Establishing a Video Conferencing Tradition: Part II

As we stated in the previous blog.  Groups asked to use a new communications tool, like video conferencing, go through phases.  We have already discussed the first two: forming and storming.  It is at the "storming" stage that the most oversight has to be exerted to make video conferencing really work.  This can be done by having the most experienced members, or some designated individual(s) intensively model the behavior for others.  This might mean a lot of interaction with those using the system to see if they are having any problems and getting feedback on what is and what is not working for everyone to a more intensive schedule of video conferencing meetings to get people comfortable and make this style of communicating a familiar activity.

After a generally short, but intense "storming" phase, as people get used to the hardware and different style of interaction, as well as become more comfortable with their fellow desktop video-ers, the group enters the third "norming" stage.  At this point, all webcams are on and the stuffed animals are gone and people are interacting, for the most part, normally.

Then comes the best phase.  The performing stage, where groups and conversations begin to form spontaneously and ideas and the project and interactions really take off.

Keeping these four stages in mind, helps you understand that giving your people a new tool and then expecting them to run with it right away is unrealistic.  Knowing the phases of how adoption of new communications technology goes and your role in making it happen, however, lets you know that the initial confusion and chaos and displeasure that comes in the initiation stages are all a natural part of how people react to change, especially one involving something as important as how they relate to each other.

Establishing a Video Conferencing Tradition: Part I

Remember that, like any change, people need time to adjust and build familiarity.  Just like getting a new project team up and running, companies or teams that go into heavy video conferencing mode go through the phases of "forming, storming, norming, and performing".

The first phase is where the team or group that is going to be using the technology decides that this is the technology they are going to use to do their communications.  Sometimes people aren't given that decision, though, and it is made by higher levels and they just have to live with it.  During this phase, you introduce all the participants to the technology, show them how to use it and try to eliminate some of the "fear factor" inherent when people use things by themselves for the first time.

The next phase, the "storming" phase, is one of discomfort and distrust.  Not only with the technology where they might not know exactly how to work everything or what to do when things go wrong, but also of the people on the other side of the transmission line, especially if they haven't worked closely with them before.  In this phase, sometimes people will not turn on the camera, saying they are having technical difficulties or will put a picture or stuffed animal in front of the camera instead of training it on them selves. This is due to the desire for some people to want to remain anonymous until they feel more comfortable with the process and people.  This can last a week or so, until people get more comfortable with the new mode of interacting.

Create the Right Impression: Video conference Job Interviews

With the more distributed and global nature of modern business, more and more companies are moving to interviewing potential employees through video conferencing. The objective of the parties on both sides of the line are the same as if it were a face-to-face meeting: to hire the right person or to be hired.

If you are being interviewed via a video conference, here are some tips to help you do your best.

  1. Be sure to arrive well ahead of time so you can be briefed on the technology, get comfortable with the controls and surroundings, and set up the room or table the way you like it. Make sure you know where you can get technical assistance immediately if something happens to the reception or equipment during your interview. Minimize what you put on the table and keep whatever you do have there neat so you don’t distract the interviewer.
  2. Make sure you have the picture-in-picture option turned on so you can see how you look to the other person. It also helps you eliminate shadows that might fall on your face because of the lighting. If you see a shadow, you can generally make it go away by shifting your face or body slightly.
  3. Sit up straight, look alert and interested, and be sure to make eye contact with the interviewer. If you don’t, sometimes the camera will focus on another bright feature in the room.
  4. At the outset, ask the interviewer if their reception of your station is good and let them know immediately if there is any problem with you receiving them on your side.
  5. You will be asked the same type of questions as you would be at any other job interview, so be prepared. And be prepared to ask questions of your own as well.

Having a successful video conference job interview is more than just mastering the technical aspects of the videoconferencing venue. It is all about what you say and how you answer their questions. Knowing what the interviewer is going to ask is a big plus, because at your leisure, you can then plan what you want to say or highlight so when that question comes up, you are prepared instead of surprised or flustered as you furiously think of what to say.

There are plenty of websites now that list the most asked questions in interviews of all types. Just type "job interview questions" into any search engine and a legion of websites devoted to them will pop up. Many also have strategies on how to answer tough questions like "What are your weaknesses?" or, for people who were fired or who left a dysfunctional job situation, "Why did you leave your previous employment?".

There are not really any interview questions out there that have not already been asked a million times, and reading through a number of these websites and thinking of how you might answer some of them in light of your experiences and expertise, really helps build your confidence and comfort. Two things that are paramount to transmit in any interview situation.

Choosing The Right Hardware For Video and Conference Calling

The conference calling equipment of today comes with almost too many options for the average business owner to choose from. It becomes so much more than just an issue of eliminating the nasty entanglement of wires. Sophisticated options for muting, recording and call inclusion are among a few of the special premiums offered. If your video conferences are not quite up to par because periodic static or fuzziness of picture interferes with their presentation, there is hope that these and other problems can be easily resolved or eliminated. Read on for some tips on what to look for when choosing the proper hardware for your video and conference calling.


