recently completed by Harris Interactive Inc., workers were given "31 traits to choose from to identify co-workers in their same generation. The top five choices in the four generational groups showed just how differently the groups see themselves.

Gen Y most often described their own workplace personas with: Makes personal friends at the workplace; sociable; thinks out of the box; open to new ideas; and friendly.

Gen X's most frequent self descriptions were: Confident; competent; willing to take responsibility; willing to put in the extra time to get the job done; and ethical.

Boomers most often selected: Strong work ethic; competent; ethical; ability to handle a crisis; willing to take on responsibility; and good communication skills.

And the mature group self-identified with: Strong work ethic; ethical; committed to the company; competent; and confident."

The generations at the most odds, Gen Y, Boomers, and the mature group, have the hardest time communicating. Yet, "Gen Y was just about as hard on itself in evaluating its own work ethic and other 'serious' business traits as the older generations were in downgrading the Gen Y work ethic.

Gen Y is changing the face of global business, possibly the most dramatic upheaval in business culture since women entered the workplace during World War II. 'The significant factor is not how today's business views the newest members of the workforce … it's how Gen Y views business.'

'Gen X challenged the status quo. Gen Y chooses to press for more from their work life. They don't accept all the tried and true principles and practices. The old rules of thumb do not apply. Neither do many of the management techniques employers have used with previous generations.'"

Thus, the challenge in the next few years is for Gen Y to learn to understand how other generations view business and for other generations to allow Gen Y to redefine business in their terms.

IM Etiquette

Instant Messenger

So, last week, PC World reported a study from Ohio State and University of California, Irvine (joint study, I presume) that instant messaging actually improved people's productivity during the day.

The reasoning is that instant messaging (IM) is less obtrusive than a phone call or even “a knock on the side of your cubicle” because like email you can choose when to respond. I wasn't sure about that claim, because I have had multiple experiences in the past week that were exactly the opposite.

A coworker who wanted to know if I could talk on the phone right then. A vendor needed me to provide him with a proof of purchase so he could make sure I actually purchased software from him. A friend sent a YouTube link and then asked how I liked it.

But IM can improve productivity if used correctly.

Here's a few survival tips:

  1. Only turn on IM when you're actually available or willing to talk. See those nifty little away messages? Use them. Especially if you're busy. That way, people will wait until you're available, or if they send you a message anyway, won't expect an immediate answer.
  2. Be careful who you let on your friends list. This is key. If you're college buddies only want to send YouTube videos all day, and want to chat about your friend who made a fool of himself while he was intoxicated at Saturday night's party and you have work to do, perhaps they should be removed from your work IM and added to your personal IM.
  3. Don't bug your friends or your coworkers. Are you the one sending out YouTube links all day? I would guarantee your productivity has slowed as a result. And the one rule of IM is simple: treat others as you'd like to be treated.
  4. IM on a work computer is not private. Those all-knowing guys down in IT know what you're doing, so watch out. The same goes for how long you sit on YouTube.com. You might, however, be allowed to take breaks and surf the Internet, thus see How To Keep Up . . . And Get Ahead for help convincing the powers that be to allow breaks to surf Facebook.
  5. Impress your boss and use IM to actually save time and be more productive. Ask a quick question, send info to someone, invite a friend to lunch, and you'll improve your ability to multitask and accomplish more than you thought you could today.

How To Use Word More Effectively

Most people groan and complain about Word and how buggy it is and how it never does exactly what we want, when we want, and how we want.

C'mon people. Word is a powerful tool for business owners and once that power is harnessed to make your life easier, you'll be singing a different tune.

