How to Spoil Your Audience

I’m an addict for television spoilers for many of my favorite shows. (I’ve been doing confessions a lot lately, but they are fun). It makes me crazy to not know idea what is about to happen to my favorite couple or if the loner character will finally find love. I have to know everything – it gets me invested, it gives me something to look forward to. It makes me want to count down the days until the show premieres. It’s a reason why season finales are often filmed with cliffhangers – because it generates the “oh my God I can’t wait” factor for the audience. Take my brain candy show, Gossip Girl, for example: at the end of the last season, the final scene was a shot of a positive pregnancy test, but no clues as to who it might belong to. I have been biting my nails all summer and with spoilers coming out, I’ve been hoping for some clues. (Alas: there are none. This secret is locked up tighter than Fort Knox.)

Create that nail biting experience for your audience.

Take it from Alan Ball – it’s all about marketing. The Trueblood writer is a genius at cutting and editing his promos to get you excited about next Sunday. When you start planning the meeting, event, or conference call you have to give the potential attendees the highlights and move on. You want them to read a headline or a bullet point and wonder, “What’s that all about?” They need to want more.

Don’t be afraid to tell them why it’s worth their time.

Most shows start to advertise messy promos reminding you of the new season before the new season starts to film. The team over at the CW Networks will take the most delectable highlights from the recently concluded season and use them as a marketing tool so that you have the show on your mind. In your reminder emails, send out highlights from a previous event, the link to the old live blog stream, or a compilation of what other people said about your event.

Sneak peeks are the spoiler junkie’s favorite thing.

I love that Grey’s Anatomy releases a number of sneak peeks the week before an episode airs. A lot of times, for season premieres or finales you will get to see the first 5 to 8 minutes, but they always cut off at the part where I’m on the edge of my seat, about to scream at the screen. In invitations or reminders, include enough attention, but back it off. You want them to bite their nails, remember?

Above all – deliver.

If you’re going to promise me an “awesome” promo or an “unforgettable” episode – you better deliver; otherwise, I could be tempted to think twice about choosing to watch your show the next week. The same goes for your presentation – you can spin it, build it up, tease that it’s awesome all you want, but if you get in front of the audience and it isn’t exciting, then you’ve let the audience down and they will think twice about attending your next event.

As a spoiler addict I want – no I need – to prepare myself for what to expect on my favorite shows. I can’t stand watching most shows without something to look forward to. Your audience wants to look forward to something too, so give them that little something. What are you doing to spoil your audience?

Communication Exercises

My Fair Lady (Pygmalion) is a charming story about a young girl with a bad accent who takes speech therapy in order to prove herself as a society lady in London. It’s a great movie – classic Audrey goodness and in an age where films about speech therapy are winning Oscars again, it’s not just about good entertainment.

Eliza Doolittle had a rotten accent and some pretty reprehensible mannerisms. Despite her charming qualities, she can never be presented to society as a lady without some *ahem* fine tuning. With the help of Henry Higgins – Eliza finds a voice that was hidden under her bad mannerisms and atrocious speech. While the musical adaptation is lots of fun, the movie does teach us a very important lesson about phonetics.

Phonetics, for those of us that don’t know, is the study of how you articulate and sound when you pronounce certain words. The sounds we grow up hearing and the language that we speak can affect our phonetics. Those of us with accents are often searching for ways to improve our pronunciation. In case you don’t have a Henry Higgins close by, here are some things you can do to help improve the way you speak.

  1. Listen more effectively. In order to say things in a clearer fashion, you must be able to listen to the conversations around you. One of the best things to listen to is an audio book – the people reading those books are paid to have excellent pronunciation.
  2. Practice. It does make perfect – so practice the words you struggle to pronounce. If you just don’t think you’re getting it just right, have someone pronounce it for you, or try this pronunciation tool.
  3. Twist it up. Get yourself a list of tongue twisters and set yourself five minutes a day to read them aloud. Reading them over and over will teach your mouth and tongue how to say words that might otherwise be difficult. Your tongue is a muscle and this is the perfect work out.

