What We Have Read

A lot of us here spend hours reading each week. Whether it’s blogs, news articles, eBooks, or physical books, we like to indulge ourselves in the written word. Sometimes we want to share some of the things we've read. Here are some of our recent favorite reads, things we thought that were interesting, or that we just couldn’t keep to ourselves.


Could reading 'Crime and Punishment' make you better at reading people?

by Adi Robertson, The Verge
This article from the Verge questions what do the arts mean to our lives? To at least some researchers, they're a way that we learn how the people around us think. 

 

Pinterest Is Seriously Valuable
by Lauren Bacon, Medium
Men in the male-dominated tech sector are blown away that Pinterest has become A Thing (and that they didn't see that coming).

 

Doing Your Job Right: Captain Mike and Lt. Norm
GeekoLogie
This is the online chat interaction between Netflix customer service representative Cap't Mike and Netflix streaming user Lt. Norm. Obviously, Cap't Mike really went the extra mile.

 

Reasons to Drink Coffee Everyday
by Renee Jacques, Huffington Post
There really can't be any adult in this great big world that has never tried coffee. It's consumed everywhere, and judging by the amount of Starbucks locations in the United States alone, we love coffee.

 

What Makes Us Happy?
by JOSHUA WOLF SHENK,The Atlantic
Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life?

 

Why 30 is not the new 20
by Meg Jay Video on TED.com
Clinical psychologist Meg Jay has a bold message for twentysomethings: Contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade.

 

Canadian Family Lives Like It's the 80s
Blair McMillan  CBC.CA
A family of four from Guelph, Ont., has banished cell phones and computers, donned cut-off jeans and combed out their mullets, vowing to live the low-tech life for a year.

 

Lost to the Ages
by: Emily Yoshida  Grantland
Lost to the Ages Myst was supposed to change the face of gaming. What is its legacy 20 years later?

(Emily's post inspired our own debate on Myst and what happened to gaming.)

Did Myst Change Gaming?

Emily Yoshinda from Grantland wrote an amazing piece on looking back at Myst and reading the work sparked an interesting debate between Maranda and me.

Did Myst open a door for the games that we know today? Or did human nature slam the door in the face of adventure games in the 2000s?

Maranda disagrees with the implication that Myst and games like it went "kaput" after 93.

"Myst brought the entire adventure genre to life and a lot of really amazing games came after it - like the entire series of Lucas Arts adventure games. Somewhere along the line, we stopped wanting to 'thin' to play. We wanted games to be a 'release' and for most of the buying public that meant taking out aggression on alien life forms or unsuspecting 'ladies of the night'."

"What changed? We did. 'Gamer' was a term suddenly applied to teenagers in their basement hopped up on Red Bull and Mountain Dew. It is no longer about "escaping" into a world. Gaming is different now, because we are."

I see the doors that Myst opened, rather than the ones that were closed as these kinds of adventure games faded in popularity.

How many LucasArts games were there after 1993? I agree that Lucas Arts had some great games up until it’s demise this past year. But, the Myst genre pretty much fizzled out. However, I think it was a needed stepping stone for the open world games today.

Games like Halo and Call of Duty allow you to tackle specific challenges in your own way. This is not just a ‘release’ and you have to think, and think quickly. Although there are some games that don’t require thinking, most popular games require more than just button mashing. Add in the open world games like Assassin’s Creed, and you have quite a bit of thinking going on. Games like Myst have pushed creators to make better games that alter the gameplay as well as the graphics performance.

After a spirited debate, it was realized that while the games might have changed, one thing remains the same: We look at games in the perspective of the games we like to play.

Check out this Kickstarter project for Obduction - a new game from the creators of Myst

Voice Inflection Tips

Inflection is a fancy way to describe your tone of voice when speaking. It’s not just the volume level that you may speak at but also the tone, pace, pitch, and cadence at which the words of a presentation come out of your mouth.

In order to host a successful presentation on a conference call, you usually only have one tool – and it’s the way you speak. Your voice will get participants to tune in, listen carefully, and stay engaged throughout the call.

If you’re finding that participants are less than engaged or everyone seems to be waking up from a long nap when it’s time for Q&A, maybe it’s time to evaluate the way you speak to make some improvements on your voice inflection.

Where’s the emphasis?

Listen to a recording and determine where you are putting the emphasis on your words. Are you putting the emphasis on the end of all your sentences? If you are – it’s not a good thing, as it triggers your audience to think that the statement is a question. The proper emphasis can direct people to focus on strength, confidence, and clue into important parts of the conversation.

Do you speak softly?

While volume isn't the most important thing about voice inflection, it is an important aspect of making a great presentation. There are a lot of distractions around the participants and the last thing that you want to do it make them have to work to pay attention to you. Your voice should command the attention of those listening – even the ones who are completely focused on Facebook.

Are you speaking too fast?

If you’re blowing through the words like you’re that guy from those 1980s Matchbox car commercials (Google it), you’re talking too fast. When it comes to making a presentation, people don’t want to have to work to listen to you – they want their experience to be easy and enjoyable. If they are struggling to keep up with you they are probably just going to tune you out. You want a natural cadence that best reflects a conversational tone.