  1. Word has a spreadsheet feature built in. No need to run back out to your desktop to open a spreadsheet when with one click you can build a table right into the screen you're working on. Don't know how? Look on the menu for Table > Insert. Then choose Formula from that same menu. Voila. It's that easy.
  2. Track Changes isn't that scary. It's helpful, especially when multiple people are making changes on an important document. Just choose Tools in menu at the top of your Word screen and toggle it on. Now play with it on an old document. Delete a few words. Want to view the original text? There's a toolbar you can view (go to View > Toolbars > Reviewing) that has a dropdown menu. First choice is Final Showing Markup. But you can also view Final (which removes all the Track Changes marks), Original Showing Markup, and Original (with no Track Changes). To turn off Track Changes, toggle again in the Tools menu. Or to accept changes, make sure your Reviewing toolbar is still available and check out the buttons. Just press one! Again, play with it. You might be surprised how easy it really is.
  3. Add a custom dictionary. The Word spellchecker is worthless sometimes. It really only spellchecks certain words and for industry-specific terms, it misses them altogether (especially legal, medical/pharma, and science/tech). You can buy add-on spellchecking programs that will turn Word into a powerful editing machine. For medical, Stedman's sells a nice add on. For legal, check out Bouvier's Law Dictionary and Legal Speller, and for science/tech, try Spellex.
  4. Learn to master Word styles. It's easier than you think. For most of us users, Word applies its own formatting without being asked, which makes our blood boil. There is a way to conquer the automatic stylist in Word and to make it do what you want. For an overview (better than I could explain it), check Help > Styles and Reusing Formatting. (Also, if you go to Help > Microsoft Word Help and type in styles, you'll get more information than you need.) Once you learn a few things about styles, it's fun, very satisfying, and you'll wow clients and employers/employees.

Tips on how best to run your business from home

Work is work. Home is home. Running your business from home may be convenient, but you still have to keep home and work separate. Here are some tips to make this a bit easier.

  1. Find your own space. You need to have a place where the only activity permitted is work. A den, a spare room, your corner of the basement, or any place that gives you some measure of privacy, so you can do your work uninterrupted. A room with a door is best, especially when you have customer contact and conference calls.
  2. Have a business only phone line and separate office equipment. Your business shouldn't have to compete with the other activities in your household. Establish clear boundaries so that others know your priorities in these areas.
  3. Establish specific "office hours". Family and friends need to know that you may be at home, but you're still at work. Personal calls take a back seat and may be returned at a more appropriate time. You're not at home for their convenience.  This means you're not available for chores and helping with errands and other distractions.
  4. When the office is closed, leave it closed. Make an effort not to drift in and out of work once your business day has ended. The convenience of working from home means having your work available 24 hours.  Home and work both suffer when you ebb and flow between them.
  5. Don't overlook the "green" benefits of working from home. With no commutes, your stress level goes down. You're saving hundreds of hours of drive time, thousands of gallons of gas, and keeping tons of carbon from entering our atmosphere. Don't blow your good works by jetting off to meet a client. Consider a virtual meeting. The technology exists that allows you to meet with clients and coworkers without ever seeing an airport.

Running your business from home has its challenges. When considering the benefits to you, your family and the environment, the impact would seem to do us all a world of good.

Out of Sight, Out of Touch?

Once the favorite alternative work option for many large companies, telecommuting was purported to be the savior of the burnt-out cubicle worker. Over the past year or so, telecommuting has received a critical eye. A series of articles from eWeek discusses the rise and fall of telecommuting.

"Only a few years since it was heralded as a newer, better way to work, studies began to emerge that put chinks in the armor of telecommuting.
Sixty-one percent of executives surveyed in January 2007 by Korn/Ferry International, a Los Angeles-based recruiting firm, said they saw career stagnancy among telecommuting workers.

Nearly half of CIOs felt that remote employees' quality of work suffered due to reduced in-person contact with colleagues, and one-third said that these employees were less productive due to a lack of supervision, in a study released last July by Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm in Menlo Park, Calif." 

But is telecommuting really all bad?

San Francisco’s Chronicle espouses the concept of telecommuting as a cure for conserving energy and reducing gasoline usage.

"An estimated 1.35 billion gallons of gasoline could be conserved annually if every U.S. worker with the ability to telecommute did so 1.6 days per week, according to a report released today by the American Electronics Association.

