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May
26
2010
It’s (probably) Going to Cost You Maranda Gibson

One of the things we let our customers know about is the concerns that they should have when using VoIP (voice over the internet protocol) with our conference call system. We have nothing against VoIP, in fact, its technology and we embrace it around here, but in my experience, it can be troublesome for sound quality and connection reliability. We have so many questions about using VoIP with our system we wrote a useful guide about VoIP.

The one thing we cannot advise clients about is the security of VoIP. Unfortunately, for us, there are too many carriers out there for us to do a comprehensive review; however, I did come across this from VOIPSA, a nonprofit organization who want to spread the use of VoIP, while identifying the risks – and what is being done to prevent security breaches. 

VoIP is, in essence, low cost phone service that travels through the internet lines to reach the destination number. The Insurance Report released from VOIPSA makes one thing very, very clear – “all internet servers are susceptible to hacking”. Much like a Trojan attack on your computer, VoIP can be left open for cyber-attacking: theft, hijacking, rerouting calls, eavesdropping, you name it. If you’re calling “overreaction”, I want to think for a few minutes to the kind of information you give out over a VoIP phone, and now think about what could happen if someone with malicious intent was listening. Javelin Strategy and Research reported that by 2009, 1 in 10 US consumers had fallen victim to identify theft, costing an average of $500/person.
 
I think its cause for concern; you wouldn’t buy anything online from something that wasn’t PayPal, VeriSign, etc., secured would you? So why are we choosing to make phone calls on environments that are not secured? If you’re going to use VoIP be sure that you ask whoever is carrying your call some important questions:

Is security guaranteed?
If there is a breach, what is the carrier’s liability for any subsequent fraud/loss funds/etc.?
Do they have any suggestions to help secure your phone lines?


The service might be cheap, but you get what you pay for right? The first step to improving the security of VoIP is to classify it as “telecommunications” as defined by the FCC – this will force regulations and requirements. Until then, you might as well be reading your credit card off through a megaphone in the middle of Times Square.

What do you think – are you scared? Or is everyone just overacting?

May
24
2010
Tech Wars Google/Apple VS Yahoo/ Nokia Maranda Gibson

Let’s get ready to rumble. Today, in a move that reminded me of doing dishes for a month if my brother helped me take down the evil Empire of Dad in a game of Risk, Nokia and Yahoo announced an alliance that they hope will change the way the user experiences their networks. The long and short of it is that Nokia will power Yahoo!’s map services and Yahoo! will help Nokia power their Mail and Chat services. Carol Bartz, chief executive of Yahoo! says this deal could be a “winning combination” but I think she might be about 10 years too late.

Without coming out and saying it, the merger hopes to offer some competition to Google and Apple both of which are dominating the web search and mobile phone markets. Sure, it’s a good idea to throw your hat in the ring, but if you’re throwing down the floppy straw while the people are fighting in trendy fedoras, you might rethink your steps. Let’s run down some of the pros and cons of this alliance:

Pro: Nokia broke the mold on the smart phone in 1996 – so you have to believe that if they can get a piece of the pie, they’ll make it the best darn piece of pie ever tasted. Nokia remains the largest mobile phone maker in the world with Apple at #3, behind Samsung.

Con: You can have my iPhone back when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers – even with the unreliable network. Apple provided me something that was easy to use and did everything (and more) I could imagine my phone doing. Why would I change?

Pro: A lot of people never made a transition fully to GMail. I have GMail, but I prefer using my Yahoo! address. Why? I’ve had my Yahoo! account forever and the hassle of telling everyone “Hey I’m at this email account now” was just annoying. So I stuck with Yahoo! Mail – I’m sure a lot of people have – I’d be tempted to see a phone that made my personal email easier to manage.

Con: Yahoo! and Nokia are so far behind the game, there’s a chance that they will never catch up. Nokia didn’t release a phone for 2 years – the 1680 classic in 2008 and didn’t release the 1800 until 2010. Anyone can tell you that disappearing for two years will not make you an industry leader.

I think that while as exciting as Yahoo! and Nokia are, and despite my “root for the underdog” nature, Apple and Google are too far ahead of Yahoo! and Nokia in “techie popularity”. Is Yahoo! being pulled into the middle of a nastier battle? Maybe Yahoo! and Nokia will get lucky and Apple and Google will tear each other to shreds. Plus, if memory serves, my brother always took advantage of me when we made deals to take down our dad, so it usually backfired in his face when I refused to do the dishes. What do you think? Does the alliance of Yahoo! and Nokia stand a chance?

May
20
2010
Market Like A Gleek Maranda Gibson

I was watching Glee the other night (love it) and I started to think about why I am into this show. If you really step outside and look at the show, it isn’t that great. I started asking some of my friends who also enjoy the show, asking them why they tune in every week to watch an hour long program that has as much singing and dancing as a Broadway musical. After getting their responses, I have determined that Glee is a marketing machine. What have the writers and producer of this show done that we can apply to our everyday business?

