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May
29
2009
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Maranda Gibson

Put your money where your mouth is

May
28
2009
Time Maranda Gibson

Time

What is it that they say about time?  That you can spend it, or borrow it, but you can't buy it?  That it flies when you're having fun?  I've always noticed that when I really needed time, it just seemed to slip through my fingers.  Audio conferencing can be like that.  One minute you're introducing the topic, and the next you're trying to cram three main points into the last five minutes.

One of the most obvious signs of a professional conference call is adherence to the schedule.  What is more important, however, is not that you ended on time, but that you used that time wisely.  People notice things like that.

So how can we use our audio conferencing time wisely?  Here are a few tips:

  • Before the conference, before invitations to the conference, create an agenda complete with a schedule
  • In the schedule, allot five to ten minutes at the end for questions, follow up, conclusion, and a farewell
  • Distribute the agenda/schedule to all participants so they can come prepared to listen and with questions
  • Meet-by phone or pre-conference-with speakers and other hosts to go over schedule, and decide on time cues to keep them on track
  • Prepare back channel communications-instant messaging, texting, web conference chat--with speakers to quietly tell them time cues if needed.
  • Record and table off-topic questions, digression points, and great ideas that aren't exactly on point, and announce that they will be the subject of their own meeting and audio conference
  • Considering your particular participants, be open to having your Q&A spread out through the conference instead of at the end

Running a successful audio conference is not just about effectively conveying information to the participants, but also laying the groundwork for future successful audio conferences.  The best way to do that is to respect the participants' time.  Try to schedule a conference to best suit the time zone containing the majority of the attendees, keep the conference to an hour-hour and a half max-and always, always end on time.

May
26
2009
Prepared Spontaneity Maranda Gibson

There aren't too many things worse than a long, dull, boring lecture or presentation.  Well, maybe it's worse to find yourself in the middle of presenting a boring presentation.  Two things that make a lecture livelier are natural flow or audience interaction and participation.  But how can you avoid a "canned" speech without making sure you are still informative and convey your message?

Lisa Braithwaite asks this very same question in her blog entry, "Can you be prepared and still be spontaneous?"  Well, can you?  Yes you can and here's how:

Do a Basic Outline – As soon as you can, sketch out your main points and supporting ideas.  Add enough information to this outline to be coherent, but not so much it becomes a speech.  Then leave it alone for a few days – or weeks if you have the time – occasionally returning to go over what you've written.  This cements your main points and concepts in your mind so that you won't have to refer to an outline or written speech during the presentation.  You'll sound as natural and confident as if you knew the subject by heart.  Guess what?  By then you will.

Research the Audience You want to know what your audience knows about your subject material so you can fill in the gaps.  Going over things they already know, or starting in the middle of a subject they have no clue about are two great ways to lose your audience fast.

Have Additions – While you are periodically going through your outline and notes, start looking for places where stories, props, examples, and audience participation could go.  Pencil in reminders where you can augment your presentation with these extras.  As you become familiar with the natural flow, you'll know exactly where to slow the pace with a story, or emphasize a point with an example.

Practice for Time – Now when you talk through your presentation – including additions and places for audience questions and such – time yourself.  However, don't have the clock staring you down.  Start a stopwatch and practice in another room.  Naturally and without pressure go through your speech.  It may be over or under your time limit, but at least it won't sound canned.  Tailor your outline and notes accordingly to end on time.

Be Prepared – After all of your hard work, when you show up you should only need a page or two of your outline, complete with reminders of good places for your additions and any other important information you need to convey.  The outline is sparse and the notes absent because all of that information is in you.  Start talking and let your presentation flow out.

Your audience will appreciate your hard work.

May
22
2009
Bigger is Better Maranda Gibson

Got any bigger earpieces?

May
21
2009
eLunch Meeting Maranda Gibson

The business lunch meeting is a long-standing tradition.  It's not about the food though.  It's about forming a bond, a relationship.  It's about discussing what you can do for them, or what they can do for you, and all in an informal atmosphere. 

It never occurred to me to replace such an obvious face-to-face aspect of business with a virtual analog, but then I read a blog post by John Jantsch in DuctTapeMarketing.  According to John, with a little bit of prior planning you can turn lunch into eLunch.