‘Fewer commuters on the roads means reduced fuel consumption, traffic congestion and air pollution,’ said Christopher Hansen, president of the association, the nation's largest high-tech trade group.

And, he said, 'It is a win for workers, who can reduce long commute times and strike a better life-work balance.'"

And this article from CNN points out that for a better life-work balance, 43% of working moms would jump at the chance to telecommute.

"‘More than 25 percent of working moms are dissatisfied with their work/life balance," said Mary Delaney, chief sales officer at CareerBuilder.com and mother of three. ‘As companies continue to experience a tighter labor market, the importance of retaining star employees is requiring them to implement benefits that actually encourage workers to improve the balance between their professional and family lives. From flexible work schedules to job sharing to telecommuting, company-wide work/life initiatives are becoming much more universal.’"

As gas prices increase this year, perhaps companies should endeavor to make telecommuting more effective: encouraging in-house workers to coordinate more fully with telecommuting staff, pursuing online collaboration that encourages teamwork, and rewarding loyal and productive clients with a flexible work schedule.

The Lost Art of Thank You

Lost Art of Thank YouFew things are as powerful or as simple as saying thank you. Looking someone in the eye, a genuine smile, a firm handshake; each has meaning beyond words. They touch people. They communicate sincerity and integrity. They earn trust and respect. These are powerful tools and are opportunities easily missed.

Letter writing is a dying art. The need to write letters is fading quickly, overtaken by the speed and efficiency of email, cell phones, and the fast-paced lifestyle. There just isn't time in the day to sit down and compose a long, detailed essay like long ago.  We used to tell the details of our lives, our innermost thoughts and experiences, in our letters. Now it just takes too long. There just isn't time. 

It isn't necessary to write these long letters anymore. We should, however, make the time for quick notes. Keeping a stock of blank cards on hand is a great way to "knock off" a quick thank you when dealing with a customer or a business acquaintance.  Do you remember the last time you received a thank you card or note from anyone? If you've gotten one, I'll bet you remember it. If not, then you know how rare it is. It's a powerful moment when somebody opens their mail to see you took the time to sit down, right a note, stamp it, and drop it in the mail. Your contact with that person just became so much more than average. Your ability to be remembered has increased dramatically. You touched them and made them feel appreciated. This quiet gesture is powerful.

The greatest communicators know the effect of letter writing, especially of the thank you. Former President Ronald Reagan was a great believer in the letter. He spent many of his quiet moments composing thoughtful letters to friends, loved ones, and politicians from both sides of the aisle. He knew the letter could accomplish great things and do it in a personal and one -on-one way.  All you need is a thank you note and you can accomplish the same thing with great results. So little effort. So much reward. 

Team-Building Ain't For the Faint of Heart

Team building is seen as an essential part of a successful company because it encourages employees to interact with each other and to solve problems. Many companies rely on these activities and exercises to remove barriers to communication and to improve efficiency. And yet some managers pooh-pooh team-building exercises as a waste of time. A Workforce Management article discusses team building in light of a recent court case.

And the Los Angeles Times discusses an exotic, albeit more expensive approach to team building.

But what can companies do to encourage team building on a smaller scale?

A recent book, 365 Low or No Cost Workplace Teambuilding Activities: Games and Exercises Designed to Build Trust & Encourage Teamwork Among Employees by John N. Peragine, highlights simple and easy team-building activities and exercises that can be adapted for use right now and for little to no cost.

The book includes step-by-step instructions and hints on what to do and what not to do. Whether you’re interested in eliminating stress and burn out with humor, helping your team get to know each other better, or attempting to establish a corporate identity, a book of team-building exercises might be what just you’re looking for.

However, if you’re looking for a more enjoyable type of team-building environment, skip water boarding or other forms of semi-torture and go for something laidback, like cooking.

Kgomotso Mathe writes in the Financial Mail about the growing trend overseas to stage team-building exercises in a common venue: a kitchen.

