The One Hiring Practice that Reduced Our Turnover

Since 2010, I have changed the way we hire. Previously, we screened potential candidates during the interview only, and we missed some skeletons which later haunted us.

For all new job posts, I add a simple writing assignment. What surprised me the most at first was that only 2% of applicants completed the assignment. I would have thought at least 50% of people wanting a job would read and follow instructions. However, this had an added benefit. It weeded out a lot of bad resumes and saved me a lot of time.

After reviewing the writing assignments, I choose the candidates to interview. One surprising thing was that almost every person I invited to interview would have been a good hire, and it's nice to have to pick between several awesome choices rather than having to settle.

Requiring an assignment for applicants can streamline your hiring process and provide you with the best potential candidates for employment.

Here is our last job post:

How to Apply:

Please submit a cover letter explaining:

  1. Why you want to work in customer support.
  2. Why you want to work at AccuConference and not somewhere else.
  3. A description of a great customer service/support experience you had recently, and what made it great.

Also, attach the following writing samples:

  1. Explain why would you encourage someone to use an 800 number for their conferences.
  2. Explain to a customer asking for a lower rate per minute that we are unable to lower their rate.
  3. A company wants a refund because their conference was smaller than they anticipated (we charge a minimum for large calls, even if the customer only has a few people on the call). Explain that this is not refundable.

Send everything above to iwanttowork@AccuConference.com.

The SimCity Mayors Guide to Public Relations

SimCity is a game that has been around for nearly as long as I can remember. In March of 2013, the latest version was rebooted and it wasn't met with the warmest of regards. Server crashes, the requirement to be 'online' to play, and small map sizes for your lots were just a few of the problems that the developers at Maxis and EA dealt with in the first few weeks of the highly anticipated launch.

As an avid SimCity mayor and the creator of many fine cities, it always seemed funny that the creators of the greatest city building games and arguably the most recognized franchise didn't do what their game has been teaching us about preparation forever.

Have a Plan

When you're a new mayor, you take a moment to sit back and determine where the best place for things might be. Which way is the wind blowing? You don't want to build your residential areas where the industrial pollution will blow. Where are your water supplies and other minerals? These are all important things when it comes to building a new city.

When you take on a new marketing strategy or start a new PR push, you need to have a plan. Going into it blind means you won't have a true understanding of what your direction should be. Is your goal to get national exposure for a brand or company? You're going to take a different direction that a client that has a goal of twenty thousand new Twitter followers.

Prepare for Disasters

For the SimCity Mayors we know that there is nothing more annoying than being in the middle of making tons of cash and then the screen starts to shake, or in your speakers you hear the inevitable horrible roar of the tornado warning sirens. That's right; it's time for SimCity to unleash a random disaster upon your humble town.

In public relations, it's not so obvious when there are warning signs. You can't always be prepared for something to go wrong in your marketing strategy or public relations campaign, but you can always plan around the "what ifs". Make a list of potential disasters (hopefully no Godzilla strikes) and then have an action plan for crisis management.

Give it Time to Grow

Once you've got the basics of your city in place and your cash flow is positive, there's a rush to build up your city quickly and increase the population, so that you can get more money. In life and SimCity, it's not always the best idea expand your small rural town to a big metropolis before you are completely ready.

Initial campaign success does not always translate into long term dollars. While you're enjoying increased exposure, give it some time to sustain before you hire additional staff or move into a new office building. That way you know your growth is sustainable and the additional staff or space is truly needed.

A new public relations or marketing campaign is challenging and exciting, just like being the new mayor of a virtual town. Putting your plan in place and being prepared to act from the start are often the best ways to manage things in the long run.

Identifying and Treating Speech Impediments

Growing up, my mother used to tell me to open my mouth to speak because I would never open my mouth to make certain words. I wasn't having any problems communicating and no one in school seemed to think it was an issue. I did a lot of exercises to try to enunciate but no matter what I did it just didn't help. So I just spoke at a higher volume, which my mother was equally not a fan of.

At thirteen, I went to the orthodontist and he discovered that I had a medical condition called Ankyloglossia. In non-medical terms it's called being tongue-tied. It's the presence of a small bit of membrane (called a frenulum) that attaches the tip of your tongue to your lower jaw. A quick little surgery removed it and I could speak clearly.

There are a lot of things that can cause a speech impediment. You may stutter or find yourself losing your train of thought when you speak. If you think you have a speech impediment, you can try to diagnose and correct it.

Start at the Doctor

There are lots of factors that can cause a speech impediment and you should start with a visit to your doctor. Your impediment could be medical or physical. A doctor would be able to refer you to someone that can help you. For me it was an oral surgeon but it might require a trip to an ENT, or even a neurologist. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and go from there.