1.) They know who they are selling to.
My husband does not like Glee and I love it. The writers and producers of Glees know that when it comes to my living room I’m the one who’s watching, not him. So they market the show to me. The songs that they chose are songs that their demographic will navigate towards, like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”.
•  How can you learn?  When you’re selling, know who you’re selling too – it’s the most important part of sales and marketing that can be grasped. How do you know how to define your techniques if you don’t know who your customer is?
2.) Guest stars and themed nights.
This week’s episode featured Neil Patrick Harris where he was one half of a duet of “Dream On” by Aerosmith. Glee also centers their episodes on artists, hosting Madonna night a few weeks ago, and bringing Lady GaGa to the show choir world for the season finale next week.
How can you learn? Never underestimate the power of a guest speaker or inviting someone to keynote your event.  They always bring something special to an event and the right speaker will make your event something that attendees will be excited about.
3.) I was one of these kids. While I have never known the horrific feeling of a frozen beverage in my face, I was a member of the choir at my school. When I watch Glee, I can relate to these kids, I know what it’s like to not fit in among the jocks and cheerleaders. I laugh because if I had known then what I know now it would have been different.
  How can you learn? It’s a matter of being able to relate to our audience. A way that we can put our hand on someone’s shoulder and say “Hey, its okay, I’ve been there.” As a speaker, you should give great tips to your audience and tell them how you were in their position not too long ago. The more an audience relates to you, the more they will come back.
 
While I’m personally supporting the speaker who grabs a microphone and starts singing in the middle of a presentation a’la Glee, that’s not always a plan for your conferences. Define who you need to sell to and how you can relate to them, and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Are you already applying these tactics? Have they worked for you?

May
19
2010
How to Get and Use Feedback Maranda Gibson

Your conference call has been planned, executed, and now you’re sitting back, enjoying the endorphins that are flowing through your system after a successful presentation. It was successful, right? You think it was because you managed not to forget what you were talking about or get derailed, but did you remember to ask what participants thought? Here are five easy steps for asking for feedback and what to do once you get it.

1.) Ask for feedback.  If you’re not providing the channels for your attendees to give you feed back, you’re not going to get any. Make it easier on them by polling them throughout the web conference, providing an email to send feedback to, or encourage them to use social media by liking your company page on Facebook or a hashtag on Twitter.
2.) Respond to the feedback. Nothing sucks worse than feeling like you’re not heard. When you get feedback from someone, respond to them, thank them, or ask for more information. The more you know about how they developed an opinion, and compare it to your other feedback, the better you’re going to know what works and what doesn’t.
3.) Implement the suggestions. This is important especially when you have a repeat conference with repeat clients. What is the point of asking for feedback if you’re not going to make changes based on what your clients feel? Meet with the other conference organizers and see what the participants said and how you can make the changes – if you can at all. There will be some changes you can’t make, but you should evaluate all the suggestions.
4.) Invite the clients who gave you feedback to another conference. Once you’ve evaluated the changes you can make and implemented them, invite the people who had feedback to a session for free. Let them see how you took the suggestions they made and implemented it into further conferences.
5.) Follow up with the participants. Once the conference has ended, don’t be shy to send them an email and ask them how you did. If they have more suggestions, they’ll let you know. 

The most important thing to remember is that you can ask for feedback all day long, but unless you do something about what you’re given, it’s empty question. What’s your preferred way to ask for feedback and how are you responding?

May
14
2010
Meet Maranda Maranda Gibson

Amber’s drawing for today is a characture of me. I think it’s amazing and is going to end up being my new profile picture on some stuff. Here’s a little bit of info on why I look the way I look.

I am an amateur chef. I love to cook and create recipes. It makes me happy to spend an hour in the kitchen and come out on the other side with something amazing. I have a pencil and a pad because I love to write, whether it’s for work or for something more personal. I always have my iPod in and my music is up loud. Once, I ran out of the house to work with a brown shoe and a black shoe on and everyone had a good laugh about it all day.

So that’s me in a quirky nutshell. What are your quirks?

 

May
13
2010
Vacationers Guide to Conference Planning Maranda Gibson

When heading out the door for vacations, you have a very specific plan in mind when it comes to how to approach the trip. Where are we going? What are we doing when we get there? My mother planned every aspect of our road trips down to a “T” and I learned the guide to a great road trip. Most of us have a plan for things that are fun and if we could just apply that same dedication to our business, we might find that much of our daily stress will be gone.

