Free Your Mind

As a married woman, I often feel that my husband and I differ in our tastes in television and music. I guess Paula Abdul was right about opposite’s attracting. One thing that we can agree on is that I am a music freak and he loves trying to find new things he thinks I might like. Often he comes to me with a proud smile and tells me that he found something he thinks I’ll love.  

I usually stare at him skeptically because with him, you never can tell what you’re about to get. Sometimes, he brings me a song that I listen to and immediately make a face. However, there are many times when he brings what I would consider to be some of my favorite songs to me.

If not for him and his somewhat strange musical tastes, I would not know the wonders of Muse or Sneaker Pimpz (“Destroying Angel” specifically).  What’s the point of saying this? I would never have known some of my favorite bands if I didn’t have an open mind. I would have just scoffed and told him that I wouldn’t like it, rather than give it a chance. Now, there have been plenty of times that I’ve listened to ten seconds of a song and turned it off. But at least I gave it a shot.

Having an open mind is essential to business. It can be something like considering a new process or even defining a new way of thinking. “Innovators” in their business would not have been such if not for having open minds. People like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and even Henry Ford would not have an impact on the world if they weren’t able to look at things openly.  What about the first company to go “green”? They had to have open minds to even embrace a new way of thinking – one that has spread like wildfire.

When someone in your company comes to you with a new idea, it’s important to listen, consider, and then make a decision. Saying no right off the bat will get you nothing but an employee who thinks their contributions aren’t appreciated. No matter what the suggestion is – from different creamers in the break room to trading in expensive conventions for conference calls, it’s important to consider every idea that comes across your desk.

Take A Break

Oh, Twitter, how you give us a glimpse into the mind of the everyday office worker and how they feel about their day to day activities. Usually, that mild mannered office worker has a conference call to attend, from updating a team on procedures to going over financials.  Everyone is using conference calls to make their staff meetings go a little smoother, stay more productive, and save money on travel.  Most of the time, conference calls can go pretty quickly, but there are always those times when you know it’s going to be a long one – due to the topic or even the person who’s doing the presenting.

As the leader of a conference, you can do a lot to plan ahead for a conference call and have things in place to keep the attention of the attendees. However, nothing is fool proof and there’s always the chance that you are going to lose the audience. What can you do during a conference call to bring them back to attention? Here are a couple of suggestions to try on your next conference if you sense everyone is drifting.

Ask a question. Don’t call anyone out but throwing out a blanket question and pausing for a few beats afterwards can help pull everyone’s brains back into the task at hand. Don’t answer the question, just ask it.  A lot of times when people “zone out” hearing something new or that could require a response will draw them back in.

Take a break. Have a long conference planned? Schedule a break about halfway through. I would suggest this for any conference that is going to be an hour or longer. It doesn’t have to be a long break, maybe five minutes. Let people get up from their desks, stretch their backs and arms, and maybe get a refill of coffee. Then they come back and it’s like the call just began.

Switch speakers. Even if you’re talking about the same subject throughout the length of the conference, you can still bring a different voice on the call to finish up.  Not only does it help relax your vocal chords, but it will be a new sound and tone for your attendees to react to.  If you’re used to a sound or voice, it’s easier to drown it out, and bringing a new voice to the call can refocus everyone.  

There are some quick suggestions that can help you bring everyone back down to Earth during a conference call. Do you do anything differently? Have you ever tried these before? How do you prepare to refocus your group mid conference?

What We Can Learn from TV

Television, sometimes affectionately known as the “idiot box”, for the most part shows us nothing about the world.  Reality television has given us glances into human interaction that promote backstabbing, immunity challenges, and fist pumping. Programs that show us the deeper sides of human emotions can be passed over for programs that are full of drama. (Two exceptions come to mind: “The Biggest Loser” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”). TV is an escape and we don’t want to be “taught” anything from the things we do to distract ourselves from the stress of the day.