Practice Your Speech

Once the cause of your impediment is determined, you can develop a plan of action to move beyond it. If your impediment isn't caused by a medical issue, you may be able to resolve some of the problems by making simple changes to your body language.

  • Good posture when speaking will help you maintain cadence and tone.
  • Reading out loud will help you maintain a good rhythm and can aid in treating a stutter.
  • Use tongue-twisters to help with a lisp. Lisps are especially prevalent with "s" and "r" sounds. Practicing with "Sue sells sea shells down by the sea shore" can get your lips and tongue used to making those sounds.

Find a Speech Therapist

Correcting an impediment in an adult is a difficult process because by the time we reach adulthood it becomes harder to change the habits of our brain, including speech. If you are truly concerned with improving your speech, you might need to find a therapist who can help you learn the mechanics of your speech patterns and make improvements to them. Your impediment might never be 100% gone but a therapist is trained to teach you how to manage it.

Having a speech impediment can be embarrassing, but more than anything, it's frustrating. Have you ever had a speech impediment? How did you address the issue?

Conference Call Services for After Your Call

So many times when I talk to customers after their conferences, they call in asking for information that they didn't realize was readily available to them. Is there a way to see who attended my conference? I think I missed some questions in the chat session; can I get a copy of that? Do you have the ability to send me my audio conference recording?

We do a lot of work with customers who are using conference call services to boost their business. These tools are a great way to reach out to potential clients, and while planning and hosting the webinar are two of the most important pieces – don’t forget what comes after the moderator terminates the call.

Is there a way to see who attended my conference?

Two options can make it easy for you to see who attended your conference. You can set up a registration page ahead of time and have participants sign-up for the call. This will assign each person a unique conference code which will help you identify who attended and who did not. It also stores specific information like name and email addresses. When your call is over you can go to your customer account and download your full registration details. Use the stored emails to send a thank you or reach out to the no-shows for your conference.

You can also sign up for an operator answered conference and we will greet your participants before taking their name and an additional piece of information, before placing them into your conference.

I missed some chat questions – can I download a transcription of chat?

If you're using web conferencing you can easily chat with participants and allow them to ask questions. When your call is over, download your chat history to make sure that everyone who submitted a question via chat was properly answered. If you see a great idea or suggestion floating around in the chat, reach out to the person directly and thank them for their participation or suggestion.

Can you send me my audio conference recording?

Set up your conference to automatically record when the moderator joins the conference. This recording is not only a great review tool for some of the information shared on the conference, but a great marketing piece for your company. Provide some of the bits and pieces of the conference on your website and encourage people to sign up for your next conference to hear more. Downloading your recording is easy and can be done by logging into your account and going to "Recordings". Find the date and time of the conference you need and click on "Save" to begin downloading the recording.

Don't Forget to Schedule Your Next Conference

Every time I've attended an event, once it’s complete, I get an email telling me 'thanks' and the bottom is always an opportunity to get an early-bird sign up discount for the next one. This is a great idea for participants who are "flying high" on the great information provided on the conference. When your conference is over, set up your next one, and send out the invitation while people have you at the front of their brain.

What do you do after your conferences to help retain people’s interest and excitement? Attention spans are fleeting so capitalizing while you have the chance might help your next conference call too.

Have no clue what a registration page is? No worries. Check out our registration page information and video & web conferencing to find ways to encourage more interaction with your participants.

Speaking Tips for Shy Speakers

I love to talk to people. It wasn't always like that for me but now, if you end up in line with me, I will at least issue you a 'hello'. Being naturally inquisitive is part of the reason that public speaking has always been easy for me. Like all speakers, there are initial nerves but once I find a comfortable groove, it’s pretty easy to interact with an audience.

It’s not like that for everyone. In fact, I’m often surprised at the number of people who are successful speakers, but call themselves introverts. It’s not an easy thing to "break out your shell" in front of a group of people that you don’t know.

Shy speakers need to gain a bit of ground before they get comfortable and it will take them a bit longer to find their groove when giving a presentation. Here are some other tips for shy speakers.

  1. If you’re making hand written notes for your presentation, use an ink color that is calming. Stress-reducing colors will help bring you a sense of calm. Using an ink color like red will trigger your brain to make "stress-inducing" decisions and when you’re nervous about speaking, you don’t want to add additional stress to your brain.
  2. Encourage yourself. On your index cards or speech notes, include little words of encouragement. Put a note in the margin that says you’re doing a great job or that you've reached your favorite part of the presentation. It may be just what you need to read right when you need to read it
  3. Avoid "off the cuff" speeches when you can. Shy speakers are calmed by the ability to prepare and practice. Even if you’re doing a quick thirty second introduction of yourself, the sky speaker will need a moment or two to prepare. When asked to give remarks on the fly, don’t be hesitant to ask for those preparation moments. Those moments will give you some calm.
  4. Don’t be afraid to use a comfort item. I cannot speak properly without a pen in my hand (never the clicky-top kind though). A lot of speech preparations tell you to "use your arms and hands" which is a great tip, but those movements can sometimes come out looking jerky or robotic. Holding something in your hand, like a pen, can help your hands feel balanced and aid in letting you make more natural movements when you speak.