Desktop Computers and the Internet

Although it would seem almost unnecessary to say it, some offices, particularly newer ones, are not fully equipped with desktop computers. You must invest in PCs for your staff if you plan to incorporate conference calls into your business protocol. You can actually calculate your net worth based on the quality of the computer technology you can afford.

Each employee should also have total Internet access, far beyond the ability to check email or download a joke of the day. The extra expense is worth it for the vast array of information and the ease and speed of communication that it provides for web conferencing.

Avoid low quality and Mobile Phones

With mobile phones, many variables can cause issues such as changing environments, wind noise (when talking outside) and background noise. Make sure you are using a solid land-line (cannot be had with a cordless phone).

There are a few cordless alternatives, however, should you prefer to go that route. Conference call cell phones shaped like a half star-fish can operate without the wall outlet and only need battery power. This might work well in a conference room, which lacks the floor telephone jack in the middle of the room, which does sometimes occur. A wired phone still might be a better way to go because of the problems with frequencies that often occur in many office buildings.

VOIP services have their pros and cons. Their lines use the Internet to transfer audio and because of the varying levels of speed involved, these lines can waver in voice quality. With VOIP, make sure to use *6 to mute extraneous noise.  VOIP costs less, especially in regard to long distance calls, which are offered at flat rates, and incoming calls can be automatically routed to a VOIP phone regardless of where the Internet connection is located. VOIP phones can also be integrated with other Internet services and a user can easily send or receive messages or data.

About headsets

For best results, use a headset with a quality microphone. A headset allows you to have both hands free, and when you use a standard model, in which the phone is held with your hand, it can cause variations in the volume due to the unstable position of the microphone and your mouth.

About microphones

Whether built into your PC or an external plug-in, you can't do without a microphone if you wish to communicate over the Internet. Spend a little more than the minimum because the cheaper ones will not eliminate static or provide for a clear conversation. Microphones provide that which there is no substitute for during a video conference; namely, the clear enhancement of voices picked up from other participants on the conference call.

About Webcams

A webcam is simply a camera that is connected to the Internet. This broad definition makes it difficult to determine which type will best suit your particular business needs. If your conference calls will be soley of a verbal nature, you won't need a webcam. Face-to-face-interaction however, should never be underestimated, as it permits the utilization of facial expressions and professional demeanor. A webcam will allow you to turn a computer-enabled meeting into a personalized one.

One of the biggest business mistakes made with webcams is that they aren't given the "marketing attention" they deserve. Often they are simply “thrown together by an astute computer employee who doesn't realize the economic power that a webcam can generate. Highly rated webcam sites are almost always capable of 5 frames per second or more. Consider investing some time and money to make your company webcam pay off for you.

Choosing the right hardware for your next videoconference can make all the difference between creating an effective business meeting and a disappointment. Choose wisely and spend some quality time in understanding all the options available. Don't buy impulsively even if you are under pressure due to a time frame or other factors. There are so many options available that there probably are several hardware solutions that would work for your company.

Just remember that the videoconference you save may well turn out to be your own!

The Brave New World of Online Conferencing

Free, downloadable videoconferencing programs from several online providers just simply don't provide the quality and reliability that businesses need to function in today's high tech environment. With these free applications, depending on the software, up to 6 people can join the conversation. However, the more people, the more the quality of the transmission deteriorates via audio delay. Using them can be fun for personal use, but they are not good matches for the workplace.

For businesses a loss of quality or lack of reliability when using a free teleconferencing or web conferencing application can be a real problem. This is why professional fully featured teleconferencing tools are the top choice for mainstream business use. Nothing turns a prospect off faster than setting un an online conference with a free application and then having your client have a difficulty using it; thereby losing precious selling and online “face time” that you need to clinch a deal.

Leave the free applications for grandma and grandpa to keep tabs on growing children, and family member to keep in touch, but use the professional teleconferencing and web conferencing tools for the business world where you just can't take a chance in making a poor first impression.

Not only does video conferencing open up a brave new world of possibilities of staying in touch with clients and prospects, but provides high tech resources using robust featured technology that improves your productivity, keeps track of meeting notes for you, and speeds your online meeting follow-ups.

Cutting Edge Technology with a Human Touch

Fifteen years ago video conferencing was in its infancy. Despite the semi static transmissions and multi-second delays in audio, it was still a great liberator that provided tremendous convenience and cost-containment for training, sales meetings, inter-office meetings, and more. Teleconferencing has since come into its own, and is so now so cost effective and easy to use that it has moved from workplace to family applications.

Long distance phone charges were a big hurdle for military families as recently as the mid 1990s when sailors were deployed at sea for 6 to 12 months. Security was a paramount concern. Batch transmissions of email messages were a ‘hot’ innovation before the Internet made secure transmissions possible.