After the SuperBowl last night, CBS aired a show called “Undercover Boss”. The basic premise is a CEO of a major company immerses themselves in the day to day work of the average person in their company. Last night, we saw a CEO picking trash off a conveyer belt, collecting errant paper from a hillside, and steam cleaning port-a-potties. What things can we learn from this as business owners or management? I have some thoughts.

1.) Understanding your workforce will help you understand customers’ needs. Stream-lining processes, identifying understaffing issues, or changing the way things are done improves your productivity and directly affects your customers’ happiness.  Making it easier on the front line employee will help them make it easier for the customers.
2.) You can’t see the face of your company staring at numbers. Sure, numbers are the bottom line, and in the end, as the CEO it’s your responsibility to keep the company profitable. Remember that every “number” on the page is actually the face of someone who works tirelessly for you.

Did you watch “Undercover Boss”? Did you like it? I really enjoyed myself with it and I feel like it was trying to be socially relevant in a time when people feel like their head offices or CEO’s are a million miles away and have no real idea what goes on in their company. 

How are you going to connect to your workforce today?  

Creative Reactions

Being a writer requires creativity. Creativity takes time but we can sometimes find an experience that will make us sit up and take notice.

As writers, we all take the things we go through during our day and make them a part of what we’re writing. Taking a moment, creating something amazing or thought provoking, it’s a big part of being writers. A thought was posed to me last week:  At what point do you stop “creating” and simply begin “reacting”?

Can you tell when you’re no longer using your experiences to make a point, and are simply using the outlet before you to vent? I’m guilty of it, and I think we all are at some point. It’s a great place to find an outlet, right there on the page, hammering each key down hard enough, and hoping to push your frustration through the world.

I think there’s a very fine line between creativity and reaction. Some of the best thoughts are spun through being upset, frustrated, or having a bad experience, but there can be a point where that reactionary feeling starts to seep through you. When your readers notice, it could cause a problem.

How to combat this? Well, if an experience has inspired you to type out a blog, but as you start going along and you find that you’re putting a little more heat behind the keys than you wanted too, grab a notebook.

Write down what happened, why it bothered you, and the point you’re trying to make with what you’re writing.

After that, you walk away. Go jogging, go play Guitar Hero™, go take a nap, do something other than write that post. Work off all that frustration and anger you might feel.

You’re trying to make a point, not trying to pound someone into the ground.

Be creative and don’t react. Just walk away and work on it later. You have the information written down. If you can write, without the initial reaction, you might even come out on the other side with a better post in the long run.

Turn Out The Light

I did something really silly this weekend. I’ve decided I don’t get outside enough so now, I walk over to the mailbox every day, rather than stop on my way in from work or the grocery store. Good plan right?

I had an enjoyable time on my walk yesterday until I go home and realized there was no key to my apartment. It must have fallen out on the way and now I was locked out. I could always try to wake my husband up to get back inside, and that’s a big if, he sleeps like a rock that was hit with a bigger rock. Even if I did get back inside, it didn’t stop the fact that my key would be out in the grass somewhere. When horrible images flooded my mind, I decided I had to find it. (Rachel, I’m really sorry I teased you when you lost your apartment key and was spazzing.) Retracting my steps, I had no luck. I was sure I looked like a prowler as I walked the grass for more than an hour.  I was tired. I was cold. I was stuck. I called my Mama, because, well, that’s what I do.  

Her suggestion? “Maranda, go sit down by the pool, relax for a second, let the sun go down, and you’ll see it when the flood lights turn on.” We chatted for a few and when the sky went pink, I started looking again. Within ten seconds, I was in possession of my key and three very important lessons.
1.)    Mama’s are smart. No matter what, you always listen.
2.)    I need to purchase some sort of giant key ring that beeps or says my name.
3.)    Sometimes, closing your eyes is the way out of the dark.

I spent what felt like forever out in the day light trying to find the key and I had looked right where it was probably thirty times. It wasn’t until it went a little dark that I could see clearly.  My frustration was blinding me, I couldn’t see anything but my need to find my key and go home.