Of course, the biggest weapon for the shy speaker is to practice, practice, and practice.

Are you a former "shy speaker"? How did you kick the habit? What tips would you give someone looking to improve in their speaking confidence? Are those tips different when you're making a speech over a conference call or do you think the same delivery techniques can apply?

8 Open Ended Questions for Engagement

One of the best ways to get your participants involved on your conference call is to open up for questions at the end. Many times, I've seen even the most impressive presentations end up with 'no questions' at the end. I've talked before about what to do when no one asks a question on your conference and one of the tips I suggested before was to ask a friend or co-worker to be the first person to raise their hand.

Now, some may disagree with me about using a "plant" on your conferences to get the ball rolling for Q&A. I'd offer the counterpoint that it is human nature to be shy and that no one really wants to go first. Q&A is an opportunity to refine parts of the presentations and silence will hurt the chances to do so. If the co-worker or friend asks a legitimate question about the content, I don't see anything wrong with this kind of tactic.

An open ended question is one that cannot be answered with "yes" or "no". It's important that the question gives the speaker an opportunity to explain some of those finer details while giving the opportunity to spark questions in some of the other participants. Here are eight great ways to start an open ended question on your next conference.

  1. "What is the purpose of..."
  2. "Can you explain...."
  3. "How would you use..."
  4. "What judgment can we make..."
  5. "How would you estimate..."
  6. "Explain the changes that..."
  7. "How would you summarize..."
  8. "What statements support..."

These questions are great conversation starters because they are legitimate in reference to the content presented and they give the speaker that extra chance to go over those finer details or even mention something they mistakenly skipped over when going over the presentation. Additionally, I suggest only doing this once a session and only if you don't get any one else in the question queue. This is to get the conversation started, not to take it over completely. The goal of asking your co-worker to ask the first question is to open the door for others to come along behind them.

Have you ever "planted" your co-worker to ask the first question?

Is Your Presentation Busy Work?

Do you remember elementary school? I can recall the days when our teachers spent afternoons having us do math worksheets, grammar practice, or simply sitting at our desks reading quietly. The goal of busy work was to require the students to be silent and focus on work.

Sadly, I've seen some presenters doing this with their presentations on conference calls or at events. A quick search for "tips on presentations" will bring up a lot of great resources, but many of them fail to mention one very simple and important tip.

Don’t Use PowerPoint For the Sake of Using PowerPoint.

This one tip might make your life a little easier and make people enjoy your conferences a bit more. Using a PowerPoint for every single presentation renders the visual element useless in the long run. How can you tell if your PowerPoint has become busy work – something that is only there to force participants to follow along with you?

Ask Yourself Do Your Presentation Slides:

Serve as Your Script?

If they do then you should introduce yourself to index cards. What is the point in taking the time to make a presentation if you're just going to write down everything you're going to say? Reading word for word from your slides is a waste of everyone's time. If reading from slides is your plan, simply hand out the slides and then tell participants to contact you if they have any questions.

Have more than zero fancy flashy transitions? (Yes you read that right)

Sure, the temptations to have each of your slides fade in and out, appear in a splash of animated fireworks, or accompanied with musical fanfare is always there. These can be distracting and look unprofessional to certain groups.

One thing I've seen that works really well in presentations is to use an image slide instead of a flashy transition when you need to shift gears to a new topic or draw the attention of the audience to the point you're about to make. It's less distracting than a bright flash or a new slide that flies across the screen, but it still grabs the audience's attention.

Rely too heavily on the bullet point as the common "theme" of each slide?

If every slide is featuring a bulleted list you are running the risk of overloading your participants with too much information in one presentation. A good rule of thumb is to use a presentation to present one overall or main idea, and let the slides support that common theme.

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions take a step back and ask yourself why you are using a presentation. If the goal in including slides with your presentation is to "make people pay attention" you are creating PowerPoint busy work.

Get More Engagement: Even if your presentation topic doesn't need a twenty page PowerPoint presentation, you can still use a one page "landing" slide with your company information and logo. Visuals can be powerful for participants, even if you’re just using your contact information.

What other ways have you seen PowerPoint's used as busy work?

What's Your Content WAR?

