How to Lead a Successful Conference Call

Leading a successful conference call isn’t just about getting a reliable conferencing service and calling into the conference. There are things that you have to do before it’s ever time to call into your conference to ensure that it will be successful. As a leader, it’s important that you do three things well before your next conference: pick a good date and time, get people to attend, and present compelling and thought provoking information.

Here are some tips from our e-book How to Plan, Setup, and Execute a Successful Webinar.

Pick the Right Date and Time

You’ll never be able to pick the perfect time for everyone but what we suggest is picking a time that is good for most of your participants. We’ve found that the most popular times are right before or after lunch (10 AM and 1 PM in respective timezones) and meetings held on Tuesdays or Thursdays get the best turnouts. Avoid Monday meetings unless you need to get everyone ready for the week.

Send a Better Email Invite

The easiest and most common method to achieve getting the word out about your meeting is to send an email blast or calendar item directly to participants. The problem with this is that your emails will often get buried in other requests and notifications. Make your subject lines quick and focus on the who, what, and when. A good example: Marketing Webinar Featuring Bob - The Greatest Marketer Ever.

Bonus: Use registration pages and know who is going to attend your event. You can also use the system to send out reminders so that people remember to attend your event.

Create Great Presentations

You can pick the most popular time of day and send out the greatest invitation known to the invite world but if you aren’t presenting something of worth then you won’t get people to stick around for very long. Content is what your participants came to the presentation for, but there’s a fine line between too much and not enough information on your slides. Keep the text to display to a minimum and use visuals to make your points. Remember the 10 / 20 / 30 rule from Guy Kawasaki - no more than ten total slides, twenty minutes of presenting, and thirty point font for your slides(to keep you from cramming too much information on a slide.)

Leading a conference call is more than just using the mute button when you should and sticking to your agenda. It’s about what you do to plan the call, how you get people to participate, and presenting information your audience wants to hear.

You can get more great webinar tips by downloading and reading our ebook.

Facts About Aggressive Driving

Last week, while sitting at a red light beside a gas station, I noticed an ambulance turn on lights and sirens, then exit from the opposite side of the gas station. During rush hour traffic, the EMTs needed to get through a busy intersection - the one I was waiting to cross. As the light turned green, the ambulance weaved into the turn lane to go through the intersection, so I waited. The guy behind me did not appreciate my adherence to the law and proceeded to lay on his horn to rush me from the light, and then once we could cross he tailgated me and… well, lets just say he made a number of gestures at me.

Since I live in the second worst commute in the country, I’m used to aggressive drivers. After DFW was named the third worst area in the nation to drive in, I did some research and found some interesting tidbits about aggressive driving / "road rage".

  1. In 2008, there were 61,954 serious accidents on Texas highways.
  2. Aggressive driving is a traffic violation, and becomes a criminal offense once the drivers yell or gesture at each other.
  3. Ten states consider aggressive driving a class 2 misdemeanor.
  4. For every ten MPH you drive over 50 MPH, your risk of death or serious injury doubles.
  5. 60% of all accidents in 2009 were caused by aggressive driving.
  6. Three out of every four fatal accidents involving an 18-wheeler are not the fault of the 18-wheeler driver.
  7. Think twice before cutting in front of a big truck to get through traffic. A semi moving at 55 MPH can take up to a football field to come to a stop.

David Byrd had a similar experience, but with a different outcome, while waiting on an ambulance. "An anxious driver honked a few times at me, and then I pointed to the ambulance. The driver, after seeing the ambulance, put up his hand in apology. So what made the guy behind me react in anger and the guy behind him take a breath? When does the every day driver become the jerk flipping you off?"

There is research showing that the way someone drives is a direct correlation to their personality. While there is no formal profile on someone who is an aggressive driver, research shows a correlation between aggressive driving habits and following personality traits:

  • Found to have more judgmental and disbelieving thoughts about others.
  • Tend to express their anger and other emotions outwardly while also acting impulsively.
  • Aggressive drivers are more likely to inaccurately access risks on a cognitive level.
  • Have more competitive personalities or are even considered “egotistic”.