Today most soldiers enjoy the benefits of regular communications with their families via phone and email. This lessens the separation anxiety. But it is still hard, especially for young children who don’t see their deployed mom or dad for six to 12 months at a time.

As an illustration of how far we’ve come, recently 50 soldiers from the 108th Air Refueling Wing departed McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey on September 15, 2007 with donated video conferencing equipment. This equipment enables them to chronicle their experiences and stay in touch with their families in high touch, high tech way. That really is the beauty of video capabilities. The old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words rings true today more than ever.

We hope that other businesses around the country will donate video equipment to local military units so they can visually keep in touch and feel that human connection.

How To Make Your Video Conferences More Productive

Video Conference

Conference calls have been around the business world for some time and are certainly nothing new. Quality web conferencing, however, has changed the context and purpose of the traditional conference call and by introducing new exciting features has enhanced its dimensions enormously as well as decreasing the entire cost of the process.

What exactly is video conferencing? The dictionary defines what is also known as a video teleconference as "a set of interactive telecommunication technologies which allow two or more locations to interact via two-way video and audio transmission simultaneously." It is also known as visual collaboration and is a type of groupware. Video conferencing can either happen between individuals or involve multiple locations scattered throughout the world. Apart from audio and visual transmissions, video conferencing can also be utilized to share documents and a wide range of computer-displayed information. What does this mean to the average business manager? Read on and learn.

The advantages provided by video conferencing are many. Modern technology makes it easy to meet with any client anywhere and at anytime, defying geographic boundaries. It's a way to qualify clients and candidates before meeting them in person, saving time, effort and money that might otherwise be spent on traveling, food, gas and accommodations. Video conferences serve to demonstrate products and services to clients many time zones away, and can provide a conduit for training employees in another country. Although video conferencing can never replace the in-person meeting, it can, via online collaborative tools, provide you and your business with unique ways in which to interact. Some of these tools include: document sharing and text-messaging.

The following tips will help you make your next videoconference session as productive as possible. While not everything may apply to every business, all will render positive results if used correctly.

Decide upon your space

The conference room is a factor that must be decided on before even considering which equipment will work best in it. Good video conferencing facilities will consider the effect of walls and echo problems. Square rooms, for this reason, should be avoided. Tiles and carpeting have different degrees of sound absorption, all of which must be considered.

There are many fancy setups for effective video conferencing, but sometimes the easiest and most obvious is also the most effective. A U-shaped table with the display and camera at the top of the U and participants sitting around is the best acoustical arrangement possible. Almost any conference room can be adapted for use as a video conferencing site by making adjustments based on the needs of the video and audio equipment to capture signals. A basic web camera is really all you need to get started.

Know how you will use your video conferencing system

Who are the users and what role will the system play in your particular scheme of things? Will it be for an occasional chitchat or for more formal face-to-face meetings between business executives? You may not need high-definition resolution and can possibly opt for the much cheaper web cam and instant messaging if you are going to use your videoconference system for infrequent casual chats.

Along the same lines, decide how many locations you will need to connect to simultaneously and if these locations are outside of your network's firewall. How tech-savvy are your users and what kind of equipment do they have? Will you be using your system collaboratively, with many parties communicating, or will you be watching one central presentation?

Consider extraneous factors that can affect the conference experience. You want to choose a location with a neutral background that contains as few moving distractions as possible. Avoid rooms with tinted or colored light and opt always for natural lighting. Place the camera above the monitor, a few feet away from participants.

Know how much you are willing to invest in your video conferencing system

Purchasing a system can be a very costly venture. Fully customized conference rooms can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, but lower-end desktop-based systems won't very likely put a big dent in your budget. You should also calculate the costs associated with the activities you are planning to replace or enhance with your new video conferencing system.

Make a short list of vendors

It's all part of doing your homework. Compile a list of those sellers who have systems that meet your needs. Run each system through a real-life test to see how it performs before you buy. Most vendors will permit a test-drive. Some things to look for might include:

* Call reliability:

How often are you disconnected in the middle of a conversation?

*Audio-video quality:

The quality of the sound and the consistency of the picture

*Ease of Use:

Is the user interface simple or complicated to navigate?

* Standards-based:

Can your system be easily connected with other systems?

What type of network will you use for your videoconferencing traffic?

By knowing which geographic areas your videoconference will be servicing, you can ensure beforehand that the digital network you have chosen as well as the required bandwidth is available in those specific areas where the parties you wish to connect to reside. IP networks are generally cheaper than the ISDN varieties and they are easier to secure.

Don't expect perfection the first time around

Even if you choose the simple "web cam" route for your video conferencing, there are almost always problems that occur because each client has a different and usually confusing user interface for its video feature. Non-technical users will need some help in figuring out the process and should not be expected to do so on their own.

Pay attention to the lighting

The speaker and the presentation must be in view. The speaker should avoid remaining in a dark area as, if that is the case, he or she will remain in silhouette for all of the conference participants. Also avoid area that is overly flooded with light.