I'm a big baseball fan and recently I’ve gotten interested in Sabremetrics. It's a lot of math but the interesting thing about it is how Sabremetrics is being used to determine a player's value in terms of their on-field contributions. Did you ever see Moneyball? Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s patched together a team using the values within Sabremetrics. One of the most interesting metric is that of WAR.

WAR stands for "wins above replacement" and is used to determine a player's value based on their total contributions. Let's say there is a player who never commits errors, hits doubles on a consistent basis, but doesn't hit a lot of homeruns – WAR is a statistic that helps the front office determine if that player contributes more than a replacement player (someone on the bench or in the minor leagues). There is much more to the WAR stat than that, but the important thing to remember is that WAR paints a clear picture of a player's ability based on all of their field abilities.

What is Your Content WAR?

Look at your content in terms of WAR. You want to see something that is providing an overall value. Content doesn’t need to hit a home run every time it comes up to the plate. You want consistent and shareable content.

Look beyond links to see the full picture of what your website is doing for you. A page that gets a lot of traffic but not a lot of conversions may not be ready to DFA (designate for assignment) when the traffic is going to another page. Use your analytic tools to see where that traffic goes next and then use all of the numbers to determine if that content still has value. Inbound links is not the only metric to determining what content performs well.

Follow your keywords to see if you could make slight adjustments to you page to gather more of that traffic. When a baseball player has been doing well offensively the manager might decide to move him up in the batting order because he’s getting on base more than someone else. By following the long-tail keywords that is getting people to your content, you can discover ways to move that page up in the batting order.

Remember that WAR is about value and not about one stat or another. When we evaluate the progress and the success of our content we often want to look at it with the question of "where are my links?" but I don’t believe content marketing is that black and white. I think it's more about the value created.

So play on, content marketers, and in the words of Babe Ruth, "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run."

Keys to Being An Effective Listener

I have a bad habit of not looking up from my cell phone when someone is talking to me. I am listening, yes, but I am not giving that impression. When I keep my attention on my phone, I’m sending the non-verbal message that I am not listening.

In communication studies the person talking is called the “sender” and the person listening is called “the receiver”. When the receiver has their head down, looking at their phone, or doing something else, they are not as engaged in the conversation as the sender might like. I need to teach myself how to put down the phone and become a better receiver. Here are three keys to becoming an effective receiver.

  1. Take a moment to digest the sender’s body language. When a message is being delivered, a lot of it is going to be inferred through the non-verbal messages displayed by the speaker. Your job as the receiver is to make inferences to what is being said and how it is being displayed by the presenter. Your sender’s body language is going to tell you a lot of things that are "unsaid" in the presentation and it’s important to watch for those signals, and not just listen to the words with your head down in your laptop or your smartphone.
  2. Resist the urge to finish the sender’s thoughts or sentences. When listening, there is a temptation to try and think about how you are going to respond. The problem with this is that you develop preconceived notions of the message that is being sent and it’s not always an easy task to dismiss the assumptions you’ve made when you “think ahead” of the speaker. You don’t want to miss the message because you’re trying to figure it out. Bonus: One way to practice this is to wait 5 seconds after someone talks before you respond. We don’t recommend this as a permanent fix because it will feel awkward and you might look crazy.
  3. Give the sender some feedback. No, you don’t need to interrupt the sender to give them feedback. Much like how you will be watching their nonverbal movements to make sure you are also sending non-verbal signals. Make eye contact or nod along with your speaker to show you’re actively engaged.

In order to be an effective receiver, you need to focus on your active listening skills. Beyond these tips there are plenty more things you can do to be an active listener.

What other keys necessary to be an effective receiver?

When Bad Customer Service is Good

I’m sure the title of this blog might throw you off a bit, but trust me when I say I’m not making this up. A few days ago my husband and I were having a nice conversation about customer service. He and I get into conversations about this a lot, since I work in it, enjoy it, and he would rather… well, do anything else. One of the things we ended up talking about was his favorite place to pick up items – the local QuikTrip.

Why? Because it’s efficient with none of the frilly customer service niceness we have come to expect. It’s easy for me to think that because I expect a cheerful person who wants to chit chat while doing my transactions, and for him a "need anything else – want a bag – here’s your receipt – have a nice night" conversation is perfect.

In this case, for someone like my husband, what I would consider to be bad customer service is actually good for him.

So how do you figure out when a little bit of "bad" customer service might be good for the customer?

Learn How To Read People. When I worked in the rental car industry, I got really good at reading people. I could tell when someone walked in and wanted me to hand them keys, walk them to their car, and wish them a fond farewell. I could spot the customers who might be willing to listen to a little idle chit chat and a sales pitch. I knew the boundaries and when to respect them.