Improving voice inflection is not something that can be done overnight. If you think you need to work on your speech patterns you’ll want to start as soon as possible by recording your next conference call and evaluating your speech.

How have you improved your voice inflection? What are your tips for improving tone, cadence, and the overall quality of a speech?

Types of Presentations

Once you've been asked to present at a conference or event the first question you need to ask yourself is:  What kind of presentation can I do?

While making your outline, you also have to figure out what you want your audience to do after your presentation is over. Are you just trying to give them useful information? Is it one of those cases where you are trying to make a sale? There are four different types of presentations you can give and their purpose is to invoke different reactions.

Informative Speeches

These are the most common types of presentations and are used to present research. A student who is defending a thesis or a non-profit group that did a research study will use informative speeches to present their findings.

Demonstrative Speeches

These will show you how to do something. In introduction to communication classes, these speeches are usually How to Make Cakes kinds of speeches and include different pictures and steps to the process.

Persuasive Speeches

This kind of speech is trying to change the way you think about a subject or issue. If you’ve come to a health conference you may find yourself listening to why you should change your eating habits or stop drinking.

Inspirational Speeches

These speeches are designed to make your audience move. Also considered a “motivational” speech, this is designed to encourage participants to go after their goals, whatever they may be. Inspirational speeches will tell stories and the hope is that the audience will feel an emotional connection to the topic. These are also a great way to get the audience's attention.

Think about Apple CEO Steve Jobs and the presentations he gave when he introduced a new product. He gives you information, he shows you how to use a new product, tells you how you can use the product to solve a problem, makes you understand why you need it, and closes by letting you touch and feel the product. He lets the entirety of his speech stand for decision making and then by letting you get your hands on the new iSomething, you see why the new product will help you.

In truth, the best presentations will embody a little bit of each one of these kinds, but you can take a specific type to help move you along the right path.

Ready to try out one of these presentations in front of your co-workers? Sign up with AccuConference and one of our event planners will help you take these presentation types to a whole new level.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

The Hook: 5 Ways to Quickly Get Your Audience’s Attention

Arguably the most important part of any presentation is the beginning. It sets the foundation for the rest of your talk. If you come across as a strong, entertaining speaker at the beginning of your presentation, people will be forgiving if your material gets a little more routine as the talk progresses. Most peoples’ judgment is reserved for those first few seconds of the talk. So if you want to get people listening you need to hook them fast.

Think about it. How many times have you heard a speech that begins with, “I’m here to talk with you today about….” Or “Thanks for coming out to listen to my talk about…” or some variation of these intros. While they do get straight to the point, they do absolutely nothing to grab your audience, to rivet them so they’ll listen, or in other words hook them. With that in mind, here are a few ways to get your audience’s attention right off the bat.

Quote, Anecdote, Rhetorical Question

These are some of the most common ways to hook your audience. You must be sure to use a quote, anecdote, or rhetorical question that segues nicely into your material. If, for example, you were talking about the current recession, you could give an anecdote about the Great Depression and use it to underlie the point of your message. Or you could ask the rhetorical question: Just how similar is our current economic crisis to that of the 1930s? These types of lead ins will get people wondering, and help them tune in to what it is you’re saying.

New Twist on the Familiar

Take a common story, quote, saying, or anecdote and change it. This will give your audience a new perspective on the familiar as well as grab their attention. If you handle the twist skillfully enough, you can actually make quite an impression. Let’s say you were giving a presentation on nutrition in America. You could say something like, “To eat, or not to eat. That is the question.” The bolder the twist, the better the reaction will be. However, you must make sure it makes sense and fits into your material. One of the best ways is to simply find popular aphorisms online and try switching the wording around.

Personal Story

This will help introduce you as a speaker and gives a personal take on the material. Part of what gives you credibility as a speaker is the authority you have to talk about a subject. A good way to do this, for example, could be to lead into your presentation with a personal story about how you got involved in the field, started your business, or became an expert on the subject. The key is to be either funny or endearing so people will trust you.

Audience Participation Exercise

This is useful as an icebreaker, but typically only works in small settings. The simplest example is to have everyone introduce themselves. However, you can get creative, depending on the setting. Often in classrooms teachers will have people work in pairs and find out 5 interesting facts.

The Screening Question

Also known as the “Show-of-hands Question,” this gets the audience to participate, engages them in the material, and gives you, the speaker, an idea of how much the audience already knows.

With all of these options and a dash of creativity, you should be able to think of a good way to grab your audience’s attention quickly.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Learning Success Through Failure

It’s October which brings about the winds of change. The air is turning cooler, the leaves will begin to change color, and budding authors around the globe are about to change into energy drink consuming plunderers of the keyboard.

That’s right novelists, it’s almost NaNoWriMo time. I’ve partaken in the grueling marathon of 50,000 words in thirty days since 2009 - but I’ve only won once. That’s almost 1400 words a day at the minimum in order to succeed and get your shiny badge and bragging rights.

Success is not guaranteed though. In fact, it feels like failure is.  NaNo seems easy for anyone who considers themselves able to string a couple of stories together, but when the euphoria of “It’s time for NaNo!” wears off and you’re left with the idea of actually having 45K more to go, it’s pretty easy to turn around and run away. In fact, I admit that in 2011 I completely imploded. About four days in, I threw my hands up and walked away.