"The uShef Cooking School is gaining fame not only among corporates, but also food fundis wishing to sharpen their cooking skills. It is absolutely a place where good food and fun meet. It is owned by Gill Ostrowski, a qualified chef who has been in the hospitality industry for nearly 19 years. The place operates like a restaurant, except in this case you'll have to cook your own dinner."

Cooking with colleagues may sound daunting, but it actually provides a safe place for people to get to know each other and to chatter over tasks that aren’t stressful, but fun.

John Hollon of Work Management writes, "Team-building exercises [sometimes] are more about getting people to follow along blindly - to engage in groupthink - than they are in really getting people to work as a team. A better approach might be what [successful companies do], bringing people from all around the company together to get to know one another, swap ideas and break down barriers to collaboration."

Whatever activity you choose to enhance team building in your company make it fun and make it meaningful.

Meeting Ice Breakers: The Best of the Best

Try these icebreakers out on your next conference call by setting up your next call with AccuConference.

As noted previously, it's one thing to talk about ice breakers in theory and quite another to think of them in practice. For most meetings in a business setting in which participants are professionals, ice breakers that require actions not normally associated with day-to-day behaviors in the office generally make people uncomfortable. Successful ice breakers for these groups generally consist of clustering people around a round table, if you have access to any, and having them share memorable information with each other, finding innovative ways to get them to introduce themselves to each other, or having them collectively work on a problem where everyone has to contribute.

Below are some of the most successful ice breakers we known.

  1. Fact or Fiction: Have everyone at the table write down three surprising things about themselves, two of which are true and one of which is made up. Each person, in turn, reads their list and then the rest of the group votes on which "fact" they feel is the "false" one. If the table does not correctly pick a person's made up "fact", then that person wins. A table can have more than one winner. If you have more than one table full of people, have a competition between the tables and have each table decide which of their "winners" they want to use to compete in the "finals". The selected finalists get up and present their "facts" to the whole group and each table, but the one the winner is from, has one vote to decide which of the "facts" is false. At the end, the whole group votes on which of the "winners" of the final round, had the most deceiving "fact". This helps people get to know and remember their colleagues.
  2. Same/Different: Divide the group into teams of 3 or 4 and give them a large sheet of paper and give each person a different colored marker. Have each person draw a large oval such that each oval overlaps with the other ovals in the center of the piece of paper. Give the group, or groups if there is more than one cluster, a theme that pertains to the meeting objectives. Tell people they have to write down at least five or more entries in the non-overlapping and mutually overlapping areas of their ovals. Give them five minutes, no more than that, to talk about their similarities and differences and write them in their ovals. If there is more than one group, compare results and identify common themes in both parts of the diagram and what light these similarities and differences shed on the purpose of the meeting. This helps team members develop an understanding of shared objectives and understand in a non-confrontational way how their views differ from others on the team.
  3. Brainstorm!: Break the group into teams of four or five. Give them a topic. Pick one that is fun and simple like, "What would you take on a trip to the jungle?" or "List things that are blue"). Give your teams 2 minutes, no more, and tell them "This is a contest and the team with the most items on their list wins." Tell the teams to write down as many things as they can and not to discuss anything, just list things. At the end of time, the team with the most items on their list wins! This helps people to share ideas without fearing what other people will think.
  4. Free Association: The object of this ice breaker is to have small groups or the team generate as many words or phrases as they can that are related to a particular topic that relates to the objective of your meeting. Give the group(s) a key word you want them to associate and then give them 2 minutes to list, as quickly as possible, as many words or thoughts that pop into their heads. For example, if your company is trying to decide on whether to reduce travel and increase the use of teleconferencing, you might use the word "teleconferencing" and have people list as many words/phrases as they can that they associate with the word. For example they might say: "saves money", "saves time", "impersonal", "need to see other people", "get distracted", "sound quality"…. This reveals what people are thinking, similarities in viewpoints, and possible problem areas/topics that need addressing or discussion.
  5. Nametags: Prepare nametags for each person and put them in a box. As people walk into the room, each person picks a nametag (not their own). When everyone is present, participants are told to find the person whose nametag they drew and introduce themselves and say a few interesting things about them. When everyone has their own nametag, they introduce the person whose nametag they were initially given. This helps people get to know and remember each other.
  6. Desert Island: Group people in teams of 5 or 6 and tell them they will be marooned on a desert island and give them 30 seconds to list all the things they think they want to take and each person has to contribute at least 3 things. At the end of the time, tell the teams they can only take three things. Have the person who suggested each item tell why they suggested it and defend why it should be chosen. This helps the team learn about how each of them thinks, get to know each other's values, and how they solve problems.
AccuConference |