Here are three great blogs offering some simple tips for reading people:

Respond Appropriately to the Issue. When someone calls me with an issue like feedback playing into their conference, it's not the time to chat them up and make that connection. This customer wants me to identify and (when I can) correct the problem. Something interrupting their conference call is the main issue and my job is to fix it.

Follow Up When You Get a Chance. Being intimidated by the customer who wants to handle their business and move on isn't the way to handle things. Sure, you can respect their need to get their business conducted quickly, but at some point, you should check in with them. A simple email or phone call later on that day to simply check in to make sure you solved their problem and that the don’t have any more issues keeps the relationship open.

What works for me when it comes to customer service, doesn't work for everyone, and I know that. I want a chatty person on the other end of the phone who will laugh at my jokes and chat with me as we work through a problem.

For others, it is not what they expect or what they want. You just have to know your customers and not all of them will be the same. Get good at reading them and you’ll know just how to provide what they perceive to be great customer service.

AccuConference |

Conference Call Success Story

Check out this amazing email we recieved from one of our customers. Not only we were happy to hear the compliment, but it was also one of the best creative stories we've heard in a long time.

Heroines: Rachel Yeakel, Tammy Flores, and Maranda Gibson of AccuConference.com or 1.800.977.4607.

Villains : Power outage and phone line interruption and short time frame.

Once upon a time, earlier this week, a call came in for the need to connect a person in Richmond Indiana, a person in Spain and a person in Jordan by phone for a conference. (Our) power was faltering, the phone lines were frail and we had less than 24 hours to complete the mission.

Having relied on our friends at AccuConference (for a dedicated conference line that is charged directly to our credit card but only as we use it), an unnamed heroine there offered an International Out Dial option. This feature, again at no cost unless we use the service, allows us to open the conference line in IN, reach out to Spain and Jordan and collect them in cyber space for the three way call. The cost comes back to us and not the cell phone or iPad we were calling on the other end.

But alas, a snag was encountered in the approval process that Tammy Flores jumped to thwart it with lightning fast email. When electronic updates failed to hold back the issue, Rachel Yeakel answered the service call with amazing calm and charm to wrestled the approval into submission. Her confirming email was balm to the soul.

The morning of the call - the phone line connection had trouble. Oh, no - was the Earlham system not up to the task? Maranda Gibson took my cell phone call, offered three solutions and the line was opened for the conference. The first international call to connect Jordan worked like a charm but the second call to Spain involved Maranda's assistance, who leaped on line, placed the international call and successfully added Spain to the conference already in progress. An instant email back confirmed all was in place and the day had been won. ...and they all talked happily ever after.

Moral of the story: If you need conference calling options, open a AccuConference account for a dedicated line for your office use, options for international dial out options and have it all charged as you use it to your credit card. You can also set up a one time conference call anytime. Check it out.

By: Lyn, Executive Assistant

Earlham College, Richmond, IN

Dial Out Conference Calls

When you’re having a conference call you have the ability to call out to participants from a live call. You can either do this from the web conference screen, or you can manually perform a call out if you’re hosting a conference that is audio only.

Using call out for conferencing is a great tool for when you are missing individuals that you need on the call, when someone is traveling, or if someone failed to sign up for the conference, but you want to make sure they can join.

 

Send an Invite by Email – Audio & Web Instructions

Click on ‘Invite’ and click ‘Invite by Email’

Enter the persons email address. Our system will generate an email that will send the party the audio conference instructions as well as the web conference link they will need to go to. This kind of invitation is really helpful if you’ve used some kind of pre-registration system and have a last minute user who needs to join the conference. Once they get the email you won’t need to do anything else to get them to join the conference.

 

Send an Audio Invite to a Group

Click on ‘Invite’ and ‘Invite by Phone – Group’

Before your conference, you can preload a group of contacts into your account. When you click to invite the group, the automated message will be delivered to multiple parties at once. The invitation will give everyone the options to join, decline, or request a five minute call back.

 

 

Send an Audio Invite to an Individual

Click on ‘Invite’ and ‘Invite Individual by Phone’

Enter a phone number and our system will call them with an automated message to join the conference by pressing one, receive another call in five minutes by pressing two, or disregard the invitation by pressing three. It’s a great option for someone who might be between meetings or someone who is using a using a speakerphone or internet phone that may be having trouble entering in their conference code.

 

Call Directly to an Individual on a Live Audio Conference

  1. Press *1 on your telephone keypad.
  2. Dial the number for the party you want to reach. (Note: If they are an international party, you will need to call out to them using the 011 prefix.)
  3. Once you hear their voice on the other end of the call, you can briefly bring them up to date and then press *2 when you’re ready to join you both back to the conference call. There’s a few seconds of delay between when you rejoin the conference and when the new participants line opens up, so whenever I outdial I like to use the intro tones so that I know exactly when that happens.