This article from Psychology Today suggests that failures might actually shape us in a more definite way than success does. The assertion actually makes a lot of sense. Think about your latest success - what did you learn from that specific success. 2011 NaNoWriMo showed me all of the things I needed to do in order to have a better chance in 2012.

When I won in 2012, I knew it was because of two very big changes I made in light of the previous year - I outlined the entire novel and did word games with friends to give big boosts to my word count in a short time. In 2011, I took a very solo approach to NaNoWriMo despite that my friends we were working hard on theirs as well.

I can't do it alone. 

Getting a 500 word boost in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes puts a huge dent in your daily goal. The task was less daunting when I had someone to work with.

Creating an outline meant I wasn’t going to get bogged down in the direction of plot or “what happened then” questions. I had every move that each character was going to make down on the page, so all I had to do was create the story around it.

I honestly think that without my utter and complete NaNo meltdown in 2011, I would not have been able to “win” 2012 NaNo. I learned a lot in 2011 and I applied all of those “well, I’m not going to do that this year” thoughts, which I think helped me succeed. One might even say that my failure was the reason I succeeded.

What’s going to be most interesting to me is competing again in 2013. Will the same drive push me to finish, or will I feel more complacent in succeeding? I wonder how much is to be said for being a back to back NaNoWriMo winner.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Active Listening Skills for Customer Service - Updated

Update:  After putting my head together with some of the other operators, we determined a couple of other things that can improve your active listening skills. 

When we bring on a new employee, the first thing they learn is customer service, and the most important skill we focus on is listening. Customer service is about being an active listener. You can't just "hear" what people are saying, you have to really be grabbing onto the words and turning them over in your head.

What does it take to be an active listener? There are a lot of rules to active listening but we break these skills down into basic steps. These steps have improved our customer service responses and our communication.

(NEW) Clarify The Message

One of the best tools when speaking to a customer is the ability to clarify the message they are trying to send.  You never want to make assumptions when trying to decide what a customer wants. Most of the time you will get that assumption wrong and have to go back to the customer. It's always better when you're not clear to make sure you understand. A lot of times a customer uses words or phrases that might not be what you would use. You can just repeat it back to them in another way. "It sounds like you need..." or "Let me make sure I understand..." are great ways to start.

(NEW) Test Your Listening Skills

The Active Empathetic Listening (AEL) measure has eleven key items that test how well you sense, process, and respond when you listen to someone else. Sensing is the way you indicate you are taking in the information, processing is how well you construct the narrative delivered, and responding is how you ask questions to make sure you understand.  Take the AEL test and find out where you stand as a great listener and how you can improve. 

Focus on Understanding

Engage in communication with the goal of "understanding" instead of "understood". When your customer is speaking, it's best to focus on what the customer is saying, rather than trying to get a head start on how you're going to respond. Once someone in a conversation goes on the defensive, you are less likely to come to a resolution.

Give Your Undivided Attention to the Person Speaking

This may seem like common sense but devices like cell phones and the constant access to email are roadblocks to active listening. When a customer calls, disengage from the emails you’re working on, the spreadsheet you are clicking through, or the text message that might be waiting on you. Engage fully in the conversation that is present and not the one that is waiting for you to type a response.

Play Pretend

The more I can act like I'm face to face with a customer, the better our conversation goes. Imagine the customer across from you and nod when you understand. Responding to the customer as you would if you were face to face, you will be an even better listener. I will smile while I speak and even nod my head as the customer tells me what’s going on. It makes me feel like I truly understand the customer's needs.

It's not always easy to listen and even more so when we are immediately trying to figure out what we are going to say or have too many things going on at once. If we can just stop for a moment and become a more active listener, it will improve our communication with everyone.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Your Body Language and Confidence

A few years ago, I was hanging out with some of my younger cousins and surprised the “country girls” by wearing a snazzy pair of zebra print purple heels. They asked me how I managed to walk in those shoes and I informed them that I “walk with authority.”

It’s amazing how a clothing change or a new pair of shoes can make you feel more confident. I wrote about success on the debate team being somewhat wrapped into my power shoes, but what are some other changes you can make in how you walk and move that can boost your confidence?

Carry Yourself Well

How you hold yourself plays a role in how you see yourself. So the first place to start in making changes to your body language is to hold yourself a little higher. To appear more confident, you need to act more confident.

  • Posture is the most imperative part of carrying yourself. Put your shoulders back and keep your spine straight.
  • Hold your chin up when you walk. Looking down at the ground while walking is an indicator of unhappiness.
  • Make eye contact and smile to strangers. Not only is this a sign of confidence, but it also makes you feel better when you smile.

Movements Send A Message

Any movement you make can send a message. These messages can be positive or negative, so one of the most important body language changes you can make is to be aware of how you’re moving.

  • Putting your hands on your hips is an indication of being mad or having lost patience. Even if you feel like you’re just in a resting position, the message sent is one of disapproval.
  • Try not to make fidgeting gestures like shaking your legs or tapping your nails against the table. Not only will your nails create an annoying sound, but it indicates impatience.