I'm going to have to disagree a little with John Jantsch.  Don't get me wrong, I like the idea.  It's clever but… impractical.  Have you ever combined eating and video conferencing before?  I remember a video conference from last year.  It was informal, among friends, and happened to take place during lunch time.  It wasn't a pretty sight.

We did get some good laughs out of it though.

The idea behind an eLunch is to capture the informality, the "getting to know you" part of a lunch.  You don't need food for that, not these days anyway.  John suggested using social networks to research a clients favorite food to have it delivered to an eLunch, but that very research is a form of "getting to know you."

People share a lot of personal information on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Face Book.  Not so much that they get in trouble, perhaps just as much—or a little more—than they would during a lunch.  By following someone's updates on social media, and commenting and messaging through same, you develop an informality and closeness that has a chance to be deeper than anything achieved over hot wings.

Having eLunch is a neat idea, but it's a bit of a gimmick.  To truly reach a bond that will rival one gained over lunch, it's probably better to get to know someone over time through social networking to effectively improve relationships for video conferencing.

But if you're still interested in having an eLunch with a client, like John, I would recommend pizza.  Though when you order the pizza, have them put exactly half in the box to be delivered to the client.  Then make sure you have half a pizza in camera view when they open up their box. Voila, you're sharing a pizza!

May
20
2009
Getting More People To Attend Your Conference Call Maranda Gibson

How to get the word out about your conference call? Bummed by the low attendance at your last one or two or ten? Read on.

Make sure the conference call is well publicized.
If it’s for a specific team, you’ll need to make sure the time is a suitable hour for everyone to attend. If it’s an open invitation conference call, you’ll need to make sure that a large number of people are even aware you’re hosting a call. Sending out email reminders is one very good way to do this, announcements on Twitter is another, even announcing the call on Facebook or LinkedIn has worked for our clients.

Send out a couple more reminders as the event approaches.
Try a week before and then the day before or the day of if you’re using email. Facebook reminds users with its sidebar scheduler, and you can also send out Facebook email if attendees have agreed to join a group or become a fan (all that Facebook lingo!). Make sure the date and time are clear and include a subject. What is your conference call about? Discussing budgets? Agreeing on a design? Advising entrepreneurs on marketing themselves better? A clear subject will get more people.

Use incentives to attract listeners and then wow them with content.
I can’t tell you how many times someone comes up with an incentive (win a 100 dollars!) and then drones on and on about stale marketing ideas for entrepreneurs. Or someone raffles off a dinner for two and then won’t entertain any ideas on a new design for the logo. Or someone promises the budget meeting will be worth the time to attend and then doesn’t even show up or sends a lackey to do the job for him. Match the content to the incentive and you’ll light up those phone lines.

The point of a conference call is to interact with others. If you’re worried no one will show up on your call, invite a few associates or coworkers to join you. Simply having someone guaranteed to be there will help you plan for a better conference. If you find that your team skips the weekly conference in favor of making more client calls, you’ve got to find some way to convince them that the twenty minutes spent together as a team will help to retain and attract more clients, and that’s the hard part. Spending some time brainstorming how to get everyone on the calls is a worthy task for you to-do list.

May
18
2009
Conferencing Distractions Maranda Gibson

"What do you think, Mr. Smith?  Mr. Smith?  Hello, are you there?"

"Oh, sorry.  Ah… what was the question again?"

Obviously Mr. Smith wasn't giving the conference call his full attention.  Even if you've been in just a few conference calls, you've probably experienced a similar situation.  These days, we have so much technology and productivity at our fingertips; it can be difficult not to get distracted.

Email is one of the main culprits of distraction when audio conferencing.  It's almost impossible not to click on the inbox when you hear that little chime, or see some unchecked mail.  But when we do, we run the risk of losing track of what's being said.  Unless exchanging emails is part of the conference call, the best idea is to close your email until the call is over.

Chat, or instant messaging, is both a blessing and a curse for audio conferencing.  With chat on, at any time a window could pop up with something important, or something frivolous.  Either way, we stop paying attention to the conference call. 

However, sometimes things need to be said during audio conferencing that can't actually be said out loud.  Chat is excellent for this.  It's instant and just between you and the other person.  Quick messages like, "You've got one minute left, wrap it up," or "The answer is blue," can be invaluable.