If they don’t answer when you call them, press *3 to terminate the outdial and join you back to the conference so you can try again.

Conference call out is useful to help you get the people on your conference that are imperative to the call. Don’t want to mess with it? No worries – one of our operators can perform an outdial for you. Give us a call to find out more about operator outdial conference calls.

 

 

Web Conferencing Terminology

Last month, we rolled out our completely revamped web conferencing software. If you read our blog post about the announcement, you know we’re very excited about it. If not, you should, it’s a great introduction to the web conference system.

Since more of our new and current customers are calling us to ask about the program, I’ve noticed that we all have different ways of explaining things. I put together a useful tool to help you understand the terms that we’re using as they apply to our web conference system.

Webinar - Lots of people use this term differently, but to us a webinar is simply where you’re having a conference with a visual element.

Application Sharing – From the list of opened programs on your computer you can select any one of those programs to share with your participants. It limits the exposure of your computer screen and any notifications you get while sharing.

Audio Over the Web – Participants can now choose the option to listen to the audio streaming over the web. If they choose this option, they will not be able to participate in the audio portion of the conference, like raising their hand for questions.

Moderators – A moderator is a person who will control the aspects of the conference call. This includes the audio portions and sharing information.

Speaker - A speaker is different from a moderator in the sense that they can only share their programs and applications. They cannot remove participants or control the audio portions of the conference call. It’s a great way to invite different people to your conference line without having to give out your moderator code.

Conference Controls – There are two different sets of controls on web conferencing. One set of controls is for your sharing of information, like your desktop or video. The other will help you control and moderate your audio portions of your web conference.

Desktop Sharing – Different from application sharing, this option will share your entire display. It’s an easy choice when you have a lot of different things that you need to show. There is some risk with desktop sharing because anything that is on your computer will be shown to participants – including instant messages, email alerts, or web browsing.

Those are just some of the terms that you might hear one of our operators going over with you. If you want to know more about our web conferencing options give us a call and we can answer any of your questions about these options and more.

Social Media Cautions in News Gathering

Last Wednesday as I was scrolling through Twitter, I learned that the loud bang I heard outside of my house was not the wind, as I thought, or a gun shot, as no police officers showed up, but the sound of an explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas.

Over the following week, I gained a lot of information about that and other things going on around in the world from Twitter. While it’s been a great place to gather real information, it’s also a place that you can get lost in the web of misinformation. Even the most well-known of news rooms fell victim to announcing things before they were fully confirmed which caused a firestorm of Twitter snark.

It’s a good teaching place though, especially for those of us who feel like Twitter is a great place to find "real-time" information, but the events surrounding last week should also teach us some caution.

    1. Tread Carefully – While “citizen journalists” can be a useful place for information in an unfolding situation, you need to be somewhat cautious about what and whom you believe. Not too long ago, I heard that a school near my hometown was on lockdown and I took to Twitter to see if I could find any information “on the ground”. What I saw was a ton of misinformation that the issue was related to everything from an active shooter on campus to nothing. It turned out the school was locked down as a precaution in response to a robbery nearby.
    2. Wait Before You RT – Look, I understand that we all want to share breaking news and events, and most of us aren’t official journalists. So, what’s the rush? Even a journalist will take the time to check their sources and make sure that it’s true. Let your finger hover over the RT of the tweet from @teenagermakingthingsup until you see it’s been verified. It’s better to spread correct information than to have to go back and apologize for being "had".
    3. Check the Hashtag – I had no idea the @AP had been hacked until I logged into Twitter and saw the trending topic about bombs in the White House. For a moment, I was full of fear. It’s been a long week. Then I clicked on the topic to see more information and saw everything advising me it was a hoax. A few moments later, it was gone from the trending topics. Instead of selling off my investments, I took a moment to check the facts and confirm what was really going on.

While social media is gaining ground as a viable new source for information – I would remind you of something that your father told you many years ago. “Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean that it’s real.” As Twitter and other social networks grow in popularity and usefulness for gathering news and information – it’s also a good time to remember that these things still exist online.

Just be cautious.

Solving Conference Call Echo

When you dial into an audio conference you want to have a smooth and efficient meeting. Few things disrupt meetings like the sound of your co-worker screaming into the Grand Canyon and letting his voice echo back into the call. Okay, so he’s probably not taking the conference call on the Grand Canyon, but his line is definitely causing a bit of echo.

What causes echo and what can you do to fix it?