No matter what you’re looking for or what has you stuck, be it putting together a presentation or if you have writers block, sometimes the best thing to do it step back, let it get dark, and gain a new perspective. What do you think? 

Finding Your Presentation Groove


When it comes to making a presentation, whether it is in front of a physical group of people or on a conference call with a group, we have addressed many times on this blog the importance of being prepared. That means you need to know who you’re audience is, what they would like, and even trying to define a collective personality.
 
You've practiced, you check out your slides, you've shown them to a group and you think you have all your ducks in a nice little row. Now it's time to make sure that you are going to be confident and comfortable during your presentation. There are a lot of different kinds of speakers in the world and a million different ways to present. Some people need a podium while others need something in their hand. Personally, I like having a pen, but I strongly suggest not using one that has a clicker on it, because I have annoyed my audience a time or two.
 
After figuring out what set up is going to make you the most comfortable, you have to design a way for you to follow along with your material. Crazy thought right? You’ve provided some different ways for your participants to follow along with you, but now you don’t know where to begin. Should you write out a script or should you make notes?
 
In my experience in public speaking, I have found that using standard sized index cards is my biggest help when presenting. I need a podium, a pen, and my index cards. I'm a bit of a wanderer when it comes to presenting, walking here and there, maybe pointing things out on the screen behind me, and always going back to the podium to check my cards.
 
The best way to handle index cards is to put a few points on each one and lay them out in order on the podium. You don't want to have them stacked because you don't want to have to stop and shuffle through them. It's important to look organized, even if you are a little freaked out from the presentation aspect. I don't recommend scripts, simply because I feel like they limit your flow of words and cause you to come out sounding monotone. Unless you’re a master at memorization, you'll lose your place and have to fumble around, so I suggest saying away from scripts all together.
 
How do you find your flow before and during a presentation? Do you have suggestions for anyone who might be looking at their first major presentation in front of a group? What do you do to make yourself comfortable?

Three Rules for Twitter and Conferencing

twitter

If you don't know what Twitter is by now then you should probably crawl out from under the rock that you've been underneath. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's true. Read any blog and you'll be told that social media is the way of future enterprises. What better way to extend your arms worldwide and invite a multitude of people to get to know you and your business a little better than to connect with them via Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter?

Not too long ago, another one of our fabulous bloggers, George, wrote a blog about using Twitter while being on a conference call. From a small internal conference to the large conference where you're pulling out all the stops, Twitter is a really powerful tool to share ideas and thoughts while you're conferencing.

With that being said, there are some things that you should keep to yourself when you're Twittering while conferencing. In my observations of those who Twitter about conferencing, I have found a couple of things that maybe we should rethink when it comes to integrating Twitter into our conference calls.

Remember that companies who use Twitter use it in a way that allows them to search out people who might be talking about their company. If you're on a conference with a company and you tweet something about wanting to pay attention but you can't because you drank too much the night before (which I have seen many times), and the CEO of CompanyX finds that tweet, you might have just done yourself a lot of damage.  Twitter is for the most part an open forum, so be careful what you say and who's name you start dropping.

Secondly, and this one is very brief, I never want to know what telecommuters are (or not wearing) on a conference. Please do not share. Not just for my sake, but for your own too. The last thing you need is your boss finding out what you're doing when he's letting you work from home or a client seeing what you do in your self employed glory.

Finally, I'd like to address language. Now, I am no saint or angel but there is a time and a place. In your twitter stream in the middle of a conference call as you rant on about how much you hate conference calls is not an acceptable place to express ones anger with such colorful words. In my opinion, you should remember that you might have to answer for these tweets one day and if you're making comments about what an idiot someone on the conference call is or how you would rather be stabbed in the face, I don't think that's going to look very good.

Maybe it doesn't matter though.

What do you think? Is Twitter an open forum for anything or should you use some judgment in what goes out there while you're handling business?

Riddle me this:  As an employer, what action, if any, do you take if you happen upon one of the above mentioned tweets?

Regain Audience Attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easing Change

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

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

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

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

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

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