Because instant messaging can be invaluable as a means of backdoor communications, you might not want to shut it off.  Instead, switch your instant messaging status from "Available" to "Busy" or "In a meeting."  That way, you won't be bothered except by an urgent message from another participant in the meeting: "Don't forget today is Mr. Smith's birthday!"

But during the audio conference when you ask someone a question, don't assume that someone is distracted just because they don't answer immediately.  Good audio conferencing manners dictate that you mute yourself when not speaking to cut down on background noise.  They may just be trying to find the unmute button.  Here's a good tip on asking questions during an audio conference.

May
15
2009
What the Venn? Maranda Gibson

We think it's bad.

May
13
2009
Communicating Effectively While On A Conference Call Maranda Gibson

What kind of communication style do you think you use? A common collection of four communication styles includes assertive, passive, passive-aggressive, and aggressive. Any of those seem familiar to you?

1. Passive communication style. This communication style seeks to avoid confrontation at all costs. They don't talk much, rarely ask questions, and don't do much at all. They seek to not rock the boat ever. Passives know it's safer not to react and that it's better to disappear than to stand up and be noticed.

2. Aggressive communication style. Aggressive communication always involves manipulation. Aggressive people attempt to make people do what they want by pretending to be hurt (imposing guilt) or by using anger to intimidate and control others. We seek to get our needs met immediately. Aggressive behavior is appropriate for sports or war, but it will never work in any kind of healthy relationship. However, the most aggressive sports rely on relationship building and rational coaching strategies. And wouldn't war be avoided if agressives sought to negotiate or assert themselves rather than control others.

3. Passive-aggressive communication style. A combination of both above styles, passive-aggressives do two things at once. They avoid direct confrontation, but attempt to gain some semblance of control through guilt or manipulation tactics. Any thoughts about making that certain someone who needs to be "taken down a notch or two" suffer, and you've stepped right into the emotional and reactive world of the passive-aggressive. This style of communication often leads to over-dramatized office politics and hurtful rumors.

4. Assertive communication style. The most effective and healthiest form of communication is the assertive style. It's how we naturally express ourselves when our self-esteem is intact, giving us the confidence to communicate without games and guilt.

When we are being assertive, we work to create quality and satisfying relationships and solutions. We communicate our needs clearly and without hesitation. While we care about the relationship and seek to find a solution, we know our limits and refuse to be pushed beyond them. The assertive communication style is the least utilized for the majority of people.

Which one are you? Anything you see to work on? Do your passive tendencies reflect badly on your conference call? Are you too aggressive? Do you over-dramatize office politics? Do you stand up for your boundaries?

May
11
2009
Making Conference Calls Better For Your Team Maranda Gibson

What is the definition of a great conference call? Is it the successful transmission of information? Is it connecting with the team? I think for each person it really depends. What works for one person may not work for another. And, in reality, it is both successful transmission of information and connecting with the team and more. To get that more, it requires a close look at a few conference call factors.

1. Consider who’s on the call. Do you know that one person prefers more interaction with others on the call? Do you know which people prefer to listen and interject their comments only when necessary? Then the question becomes how to make it work for both.

2. Consider learning and working styles when preparing conference agendas. Do you have auditory learners with verbal learners or visual learners? Utilizing handouts, and PowerPoint, and speaking covers all the learning and working styles and makes sure that everyone leaves the conference feeling like they kept up and learned something.

3. Ask conference attendees for feedback. If you’ve decided not to prepare handouts, you will hear about it more than likely. If you’ve made a decision about putting everyone on mute, is that what everyone wants? Can you explain your decision when pressed?

4. Experiment a bit. Add a Q&A session, allow an attendee to lead the call, allow attendees to Twitter the call as it happens, try a web conference or a video conference, whatever you think may make the conference call a better experience for your attendees.

5. Make sure the work gets done, but make it enjoyable. Sure, the overarching goal of a conference call is to get the job done, but can you also joke around (appropriately) and run contests and play guessing games and trivia. This is an essential part of a successful conference after all. Helping a team interact and share integral information with each other.

However, your mileage might vary. Are there specific things you’ve tried in recent conference calls that worked especially well? Do you have a process you use to ascertain whether or not your conference calls work well for your team/attendees? If so, please leave a comment. We at Accuconference desire to find the best information about successful conferences to give to you, but we know sometimes the most helpful tips come from our clients.

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