Curbing aggressive driving isn’t just about the other people who are on the highways with you. You can make some changes to the way you drive to lower the chance that you encounter an aggressive driver.

  • The left lane is for passing only, not cruising along at the posted speed limit.
  • Don’t react to aggressive drivers (even if the temptation is usually there to lay on the horn to some idiot in a white Prius who barely missed you while trying to merge across six lanes of traffic at the last minute).

Although, when following these precautions you can still run into that one driver that makes their aggression apparent to everyone on the roads. Mary Williams recalls one encounter she witnessed not too long ago. "I was driving into work one morning when I ran into a pretty bad accident involving a construction truck. Traffic was at a standstill. This woman driving what looked like a Land Rover decides to move from the center lane to the right lane. Without turning on her blinker to give any courtesy, she just scoots on over. I don’t think she checked to see if she was clear because she ended up forcing a driver of a compact car onto the shoulder to avoid a collision. The driver of the compact car took this offensively. They drove on the shoulder and then cut off the driver of the SUV. I then hear horns blaring and see obscene gestures being thrown out. In my opinion, both parties were being aggressive. Luckily, neither of them caused another accident."

So when you encounter an aggressive driver, remember that maybe they just a had really bad day. Leave them alone and don't provoke them. They probably aren't thinking 100% logically. Things can get out of hand very quickly on the road. 

And remember - if you wouldn’t act like that in public, why are you acting like that on the highway? (Thanks MNDot)

Slow down folks, drive carefully, because we’re all in this together.

Here are some links to some interesting research and findings about aggressive driving and road rage:

http://www.nhtsa.gov/Aggressive

http://dmv.dc.gov/page/behaviors-aggressive-driving

http://www.progressive.com/vehicle-resources/deal-with-road-rage/

http://home.trafficresourcecenter.org/Traffic/Aggressive-Driving.aspx

http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun05/anger.aspx

How to Make Conference Calls Fun

Okay, maybe "fun" is the wrong idea here. The words conference call are not exactly going to inspire anyone to think of a delightful day at the circus or spending a beautiful afternoon whirling around on your favorite roller coaster.

When people search for how to make a conference "fun", I think that they are looking for ways to make calls more effective. Implementing some of the rules on your next conference can help with the lack of effectiveness.

Rule #1 – Only Have Conferences When You Need To

This brings up a good question. What is "need to"? It’s going to vary for you but Al Pittampalli, the author of The Modern Meeting Standard, says you should only have a meeting when there is something to decide. This isn’t going to cover everything and it’s not going to apply for all circumstances, but it is a good benchmark to start from.

Rule #2 – Consider Including Video Conferencing

Even if you’re meeting with coworkers you’ve seen a number of times, integrating video conferencing can help increase the effectiveness of your meetings. A video element adds the ability to read non verbal communication to a meeting, as well as providing a way to keep everyone accountable. Not just for attendance, but for how well they are paying attention. If you see someone staring off into space or working on something else, you can call on them and bring them back to the topic at hand.

Rule #3 – Prepare for the Call

Finally, make sure you prepare for your meetings and conferences. No one wants to be in a meeting where the moderator is stumbling over their notes. When you prepare, you can get to the meet of the meeting quickly and efficiently. You don't want to waste anyone's time, and your participants will appreciate that. One way to prepare for your call is to write out your agenda and make sure you know what to say regarding each point.

Are you following these conference call rules? What rules can you contribute to make your conference calls more fun?

Censorship or Just Doing Business?

Book review site GoodReads has caused a stir recently in issuing their new enforcement of comments and reviews on their site. If you read their official statement, it’s clear that these are the policies they have had for a long time, but the announcement of what is tantamount to a crackdown sent cries of censorship into the air.

So the question becomes "is it censorship?"

If I don't like the way a certain business is acting, especially if it is "Corporate Policy", I just take my business elsewhere. With GoodReads, I see it as no different.

What I think GoodReads did wrong was to remove the reviews without warning. GoodReads should have informed the owners of the offending reviews that they would need to be changed or the review would be deleted by a certain date (say, 30 days). On a side note, I don't mind the GoodReads policy of removing reviews that just attack the author.