Make Sure There is Only One Line Connected in a Room – When you have multiple parties in the same room connecting into the same conference, it will create an echo on the conference line. Sound will travel on a delay from your neighbor’s cubicle or desk and into the phone you’re using. Instead of having everyone connect individually, gather the participants in a room and let them dial in together. This will eliminate the conference echo caused by participants in the same room.

Check Your Surroundings – The chance of experiencing an echo is greatly increased when you’re taking your conference call in an enclosed space. The sound of your voice will bounce off of the walls and back into your phone system, and create an echo on your call. When possible, take your conference call in a more open space, like a conference room. If that’s not possible you’ll need to adjust the tone of your voice to try to minimize the impact.

Are You Using a Speakerphone? - Speakerphones are convenient but are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to conference echo. Built in speakers can cause an echo on the conference call. A speaker phone has both a microphone and a speaker built in, so when the volume is up too high, it can cause echoing and distortion. Turn your speakerphone volume down to help with some of this interference.

Speakerphone Bonus: If you’re using a speaker phone to join into the conference and having trouble with the code, mute the device or disable the speaker line to enter the code. This might help your code get recognized.

Conference echo is a nuisance because it immediately disrupts your ability to host an effective meeting. Anytime you have a sound issue on one of your conferences that you can’t figure out, be sure to give customer service a call (800.989.9239) and let us help.

Speech Improvements I Learned from Sync

I recently bought a new SUV. It’s a beautiful black Ford Escape, a vehicle I have had my eye on for a long time. One of the most exciting features to me was the “Sync” system where, using my USB device, I can tell my car what to play, instead of having to manually search for songs. Like in the beginning of most relationships, there were some severe communication issues that we had to work through.

Just as I was considering breaking up with Sync, I realized that I had some things I needed to work on, before I called up a couple’s counselor. I learned some things about the way I need to talk to Sync to help her respond better to my needs.

Our biggest communication issues broke down into two categories – my consonants run together and my voice trails off at the end of words. When I would request that Sync play “play artist Tom Petty” she doesn’t hear me clearly. The two “T” sounds become one in the middle of my sentence so she isn’t entirely sure what I meant. The same thing happens where they are “soft” sounds at the end of words. For example, if I request that she plays Adele, she fires back with a bunch of options because the system heard the first part “Ade” but not the rest.

In order to have a good relationship with Sync, I had to change the way I spoke to her. I knew what I was saying, but she wasn’t translating it correctly, and it was causing a rift in our relationship.

Communicate Better with Participants

It’s hard to know when something isn’t communicated effectively to another person since the speaker knows what the intended points are. I knew what I was trying to say to Sync but it was getting lost somewhere along the way. I had to change the way I spoke to her in order to improve our relationship.

You can improve your relationship with your participants by making your entire presentation to a recording device. Then wait a few days and go back and listen to yourself. Make notes about parts of your speech that are fading away or aren’t being translated well.

Letting someone else listen to your presentation is also a great way to understand how a participant might interpret your speech. Take the recording and give it to a friend. Ask them to listen to the entire thing from start to finish and make notes along the way. They can jot down the things that don’t make sense or a misunderstanding that they might come across.

Communication is not just about what you say but how you say it. You can evaluate how to speak before you ever step in front of your audience so that you can know how you will sound and how your words will be received.

Introducing Something Brand New - Online Project Manager


Having the right tools at the right time helps you stay productive. To stay focused and get things done, you need to be in close contact with your team. Our new product allows you to communicate easier with co-workers.

In 2011, we decided to create our own tool for managing tasks and projects.  We had a few basic requirements:  It needed to be cloud based, online, and work across all browsers and mobile devices. Once we finished, we decided to give the product a unique name; apio.

What you can do with apio Project Manager:

  • One page overview of all of your projects
  • Keep your project files up to date. When relying on emails, it's inevitable that someone will miss an update or work off the wrong document.
  • Discuss your projects and tasks right from the site. The comment feature keeps your discussions all in one place for everyone to see.
  • Assign due dates for tasks. See when tasks are completed so you always know the current progress or status of a task.

apio Project Manager is available right now and can be used to share documents, files, and tasks.

As an AccuConference client, we are offering you a free account for 90 days.

Call us at 800.488.3040 or go to www.apio.com.

Connect With Participants on Webinars

Participants have a lot of distractions in front of them when they try to sit down and attend a meeting or web conference. As a speaker, you’re suddenly up against unseen foes of Facebook, Twitter, and email. Most participants will tune in completely to your webinar for the first couple of minutes, but after that, if you do not hold their attention, they will start to drift.

If you don’t want to lose your participants to the weeds of the Internet and other distractions, there are a couple of things you can do during your call to make sure you’re doing what you can to keep their attention.

Pace Yourself.