Always maintain eye contact

As much as possible, look participants directly in the eye even if you have to do so from a web cam.

Speak clearly

Do not speak in a monotone voice. There is nothing more boring than listening to a voice without a single variance in its pitch. In Video conferences the audio can sometimes be garbled, and for this reason, it is very important to not chew on words.

Make your presentation as interesting as possible

Participants will quickly lose interest if you as a speaker, don't sustain it with well-prepared and coherent material.

Follow other speakers' presentations with respect

Give the next person your full attention. Do not yawn or fidget as these two actions translate directly into boredom and disinterest.

Check your computer settings before the conference begins

You might even want to attempt a mock session with a colleague to iron out whatever problems you might encounter. Can your colleague see and hear you? It's better to know this before the conference begins than during it!

The video conference is the way of the future for online interaction and communication. A child of the Information Age, it is growing by leaps and bounds as a convenient and effective tool for companies everywhere around the globe. It is being used more and more, not only by the corporate world, which already appreciates its many advantages, but also by homes, small businesses and universities.

Get on the bandwagon now and set up your first company video conference. You will be amazed at the results!

Building Relationships: The Power of Audio, Web and Videoconferencing

Nothing is more important than the relationships a company builds with its customers and partners. To foster these relationships, larger companies sometimes have annual conferences where people from across the country come together to meet each other, catch up on new company products and services, and learn new ways to use the company’s system. These usually cost quite a bit of money for both the company and the participants.

 Although nothing beats a good physical face-to-face conference, just in terms of time and money it is not something that can be done more than once every year or two. And, getting together with key clients and partners only once every year or two to fill them in on what’s going on is just not sufficient to build a real relationship.

What some companies have decided to do is to still offer the once-a-year physical meeting, but to augment them with quarterly web meetings that are similar to their large conferences, but smaller in scope (50 to 75 people) and that target different market niches and that use audio and video tools to provide interaction between parties.

Due to the more intimate nature of the web meetings over the physical get together, this becomes a venue to find out how clients are actually using the product and its features and get them to share what they are doing and what they are finding out about it. It also proves to be a great vehicle to brainstorm and troubleshoot with clients about products under development; and provides a great way to find out what the client’s priorities are for new products, allowing the meeting convener to better prioritize product enhancements or new product releases.

Parenting from Distance: Staying in Touch via Video Conferencing

It is hard enough to be a good parent when you and your family live in the same house; but when you either have to be on the road a lot or live across the state, across the country, or around the world from your family or children it's even tougher. With the globalization of business and services, long-term, long-distance travel for some jobs is now a necessity. This has made it tough for some parents to stay as personally and emotionally in touch with their loved ones as they would like.

The mobility of the US workforce has also had a tremendous impact on grandparents, who now many times live far away from their grandchildren and who maybe get to see them once or at most twice a year, if that often.

To stay in touch with those you love, sometimes you have to get creative and one of the best ways to do that is to web conference with them. Seeing someone and how they react in a conversation and vice versa is a powerful tool for staying close and emotionally in touch. Seeing is also much more comforting and real for children than simple emails or letters and photographs.

Because video conferencing is so cheap and easy, compared to flying or driving long distances, you can also increase the amount of time you get to see your kids or grandkids, especially in those early years when they are growing up.

The cost of video conferencing and other modes of web-enabled video has dropped precipitously so this can be a viable option for those who want to stay in touch and maintain strong personal relationships with other people in their lives

HD Video Conferencing and World Peace: Helping Make It Happen

Last month, a historic event took place in the high-definition (HD) video conferencing facility on the University of Denver’s campus through their Institute for the Study of Israel in the Middle East. Here teenagers in Israeli, representing Arabs, Jews, Christians, and Muslims met with 25 Iraqi high school students who were visiting the University of Denver to hold a peace summit to explore barriers to peace in the region and how to overcome them.

The Iraqi students visiting Denver were part of the Iraqi Youth Leaders Exchange Program sponsored by the US State Department and they met and talked directly with Israeli students who had convened at the AVCOM facilities in Tel Aviv.

The videoconference allowed these Middle Eastern youth to see the faces, hear the voices, and ask direct questions of their counterparts whom, under regular circumstances, they would never get a chance to meet or get to know as people.

The positive results of this meeting showed how the use of new communications technology can help break down barriers that have existed for decades, facilitate communication, and foster understanding.

The event showed that the creative application of new communications technology which allows people to meet on their own terms under non-threatening conditions breaks down communication barriers and allows conversations to take place that could never occur otherwise.

AccuConference |

Breaking Down the Technical Barriers of Customer Service


I work in a business that has a lot of words for a lot of different things. When you call in ask for a "webinar" we might be talking about a couple of different things. It's my job to break down your needs and ask the right questions so we get you the kind of service that you need. It's not a perfect system because there is a barrier between knowledge. I've been in this industry for a little over five years and honestly, there are still terms that come up that I haven't heard before and have to get clarification.