Announcement: Operator Answered Call Reporting Graph

When you have an operator answered conference call, you will get a line chart that shows you the progression of your attendees at various times.

This data is a compilation of the information that you can collect from the CSV file found on your account after each conference. What we do is plot it along a line graph so that you can see your average call time and your maximum number of users. Charts are much more fun to look at than Excel spreadsheet files.

We want to make sure that you can see how your conference calls work and how your participants are responding. Maybe you are unnecessarily overbooking for your conferences or this data might show you how you can break up your calls and maintain your participant count.

If you receive one of these graphs and have some feedback, we'd love to hear what you think. Is something missing? Maybe we can add data that you would like to see to it. Give us a call at 800.989.9239 to discuss the graph or if you have any other questions.

Web Conferencing Review - Updated Features

We have some exciting additions to our web conferencing platform.

Video Conferencing

Share your video as part of the web conference so participants feel like they are in the same room.

Desktop and Application Sharing

Our program allows moderators to share their screens with a simple download. Participants observe as you navigate through websites or share your programs directly from your PC.

YouTube Video Sharing

Share your video directly with participants using the URL from youtube.com. Pause and play the video as needed.

Added Timed Polls

Put a time limit on responses from participants.

No Download for Participants

Participants will continue to access all of these new features through the web.

Stay tuned for audio streaming over the web for participants.

Call today 800.989.9239 for a one on one demo.

Best Inspirational Speeches

In most colleges, some form of oral communication or speech class is a requirement for graduation. These basic communication classes teach you a couple of things but the most prevalent are the types of speeches. One of these is an inspirational speech and its purpose is to make an impact on the audience. Most of the time, the inspirational speech gets caught up and mixed in with the motivational speech, which usually brings across memories of Matt Foley and the fear of living in a van down by the river.

An inspirational speech is so much more than just trying to motivate and when properly delivered, it can change the world. Some of the best speeches of all time have been nothing more than an inspirational speech in their mechanics.

Martin Luther King – "I Have a Dream"

The MLK speech is one of the most highly recognized and historically significant speeches in the world. The speech was written to call to reform the legal system, but something amazing happened. Where the written words should have concluded, King improvised, in the moment, adding some of the most powerful words of the entire speech – "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Like any speech, this one was written and crafted for the moment, but King found himself inspired by the thousands that listened intently and hung to his every word. He connected to his audience and felt their common emotions and translated what they felt into words that he had the power to deliver. Truly great inspirational speeches do not just repeat words already on the page – they feel the emotions of the crowd and give a voice to the movement.

Abraham Lincoln – "Gettysburg Address"

When your country is torn apart in a vicious civil war and 51,000 men just lost their lives, the task of inspiring a nation to unite could be the most daunting of all. When Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, less than half of the Union soldiers had been properly buried. It sounds like such a somber moment in history – so why is this one of the greatest inspirational speeches of all time?

Lincoln marked a tragic occasion with an address that honored the dead but challenged the living, and he delivered the speech in under three minutes. In many ways he placed the task of honoring the dead on the grounds into the hands of those that lived – asking and wanting to know what they would do now. "It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on."

John F. Kennedy – “Man on the Moon”

In the shadow of the Cold War, John F. Kennedy knew that the United States had to do something about keeping up with the Soviet Union. He announced in front of a special joint session of Congress that by the end of the decade, the United States would put a man on the surface of the moon.