When it comes to public speaking there are a lot of things that you can do to improve the way you pronounce your words. When you pronounce words better, you can speak clearer, and help your audience understand the message you’re trying to communicate. If all else fails, remember that the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.

Businesses Continue to Benefit from Audio Conferencing

Despite a reported upswing of the economic recession, businesses are not flying more. Audio conferencing saw a large jump in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, but many people speculated that over time, business travel would increase again.

A recent study from WWF shows that is actually not true. The report shows that 85% of the businesses interviewed (among the top 500 in the UK) do not plan to return to their pre-recession levels of travel. Simply put – the benefits of audio conferencing are simply too great.

87% of these businesses have used audio conferencing to stay connected. Despite the bit of a bounce back in the economy, many businesses that still feel the sting in rising airfare, gas prices, and other fees are still very happy with their conference call providers.

In the US, business travel continues, but often without perks or points that were offered by companies previously. The business traveler who is used to first class may find themselves flying coach or not staying in a five star hotel. They may be asked to foot their own cab fare, rental car fees, or expense for food.

In response, hotels are starting to offer fully wired conference rooms to attract the local business who might be trying to connect virtually to a client or department. Instead of flying to China to meet with the manufacturing division, the hope is that you will come down to your local five star hotels and take advantage of renting out their conference room. (Personally I say why go to hotel when you have everything you need at your fingertips?)

Did you go back to business travel and make a move towards conference calls when the price of flying increased drastically? A lot of people did, but what I want to know is if you stuck to it, even when people started to travel again? Are you still enjoying the cost savings for conference calls or have you gone back to travelling, the TSA, and body scanners?

Preventing Virtual Failure

Teams, teamwork, and effective communication have been foundations for success in business, and it’s no different in this new digital age. Virtual teams have the same challenges as those working together in the same space, however, there are certain aspects we should emphasize more in virtual teams to ensure we reach our goals.

There are three things that need extra care in virtual teams: leadership, clear goals, and engagement.

Strong leadership is more important when a team is spread around the globe than when everyone is in the same office. Leadership tools such as setting an example, walking the halls, and mere presence are absent from a virtual team atmosphere. Instead, a leader needs to have solid interpersonal skills, communicate effectively, keep conference calls and other team events on task, and seize every chance for motivation. Other tools a leader can use is honest, detailed feedback, and team-building exercises.

Not just goals, but clear and obtainable goals are a must for a virtual team to be successful. If team members are only expected to “see what happens”, enthusiasm and motivation go out the window. We need to have obtainable goals for the team and--perhaps more importantly--individual team members. This gives them something to work for, with built in accountability to the leader and the the rest of the team, as well as a morale boost whenever a goal is checked of the list.

Engaging team members is more than just making sure if they’re working or not. It’s keeping them motivated, interested, and on task. The basics are including them in the plan, changes in the plan, and sharing feedback on their work and the team as a whole. In every team conference call, it’s a good idea to bring everyone into the conversation, even if it’s just small talk before the actual meeting. We can also do team-building games, hear stories about where each person is working from, or simply let each person make the “big announcement” regarding their own progress.

How is your virtual team doing? Tell us about its leadership, goals, and how you keep them engaged.

Get Connected to Your Staff, Students, and Speakers.

Tis the season for … snow, ice, and roads that you can’t even look at without spinning wildly out of control. In most parts of the country there is one constant in every winter season – winter weather, and it causes a headache. Seattle, WA and Buffalo, NY have already experienced a snow storm, one that snarls traffic, and makes getting to work nearly impossible.

Earlier this week, there were reports that we were going to get some “record-breaking snowfall” here in DFW. That report has since started to fade from the forecast, but if the early season computer models are already starting to predict snowfalls, I can only imagine what will happen come January.