When hitting communication barriers created by technology phrases, it's not always easy to figure out a way to break down how to explain it to customers, but here are some things that we do here that are really helpful.

Break Things Down into Physical Terms

If I can't adequately communicate what I mean by a conference "line" I will break it down in terms of rooms. If you can provide something physical a customer can picture in his or her mind, you might click a bulb in their heads. It's much easier to imagine a room that is assigned to each person than to try to explain what I mean by "conference line". Something tangible that a person can wrap their mind around can break the technical confusion.

Gauge Your Customers Understanding

In about the first thirty seconds of a conversation with a customer, I can get a pretty good read on their level of familiarity with conferencing. Many times a customer will freely admit they have limited or no experience with any kind of conference technology, but sometimes, it's a matter of just understanding how they are wording and saying things that give you the best clues to how you need to break things down for them.

Repeat It Back in a Different Way

Don't be afraid to clarify with a customer. Part of what our responsibility is to the customer is making sure that we understand what they need so that we can direct them in the best possible way. Make notes as you talk to them and then repeat it back to them in a slightly different way. "Let me make sure I understand, you need a conference call where you can collect the participant's names and companies? Oh, then you need an operator answered call. Okay, we can take care of that for you."

Show, Don't Tell

When going over what a particular product or service can do, always offer to show it to them. Set up a demo with them and then give them access to go in and play around. I always encourage our new customers to go online and click around. Make yourself available to them if they have additional questions or needs so that you can talk them through.

When a customer doesn't understand the technical terms, it's our job to help them through it. Even if we might be speaking a different "language" with our customers, we can still get to the bottom of what they need and help them along the way. How do you help your customers get through the information.

Voting on Conference Calls

Conference calls are held for a number of reasons. Using conference services for board meetings is incredibly popular and sometimes, you need to hold a vote on these kinds of calls. The difference is that you can’t just ask for a “show of hands”. Now you need a way to take votes in an orderly manner on your conference call. Here are some of the unique ways we have observed our customers using our conference systems to take official votes from board members.

Flagging

On the live call screen, you have the ability to click beside a person’s name and put a little “flag” beside their name. We developed this feature for a client who wanted a way to keep track of participants who had already had an opportunity to ask a question so that everyone got a chance. Use the live call screen to flag people who have voted either up or down on an issue.

Web Conferencing

With web conferencing, you can send out a poll throughout the conference to take votes on your suggestions, issues, or just to get a feeling about how your participants feel. You can edit them to ask any kind of question and select any kind of responses. If you’re using a PowerPoint to show your clients some different options they have in a web page design or product marketing efforts, you can allow them to vote on which one they want by using the polling system within the conference service. (Bonus: The polls can be preloaded so that you have them ready to go.)

Q&A Sessions

When we talk about using Q&A sessions on your conference, it’s usually it the context of, well, asking questions. But you can use the Q&A feature to poll your audio participants. Ask them to press *1 to put themselves in line to vote and then you can take their vote one at a time. If you record your conference call, you can have all of these votes on record for review or to recount at a later date.

Voting sessions can easily be done through a conference without having to cost a lot of time and you can easily keep a record of these votes using some of these options.

Duck Theory

I have always tried to look at every situation with a resolution, rather than a problem. It is the “Duck Theory” that I adopted long ago from my sister, who has always been my best mentor.

The premise is that when you see a gaggle of ducks swimming, you see this beautiful motion of them gliding through the water effortlessly. But, if you were to turn the picture upside down, then you would see that the legs are quickly rotating and maneuvering to keep up, slow down, turn, trying to keep up with the group or get ahead. The mechanics to create the movement are two entirely different pictures.

It is the same in business, customers should only see above the water, the smooth action of a forward glide. They do not need (and normally do not want to know) the mechanics behind it. They just need to know that you understand they have a problem, and yo’ you’ll solve it.

So what if all problems do not have a solution? Some needs just can’t be met. I admire those that go above and beyond. The "Heroes" that we remember. Olympic competitors don’t just work out, they focus on what workout is best to enhance their skills and stay focused for four years to compete against the best. They don’t say the word "can’t" for 4 years or even longer. Survivors don’t quit, they are the ones with the remarkable stories about how their resilience got them through a tough situation. My answer is never say "never".

When the duck theory is applied, you supply the effort so customers are effortlessly rewarded.

Sweet Success: 12 Proven Habits of Winning Leaders

When you start a company and find yourself in a position of being a leader, you might wonder how you are going to accomplish the task of suddenly managing a handful (or a huge company full) of employees.

Here are twelve great habits of a winning leader.