Here's how my mama’s vacation planning guide can help you plan your next conference call:

1. Make a list to keep from forgetting anything. If you are an organization nerd like me, then you know that a packing list is one of the most important things you have for your trip, especially when traveling with kids. It serves as a “to-do” list for your upcoming trip. You should have the same approach to planning your conference. Can your provider handle the capacity needed? Do you need to schedule the call with them? Making a to-do list leading up to your conference will ensure that things work smoothly. We have a number of free eBooks available that can help you plan your conference and how to leverage conference calls to your advantage.

2. Get your business done before you lock the door. When we got buckled in, my brother and I both knew that we were not going to get to make a stop for at least two hours. So before we left the house, we were sure to have our bellies full and have used the restroom. Before a conference call, you should make sure that you’ve done these as well. When you’re body is happy, you’ll be able to pay attention and no one will be able to hear your stomach growling over the speaker phone.

3. Have a map – not just a GPS. GPS is a great tool until you’ve ventured off the beaten path enough where you don’t have the right map for your location. You know you’re on a road, but GPS doesn’t think that road exists. One second you know just where you are and then next, you’re completely lost. This is why you should always travel with an atlas. When you’re hosting a web conference, you should provide your participants with the hard copies for the presentation as well. If someone doesn’t have computer access or (horror of horrors) your power goes out or your internet dies in the middle of the presentation, you can keep right on going.

4. Keep the kiddos entertained. The greatest invention ever for a road trip family? The back seat DVD player. I remember traveling without those and peppering my parents with an endless stream of are we there yet? The last thing you want as a presenter is for participants to be thinking are you done yet? Be sure that while covering the topics and being knowledgeable, you are also entertaining. Remember that you have two minutes to get the audience’s attention at the beginning and after that, you might never get them to pay attention.

5. Be sure to make stops along the way. Growing up, we were adept at taking really long road trips and my parents always made sure to plan about an hour long stop somewhere, so my brother and I could get out of the car and run around. While we were great travelers, we were also kids, and we still needed to stretch our legs and play. While your participants are still business people, they are also human and will want to get up and stretch their legs. Pad conferences that will last longer than an hour with a short break in the middle.

By applying the same rules to setting up a conference call that you would to hitting the road with the kiddos in tow, you can make things a little easier. Remember that, unfortunately, most people don’t look forward to conferences, much like small children who dread the backseat of the car. All they need is a little bit of entertainment and they will stay nice and happy. That’s my plan, what’s yours?

May
11
2010
Five Ways Educators Can Use Conference Calls Maranda Gibson

In sixth grade, I remember our teacher telling my class about the importance of working in a team. It was the new thing when I was in elementary school – breaking into groups and doing projects together. We had to assign managers, reporters, and the like in order to get the best grade. She always told us that it would be the most important lesson we would learn, something we would appreciate when we got out of college and into work.

  1. Invite a Professor. Even in elementary school, kids are developing their likes and tastes. When I was in fifth grade, I realized I hated math and I liked learning about history. Elementary school was when I decided that I was going to go to college – without fail. It would have been one of the coolest things in the world to get to speak to someone who taught college so we could ask questions to someone who could be one of our teachers in the future.
  2. Authors.  When I was in elementary school, it was so different to have a student that likes to write. I was that kid who took writing assignments so seriously, turning in three pages when only a paragraph was required. I wanted to be a writer from a very young age and to have had the opportunity to speak to someone that did that for a living probably would have been the highlight of my life. (Up to that point, at least)
  3. Phone Pals. Remember having a pen pal? I wrote to a girl in Paris, and she never wrote me back. The point of having a pen pal is to learn about different cultures and when pen pals don’t write back there’s only discouragement. If a kid doesn’t get a response, they won’t be interested in the assignment. Instead of writing letters or emails, set up conferences with other teachers from around the world.  You don’t have to talk to people outside of the United States in order to be exposed to different cultures, and schools are full of kids who will already have different life experiences.
  4. Other Teachers. Set up a conference call with other teachers from your school or branch out to other states and countries to share lesson plans and things that have been happening in your class. If you had a student who had a great idea, you can share it with other teachers. Just because you’re not in college anymore, doesn’t mean you’re not learning something every day.
  5. Summer Reading Clubs. Okay, obviously I was that kid in elementary school. The one who was sneaking her book out of her desk and reading it intently when the teacher wasn’t watching (and sometimes when she was). It would have been fun though, since I wasn’t the only one who was a super book geek, to have been invited to a conference call once a week with other students who were reading, and our teacher advisor. You could even get with other teachers in you district, put together the same reading list and start the discussion.

Most conferencing services have some kind of discount for educational institutions (shameless plug: Get Connected) so if you’re interested in trying to incorporate something like this into your class room, be sure to give your provider a call and see what they can do for you. Are you an educator currently using conference calls? Let me know how you are using your conferences to make for a better classroom experience.