Your Hands and Arms Serve as a Door

The movements made with arms in communicating tells a lot about the openness of a speaker. Those who cross their arms “close the door” to others feeling welcome to chime in or discuss.

  • You can make gestures open by holding your hands apart with your palms pointing upward.
  • Clasping or wringing your hands in front of you or touching your hair or face is a sign of anxiety or being unsure.

The good news - you can control your own body language. Remember you have complete control over the way you carry yourself which translates into the way you are perceived. How will you walk with authority today?


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Will Reading Fiction Make You More Empathetic?

David Kidd and Emanuele Castano released a study regarding fiction and how we experience empathy in others. David and Emanuele show a link between better empathetic skills and "literary" fiction. I can easily see how 'literary' fiction provides different perspectives on people than mainstream fiction. More research is needed to be conclusive, however I do believe as readers we should mix up the genres we read.

Reading is like working out for my brain. When I read non-fiction, I think. When I read business books, I get creative. When I read fiction, I relax (unless it's a tense scene). This is like changing which weights or exercise machine I'm on. I wouldn't stick to just dumbbells for my entire workout. Switch it up.

I also think it is important to pace yourself. Besides the fact that I get heavy lidded after reading for an hour, unless it's a story that I get sucked into, information overload can happen around 60 minutes of straight reading. You need to let that information percolate in your brain for a bit.

Maranda Gibson recently came to the realization that she hasn't learned anything in a long time. "I went to the bookstore and bought three different historical nonfiction novels about the founding of the United States and the Civil War. One is the published diary of a Baton Rouge girl that begins just as Louisiana succeeded from the Union and ends six years later."

"That’s a lot of time to see such a historical event from the perspective of an insider. We often get the watered down, text book history version of slavery and states’ rights. Reading a book like that helps you to remember and understand that for as long as there have been conflicts – there have been two sides of every story."

Social skills are derived from the way we interpret events and in reading any kind of book, whether it be your favorite romance novel or something like a diary of a Civil War survivor, you have to practice the interpretation of events to understand the story.

For Mary Williams, "Reading helps me take a break from my personal life. I like to read anything from suspense novels to science fiction. If I can place myself in the character’s shoes, then it becomes hard for me to put the book down. A good book will allow me to become enveloped in the story and with the characters; almost as if for a moment their life becomes my own. After I'm done reading, I sometimes find myself thinking about situations the character was in and how I might have handled them. And of course, it helps ignite my imagination for my own creative writing."

Reading helps us to learn things, understand people, and escape. Not all genres are alike, and some may be more helpful than others. Do you read only one type of genre? What's your favorite genre to read?

{Image credit to The New Yorker}

To Better Assist You, Please Hold

I am amazed how often our customers are surprised to reach a real person on the first ring when calling AccuConference.

In this automatic world we live in, the "To better assist you, press 1 for billing, press 2 for account information, press 3 for sales, etc." is fooling no one. If you have to think about what button you fall into, your needs have already been minimized. It is especially cumbersome when you have to press * to repeat the options again.

Technology upgraded and offered us voice recognition "to better assist you." Well my mother was born and raised in Portugal. She does not have the ability to form the T-H (THA) sound. Voice recognition technology "assists" her into eventually yelling, with her heavy accent, the number TREE, TREE, TREE and then hearing "We’re sorry, but we did not recognize your response."

When a customer reaches out by phone, having an automated system that does not guide them properly can make the first, second, third…impression one that is remembered, but remembered poorly.

With most automated systems, if you continuously press 0 enough you may get lucky and get an operator to assist. But, those systems are catching on to this workaround and now you hear, "We’re sorry, but that is not a number we recognize." And worse, is when you choose a number that is not recognized and you hear the words "Goodbye"!

Unless you are the only game in town, then keeping the human spirit as your greeting is still a priority. At least it is here. When the company started in 2002, answering the phone on the first ring with a real human was a top priority, and it still is. At AccuConference, we answer the phone without making you wait.

This post was written by Debbie Vaught, an account manager here at AccuConference. 

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Does It’s A Wonderful Life Really Need a Sequel?

One of my favorite holiday movies has always been It’s a Wonderful Life. I remember growing up and watching that movie every year. To me, it wasn’t Christmas unless we popped in our VHS tape and watched George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, go through life as if he had never been born. And every time a bell rings, I can’t help but wonder if an angel got their wings. The sentiment of the movie is classically heartwarming. It expresses the gift of being alive and how you impact other people; no matter how big or small.

Now, 60 years later, there’s talk about a sequel being made by Star Partners and Hummingbird Productions. The premise is the grandson of George Bailey, who is somewhat of a Scrooge, is visited by his own guardian angel, his Aunt Zuzu. Zuzu, who will be played by the original actress Karolyn Grimes, tells her nephew that the world would have been a better place if he had never been born. After reading the synopsis, I had mixed feelings. Does It’s a Wonderful Life really need a sequel? Would it have been better as a reboot? Or should it just be left alone?