Show me the content that relates directly to the book. I don't care if the author is a jerk. I want GoodReads to be a place where I find out about books, not author personalities.

Maranda Gibson agrees that it’s the approach that is the problem, not the rules. "You can’t unring a bell and while I support their decision to enforce their rules, a part of managing a community is doing that from the beginning. Goodreads didn’t and now they are getting backlash from trying to clean up a mess they made."

Mary Williams adds, "GoodReads has been around since 2007, so they probably still have things to learn when it comes to community action. The resentment from some of their members about the way they handled removing reviews can be used by the company as a source of what not to do. Giving a fair notice to their members, and allowing their members to correct their reviews, would have been a better way to handle the situation. Hopefully, they will use this experience as a lesson learned and will give their members more notice the next time they make changes to their policy."

Bottom line, this is not a case of censorship. GoodReads, as a business, can create and enforce their policies as they see fit as long as no laws are being broken. It’s the same concept as if someone was walking around a mall with an offensive T-shirt on and asked to either turn the shirt inside-out or leave. It seems this is more of an issue with the way they have handled their policy enforcement. Those who don’t agree with their policy, well they can always go elsewhere.

Common Courtesy for Common Movie Goers

An article on Lit Reactor by John Jarzemsky got us thinking about movies and reading books. There are several die hard movie goers here at AccuConference, along with several die hard readers. Some of us are both.

I agree with John that consuming movies and books is a different experience, and that our brains work differently for each activity. Reading is easier to do with outside distractions (unless it's a non-fiction book I'm reading).

Watching a movie, not so much. Interruptions for television and movies are frustrating for me. So are distractions such as people constantly texting or talking in a movie theater.

One blogger thinks I am wrong, and even goes so far to compare me to slavery advocates of long ago. Yep, you read that right. Anyway, this blogger (who will be getting the Voldemort treatment for this post) even uses example behavior in India to justify what he thinks should be the norm here in the States.

Mary Williams, Operator Extraordinaire here at AccuConference sent me this:

"[name redacted] tries to defend his weak argument by saying that movie goers in India have no problem with these disruptions and it’s their cultural way of life. Which is fine and dandy if you’re in India. What he fails to understand is, this is not India! It is our culture here in America to be courteous when the situation calls for it."

Nice way to put it Mary.

Mary also added:

"Blogger, [name redacted], actually praises cell phone users in the blog he wrote. He says that the movie theater should be treated like every other public space. He also made some questionable comparisons to those he labeled as “shushers” which readers did not take lightly. I whole heartedly disagreed with every aspect of his blog. A movie theater is not like every public space. I don’t pay $10 to go take a walk at the park or to shop at the mall. I pay money to go to a movie theater so I can be completely engaged with the movie. And people like [name redacted] have no respect or consideration for people like me."

Another blog writer, Maranda Gibson, also weighed in. As a lover of both movies and books, she can see a grey area, much like the rebuttal to [name redacted] you can find over on Slate.

"I think movie culture depends a lot on what kind of film you're going to see. I remember when I went to the midnight showing of the first Fast and Furious film - it was loud and exciting with people laughing and clapping. It fit the kind of experience that I wanted to have when I went to see an action film. If I'm going to see a Sunday matinée, I think you have different expectations of the experience. Common sense should play a role in how you react to the film on the screen in a public space."

I tried to find someone, anyone who thought that a movie theater was a place to act however you want. It seems like {name redacted} wrong and that etiquette will still be the norm here in America.

The Public Relations Mess Clorox Can’t Seem to Clean

I’m not afraid to admit I have a deep affection for cleaning. Most people who do have a "scent of choice". Personally, I love the smell of Pine Sol. I picked up a new bottle a few weeks ago, noting the “longer lasting scent” label. Great, right?

The problem is that it smells nothing like my favorite smell. In fact, the "longer lasting scent" down right stinks. After some complaining, I decided to see if I was just being picky, and went to the Pine Sol Facebook community. I found vindication in other fans feeling like the new stuff is awful.

