Regain Audience Attention Maranda Gibson

Hopefully you've never experienced the feeling, but for most of us who have given a presentation, we've had at least one moment where we could feel the audience's attention slipping through our fingers.  So what can we do when this happens?  (And no, bursting out into song doesn't work… I can tell you that for sure.)

We don't have hurry to the end, or pack it in when we start losing the audience's attention.  There are things we can do to bring them back under our spell.  The Eloquent Woman blog has some pretty good tips for us.  And even though they are for presenting in person, they can be used in our conference calls as well.

Get Out Into the Audience – All right, so we can't do this literally, but the Eloquent Woman does have a point.  Once the audience has mentally put us in a box, they pay attention quick when we step out of it, and walk around the room.  We can do the same with our webcams.  After fifteen minutes of our head and shoulders, why not tilt the webcam, stand up and step back, showing our full body while we talk.  It's different, more dynamic, and will wake a few participants up. 

Gesture – Again, another tip best used on a video conference, gestures help focus our body language to fully support what we're saying.  And again, a gesture here or there will help break up the monotony of just our heads talking.  Of course, we need to stay aware of what can and can't be seen on screen, and we should remember to keep movements a little slower and smoother than normal to avoid blurry or choppy video.

Get the Audience Involved – Finally, something that's perfect for a web conference.  We can talk about our chosen subject matter for hours, but we should never forget the point of our presentation is to educate the participants.  At random times, it's good to stop and ask questions.  We can ask specific people—waking up all the others—or ask the group in a poll.  A versatile part of a web conference is the chat feature.  Encourage people often to type in their comments or questions so you can stop to give the answer, or work it in on the fly.

How do you regain your participants flagging attention?  Leave a comment and let us know.  Also tell us if random singing has ever worked for you or anyone you know.  (I'm telling you, it doesn't!)

The Strength of Voice Maranda Gibson

Conference Call Voice

Conference calls are hosted for a variety of reasons, depending on how they can best be used by your company. Many companies began using conference calls to bring clients together, but have since branched out and are using conference calls to replace the old system of updating employees via email memos.  Using conference calls are a great way to update employees on new policies or changes and give them a platform for asking questions.

There is an overwhelming amount of information on the web about how to present on a "large" conference. But if you're the manager of the sales department just trying to keep your people up to date on corporate policies, you'll be hard pressed to find a useful "how-to" about that. Plus, most of the time, your standard department conference call isn't going to have all the fancy bells and whistles like PowerPoint presentations or video. You just need to get the info out there, make sure that everything is clear, and then get back to work.

Any information you need to relay needs to be done with your voice – no visual cues to back you up. No more pretty pictures or graphs explaining everything. It's just you and the telephone. How do you use your voice to stand out and keep the attention? Here are a couple of things that can help get you through your standard conference calls, and they could be two of the most important things I ever tell you.

Save the handouts. The most important thing on this conference is going to be keeping your listener's attention. You need your people engaged and invested in what you're saying. Send out handouts or email copies after the conference is over.  Since natural curiosity will prevail over the need to multitask, most people will focus on the handouts instead of giving you their full attention.

It's all in the voice. Remember college? Remember that professor you had who wasted your time by giving you a handout and then reading word for word from the page for an hour thinking that was going to help you retain the information (never mind the fact he would pop quiz you the next day.) Here it is, clear and simple:  Don't be that guy. Don't script your conference but have some bullet points of things you need to cover, and never read word for word from a page .There are two very simple things you can do on your next conference to keep interest where it needs to be.

What are some of your tips to keep interest on a standard audio call?

Hey Look – You're Special … No, You're Not Maranda Gibson

In marketing, junk mail is one of those things that will always come across your desk. There's nothing you can do about it. Your name is on stuff and companies are constantly sending out mailers and letters to increase their business. It's always a "free" or "discounted" offer and I can understand that it's an effective form of marketing. The problem? What about when you already do business with the company that mass mailed you?

I'll give you a scenario:  I had a brief conversation with my boss about an advertisement letter we received from a company we work with and how the signature at the bottom was printed out to look like the persons real handwriting. The discussion was mainly about how the signature at the bottom was purely pointless, since all personal relationship to the "special" offer was now dead in the water. Our company is not special, you just sent me a mass mailer, trying to make it look like we were important to you, but we're not. Further dissection of the ad in question found that the letter was addressed to "Marketing Manager" and was also available for "any other website run by our company".

What? I thought this was a special offer you extended just for me.

There is also no phone number on the mailer, and I highly suspect that the name of the person would not be able to assist me directly.

What's the point in taking all of that time to "look" real if it's not real? This company in the end, in making us try to feel special, only made us feel like another face in the crowd and made a dent in any kind of relationship they could have established.

I think if a company is going to send out a mass mailer there's a couple of things it should do:

  • If you're going to list a name on the mailer, make sure it's someone that would be able to help a potential client directly.
  • Always include a phone number in case more information is needed by your client.
  • Don't bother with the "printed" signature. If you are going to sign a letter, sign it, otherwise don't even put it on the mailer.