These days it seems like every movie is getting "rebooted". Movies like Gremlins, Flight of the Navigator, and Robocop are all reported to be receiving Hollywood’s movie makeover. And while it might be cool to see how advancements in special effects will make these movies look (The Great Gatsby reboot was more visually enhanced than the original), it makes me wonder if every movie really needs to be rebooted. Annie, another movie that’s in the works to be redone, is probably one I would leave alone. If you’re not going to throw a bunch of money to make the special effects pop, there’s really no reason to hash out the same story unless you’re sure you can tell it better.

On the flip side, if film makers aren’t going to reboot a movie, then they’re probably going to make a sequel. In my opinion, it’s hard to make a sequel better than the first. If a movie is really good, then it’s going to have a strong following. And if you decide to make a sequel, you better do a really good job or you will be disappointing a lot of fans (Grease 2, Teen Wolf 2, pretty much anything that has a 2 at the end of the title). Besides, not every movie needs a sequel. And not everyone wants to see it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty excited to see Anchorman 2 when it’s released in theaters on December 18th, but I think that’s because Ron Burgundy is in his own league.

In my opinion, the sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life should be erased from the drawing board. The original is a heartwarming classic that I don’t think really needs a part 2 or a makeover. I think it’s perfect as is, and it’s familiarity can’t be replaced by Hollywood gimmicks. And apparently, Paramount agrees with me. Well, maybe not with my reasons but they do not support a sequel for the holiday classic. Paramount holds the license to It’s a Wonderful Life and they are willing to fight Star Partners and Hummingbird Productions to keep the sequel from going into production. Even Tom Capra, the son of Frank Capra who directed the movie, said that his father "would have called it ludicrous" if a sequel was made. The proposed date of release will be in 2015, so I guess we will see who will win the sequel battle. What reboots or sequels do you think should have been left alone?

Using a Reservationless Conference Call

What does a "reservationless" conference call mean? It sounds like a really complicated technical term, but it’s very simple. With a reservationless call, you can have this call any time. You don’t need to contact us and let us know you’re having it, when you need the conference, it is yours – always available.

This means that there is absolutely no scheduling of your call needed or required, and the conference information you received will always work. For most of our customers, this is a perfect solution for their needs.

A lot of customers use multiple conference rooms that are reservationless for different purposes.

Billing

Easily manage billing by assigning a reservationless conference line for each person. On the invoice you can see all of the usage by the conference name. This is a solution I see working great in law offices where attorneys need to be able to bill clients individually for the time on the conferences. Since we track the billing by date and time, it's easy to compile charges for each client and attorney working in an office.

Security

With each person having access to their own conference line, they can manage the security of their calls in their own way. Maybe you want to have a new PIN for each conference but your co-worker doesn’t mind using the same information over and over. By setting up a conference for each person, they can have the ability to log in and manage the settings the way they want them.

No More Internal Scheduling

I talked to a customer a while back who had a book on her desk where people would come "sign out" certain dates and times to use their one conference line. When I told her we could just set up reservationless lines for everyone it was a relief because she didn't have to worry about overlapping calls anymore. Now there was less for her to do and everything could go a lot smoother.

Our goal with these kinds of conferences is to make it easier for your manage and conduct your meetings. After all, what is simpler than doing nothing?

Breaking Down the Technical Barriers of Customer Service


I work in a business that has a lot of words for a lot of different things. When you call in ask for a "webinar" we might be talking about a couple of different things. It's my job to break down your needs and ask the right questions so we get you the kind of service that you need. It's not a perfect system because there is a barrier between knowledge. I've been in this industry for a little over five years and honestly, there are still terms that come up that I haven't heard before and have to get clarification.

When hitting communication barriers created by technology phrases, it's not always easy to figure out a way to break down how to explain it to customers, but here are some things that we do here that are really helpful.

Break Things Down into Physical Terms

If I can't adequately communicate what I mean by a conference "line" I will break it down in terms of rooms. If you can provide something physical a customer can picture in his or her mind, you might click a bulb in their heads. It's much easier to imagine a room that is assigned to each person than to try to explain what I mean by "conference line". Something tangible that a person can wrap their mind around can break the technical confusion.

Gauge Your Customers Understanding

In about the first thirty seconds of a conversation with a customer, I can get a pretty good read on their level of familiarity with conferencing. Many times a customer will freely admit they have limited or no experience with any kind of conference technology, but sometimes, it's a matter of just understanding how they are wording and saying things that give you the best clues to how you need to break things down for them.

Repeat It Back in a Different Way

Don't be afraid to clarify with a customer. Part of what our responsibility is to the customer is making sure that we understand what they need so that we can direct them in the best possible way. Make notes as you talk to them and then repeat it back to them in a slightly different way. "Let me make sure I understand, you need a conference call where you can collect the participant's names and companies? Oh, then you need an operator answered call. Okay, we can take care of that for you."

Show, Don't Tell

When going over what a particular product or service can do, always offer to show it to them. Set up a demo with them and then give them access to go in and play around. I always encourage our new customers to go online and click around. Make yourself available to them if they have additional questions or needs so that you can talk them through.

When a customer doesn't understand the technical terms, it's our job to help them through it. Even if we might be speaking a different "language" with our customers, we can still get to the bottom of what they need and help them along the way. How do you help your customers get through the information.