Given some of the responses from customers and the brand responses, it appears that the people at Clorox (the makers of Pine Sol) have created a bit of a disaster, and they are breaking all the rules when it comes to a social media crisis. In fact, it’s the public relations disaster you haven’t heard about.

PR happens on the web now, and if you’re not prepared to respond, you might have a blow back that you didn’t expect or want. Here are some key takeaways from what I’ve witnessed to their response in the middle of a customer crisis.

If you don’t provide a reason or a message - your community will hunt one down for you. The problem with communities is that they can sometimes be wrong about a companies motivation for a particular move. It’s your job as a brand representative to provide the message so that the community doesn’t make up their own.

Using a form response to address the aforementioned concerns is usually a bad move. The form response being used by the social media managers on this page are especially unforgiving, because the only thing that is changed is the name. It goes a little something like this: "Hi, this is *NAME* and we understand your concerns, but we totally user tested it and everyone loved it. It’s also better than before."

Deleting / Removing negative comments only make you look worse. When you make a move that upsets your customers (no matter if you plan on sticking with it or reverting) it’s better to accept the criticism, rather than try to hide it. Rejecting a negative review is only going to make the situation seem suspicious. You need to be prepared to respond to any comments - good or bad.

Even though you probably haven’t heard about this public relations mess, hopefully some of these take always will be something you can apply and be ready for in the event you come across a similar situation. What PR situation have you learned from?

Kindle Matchbook and AccuConference

This week, Amazon announced Kindle Matchbook. Of announcements that don’t involve an update to the popular Kindle e-Book reader, this is one of the more exciting. So what is Matchbook and what does it do?

In 1995, when Amazon started to sell books in their online store, things like e-readers weren't selling like corn dogs at the county fair. If you wanted to read a book, you had to buy it, wait for it to mail, and then turn pages. Amazon Matchbook will go back into your history of orders and offer you a discounted Kindle price, or in some cases a free copy, of the electronic version of a previously purchased book. The only caveat is that the publishers provide the discounts on a book-by-book basis. Hopefully they will do that, but if they choose not to enroll in the program, your book will not have the discount. The program will extend all the way back to when they first began to sell books through the marketplace.

This program is really cool because not only can you get reunited with a book you might have forgotten that you read (and loved) but it’s also a great way to help us all "upgrade" and use our Kindle’s more. It is a great move for consumers and a really smart move for Amazon – people who might have lost books along the way might be encouraged to buy an e-reader now.

AccuConference published a book last year and a lot of you went and ordered a copy of the physical book. (Thanks!) We signed up to offer our book, Lessons from the Bored Room, as part of the Kindle Matchbook program. If you've purchased a copy of our book, when Amazon rolls out the program in October, you’ll be able to add our conferencing, webinar, and video conference book directly to your Kindle – for free.

If you haven’t purchased a copy – you can grab a discounted copy from Amazon.com and receive the Kindle version in October.

Delivering a Five Minute Presentation

When might you use a five minute presentation?

Some situations like when you've been asked at the last minute to make a quick introduction for someone else or a quick product announcement in front of a group are where you usually see the five minute presentation show up. They can be very useful tools in business because they force you to be effective and on point, since time is limited.

To make a great five minute speech you need to do some of the following.

Focus on a Single Point

When your time is limited to five minutes, the best thing to do is to derive one clear main idea from the information being discussed and present that as a single focus. You simply don’t have the time to elaborate much beyond a main point. Decide what the main point is and build the rest of the presentation around it.

Come Out with a Bang

You already know that there is a limited amount of time to catch your audience’s attention. When your speech is compacted into a five minute window, even more effort is required to get that audience to sit up and pay attention. You want to get participants attention in the best and most effective ways possible, and starting strong is going to be the best way to do that. Use something like a quick quote or an anecdote to create something amazing.

