Video Cube Maranda Gibson

One of the worst parts of my little part of the office is the fact that I stare at a wall every day. I've done what I can to make it a more cheerful place, like hanging a new picture of some where I want to go each week. I'm still surrounded by my co-workers and at anytime I can pop my head out for a quick bit of conversation. Even if I don't feel like talking, I can at least stand up, stretch my legs out, an d look at something else besides whatever skyline I've chosen for the wall that week.

Telecommuters don't have it as easy, their monotony often is in the same place as their home is, and while it can be a great thing to spend more with families, I can't help but think that sometimes, telecommuters have to miss the camaraderie of the office lifestyle.  It seems like working in the office to working from home would change the location, but not the problem: which is the same thing every day.

I read a really cool post by Scott Hansleman that discussed an experiment he had undertaken to create a so-called virtual cubicle. It's an interesting study in how comfortable it can feel to have someone close to you when you're working. Sure, your kids are great, and not having to spend money on gas can feel like a blessing, but sometimes you have to be craving that grown up interaction and the office experience.

Here's what you do.  Grab a partner, a web cam, and your favorite conference service and boom—instant office neighbor. Set up the camera to make it feel like someone is right over the top of the cubicle wall, Scott suggests being careful to make sure that you're not feeling like your space is being invaded. You wouldn't want to have that camera right in your face all day long and since you're trying to create the “office” atmosphere, you should try to make it as close to that kind of set up as possible.

What do you think telecommuters? Do you miss the feeling off the office surrounding you or do you find yourself working better where you have the freedom to hit up the Wii with the little ones when you step away for lunch?  Is this something you would consider giving a try?

Catnip Sold Separately Maranda Gibson

Catnip Sold Separately

Powerful PowerPoint – Part Three: Media Maranda Gibson

Description: If done right, web conferencing with PowerPoint can do amazing things!

It had to come eventually, but we're now at the end of our three-part series on the proper use of Content, Visuals, and Media to create excellent PowerPoint slides that grab attention, deliver the main message clearly, and highly augment presentations as a whole.

Web conferencing is, I think, the best medium to really get the most out of PowerPoint.  Not only is everyone right in front of their screens, able to see each slide perfectly, but they also have their computer handy to follow any links you put onscreen, or download materials you wish to share.

Take a look at this YouTube video that has tips for making the best of graphs and visuals.  Now, there are three things I'd like for you to glean from this video:

1.  Everything you put on a PowerPoint slide should be tailored to best convey your main message.  If this includes cutting out most of a picture to leave exactly what you want the participants to see, then so be it.  If increasing clarity means that graphs are made to be considerably less complex, so much the better.  If a slide has to be broken up into two—or more—slides to increase visibility, I say that's great.  Remember, you don't have to have a limit on how long a slide is shown, or how many slides you have.

Oh, and the best way to grab, retain, or regain attentions is go to the next— and different looking--slide.

2.  This video was on YouTube, but it and any videos you have or create can be placed on a PowerPoint slide!  A few slides into the beginning of a presentation you can announce that the CEO wanted to say hello, then you advance a slide and press 'play.'  Or, instead of describing a certain machine at work—or showing slides very fast with a picture on each—you can let your video explain all.

Video is eye-catching, but don't discount a slide with a picture and a sound file on it.  Get to the slide, press play, and let the exact words you want them to hear flow out.  It probably doesn't need to be said, but the picture should be appropriate for the sound file.

3.  The main point of this company's PowerPoint video was to get you to pay to attend their web conference seminar on improving presentations.  And they did this by showing a few minutes worth of their presentation as an enticement.

And you can do the same with your own products.  Hold a web conference for some potential clients and show your PowerPoint presentation.  Make sure to record everything.  Then pluck out sections with valuable information, and put them together in a PowerPoint video to put on YouTube.  You get some exposure, but more important, the leads you receive from it are informed and motivated potential customers.

I hope this three-part series on punching up PowerPoint helped more than a few people turn out stellar presentations.  Was there something I didn't cover that you hoped to see?  What subjects would you like covered in our future series?  Leave us a comment and we'll do our best to accommodate.

Powerful PowerPoint – Part Two: Visuals Maranda Gibson

We're now in the middle of this three-part series on getting the most out of PowerPoint using Content, Visuals, and Media, so let's press on.  What first comes to mind when you see the word, "Visuals"?  (I thought of photos.)  Though pictures are in the visuals category, they don't make up its entirety.

Since I brought them up, it would be good to mention that pictures do speak volumes and can be a welcome addition to any PowerPoint slide… if done correctly.  Pictures are like content; they must be surgically chosen.  And where the right picture can do wonders for communicating to your participants, the wrong picture can distract them, or even lower their opinion of you and your message.