Encourage Communication.
While you need to be speaking regularly to your team, you also need to encourage them to speak to each other. The sharing of ideas and thoughts among co-workers can shed light on where to improve, new approaches, or even changing them all.
Be Passionate.
Truly successful leaders aren't just present every day, but they believe in the value of their company and the products and services being offered. You have to love what you do, and feel connected on some level to what you're doing. It's not always as simple as "well, it was a small business I started on my own" - sometimes you have to work to find the passion.

Brainstorm.
Gather your team every few months to talk about how you can change or improve things. If you’re following habit number one, this should be easy because everyone will come to the table with ideas.

Embrace the Little Failures.
Don't be afraid to make small mistakes. You can learn a lot from the things you didn't do correctly, the ideas that weren't executed in the best way. Failures teach you how to succeed.

Ask for Help.
We like to think that we can do everything, but really, we don’t have super powers. We will never be in two places at once, we will never be able to do it all. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Remember That You Lay the Foundation.
Everyone else will build around you. Build something strong and sturdy that your team and rely on. You don’t want them to end up standing on something that will just crumble.

Read Everything.
Things change constantly, no matter what field you’re in. Stay up on blogs and changes in your industry. Read business books, speaking blogs, or informative articles that might even inspire conversation between you and your team.

Delegate. (Not abandon)
I think there are too many people who think that "delegating" a task means "passing it off". Delegation is key in showing trust in someone to complete a task, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't check in and make sure that they don’t need any clarification.

Create a Productive (yet enjoyable) Environment.
Happy employees are more productive employees. There is something to be said about "corporate culture" and its effect on your employee. Carry the fine balance between "work" and "fun".

Take Educated Risks.
If you never step outside of the comfort zone, you could miss huge opportunities to be on top of the "next big thing". Be smart about your risks and only take chances when you can assure that they can be "undone" if they fail.

Say "Thank you".
Send hand written notes to your clients. Occasionally treat your office to a coffee. Send out a company wide email thanking them all for working extra hours during a busy holiday rush. It doesn't matter how you do it - just show you’re appreciative of their hard work.

Develop Trust and Gain Respect.
I think that on some level we are all ingrained to "respect" the boss, but it’s completely different to be able to "trust" your boss. Cultivate the trust and watch an even higher level of respect appear.

The Assassination of JFK in a Digital Age

One of the things I really love about the Internet as an adult is the access to information. I spoke about it last week, how I’ve used the Internet to learn about weather. YouTube gets a lot of credit for funny animal videos but I want to take a moment to remind everyone that YouTube has become a historical video archive while we were all busy figuring out what the fox says.

I was always a geeky kid - interested in things like the weather and history. How many kids think Santa is the greatest because he brought you Encyclopedia Britannica on CD-ROM? What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I got a minor in history in college, almost enough credits to double major.

As a child and I was learning things, it was the “big events” that fascinated me. None so much like the assassination of JFK. I often asked my dad to tell me about it. He doesn’t remember much, but he remembers sitting in his 3rd grade class, when one teacher came in crying. She whispered to my dad’s teacher, and then they both left the room crying. The same goes for his mother - he remembers going home from school and seeing her crying too. After September 11th, 2001, I came to this strange realization that my children would one day ask me to tell the story of “where I was” over and over again. As I started to compare the two events in terms of importance, I started to look at the reporting between the two events and noticed interesting differences about the journalism.

(Mostly) Zero Sensationalism

Listen to any of the live coverage you can find on YouTube for “as it happened” and the thing that lacks versus a “national” event of today is the sensationalism. A lot of that is due to the time it took for information to travel. If you’ve ever been to the Texas Book Depository Museum (do it!) you’ll see the AP wire that came across, announcing the death of JFK. With time between reports, there was time that these details could be confirmed, vetted. Today, social media is used to find “breaking” and “real time” reports and they are often reported as true.

It Was a Pioneering Day of Live Journalism

When the reports first broke into soap operas and commercials for laundry detergent, most “big” affiliates reported the the President has been shot and would return to regular programming. At WFAA here in Dallas, Texas they went live, read a bulletin, and never left the air. The WFAA broadcast offices are just a few blocks south of where the assassination happened. Jay Watson ran back to the studio and interrupted the regular program - still out of breath from his sprint as he delivered the news. (Watch the landmark footage - it’s absolute chaos in the most amazing and professional way.)

If you ever visit Dallas, I highly recommend the visitation to the Texas Book Depository. The infamous floor where Lee Harvey Oswald took the shot is a a museum now, with lots of Kennedy artifacts. You can also go up to the top floor and look down to the street, giving you an almost exact view of what Oslwald would have seen. Just wandering around Dealey Plaza leaves a heavy feeling in your heart though, no matter how old you are.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the reporting would have been like on that day if social media had played a part? Do you think reporting would have been different or the same?

Why We Are Afraid to Try New Things

This is part three of our series on learning new things. This post talks about why we are afraid to try new things. Follow the links after the post to read the other parts of our series.