When you're speaking and presenting on a webinar, you are up against the clock. When presenters are up against the clock one of two things usually happens – they either go through the information entirely too fast, or they get lost in the minutia of their information. Practicing before the event in your allotted time will help you get the right pacing down and make any last minute changes.

Interact with Participants.

During the call, use polls and visuals to keep them engaged. Offer a prize for the best question to the speaker or set up a Twitter hash tag for participants to submit comments and questions about your presentation. If you decide to use Twitter during the conference make sure you have someone manning the account that can respond promptly. You can always go back later and personally respond to your messages, but don’t try to do that while you’re presenting.

Remember the Golden Rule.

Never read directly from your slides or handouts. I’m honestly surprised at how so many speakers continue to make this single mistake when it comes to trying to keep their audience involved in their conferences. Reading word for word from slides is the most direct way to get participants to "check out" of your conference. Why would they need to listen to you when they can just refer back to the copy of the slides? They should be used as a guide and not serve as a script.

Web conferencing technology is here to stay and will no doubt become even more prevalent in your day to day business operations. It’s a good idea to start making these changes to your presentation techniques now so that you’re not behind the curve later.

How do you connect with participants on webinars?

Conference Calls With Your Sales Team

Many moons ago, I worked in direct sales. While it wasn't my favorite job in the world, I learned some valuable skills. The company liked to keep us up to date on new approaches with monthly conference calls, and they were very helpful. When it’s time to set up your next conference call with team members, here are some sales conference topics that you can use.

Success Stories

Each month, invite the “top seller” to make a brief presentation to new hires or those who wish to participate. You can open up for a straight Q&A session to let your new people or the ones that need a little extra motivation find out about what strategies make someone successful in the sales business. A lot of times it helps to simply hear what works for someone else and try to incorporate that into your own approaches.

Skill Refreshers

Once a quarter, set up a conference call with departments or teams that would not usually have direct contact with each other. Use these opportunities to role play situations with a large group and then allow for questions at the end. Ask your employees what was great, what could have gone better, or what needs a little bit of improvement. It’s a great chance to hear new thoughts and approaches from those you wouldn't usually have contact with.

Brainstorm a Better Pitch

The sales persons pitch is the greatest device they have when it comes to closing a deal. If the pitch doesn't resonate, then you've lost your potential client before you even have a chance to start talking about benefits to your product or service. Get your team together on a conference call and start collaborating on a pitch that can be delivered in a clear manner with the same messages delivered across the board. Host a follow up call after a couple of months and find out some of the feedback on the pitch. If it’s still not working – you can attack the pitch again and continue doing so until you find one that works.

Before you start any conference call with your sales team, it’s important to break the ice and start opening up the lines of communication. A good ice breaker planned into the meeting agenda will get people talking and feeling comfortable with each other.

Motivating a sales team doesn't have to be all about money and success. Giving them an open door to get new ideas, stay current, and keep things going helps just as much.

Problem Solving in Customer Service

Not long ago, I received a phone call from a customer who was very frustrated that something hadn't gone the way she planned on her conference call. Her participants had been on mute, they were not able to speak, and she could not figure out how the conference had ended up in that setting. As she spoke, I ran through all of the possible things that could have caused the issue. By the time she was done telling me what happened I had a pretty good idea of what caused the issues on her conference call.

That didn't mean that I was about to take over the conversation and tell her exactly what I suspected. I   have a very specific thought process when I'm problem solving with customers and always follow three basic rules.

Remember that the company is guilty until proven innocent. We frequently get calls from customers who have typed in the wrong code. This prevents them from joining their conference and they will call us to see what we can do to help. When we get one of those calls from customers, the first thing we check is within our own system. We check our side to make sure everything is good to go first. This kind of information will help us diagnose the problem the customer is having and we are the cause until we can find out otherwise.

Don't talk down to customers. Once we have determined that everything is okay from our side, it's time to ask the customer some more questions. It's an imperative part of problem solving, but the golden rule here is to not talk down to the customer. When one of our clients is having a problem, it's getting in the way of them conducting business, and they need our help, not a tone that would make a customer feel that I’m secretly saying "I told you so". It’s much more important that we offer solutions to the customer than to prove the customer wrong.

Don't blame the customer. This is a fine line with the customer because you, as the company representative, know that the system wasn't at fault and you're relieved, but it's important to remember that until you hang up the phone, you have to help the customer. It's important that I tell the customer how to prevent the same problem, and not what they should have done to not have a problem in the first place.

Problem solving with a customer can become a he said / she said event if you allow it. I've found that when it comes to a problem, most customers don't want to get upset, they just want you to tell them what is wrong and either fix it – or tell them how to fix it.

How do you approach problem solving with customers?