Voting on Conference Calls

Conference calls are held for a number of reasons. Using conference services for board meetings is incredibly popular and sometimes, you need to hold a vote on these kinds of calls. The difference is that you can’t just ask for a “show of hands”. Now you need a way to take votes in an orderly manner on your conference call. Here are some of the unique ways we have observed our customers using our conference systems to take official votes from board members.

Flagging

On the live call screen, you have the ability to click beside a person’s name and put a little “flag” beside their name. We developed this feature for a client who wanted a way to keep track of participants who had already had an opportunity to ask a question so that everyone got a chance. Use the live call screen to flag people who have voted either up or down on an issue.

Web Conferencing

With web conferencing, you can send out a poll throughout the conference to take votes on your suggestions, issues, or just to get a feeling about how your participants feel. You can edit them to ask any kind of question and select any kind of responses. If you’re using a PowerPoint to show your clients some different options they have in a web page design or product marketing efforts, you can allow them to vote on which one they want by using the polling system within the conference service. (Bonus: The polls can be preloaded so that you have them ready to go.)

Q&A Sessions

When we talk about using Q&A sessions on your conference, it’s usually it the context of, well, asking questions. But you can use the Q&A feature to poll your audio participants. Ask them to press *1 to put themselves in line to vote and then you can take their vote one at a time. If you record your conference call, you can have all of these votes on record for review or to recount at a later date.

Voting sessions can easily be done through a conference without having to cost a lot of time and you can easily keep a record of these votes using some of these options.

Duck Theory

I have always tried to look at every situation with a resolution, rather than a problem. It is the “Duck Theory” that I adopted long ago from my sister, who has always been my best mentor.

The premise is that when you see a gaggle of ducks swimming, you see this beautiful motion of them gliding through the water effortlessly. But, if you were to turn the picture upside down, then you would see that the legs are quickly rotating and maneuvering to keep up, slow down, turn, trying to keep up with the group or get ahead. The mechanics to create the movement are two entirely different pictures.

It is the same in business, customers should only see above the water, the smooth action of a forward glide. They do not need (and normally do not want to know) the mechanics behind it. They just need to know that you understand they have a problem, and yo’ you’ll solve it.

So what if all problems do not have a solution? Some needs just can’t be met. I admire those that go above and beyond. The "Heroes" that we remember. Olympic competitors don’t just work out, they focus on what workout is best to enhance their skills and stay focused for four years to compete against the best. They don’t say the word "can’t" for 4 years or even longer. Survivors don’t quit, they are the ones with the remarkable stories about how their resilience got them through a tough situation. My answer is never say "never".

When the duck theory is applied, you supply the effort so customers are effortlessly rewarded.

Sweet Success: 12 Proven Habits of Winning Leaders

When you start a company and find yourself in a position of being a leader, you might wonder how you are going to accomplish the task of suddenly managing a handful (or a huge company full) of employees.

Here are twelve great habits of a winning leader.

Encourage Communication.
While you need to be speaking regularly to your team, you also need to encourage them to speak to each other. The sharing of ideas and thoughts among co-workers can shed light on where to improve, new approaches, or even changing them all.
Be Passionate.
Truly successful leaders aren't just present every day, but they believe in the value of their company and the products and services being offered. You have to love what you do, and feel connected on some level to what you're doing. It's not always as simple as "well, it was a small business I started on my own" - sometimes you have to work to find the passion.

Brainstorm.
Gather your team every few months to talk about how you can change or improve things. If you’re following habit number one, this should be easy because everyone will come to the table with ideas.

Embrace the Little Failures.
Don't be afraid to make small mistakes. You can learn a lot from the things you didn't do correctly, the ideas that weren't executed in the best way. Failures teach you how to succeed.

Ask for Help.
We like to think that we can do everything, but really, we don’t have super powers. We will never be in two places at once, we will never be able to do it all. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Remember That You Lay the Foundation.
Everyone else will build around you. Build something strong and sturdy that your team and rely on. You don’t want them to end up standing on something that will just crumble.

Read Everything.
Things change constantly, no matter what field you’re in. Stay up on blogs and changes in your industry. Read business books, speaking blogs, or informative articles that might even inspire conversation between you and your team.

Delegate. (Not abandon)
I think there are too many people who think that "delegating" a task means "passing it off". Delegation is key in showing trust in someone to complete a task, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't check in and make sure that they don’t need any clarification.

Create a Productive (yet enjoyable) Environment.
Happy employees are more productive employees. There is something to be said about "corporate culture" and its effect on your employee. Carry the fine balance between "work" and "fun".

Take Educated Risks.
If you never step outside of the comfort zone, you could miss huge opportunities to be on top of the "next big thing". Be smart about your risks and only take chances when you can assure that they can be "undone" if they fail.

Say "Thank you".
Send hand written notes to your clients. Occasionally treat your office to a coffee. Send out a company wide email thanking them all for working extra hours during a busy holiday rush. It doesn't matter how you do it - just show you’re appreciative of their hard work.

Develop Trust and Gain Respect.
I think that on some level we are all ingrained to "respect" the boss, but it’s completely different to be able to "trust" your boss. Cultivate the trust and watch an even higher level of respect appear.