To me, anything else is a little bit insulting and doesn't make me want to jump and do business with the company. I would have preferred a generic letter rather than something that was trying to fool me. What do you think? Can a mass mailer have a personal touch or is a mass mailer out of luck no matter what?

The Unseen Audience Maranda Gibson

For some strange reason, public speaking is one of a human's greatest fears.  Not so much for me; I rank sharks as much scarier than getting up in front of a bunch of people to talk.  Actually, making someone face jumping into a tank of sharks, but at the last minute giving them the opportunity to skip the sharks if they'll give a twenty minute speech could possibly cure anyone of their fear of public speaking.

But I digress.  Naturally, a conference call is much less terrifying a medium than an auditorium, simply because there's no one looking at you.  However, those "eyes" are still there—only now they're ears.  I found some great tips from The Eloquent Woman blog about speaking to an audience you can't see.

Stand Up – Even though you're probably by yourself during a conference call, put on your headset and walk around.  You'll sound more energized, and the better alignment of your diaphragm will make your voice more powerful.

Talk Visually – Like nodding to say "yes" over the phone, a lot of gestures and such can't be seen by the audience.  Tell them what you're doing, holding up, or picturing in your mind.

Outside Help – Have a friend listen in on the conference call.  Ask them to send you instant messages telling you to speed up or slow down.  They can also tell you if you're doing well—encouragement is always a good thing.

Raised Hands – When giving a presentation to an unseen audience, you can't see the puzzled looks.  Enable lecture mode so that people can "raise their hand" by indicating they have a comment.  Also, tell people to use twitter to send you quick questions or comments mid-lecture.

Which do you prefer, speaking in an auditorium or on a conference call?  Tell us why in a comment.

Easing Change Maranda Gibson

Change happens.  Sometimes it happens for a bad idea, and other times a new leader just wants to make their mark.  Sometimes necessary change for the better happens, but even then, if done improperly, the effects can be bad anyway.  Extensive planning and research help to ensure good and effective change.  Conference calls can do some good too.

A large cause of failure during times of change is self-fulfilling doom prophecies brought on by worry.  And worry happens when there is a lack of communication, or distrust.  Good communication then, can be our best ally in pulling off a change.

Of course, it's difficult to keep everyone in the loop by normal means, but what about using a conference call recording?  When top management meets to discuss the change, do it on a conference call.  Afterwards, we allow our employees to do dial-in playback to listen to the discussion.  We can also download the recording--edit it for any sensitive information—then email it, or put it in the company network.

That lets the employees know what's going on, but sometimes they need to hear it directly from us.  Instead of cramming everyone into a room, we can send out an email announcing a video conference.  It's probably not feasible for everyone to show their face, but everyone can see us on their computer—wherever they are in the world—and listen to us in the conference call as well.

More information is better than less in these types of situations.  So we can augment our video conference with a web conference.  We present a PowerPoint presentation that details where we are at now, where we want to be, and how we're going to get there.  This can go a long way in getting everyone up to speed.  A web conference also allows us to show pictures, videos, websites, graphs, spreadsheets… pretty much anything we need to allay fear and worry.

How does your company handle change, both good and bad?  Have you ever used teleconferences for smoother transitions?  Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Communication De-Evolution? Maranda Gibson

Banana Cell Phone

Remember the days when cell phones did not exist? I remember my brother's first cell phone and man did we feel cool for having one of those.I remember the days when I had to be at home to make a phone call, and long distance wasn't always free. I remember my Dad teaching me DOS commands on our Tandy 1000.  I remember opening my first Yahoo! Email account and I still remember the log in and password. (It's a total spam email address now).

We are constantly connected now with devices like iPhones and Blackberry's. Long gone are the days of actually having to be in front of your computer to check your email or even get your instant messages. Words like 3G and DSL are relatively new in the grand scheme of things where someone is always looking for innovation – and Google is on top of it.

I read this post from TechCrunch yesterday about Google Wave bringing on the beginning of “passive-aggressive communication”. MG Siegler makes some great points about the different kinds of communication that IM and email encourage, both from an “active – respond now” with IM or an “it can wait” standpoint with email. Merging the two creates a power for the user to control how and when you receive your information and Google now has the power to set a new communication standard.

While I fully support the growth of technology and all the good things it can do, I can't help but be worried that we're continuing to chip away at our ability to have normal conversations with others. Sure, sometimes it's quicker to fire off an email or send an IM, but what's happened to the good old fashioned phone call?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a Facebook and Twitter addict. I love social mediums of conversation, but I'm also a big fan of verbal communication. Being able to communicate on a one to one basis is vital to any kind of social growth, something that parents are worried about when their child isn't able to cultivate these social abilities. Maybe I'm just sliding down the slippery slope.

Let me ask you, how often do you pick up the phone and call or turn around and speak to someone? Is Google Wave just another way that we will forever be chained to our cell phones and laptops or will we still step outside of our comfort zone and try for normal conversation?