Learning something new can be daunting. There are reasons why we avoid trying new things. One is that we fear what others will think of us if they see us try something and we fail at it. Or we fear being outside our comfort zone, especially if it might make our minds look less sharp than we think they are.

We fear what others will think of us if they see us try something and we fail at it. People who make fun of others for looking goofy when trying something new are jerks. These jerks just keep others from trying new things. When anyone tries something new, they are going to look goofy. Or they won't know the answer. Or they will give the wrong answer.

Even when there are few critics (which is never the case, right?), you will always find plenty to improve, change, or be harsh towards. To those of us that are scared of looking like a fool, I encourage you to press on and remember that it’s ok because when you strike out, you learn. And when you learn, the next time will be better.

When I am learning a new dance routine, I have to expect myself to wreck the train several times. On my first attempt, I don't lead well enough. Trying a second time, I lead way too strongly and throw everything off balance. Finally, I sometimes lead just right. It takes repetition to find the right way to do things.

If I don't try it the first time because I'm scared of what I'll look like, then I will never get to the "just right" part.

The same goes with learning something mental. I know when I am facing something new I want to get it right the first time. Whether it's a test, or a project, or task. Whatever. However, I usually have to mess up and get the wrong answer first. And sometimes I have an audience. The audience can be one or several people.

If you are having trouble getting to the right answer, focus instead on looking for what is wrong. Be a critic of the problem and identify the ways it won't work. Make mistakes and figure out how to correct the errors. If you are writing, put something down on paper that is awful. Then go back and make it better. Don't try to hit a home run on the first draft. Get the words down on the page, then go back and edit. The hardest part of writing is first getting words on paper.

Critics can be demoralizing and can paralyze us into inaction. The worst critic of all is yourself. Seth Godin writes a lot on this subject and calls this part of our brain the lizard brain. The lizard brain dislikes change, challenges, and moving forward. What the lizard brain likes is status quo, not rocking the boat, and boredom.

If you want some more reading on using mistakes to get better, check out The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward Burger and Michael Starbird. There is a whole section that deals with failing to make yourself more effective.

Brene Brown spoke about being vulnerable and dealing with critics. It's a twenty minute video but worth the time. (Link to the Roosevelt speech Brene mentions in her talk http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trsorbonnespeech.html )

And remember,

"A man's errors are his portals to discovery." - James Joyce

What are some other ways you like to fail in order to grow?


You can find the other parts of our learning new things series by following the links below:

Part One: Three Different Ways We Can Teach Ourselves - By Mary Williams.

Part Two: How to Learn From the Internet - By Maranda Gibson.

Secure Conference Calls

Finding secure conference calls is an important part of planning your meeting.  You want to make sure that you can have your conference and not have to worry about people interrupting your business or overlapping conference calls.

We have a number of built in options that can help you manage the security (and billing) of your conference calls. Depending on how tight you want the security of your conferences, you can choose some or all of these features.

Conference Codes: There are several ways you can increase security with your conference codes.

First, we recommend assigning a unique conference code to each participant. It functions as your ID badge to track attendance and see who is on your conference. Set each of these codes to "one-use-at-a-time". It works like a concert ticket on a first come, first serve basis. Once the ticket is scanned, no one else can get in. With this code setting the first participant to join the call is the one allowed in.

Limit the use of these conference codes by setting a total number. For example, if you have a series of conferences, and you want to make sure a code is used for the first two, but not for the third conference, you can set the code to be used twice. One that second instance is used, the code expires and won't be valid for future conferences.

Registration pages can be set up so you can control who gets an invitation to the conference, and approve or deny any of the registrants. (Bonus: All of the above options can be automatically set for each code with registrations.)

Conferences: You can use the conference lines to set a security precedence by scheduling each conference. You get a new moderator and participant code each time you need to have a meeting. This way, participant codes cannot be used to join in on a confidential or unrelated meeting. Conferences will expire once it is complete.

Set up a conference room for each employee. If everyone has their own room the conferences will never overlap, so you don’t have to worry about someone coming in on the tail end of a call.

See who is on the conference by viewing your live call screen during the call. If you see someone you don’t recognize, you can remove them by clicking 'hang up' on the screen. You can also lock the conference to prevent anyone else from joining.

Permission based users allow you to give selective access to your account. For instance, each employee can be given their own set of conference codes and access to log in. Each person is responsible for their own conference lines and the telecom or IT manager no longer has to manage the account with a log book or a sign out page.

Security on your conference calls is important, but not impossible. Try some of these features for your next conference call.

Find more information about conference security, features, and options by checking out some of the other blogs here at .

How to Learn From the Internet

This is part two of our series on learning new things. This post talks about how you can use internet resources to learn about most anything. Follow the links after the post to read the other parts of our series.

My interest in weather goes way back to the early 90s when our Carolina home was nearly hit by a tornado. We went down to the basement to take shelter and when we came out, the green storage shed behind our house was gone. We never saw it again. As a kid, it’s hard to understand how something that was there just wasn’t anymore and my dad explained it to me in a very grown up way. He explained to me how he had seen the tornado in the woods just outside the back door while we were in the basement, and how it ‘took’ the shed.