You can't go wrong if you put one picture per slide, taking up all the space—captions don't have to always go underneath; place the words where they'll make the most impact.  Pictures of people are good, but crop tight from the chest up for individuals, and show some background and scenery for group shots.  Double-check to make sure the right person is showing at the right part of the presentation.  Product shots are good, and buildings too if appropriate.

If ever in doubt, not using the picture you're waffling over is probably the better choice.

But pictures aren't all there is to visuals.  The slides themselves can make or break a bid for participant attention.  Go through the first ten slides or so of this eye-popping PowerPoint presentation.

Pretty cool, eh?  You'll have noticed that they used color to manipulate mood, and sizes of slide elements to call attention to information.  I really like how they used reoccurring graphics as a sort of bullet-point system.  Nothing is worse than seeing the same layout and font, slide after slide, with nothing changing but the information.  (It puts me in mind of white stripes in the middle of the road at night: hypnotizing.) The one critical mistake on this powerpoint is the size of the text. 

But when people see a familiar graphic from a few slides before, they are eager to spot the differences, and quickly learn that these particular slides will be their guideposts for the rest of the presentation.

What visuals are you using to spice up your PowerPoint slides?  How do you like the series so far? 

Next up: Media

Acronym Rehabilitation Maranda Gibson

Acronym Rehabilitation

The world has gotten fast paced enough that we have developed ways to make it a little bit easier on all of us. We have iPhones so that our music, phone, and email can all be carried in the same place.  Text messaging has replaced the need for pagers. Video conferencing has replaced the need to travel around the world to have a face to face get together. On top of this, more companies are implementing the use of IM in their offices to be able to share information. 

We used to use IM here in the office and writing this reminded that it's not always the clearest form of communication.  I once asked my boss a question and he responded with "y". I proceeded to tell him why I needed to know the answer only to be informed that he meant "yes". That seems like a pretty easy conclusion for me to draw, but maybe there's a reason why I didn't quite connect the dots.

In our zest to get things done faster, we've cut out a lot of "unnecessary" steps to get to where we need to be. Sometimes that can be a step in the right direction - look at companies like Toyota, who have benefited from "cut the fat" policies on their production floors. As great as these policies can be for the bottom line, there comes a time when we need to admit that we've cut out too much.  

Communication is the key to any beneficial relationship and if you can't communicate effectively, you'll never be able to close a deal or get a promotion. While most people are very careful about keeping their "net-speak" and their English separate, who hasn't accidentally dropped a "BTW" or a "BRB" on another person while speaking face to face?

Think about the up and coming generation of business leaders.  They are sixteen now, forever on their laptops or phones, texting and emailing choppy messages to each other. Not because it's the way you should speak, but because it's quicker.  They will change the world, shape the future, and one day, will be working for you. 

The question is, will you understand anything that comes out of their mouth?

Do you feel that acronym addiction will affect the way that communication occurs?  What can we do to rehabilitate ourselves and fast?

Powerful PowerPoint – Part One: Content Maranda Gibson

I've seen more than a few PowerPoint presentations.  I've experienced some so boring I counted the slides instead of reading them.  And I've seen slides so difficult to read, I found myself blinking coquettish starlet.  But then, every once in a while I get wowed by a stellar PowerPoint presentation.

To really get to the heart of the matter, I'm going to make this little PowerPoint discussion a three-part deal covering Content, Visuals, and Media.  In this first part, let's talk about how content makes those rare PowerPoint gems so great.

Content is what you want your participants to know, to have in the front part of their brains as they return to the rest of their day, and what they think about throughout the week.  However, the strength of content also contains its weakness.  Details, minutia, supporting arguments, and anything else besides your main point serve to drag a presentation down into mediocrity.

As a result, content should be surgically chosen.  What exactly is the main point?  What details are absolutely necessary to support that point?  Only include content that answers either of those questions, and leave out the rest.

"It's not vital information, but it's still important!"

That statement is the grease on the slippery slope that has spawned so many bad PowerPoint slides.  Remember, YOU are the focus of the presentation and PowerPoint is your support.  Show the main points and tell the little details and supporting arguments to your participants.  Everything else gets put into a handout for later reference.

Less is more.  Your presentation can contain tons of data, but your PowerPoint presentation should only bear a fraction of it.

Next up: Visuals

IP/Voice = ? ? ? Maranda Gibson

IP over Voice

Plan Great Events Maranda Gibson

Having to host conference calls on the fly can be hard enough and now you've been put in charge of planning a major event. If you've never planned a major conference before, or if you're just not sure where to start, remember the basics:  who, what, when, and where.  Once you’ve defined the generalities of the conference, here are a couple of things that can help to make your next event extra special.