Not only is this the beginning of the winter weather season but it’s also the holidays – a time of year when non-profit organizations are hosting fundraisers. What happens when an event you planned has to be cancelled or if your guests cannot safely arrive? As an educator, how do you prepare when a crucial lecture must be rescheduled? In government, you can’t run a country without being able to get people in the same place – so how do you continue when you can’t get to work, school, or your event?

Check with your conference call provider to see what their capacity is for last minute / large events. Get everyone on your conference call and let business continue as usual. Even if you’re in sunny California with a speaker who’s stranded in their hometown, you can get a phone hooked up to the loudspeakers and have your speaker call in. Their presentation still happens and your guests are still happy. Your event happens, despite Mother Nature’s disagreement with you.

Where was the worst place you were stranded during snow or ice? How did you continue conducting your business or did you crawl under a blanket and come out after everything thawed out?

What’s Good About Bad Meetings?

A meeting can educate, allow collaboration, and build cohesiveness. For more benefits, check out Part One: What’s Good About Meetings? There are even more ways a meeting can be detrimental rather than helpful, but can a bad meeting be a good thing? And as the Harvard Business Review also asks, can a good meeting be bad?

If the purpose of a meeting was simply to have a meeting, then “we had a great meeting” would always be a good thing. But what is the point to have a great meeting? Shouldn’t we rather have a bad meeting with good results? After all, what we desire is the collaboration, choosing the best ideas, and the swaying of opinions that a meeting can produce. And that can’t happen if everything is nice and good.

In a meeting atmosphere, participants need to be able to vocalize their thoughts, share ideas, agree and disagree... you know, participate. The very best course, thought, or idea is not the first uttered, or the last, or even the most popular. The best comes from the culling of all other candidates, and can be a painful process. If everyone simply agrees with everyone else--or just the boss--then the true potential of a meeting is wasted.

But don’t judge a meeting by the state of mind it creates. Conflict and disagreement can create the best crucible. The length of a meeting doesn’t matter, only what progress was made, (and how much).

It’s okay if a meeting creates more work, as most good things don’t come easy. And if a meeting creates more meetings, it just means the subject is more complex than originally believed. We will always have a place for meetings in business. Remember though, a meeting is merely transportation, and not the destination.

What's Good About Meetings

As soon as two cavemen decided to sell round-rocks together, the first business meeting was born. Since then, meetings have transformed in many ways, such as in protocol, etiquette, time, place, medium, and so on. What hasn’t changed is the need for meetings, and as long as there is business, there will be meetings.

So what’s good about meetings? What purpose do they have? Why risk all the bad meetings--that we’ve all experienced--and waste all that time? The Harvard Business Review makes this defense for meetings:

The Social Aspect - For most individuals, working with others is a necessity. Social interaction is decreasing with the rise of remote workspaces and home offices, but even an office building can be a lonely place, especially in larger corporations. Meetings, quick chats, conference calls, etc. do away with the solitary aspect of business, prevent the stagnation of ideas, and increase the communication necessary to achieving goals.

Everyone in the Loop - More and more there is a decentralization to the business structure. There’s also more specialization, delegation, and delocalization. All this adds up to many people doing many different things from a myriad of places, all towards one common goal. Without meetings, it simply wouldn’t be possible. We need to spread valuable info on progress, changing needs and directions, as well as allow the input and contributions of everyone involved.

Status Symbols - As much as we might deny it, being invited to a meeting is much like being anointed. Inclusion means you are worthy of being informed, or of contributing. There is a danger of meeting abuse inherent as a status symbol though. We should never have a meeting because it’s a Monday, or to socialize, or simply because we can. Not only is it a waste of time, but can destroy morale.

Stay tuned for part two: What’s Good About Bad Meetings

Using the ICEPACk

Until today, I had never heard of ICEPAC, but this acronym stands for the steps of creating a great presentation. Whether you have weeks to craft, or get handed the project last minute, this acronym--and the other tips in the article--break down a presentation into easy-made parts.

ICEPAC

Interest - If no one cares about a subject, then why bother with a web conference? If they’re supposed to care, then it’s your job to make them care. Think about how your message will affect your participants daily lives and business, and emphasize the more interesting points.