Having my dad explain it to me the way he would any other grown up was great, but it woke up extra fear inside of me. I understood the importance of going to the basement and taking cover, because things can change in an instant with storms. What if the tornado had been just six feet to the left? Would our house still be there? Would our things still be there?

Before the Internet, the research that you could do on your own only went so far. What’s been amazing is information that twenty years ago I could have only seen in a classroom setting is now at the tips of my fingers.

So you want to learn something from the internet? There are a ton of resources out there to teach you pretty much anything. I wanted to learn about the weather, so that’s what I’ve shown you here, but you can mimic these tricks for anything from basket weaving to computer programming.

Reading

The free flow of information lends itself to the ability to let the internet serve as a historical archive. You type something into Google or your search engine of choice and you’re suddenly flooded with news articles, photos, and even historical archives. Go to your search engine of choice and type in “weather history 1998” or “tornado data 2012”. If your interest isn’t weather, you can type in whatever you want and find some truly legitimate information. Here’s a list of some of my favorite weather related reading sites:

Watching

Severe weather events happen so quickly that a meteorologist must warn you at the same time that they try to educate you about the dangers of the incoming weather. When you watch coverage live, it’s like getting the most elementary crash course of your life. I highly encourage anyone who is interested in learning about the weather to watch live coverage, or go to YouTube and find recorded coverage of an old event. To find live streaming of a current weather event, do what I do: search for “major city + live TV” and go to each of the local affiliates to see live events.

Some of the more informative live events are archived below. These large outbreaks allow you to learn a lot very quickly.

Online Classes and Podcasts

If you’re trying to use the internet as an educational tool, then you need to know the opportunities that exist online. I’ve found that weather is one of the easiest subjects to research and learn about, and that there are a lot of “enthusiasts” out there, putting together great educational tools, but for most subjects of interest you can find what you’re looking for. For weather, I’ve found some great classes and online resources that not only define terms or give historical data, but help you get an insider’s view on what you should learn about.

I think no matter what you want to learn about there are a number of reputable places online where you can go and find the information you want. I taught myself everything I know about the weather from these resources, and if you have a subject of interest, I strongly believe you can find what you’re looking for.


You can find the other parts of our learning new things series by following the links below:

Part One: Three Different Ways We Can Teach Ourselves - By Mary Williams.

Part Three: Why We Are Afraid to Try New Things - By David Byrd.

What We Are Reading

8 Bestsellers Started During NaNoWriMo
by Joel Cunningham, Barnes and Noble Book Blog
If you're brave enough to traverse NaNoWrimo, here are some best selling books that were born during November.


The Past in Color
by Feifei Sun, Time Magazine
Sanna Dullaway digitally colorized archival images of America's 16th president in hopes of bringing history to life. Here's a look back on the iconic images she's revisited.


Timelapse Transformation of Homeless Veteran
by Lacey Donohue, Gawker
Watch this amazing timelapse transformation of a homeless veteran.


Delivering Amazon on Sunday
by Tom Cheredar VentureBeat
Amazon forges new deal with USPS to deliver packages on Sundays


The Science Behind Why Breakups Suck
by Adam Dachis LifeHacker
The Science Behind Why Breakups Suck (and What You Can Do About It)


Angela Lansbury calls Murder She Wrote reboot a "mistake".

by AP Staff Writer The Guardian
Angela Lansbury speaks out against a reboot of the popular TV show.


Audy Kaufman is Alive, Says His Brother

by Mallika Rao Huffington Post
According to reports, Kaufman's brother, Michael Kaufman, brought down the house at last weeks Andy Kaufman Awards show with a winding tale involving a letter, a favorite restaurant, and this conclusion: Kaufman is alive.


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.

Turn It Up

I have a mirror on my desk with the saying, “Smile! They can hear it in your voice.” I keep it near my phone as a reminder of my duty to try and make the person on the other end of the line feel just a little better.

Your environment and the people you interact with plays a large part in how you look back and say it was a “Happay, Happay” Jack day or a “Hey, I ‘m Like Aretha Franklin, I don’t get no R-S-P-E-C-T” Si day (This is a Duck Dynasty reference, for those of you that are not part of the 11 plus million viewers). The reality is that you are the one in control. Smiling can change your mood and the whole day for you, your colleagues and your customers.

When a smile is not enough then music helps me. If I have a tedious job, turning on a little Josh Weathers and with a few raised eyebrows and some twirls with my pointer finger, a project is turned into a concert. Or, if I need to clean my house, then a turning up the volume with some Rolling Stones gets me bopping through the house, making it feel more like a dance rather than a chore. If I need to paint (as in a room not a Picasso) then Andrea Bocelli helps my one hand maestro my way through the project. Whatever your genre, try it.

Turn it up and smile.