Have a guest speaker

Seek out someone who's knowledgeable in the field you're hosting your conference and find a way to get them involved.  A lot of people are more than willing to throw their hat into a ring for a good cause or for something with a good enough message.  Do some research, find out someone who would be willing to take a little bit of time out of their day and speak at your conference. Having a guest speaker will boost the interest in the conference and provide you better over-all interest, and give you a higher number of attendees as well.

Practice Makes Perfect

Doing a run through can make the difference between a great conference and a good conference.  Know your materials and how you're going to flow through them. If you're using a web conferencing platform instead of just audio, familiarize yourself with the platform before the conference begins.  Get with a customer service rep at the provider and go through a demo.  They are there to answer your questions and help your conference run as smoothly as possible.  Go through a mock conference with a co-worker and make sure that you know the different facets of the service provider you have chosen to use.

Have a Back-Up Plan

Everything should go as smooth as silk as long as you're prepared, but just like that old cliché says, you should expect the unexpected. Computers crash, PowerPoint's fail, and no matter what you should be ready for it. Plan ahead for the conference by sending out the slide show (if there is one) as part of a participation packet so that attendees have it in front of them and if something happens, they have a hard copy. It will also encourage them to read through the slides and prepare questions in advance.  As much as you want the conference to go well, so do they.

Will you use these steps to prepare for your next conference call? Am I missing something important? I’m sure there are a lot of quick and simple things that you can do to plan your next event and make it special. Comment your thoughts here and tell me how you plan for a great conference.

What Do You Really Sound Like? Maranda Gibson

Too Big?

Or, to quote an Oppenheimer article title: "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly."  Using big words is one way to show how smart we are—often unsuccessfully—but they don't help the situation when we're trying to convey information clearly and concisely.  This goes for the $10 words, but what about business jargon?

How can slinging the lingo be a bad thing?  Well, someone spouting off about paradigm shifts—changing the basic thinking of an outlook, plan, or strategy--during a meeting is all well and good, but it's so often misused.  Even worse, it's become a bit of a cliché, adversely affecting the user and their message.  The speaker would probably be better off saying, "We need to rethink how we're going to do this."  This is much more direct and clear.

"Thinking outside of the box," or even good ol' "get our ducks in a row" can have worse consequences than merely causing miscommunication.  An article on talked about how business jargon can cause management to appear weak and untrustworthy to their employees.  A study found that 40% of employees feel that their bosses use jargon to cover up bad news or avoid the truth.

And those big unnecessary words can be a waste of time… literally.  Have you ever been in a meeting where it took forever to get from capital letter to period in the average sentence?  It's good to provide a clear picture, but adding all those asides, adverbs and adjectives, sub-plots, and background information takes a long time to get through, not to mention hiding the point of what's being said.

It's a little ironic for me to be talking about this; at least, I know my friends would think so. (Yes, my average story length is "long.")  But I know when is or isn't a good time to spin a yarn.  In business settings, if I don't speak plainly, clearly, and with brevity, I'll fail to deliver my point, lose my audience, and be labeled a "bore."

Are any of you long-winded like me?  Are you able to keep it from intruding on your professional life?  Tell me about it in a comment.

You Can't Take It Back Maranda Gibson

How many times have our eyes widened in horror after we realize what we've just said?  For the more fortunate of us, our social gaffes weren't too bad, or we just got very, very lucky.  For all of our futures though, let's look at some suggestions from for preventing the wrong things to be said.

To get it out of the way, here is the tired cliché: "Think before you speak."  (I more prefer, "We have one mouth, but two ears.")  It's tired and overused for a reason; its good advice.  Take a breath and consider the other person and how their point of view may see your comment.  Pausing to consider is especially important on a conference call as they can't see your face and won't know you're smiling or whatever.

Another cause of saying the wrong thing during teleconferences stems again from not being able to see all the other participants.  It can be easy to be lulled into believing you are on a call with just two of you.  It's the same as if you forgot the twenty people standing right behind you while you talk to a friend.  The others on the conference call may not have said anything yet, but they are definitely there, listening to everything you say.

One of my favorite ways to prevent saying the wrong things is preparation.  Whenever possible, I like to make a list of topics to be covered, questions I want to ask, and possible answers to give. I also jot down a bit about each person I know will be on the call.  These lists help remind me that thirty faceless people are right there listening.

If it's not too painful, tell us about your biggest social gaffe.  Maybe there's been enough time passed and we can laugh at it together.

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