Making the Main Event George Page

The hardest part of putting on a big event isn't getting it to start on time, or breaking the ice.  In fact, it isn't even during the event itself.  The hardest part is all the days, weeks, and months before "showtime," when all the planning and preparation occurs.  Here's a few ways that teleconferences can improve your main event by making the before-hand easier.

1.  Planning Sessions – The bigger the event, the more planning it needs.  And sometimes, the big planning meeting can be as complex as the big event.  By using conference calls instead of "getting everyone together," you can fit planning into more people's schedules, and be able to meet more often.  As an added bonus, the conference call recording can be made available for playback in case anyone missed a vital part of the plan.

2.  Juggling Collaboration – Events are a composite of the services of many different groups of people.  For example, the caterer, the band, and the valet company--to name a few--need to be on the same page, especially if there is a central theme.  A good way to convey that theme is to have the key players join your web conference.  You can go over scheduling and such, but you can also share pictures, videos, designs; anything to give them a good idea of the grand motif so that they can play their parts better.

3.  Guest Management – I just received and accepted a party evite.  It told me the directions, time and date, and costume theme; everything I needed to know.  For a much bigger event, there will probably be a need for something more.  If you have guest registration, why not give them a conference call code after they fill in their information.  When they dial-in, they can hear a recording that plays a message from you telling them thanks, what to expect, details of the event, and whatever else you think they'll need.

The key to planning, preparing, and organizing a big event is communication.  It helps keep things smooth and efficient, not to mention getting things finished long before the eleventh hour.  Have you tried using teleconferences to get ready for a big event?  Tell us about it.

Virtual Tourists Maranda Gibson

Last week, YouTube rolled out a site completely dedicated to Anne Frank. The Official Anne Frank Channel features interviews with her father and the last known images of her as she watches a couple be married on the street.  This site invites you to "explore the life and significance of Anne Frank through unique images".  It is sponsored by the Anne Frank House, a living museum of the home where Anne and her family hid from the Nazi’s during World War II.

At first glance it looks like any other "virtual tour" website you might find for a museum or center - a collection of pictures put together to entice you to come to the museum and pay admission. But once I watched the director speak and watched a "Making of the Virtual Tour" video on the site, I came to realize it was much more than your standard website.  The Foundation has put a lot of work into creating a real experience that some of us would never be able to have otherwise. Someone like me, who loves history, would love to travel the world and know what it’s like to see historically significant places in person. But if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I’ll probably never have the time to see all the things I want.

This channel reaches out to create something special for the everyday viewer. Instead of just posting pictures on the site, they have created a real "virtual world" that puts you in the middle of the rooms. While the online tour is still in development stages, it makes me think about what could be the future of vacations.

Take a tour guide, strap a web camera to his head, and give him a phone.  He can dial into a conference call, walk through the museum or historical site and show you the sites. Everyone’s lines are muted, so the tour guide is free to walk about and show the different sights, and at the end, the guide can do what they would usually do and open the floor up for questions or further explanations.

Of course, you lose some of the personal attachment since you’re not there in person to see the sights and sounds.  But when you really think about it, are you missing that much? You’re really not doing anything differently by traveling across the world – just looking, only through a web camera.

Personally, I can’t wait to see the Anne Frank House virtual tour completed.

What do you think?  Can video conferencing revolutionize the travel industry? Would you "vacation" from the comfort of home?

Shhhh Maranda Gibson

Background Noise

The Middle of the Night Idea : Make It Work Maranda Gibson

It's happened to everyone. You're sitting at your desk, lying on the couch, or even trying to fall asleep when an idea jumps into your head. You hastily reach for pen and paper to jot down this wonderful idea so that it can be remembered and cultivated the next day. You jot down something like “tethered picture” or “life path” or some other random combination of letters and when you get into the office the next day, all you can do is scratch your head and wonder what you meant.


It might come back to you, it might not, but if it doesn't, don't trash the idea.  Maybe your brain just needs a little coaxing to bring it back to the surface. It could be the greatest idea in the history of your company, it could be the cure for cancer, who knows, but don't trash it just yet.

Here is a suggestion: it's the perfect time for an impromptu conference call.

Send out an email to your co-workers, asking if they have a moment free to dial into a conference call for brainstorming.  Tell them the story of how the seeds of a wonderful idea were planted in the middle of the night and now you just need a little water to help it grow (remember humor is a great ice breaker!). If you are looking for an outside opinion, use your social network to get some feedback from the people who might end up using your product. Send out a tweet or a message to your Facebook friends and ask them to DM you or send you a message if they would like to help you brainstorm. Since these are often the people using or interested in your product, surely they would like to be a part of a new idea you've had.

Getting others on the conference call can not only help jog your memory, but can also be the key to another great idea looming around the corner.

Do you reach out to your community of friends, followers, and co-workers to help you build on, brainstorm, or remember a great idea? Why or why not?

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