May
07
2010
Mommie Dearest Maranda Gibson

I love Mother's Day. I'm not a mother myself (someday) but I am lucky to have a wonderful relationship with mine. 

The story is that when I was five, my mother went to work 3rd shift in the cotton mill to help us make ends meet. She then spent the next ten years working 12 hour shifts and getting to spend time with my brother and I twice a month.  On the Saturdays she was off, my dad would take my brother out of the house, and my mom and I would watch Turner Classic Movies. For some reason, it was like on Saturday afternoon the only movie played was Mommie Dearest, starring the iconic Faye Dunaway. My mother has always been a bit of a neat freak, so after seeing the "no wire hangers" scene a couple of times (a rule my mother actually implemented in our home, though with not nearly as severe consequences) we started to refer to each other as Mommie Dearest and Maranda Darling.

In fact, I just sent her flowers and the card says I love you, Mommie Dearest. The florist was slightly freaked out.

It's our thing though and it's something that I will always remember my mom for and despite the weirdness of the memory, it's the fact that I got to hang with her and watch movies that matters most.

On Sunday, I'm going to take her out to dinner and clean her house for her.

What's your favorite memory with your mom and what are your plans this Mother's Day?

And of course, happy Mother's Day to all those out there -- especially you, Mommie Dearest.

 

May
06
2010
3 Ways To Set Tone With Invitations Maranda Gibson

A couple of weeks ago I (as the dutiful and wonderful daughter I am) went to my mother’s house to clean it for her while she was out of town. While cleaning up, I stumbled across these, beautiful “G” wax stamps that I used to seal my wedding invitations. It made me think about how when it’s something that we are excited about, that we put a lot of time into sending out an invitation. From birthday parties to wedding invitations, we put a lot of thought into the message these invites will send. We agonize about what the invitations look like and what we write on them. When it comes to inviting people to something that’s more “business” we forget that how we phrase the invitation is just as much a message as the invitation itself. When we send out an invitation, no matter what it is, what we send is going to affect the tone of the event you’re inviting people to.

Here are three ways that you can set the right tone with your conference call invitation.

1.) FlashCan Evites -These were cute and fun. It lets you create your own scenario using artist donated flash material. I played around for a few minutes and while they are a little on the campy side, it’s a great way to invite co-workers or close business partners to an informal or impromptu conference. The humorous tone of the invitation is going to let everyone invited know that they are joining a conference call among friends.

2.) Press Releases and Registration Page – To set a more formal tone with your invitations, publish a press release and include a registration link. The press release goes out online, or sent to individual agencies. The tone created is going to be a more serious tone, and may not be necessary if you’re hosting a training update or something with your co-workers.

3.) Handwritten Invitations – Yes, in this crazy technical world where everything can be sent out via email we should never discount the handwritten invitation. Handwritten invitations set the tone to the invitees that you are willing to invest time in them. There is a great deal of time spent handwriting and stamping individual notes, and as soon as that invitation reaches the client, they know instantly that you are willing to spend that time.

No matter what you are inviting someone too, it’s always important to remember how to set the tone. Since a conference call can be considering something that’s a business “annoyance” sending out creative invitations is one way to make your next conference call less of a bore and more of an event, without a dress code.

How are you setting the tone for your conference calls?

May
05
2010
How to Sell To Me Maranda Gibson

In addition to the blogging, twittering, and various other duties as the AccuConference socialite, I also provide customer service to our clients. I take phone calls and respond to emails throughout the day, and my goal at the end is to have a happy person at the end of the call.

While providing service, I’m also a lot of companies target market – between the ages of 18 and 35, female, a bit of a techie, and so forth. People want to sell to me, because I’m willing to buy. I’m going to go ahead and give you the secrets on how to sell to me.

Customer service. You want my business? Great – I probably want to give it to you, but you need to be polite and kind to everyone in my household or workplace and not just to me because I’m the one you’re dealing with. If you fail at this, our relationship is over. That’s rule number one.

Do you use the product you’re selling to me? Make up counters are the best place to try this one out. I love makeup, and there’s one store I go into all the time that you can tell the girls use the company’s product. I feel confident asking her a question about foundation or eye shadow. If she’s trying to sell me a bottle of $15.00 makeup and can’t wear it herself, then I don’t trust that company.

Why? Mainly, what makes you think I’m right for this product, or am I just a warm body to fill your quota? If you can’t tell me why you think I would be a good person to use this product, you haven’t done your research. If it’s a more retail location, like a mall or shopping center, slipping up to me and asking me what brings me in is a good place to start. I’m a tricky kind of girl, so even if I’m in a sporting goods store, I might still be looking for myself. Don’t assume.

So, there you have it. That’s how I want to be sold to. How do you like to be sold to? Are their things that a company can do that would be considered unforgivable and you would never go back?

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