Close Like a Pro

Okay, your five minutes are up. Now is the time to reiterate your opening and bring it home for the listener. What was your main point of your five minutes? Now is the time to reiterate that to your audience. Maybe your goal was to introduce yourself – now would be the time to state your name again, and to invite people to come mingle with you. Maybe you wanted to get everyone amped for the next speaker about to walk on the stage, so remind everyone now of why they should be excited for the person about to take over.

Five minute presentations might seem like an overwhelming task, but they should only be used in certain situations. Your five minute presentation isn't always going to cut it but it’s good to have one on the back burner, just in case you need it.

How do you deliver a five minute presentation?

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.

AccuConference |

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?

17 (+4) Tips For More Productive Conference Calls

Conference calls have become an important part of corporate business life and yet they are not always used to their best advantage. The world of telecommunications has traveled light years since the old days of the traditional party line, but the modern conference call is really just an expansion of that retro concept. Today, most companies use a specialized service provider for conference calls and they are being used more and more in conjunction with web conferences. These service providers maintain the conference bridge and provide the phone numbers used to access the meeting or conference call.

How can your business better utilize this service? First, let us define exactly what service we are talking about. What is meant by the term, conference call? This is a telephone call in which the caller wishes to have more than one party listen in to the audio portion. Calls may also be designed so that the called party can participate during the call or so that the called party merely listens in and cannot speak. A conference call is also sometimes referred to as an ATC (Audio Tele-Conference).

In a book called "Death By Meeting" author, Patrick Lenzioni, argues that conference calls really should be more fun. He says: "If I didn't have to go to meetings, I'd like my job a lot more." According to Merlin Mann and his fascinating, irreverent and very witty family of websites dealing with personal productivity known collectively as 43 Folders, the following ideas have helped to make his life in general and conference calls in particular, easier and more productive. Also check out this interview with Al Pittampalli, the author of the Modern Meeting Standard. Consider them the next time you schedule a conference call. Read on and hold that call, please!

  1. Circulate an Agenda.  Don't do a conference call without first circulating an agenda to all involved parties. An agenda helps to structure the conference and helps members to prepare by providing in advance the type of information they will need in order to effectively participate in the discussion.
     
  2. Get familiar with each other. Have everyone in attendance introduce him or herself up front. In fact, make that the first thing on your agenda. It is important for people who don't know each other's voices especially well to become familiar as quickly as possible.
     
  3. Give the conference a theme. Don't meander, for the road is costly and time-consuming and leads ultimately nowhere! Use the agenda to amplify the theme in question by explaining how it will be covered or explored in each section of the meeting.
     
  4. Have conference calls only when you need to. Many are unnecessary and could be avoided with either a one-on-one call or a focused e-mail exchange. Group calls should only be made when either in-depth dialogue or brainstorming is required.
     
  5. Establish meeting timing. This includes when the meeting will begin, break and end ahead of time. Provide a time structure, which all participants must adhere to and matters will flow smoothly.
     
  6. Focus on the conference. Limit "electronic grazing" to during the conference call. Set it up like they did in the old frontier days at the saloon with all who enter checking their guns at the door!! The equipment is different; phones and laptops to be exact, but the attitude is the same. No multi tasking while the meeting is in session. This means no email, no phone calls and this means you! Attending the meeting is like being pregnant; one either is or one isn't present at the meeting. If an emergency occurs and a call needs to be made, then the person should leave the room to make the call and not tie up the meeting.
     
  7. Schedule guests and make the best use of everyone's time. Use your agenda to indicate when people will be needed to present their arguments and avoid the traffic jam of having thirty people in a room for three hours, twenty of whom will have nothing at all to do or say until the last 15 minutes of the meeting. Tick off items on the agenda as they are covered.
     
  8. Delegate roles. Don't wear too many hats at your own meeting. Employ someone to keep track of the time so that you as the leader are free to focus on the matters presented in the agenda and keep the meeting rolling along at an even pace.
     
  9. Stay focused on your time element and subject matter. Not all issues require the same amount of time to settle and any issue that can be resolved offline or does not require the input of the majority of the group should be dismissed as quickly as possible and ticked off the mighty agenda.
     