The Assassination of JFK in a Digital Age

One of the things I really love about the Internet as an adult is the access to information. I spoke about it last week, how I’ve used the Internet to learn about weather. YouTube gets a lot of credit for funny animal videos but I want to take a moment to remind everyone that YouTube has become a historical video archive while we were all busy figuring out what the fox says.

I was always a geeky kid - interested in things like the weather and history. How many kids think Santa is the greatest because he brought you Encyclopedia Britannica on CD-ROM? What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I got a minor in history in college, almost enough credits to double major.

As a child and I was learning things, it was the “big events” that fascinated me. None so much like the assassination of JFK. I often asked my dad to tell me about it. He doesn’t remember much, but he remembers sitting in his 3rd grade class, when one teacher came in crying. She whispered to my dad’s teacher, and then they both left the room crying. The same goes for his mother - he remembers going home from school and seeing her crying too. After September 11th, 2001, I came to this strange realization that my children would one day ask me to tell the story of “where I was” over and over again. As I started to compare the two events in terms of importance, I started to look at the reporting between the two events and noticed interesting differences about the journalism.

(Mostly) Zero Sensationalism

Listen to any of the live coverage you can find on YouTube for “as it happened” and the thing that lacks versus a “national” event of today is the sensationalism. A lot of that is due to the time it took for information to travel. If you’ve ever been to the Texas Book Depository Museum (do it!) you’ll see the AP wire that came across, announcing the death of JFK. With time between reports, there was time that these details could be confirmed, vetted. Today, social media is used to find “breaking” and “real time” reports and they are often reported as true.

It Was a Pioneering Day of Live Journalism

When the reports first broke into soap operas and commercials for laundry detergent, most “big” affiliates reported the the President has been shot and would return to regular programming. At WFAA here in Dallas, Texas they went live, read a bulletin, and never left the air. The WFAA broadcast offices are just a few blocks south of where the assassination happened. Jay Watson ran back to the studio and interrupted the regular program - still out of breath from his sprint as he delivered the news. (Watch the landmark footage - it’s absolute chaos in the most amazing and professional way.)

If you ever visit Dallas, I highly recommend the visitation to the Texas Book Depository. The infamous floor where Lee Harvey Oswald took the shot is a a museum now, with lots of Kennedy artifacts. You can also go up to the top floor and look down to the street, giving you an almost exact view of what Oslwald would have seen. Just wandering around Dealey Plaza leaves a heavy feeling in your heart though, no matter how old you are.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the reporting would have been like on that day if social media had played a part? Do you think reporting would have been different or the same?

Why We Are Afraid to Try New Things

This is part three of our series on learning new things. This post talks about why we are afraid to try new things. Follow the links after the post to read the other parts of our series.

Learning something new can be daunting. There are reasons why we avoid trying new things. One is that we fear what others will think of us if they see us try something and we fail at it. Or we fear being outside our comfort zone, especially if it might make our minds look less sharp than we think they are.

We fear what others will think of us if they see us try something and we fail at it. People who make fun of others for looking goofy when trying something new are jerks. These jerks just keep others from trying new things. When anyone tries something new, they are going to look goofy. Or they won't know the answer. Or they will give the wrong answer.

Even when there are few critics (which is never the case, right?), you will always find plenty to improve, change, or be harsh towards. To those of us that are scared of looking like a fool, I encourage you to press on and remember that it’s ok because when you strike out, you learn. And when you learn, the next time will be better.

When I am learning a new dance routine, I have to expect myself to wreck the train several times. On my first attempt, I don't lead well enough. Trying a second time, I lead way too strongly and throw everything off balance. Finally, I sometimes lead just right. It takes repetition to find the right way to do things.

If I don't try it the first time because I'm scared of what I'll look like, then I will never get to the "just right" part.

The same goes with learning something mental. I know when I am facing something new I want to get it right the first time. Whether it's a test, or a project, or task. Whatever. However, I usually have to mess up and get the wrong answer first. And sometimes I have an audience. The audience can be one or several people.

If you are having trouble getting to the right answer, focus instead on looking for what is wrong. Be a critic of the problem and identify the ways it won't work. Make mistakes and figure out how to correct the errors. If you are writing, put something down on paper that is awful. Then go back and make it better. Don't try to hit a home run on the first draft. Get the words down on the page, then go back and edit. The hardest part of writing is first getting words on paper.

Critics can be demoralizing and can paralyze us into inaction. The worst critic of all is yourself. Seth Godin writes a lot on this subject and calls this part of our brain the lizard brain. The lizard brain dislikes change, challenges, and moving forward. What the lizard brain likes is status quo, not rocking the boat, and boredom.

If you want some more reading on using mistakes to get better, check out The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward Burger and Michael Starbird. There is a whole section that deals with failing to make yourself more effective.

Brene Brown spoke about being vulnerable and dealing with critics. It's a twenty minute video but worth the time. (Link to the Roosevelt speech Brene mentions in her talk http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trsorbonnespeech.html )

And remember,

"A man's errors are his portals to discovery." - James Joyce

What are some other ways you like to fail in order to grow?