Kennedy’s words set a direct and specific date for anyone who was listening. When a deadline is given for something, people are more likely to respond to the call to action – even for something as challenging as putting a man on the moon. Kennedy would later address Rice University on the same subject and utter the famous quote, "We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

Kennedy made his speech on May 25, 1961 and Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.

Do something you’re never done before. Be a voice to someone who doesn’t have one. Turn a moment into an opportunity for strength. Challenge yourself to do something that may not even be possible.

That is what makes a great inspirational speech.

Image credit to Smithsonian online.

Four Somewhat Forgotten but Beneficial Leadership Qualities

I've been lucky to experience leadership from a vast group of people who handle leadership in different ways. I've had the young and hip boss, the sales driven, goal-oriented, no-nonsense boss, and everything in between. When I was fresh out of college, I realized quickly what I would respond to and what wouldn't motivate me.

I've realized that some of the most important skills in leadership are some of the ones that you don’t see a lot of.

Communication Skills - The end goal of communicating with employees is to get a positive response. No matter if it’s a one-on-one situation where the employees behavior needs to change or it’s to a group in the hopes of brainstorming the next great thing, you want the talk to motivate employees to take action.

Representation - Our bosses would never ask us to do something that they wouldn't be willing to do themselves. This is why they will help with calls if we’re really busy or will pitch in to make things go smoother. You are the leader for a reason and showing your employees that you remember what it was like to be where they were, or be willing to pitch in goes a long way with a great office environment.

Approachability - I never feel like I have to hesitate if I see something that could be worded better or something that we can change to make the experience better for the customer. Since we deal with the customers all of the time, it works for us to be able to go to our bosses and explain what we see. For example, I just suggested to my boss we change one of our email templates, and now, I need to work on the text for it.

Sense of Humor - We have a great relationship with each other and our bosses and we laugh a lot together. We've been able to cultivate a positive team environment that leads to an open sharing of ideas and it just makes approachability easier to come by when we can work and laugh together.

My experience is that the best leaders will be the ones that can incorporate all of the things that make us better leaders.

What do you think are forgotten but important leadership qualities? What makes a great leader?

Avoiding Miscommunication

I started reading a book about writing last week called Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. It’s about the way your brain responds to storytelling and how you tailor the way you write to engage the brain. I tried to tell my friend about the book, but my explanation didn’t entice her wish to read. In fact, the moment I said the word “science” she seemed disinterested. Later she told me that she liked to keep her creative side and her science side separate, and I realized that wasn’t what I had meant at all.

Isn’t it funny how miscommunication works? While I was just trying to talk to my friend about a book, I failed to communicate the information in a way that would pique her interest. Instead, I assumed that she would understand what my underlying message was, and not focus on the mention book was applying scientific theories to creativity.

Even with a friend, these miscues can occur when we make assumptions or infer meanings that aren’t correct or there to begin with. Here are three ways to keep the miscommunication to a minimum.

Take the time to think about what you’re about to say before it just pops out of your mouth. My mother used to tell me that my biggest problem as a child was that I had no filter. It was cute when I was five and telling our landlord that he was not my father and couldn’t tell me what to do, but as an adult, that’s not really appropriate.

Consider your relationship to the person you are speaking with. It’s probably a bad idea to talk to your boss the same way you might speak to your friend after a couple of vodka tonics. Understanding relationships and how to appropriately respond based on any lines that you might cross is a must for adequately judging what you can say and how you can say it.

When writing your communications let someone else read it before you send it. Sending a response via email takes away your ability to be heard, so people can (and will) draw their own conclusions on what you mean. It’s important to set the tone in an email and you should never respond when you’re angry or frustrated. Kenneth Roman & Joel Raphaelson’s book, Writing that Works, features a chapter on how to craft a great email and breaks down the importance of tone.

Bonus Tip: When you’ve replied to an email twice and the issue is still unresolved, it’s time to pick up the phone. Our rule here is to not hit reply a third time; instead, make a phone call.