  10. Welcome late arrivals. If you join into a conference call after it has already begun, make sure that other people know you are there. If you are the organizer of the conference call and this happens, seek an opportunity to introduce that person and then quickly review any key decisions that have been made. (If the person being late is you the organizer, you probably should find someone else to head the conference call in the first place.)
     
  11. Meetings won't run themselves. Be aware of which tips work best for you and remain consistent in their use. Meetings have never been able to run themselves, and you as the leader, must always think things out thoroughly so that people attending do not feel they are wasting their time. After all, that is the one commodity that we never seem to have enough of and that waits for no one, as the old saying goes.
     
  12. Stick to the point. Keep conference calls short and very sweet. This way, each participant knows what to expect, more or less, in terms of why they are there and what they are supposed to do. There is nothing more boring than a rambling speaker and nothing that will lose a listening audience more quickly, except maybe a sudden office fire.
     
  13. Get through the agenda first. Consider dealing with any matters that are not  on the agenda last even if they are brought up at the beginning of the conference. This prevents sidetracking and losing precious time in covering the more pertinent issues at hand.
     
  14. Invite only the people that need to be on the conference. Don't call bosses and technical experts to attend the conference unless you know in advance that their advice will be needed. Regardless of the outcome of the conference, they will definitely owe you one and be eternally grateful.
     
  15. Limit the Chaos. Limit the number of people on the conference call to four or at most five. Chaos is sure to follow if there are too many opinions circulating at the same time. Problems are likely to occur because the more opinions, the harder it becomes to keep track of who is speaking and a common reaction is to go on automatic pilot and "leave the meeting in your mind."
     
  16. Wait your turn to speak. Try not to interrupt when others are speaking and wait for the appropriate moment to jump in. One has to listen and concentrate much more acutely over the phone than is necessary in person.
     
  17. Summarize and follow up on meeting proceedings. This can either be done by you or by a project manager, if one has been so assigned. Take a few minutes at the end of the conference to review any major new projects that were generated in the meeting and email the list of resolutions to all participants. Also, take a minute to identify those issues or questions that must be explored further. Don't forget to thank everyone for his or her participation and say goodbye.
     
  18. Practice makes perfect. Familiarize yourself with the conference call service before you use it.  You're going to want to know how to use the conference call service so that you can use your mute functions and any of the moderator controls.  You should be able to call the conference company and get a quick overview of the different commands that you can use. 
     
  19. Start the conference on time.  You've sent out a lot of invitations that have a specific date and time provided to the other participants.  Start at the right time so that the conference will begin for those who showed up at the right time. Participants who are late will just have to miss the introduction. 
     
  20. Pay attention. As a participant you should take good notes. This will help you retain information and it will encourage you to pay attention, rather be distracted by your cell phone, email, or social networking. 
     
  21. Use visuals on conference calls that require them.  Not every conference is going to require them, so use them only in situations that call for the visual representations. 

The mercurial business world of today demands quick decisions based on as many facts as possible. Aided by the cold hand of technology, telecommunications has made the transfer of information an instantaneous and ubiquitous affair. Take advantage of this process. Wasting time hurts business and morale on many levels and it is something that can be avoided by planning ahead all the details for your next conference call. Follow these tips and you are sure to have more productive conference calls. Perhaps not all of these ideas will work for you, but many of them will.

And by the way, hold that call, will you? I have to go. There's a conference call I have to attend ...


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

Announcement: Operator Answered Call Reporting Graph

When you have an operator answered conference call, you will get a line chart that shows you the progression of your attendees at various times.

This data is a compilation of the information that you can collect from the CSV file found on your account after each conference. What we do is plot it along a line graph so that you can see your average call time and your maximum number of users. Charts are much more fun to look at than Excel spreadsheet files.

We want to make sure that you can see how your conference calls work and how your participants are responding. Maybe you are unnecessarily overbooking for your conferences or this data might show you how you can break up your calls and maintain your participant count.

If you receive one of these graphs and have some feedback, we'd love to hear what you think. Is something missing? Maybe we can add data that you would like to see to it. Give us a call at 800.989.9239 to discuss the graph or if you have any other questions.