You can find the other parts of our learning new things series by following the links below:

Part One: Three Different Ways We Can Teach Ourselves - By Mary Williams.

Part Two: How to Learn From the Internet - By Maranda Gibson.

Secure Conference Calls

Finding secure conference calls is an important part of planning your meeting.  You want to make sure that you can have your conference and not have to worry about people interrupting your business or overlapping conference calls.

We have a number of built in options that can help you manage the security (and billing) of your conference calls. Depending on how tight you want the security of your conferences, you can choose some or all of these features.

Conference Codes: There are several ways you can increase security with your conference codes.

First, we recommend assigning a unique conference code to each participant. It functions as your ID badge to track attendance and see who is on your conference. Set each of these codes to "one-use-at-a-time". It works like a concert ticket on a first come, first serve basis. Once the ticket is scanned, no one else can get in. With this code setting the first participant to join the call is the one allowed in.

Limit the use of these conference codes by setting a total number. For example, if you have a series of conferences, and you want to make sure a code is used for the first two, but not for the third conference, you can set the code to be used twice. One that second instance is used, the code expires and won't be valid for future conferences.

Registration pages can be set up so you can control who gets an invitation to the conference, and approve or deny any of the registrants. (Bonus: All of the above options can be automatically set for each code with registrations.)

Conferences: You can use the conference lines to set a security precedence by scheduling each conference. You get a new moderator and participant code each time you need to have a meeting. This way, participant codes cannot be used to join in on a confidential or unrelated meeting. Conferences will expire once it is complete.

Set up a conference room for each employee. If everyone has their own room the conferences will never overlap, so you don’t have to worry about someone coming in on the tail end of a call.

See who is on the conference by viewing your live call screen during the call. If you see someone you don’t recognize, you can remove them by clicking 'hang up' on the screen. You can also lock the conference to prevent anyone else from joining.

Permission based users allow you to give selective access to your account. For instance, each employee can be given their own set of conference codes and access to log in. Each person is responsible for their own conference lines and the telecom or IT manager no longer has to manage the account with a log book or a sign out page.

Security on your conference calls is important, but not impossible. Try some of these features for your next conference call.

Find more information about conference security, features, and options by checking out some of the other blogs here at .

How to Learn From the Internet

This is part two of our series on learning new things. This post talks about how you can use internet resources to learn about most anything. Follow the links after the post to read the other parts of our series.

My interest in weather goes way back to the early 90s when our Carolina home was nearly hit by a tornado. We went down to the basement to take shelter and when we came out, the green storage shed behind our house was gone. We never saw it again. As a kid, it’s hard to understand how something that was there just wasn’t anymore and my dad explained it to me in a very grown up way. He explained to me how he had seen the tornado in the woods just outside the back door while we were in the basement, and how it ‘took’ the shed.

Having my dad explain it to me the way he would any other grown up was great, but it woke up extra fear inside of me. I understood the importance of going to the basement and taking cover, because things can change in an instant with storms. What if the tornado had been just six feet to the left? Would our house still be there? Would our things still be there?

Before the Internet, the research that you could do on your own only went so far. What’s been amazing is information that twenty years ago I could have only seen in a classroom setting is now at the tips of my fingers.

So you want to learn something from the internet? There are a ton of resources out there to teach you pretty much anything. I wanted to learn about the weather, so that’s what I’ve shown you here, but you can mimic these tricks for anything from basket weaving to computer programming.

Reading

The free flow of information lends itself to the ability to let the internet serve as a historical archive. You type something into Google or your search engine of choice and you’re suddenly flooded with news articles, photos, and even historical archives. Go to your search engine of choice and type in “weather history 1998” or “tornado data 2012”. If your interest isn’t weather, you can type in whatever you want and find some truly legitimate information. Here’s a list of some of my favorite weather related reading sites:

Watching

Severe weather events happen so quickly that a meteorologist must warn you at the same time that they try to educate you about the dangers of the incoming weather. When you watch coverage live, it’s like getting the most elementary crash course of your life. I highly encourage anyone who is interested in learning about the weather to watch live coverage, or go to YouTube and find recorded coverage of an old event. To find live streaming of a current weather event, do what I do: search for “major city + live TV” and go to each of the local affiliates to see live events.

Some of the more informative live events are archived below. These large outbreaks allow you to learn a lot very quickly.

Online Classes and Podcasts

If you’re trying to use the internet as an educational tool, then you need to know the opportunities that exist online. I’ve found that weather is one of the easiest subjects to research and learn about, and that there are a lot of “enthusiasts” out there, putting together great educational tools, but for most subjects of interest you can find what you’re looking for. For weather, I’ve found some great classes and online resources that not only define terms or give historical data, but help you get an insider’s view on what you should learn about.

I think no matter what you want to learn about there are a number of reputable places online where you can go and find the information you want. I taught myself everything I know about the weather from these resources, and if you have a subject of interest, I strongly believe you can find what you’re looking for.


You can find the other parts of our learning new things series by following the links below:

Part One: Three Different Ways We Can Teach Ourselves - By Mary Williams.

Part Three: Why We Are Afraid to Try New Things - By David Byrd.