Bonus Tip #2: When you find yourself starting a sentence with “Don’t take this the wrong way…” you should stop talking.

What’s the best way to make your message clear to everyone?

International Conference Call Options

Not too long ago one of my favorite customers sent me an email inquiring about international conference calls. If you need to provide a way for participants outside of the United States or Canada to join your conference call we have three different options for international dialing.

Option One: Participant Pays Long Distance / International Fees. This option requires no changes on how you use or are billed for your services. Anywhere in the world, a participant can call into a direct access number and be joined to the conference. You’re billed whatever is standard for your account and they are billed on their phone bill what their provider will charge. This option is best for those who rarely have a need for international conferences or are one of our flat rate customers.

Option Two: International Toll Free. From Argentina to Venezuela on this list of rates these countries can be provided their own toll free access into our conference bridges. You rates for domestic callers (US / Canada) stay the same and the rate for international depends on the country that connects. There is usually no charge to participants in these countries and requires a new conference line on your account.

Option Three: Most countries can be dialed to from within in our system and brought into the conference line without any additional charges to them. For many of the countries there is little to no change in your per minute per person rate. Some countries are not available for outdial and we can either add a new conference line or activate this option on a conference existing on your account.

Depending on what option you choose or how your account is set up, we might ask for you for an additional form to be sent back to us. International can be activated for specific users of your account in order to limit cost and availability for the services. If you need international conferencing added to your account or have any questions about how it works or the pricing for outdial rates, just give us a call and we can help.

Better Writing Lessons from NaNoWriMo

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you know that I spent a lot of November talking about NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it has a very simple goal – write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Such a challenge written on paper may not seem like much but when you try to do it, you realize that it becomes a feat of writing at least 1,667 words a day. The standard blog post is about 350 – 600 words.

For four years, I have begun November by saying this is the year and I will complete this challenge and every year, it seems like something happens to derail my progress. This year, though, it’s different and I am proud to announce that I am a 2012 NaNoWriMo Winner.

Winning felt great and completing something that seemed like such a beast over the last few years was even more of an accomplishment. It honestly feels like I can do anything. I wanted to think about how I could translate that feeling into the creative energy I spend at work so that feeling of accomplishment will be in all of my work.

Outline. Before NaNo began, I had the idea, plot, and characters for my novel all lined out. I took each scene and moment step by step so that I didn’t get lost or forget the important points. I’d never done that before and I think that using outlines in blogging will help me to write more content that has a true outcome, instead of just mashing ideas together and hoping to end up with a great post.

It’s easier to get ahead than it is to fall behind. One of the things that always prevented me from completing NaNo was that I always seem to have family obligations in November. If you look at my progress chart below, I was 8,000 words ahead by day five which was a huge help for those days when I was out of town or during the holiday.

Turn off Your Inner Editor. Part of the goal of NaNoWriMo is to encourage writers to just write. In a lot of ways there is no rhyme or reason to the plot of a participant’s story. It’s about encouraging writers to turn off the need to “edit as they go” and instead just put the words down. You can always go back and correct the things that are wrong later.

Find Someone to Battle With. It was a big help to do “word wars” with a friend who was also trying to reach the 50,000 word goal and it was great to have someone that I could battle with. We would pick a time and then write as quickly as we could to see who could get the most words in a 20 or 30 minute period. Even if you battle with yourself you can set a timer to see how many words you can put down in a specific amount of time. On the next post, try to beat your personal best.

The best thing about completing something like this is feeling that pressure off. There really feels like there is nothing to stop me from taking on the world – okay, maybe not, but I did write 50,000 words in 30 days, and that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.

What will you accomplish today?

Customers Expect Speedy Service

Let’s face it – we live in a 'want it now and don’t want to wait' kind of world. Look around you the next time you’re out or while you’re holiday shopping. Black Friday sales started at eight and ten PM Thanksgiving night and one of the biggest reasons for this is that people didn’t want to wait for the sales to start in the early morning hours. Look around at any store and you’ll see the development of the ideas of meeting customer’s on-demand expectations. From self-check isles to overnight shipping, you can see that the world feeds our need to have things right away.