Comprehension - There’s such a thing as too much detail, especially if your participants will get information overload. Keep data to bite sized chunks, avoid jargon, and cater to their--not your--expertise.

Emphasis - The main message is the whole point of your presentation, so emphasize it. Put key information on its own slide. Pause after saying a main point, or even precede it with, “This is important.”

Participation - Getting your participants involved creates more investment on their part. Utilize Q&A often, or ask impromptu, “soft ball” questions. Use the Socratic Method to draw people out, and praise highly when it works.

Accomplishment - For people to be more open to ideas, they have to like the ideas. And the best way of getting them to like ideas is for them to be a part of their creation. With good participation, you’re halfway there, but the web conference as a whole should be satisfying with something completed, decided on, or improved.

Confirmation - This is more than follow-up after the conference, it includes during as well. Q&A throughout is good to make sure you’re on track. And it never hurts to get participants to repeat their assignments so you know they understand.

Try ICEPAC when you create your next presentation and let us know how it worked for you.

Right or Wrong

Sayings and turns of phrase used incorrectly can make you look bad.

People treat us by how we dress and generally present ourselves. On a conference call, when they can’t see us, they judge us by how we speak and what we say. With that in mind, we should look at some common words and phrases in everyday use and make sure we’re saying what we want our participants to hear.

First are words that are similar, but mean different things in different contexts. A common one of these is saying “further”--as in “further than I can run”--instead of “farther than thirty miles”. The difference is that farther goes with actual, measurable distance.

Along those lines, when you mean to say something is less than a specific number, you say “fewer than ten”. Alternatively, you would say, “You have less than me.”

A sneaky one is between “bring” and “take”, and it all depends on what direction the thing is going. If you are going to a party, you are taking the wine. The hostess of that same party can say that you are bringing that wine to her.

My favorite is the subtle “infer” and “imply”. If someone suggestively says something, they are implying. If we draw a conclusion from their statements, we are inferring.

What about phrases that we use almost without thinking? For example, some people say that they need to “hone in on a solution” when they actually mean to say, “home in”.

Or when they say that something is “different than” something else, it’s more correct to say it’s “different from”.

Less is more in so many things, and the same goes for speaking. One such way is to drop the “of” when combined with “outside”. It’s not that the dogs are “outside of the house”, they are simply “outside the house”.

I hope these speaking and usage tips will “raise the question”--not “beg the question”--of your verbal habits, and help you vocally put your best foot forward.

Turn Off Call Waiting and Other Tips

Attention to detail can make a world of difference. In a conference call, looking after the little details before and during can turn a good conference great, or at least keep it from going bad. There’s a list of 33 conference call tips from Corbin Ball that I recently read. Here’s a few of my favorites.

Call Waiting - On certain phones, the call waiting beep can be heard by the audience. And it’s especially annoying to the rest of the participants if you’re popular. Find out if your phone does this--usually the older landline models--and learn how to temporarily turn it off.

Identify Yourself - You can’t see your participants and they can’t see you--unless you’ve integrated the call with a video conference of course. Encourage everyone to say their name before speaking.

Identify Them - You’ve said your name, now say who you’re addressing. In a conversational or meeting type of conference call, it’s usually better to address a person than the group at large. So say your name, then say their name, then speak your piece.

Help Hotline - Unless you’re out-dialing, you have to distribute the dial-in number and conference code before a conference call. And even with out-dialing, you should make sure all participants have an external way to reach you--phone, fax, email, chat, carrier pigeon, etc--in case of any connection issues.

Rules at the Front - Even with old pros, it’s good to announce rules and basic etiquette at the beginning of a conference call. Some things to cover include identifying yourself and others, muting policy, time limits, pausing for rebuttals, no interrupting, and nice things like that.

Plus, it’s more genteel to do it at the beginning than to correct transgressions as they happen. So those are the tips that I thought were important enough to highlight. Which ones are your favorites? Have any tips you think should be on the list?