Take a look to evaluate how you’re operating things at your company and see if you’re meeting the right here, right now expectations of your customers.

  • Take a look at your customer service. While not everyone can eliminate phone trees and hold times, there are ways to make things easier for customers. It could be that you hire more people when your call volume is highest or train existing employees to handle accounting or minor technical calls.
  • Evaluate the products that you offer and see if there are any new offerings you can make that customers might expect you to have. For example, if your company sells roofing shingles, you should consider selling roofing nails on your website. Customers to come to your website will consider the convenience of having the ability to buy all of the supplies they need a bonus.
  • How long does it take a customer to find things on your site? Do they have to make a million clicks to get to the contact information or your pricing? If a potential client has to spend too long on your website to find the information they are looking for, you’ll find yourself with a lot of missed opportunities.

When it comes to giving a customer what they need, it goes beyond simply creating and selling and product. You have to provide those services in a way that is both informative and an efficient use of their time.

How do you make sure that you’re meeting the on-demand desires with potential customers?

Preparing for Communications Failures

Superstorm Sandy has come and gone but the effect of the storm on communication remains. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the FCC reported that 25% of the operating cell towers were damaged during the storm and the ability to make calls, send, and receive messages would be temporarily affected.

When you know there’s an event that could interrupt your ability to communicate with your friends and family, prepare in advance for what could be a long time without your cell phone.

Have at least $5.00 in quarters in your first aid / emergency kit. I know that a lot of people under the age of eighteen have probably never seen a payphone, nor would they fully grasp the idea of calling collect. Gather some quarters before the weather event so that if you do lose service you can find a payphone and make a call.

Notify who you can when you can. A friend of mine was in a hard hit area of New Jersey and it was touch and go to get a hold of her for the first week. She asked me to be responsible for updating our mutual friends, as she could get one text message out much easier than she could twenty. She would text me how she was, and I would use social networks to update our friends.

Update Social Networks via text message instead of using an application. In my hometown in Arkansas, the cell phone service is pretty spotty, and most of the time is spent on the Edge network. This makes things like updating my Facebook and Twitter difficult because it can take so long for the application to load. Most social networks have a way to update your status by sending a text message and it’s a great way to update your friends and family.

Find Your Local Red Cross. Before a disaster strikes, find your local Red Cross and see if you can find out where they will be setting up emergency stations in the event of a serious event. You can view a list of Red Cross centers by your zip code and then you’ll have a good idea of where to start if you need help. You can even check in to Safe & Well to list yourself as OK or check on friends and family.

It’s hard when you lose your cell phone because it’s the way we connect with the world. In the event of a disaster, you have to stay connected in any way you can. Sometimes, that means that old technology might be the most reliable.

Image credit to NOAA.

Delivering Promises to Customers

A few weekends ago, I wanted to order some sandwiches for deliver to my house. I assumed that since there were two locations of a chain within a reasonable drive to my location, that surely they could keep their “freakishly fast” promise. After being denied at both locations, I decided to look and see exactly how far they were from my house.

The two sandwiches places were mapped out to be five miles away and searching around the sandwich site, I didn't see anything that restricted delivery mileage and it seemed it should have that information.

Your website is the portal to your business and what you offer to customers. So does your website deliver the truth to customers?

Are there old promotions hanging out on different pages? Take an hour and go through your landing pages to make sure that you are still honoring the offers on the site. Trust me, if there’s a deal available online, a customer is going to find it and ask for it. If you find anything that’s old or out of date you should change it or update it.

Are the terms and conditions clear? If a promotion requires new customers to send you a picture of them talking into a banana like a telephone, then make sure you put that on the website. If a customer understands the things that have to be done to have a special deal they can make their own decisions, then it builds transparency between you and the customer.

Most customers can understand why or why not a company can do something as long as they don’t try to hide the reasons and requirements behind it. How do you make your websites and promotions transparent for customers?