7 Methods for Group Communications

In the beginning, the most popular way for groups to communicate was simply "in person". But with the advent of technology, even as early as two millennia ago, man has devised new ways for groups to communicate without actually being together in the same room.

IRC (Internet Relay Chat)

Back when the internet was young and 28.8 baud modems were all the rage, Internet Relay Chat was the way for web-heads to communicate online. VOIP was still the internet equivalent of HAM radio ("I spoke with someone in Australia today!"), and ICQ was still a few years out. Created by Jarkko "WiZ" Oikarinen in late August of 1988, Oikarinen’s design was inspired by Jeff Kell’s Bitnet Relay, which had been designed as a way for researchers to chat on Bitnet mostly over mainframe servers. IRC’s slash commands were inspired by Bitnet Relay and they persist to this day in many other chat mediums. IRC’s leap into the public eye came when it was used by the citizens of Kuwait to contact the outside world during the Iraqi invasion of the early 90’s. While many today now utilize more modern means for internet person to person communication, when it comes to text based group chat, IRC is still king.

IM(Instant Messaging)

Instant messaging had its start in the 1970’s when it was developed to allow two uni x users to chat if they were both logged into the same server. The technology would then evolve to function on closed networks and then finally the internet. The first instant messaging program to enter the public eye was the "On-Line Messages" feature of "Quantum Link" for Commodore computers in the late 80’s. In 1991 "Quantum Link" would change its name to "America Online". Despite this, however, it would be a different company that would beat AOL to the modern (graphic user interface) IM market. An Israeli program known as ICQ would hit the market in 1996, followed by AOL Instant Messenger in 1997. Since then a number of other heavy hitters have joined the fray. Yahoo and Microsoft hold a heavy share of the market, and Google has recently come out with its own instant messaging service known as GTalk. Recently, these companies have begun to incorporate IRC chat room type functionality into their IM clients for group conversations. Unlike IRC though, these conversations are restricted to the user’s buddy list. This alone could be what keeps IRC as the leader in the chat room venue.

Smoke Signals

Laugh all you want, but when the electromagnetic pulse of the apocalypse hits wiping out all electronics, you’ll be glade you had a way to you’re your neighboring walled-in villages of the oncoming uber-mutant invasion. Hey, it could happen. As a technology, smoke signals were created by both the Chinese and Native Americans. The technique involved using a blanket to cover a fire then quickly removing the blanket to produce a large puff of smoke. Smoke signal codes were never standardized as a drawback of the technique was one’s enemies could see the smoke signals as well. Because of this, codes were agreed upon before hand by the individual senders and receivers. In China, smoke signals were used along the Great Wall to communicate between towers. Calls for reinforcements and warnings of enemy movement were vital for the wall to serve its purpose. Although modern technology has rendered the smoke signal all but obsolete, with recent events such as Hurricane Katrina still in mind, it’s easy to imagine a modern instance where smoke signals could be used for groups to communicate a call for help.

ConferenceCalls

The origin of conference calls can viably be seen as rooted in party line technology used in the first half of the twentieth century. Instead of each home having a private line, groups of houses would share a single line. The unavoidable perk/drawback of this was the ability for these neighbors to speak to each other simply by picking up their phone and chatting on their shared line. Technology in this case would go full circle as phones would move on to individual private lines, then turn around to once again add a feature to let multiple parties once again speak together in one communal phone conversation. Initially, the easiest way to do this was for a home to possess two phone lines, and a phone that would allow linking a call on both of these lines together. Today, the equipment is now mostly handled by the phone company and conference calling has become a feature of the phone service itself. For conference calls involving a multitude of people though, a conference calling service must be used, either through your phone company or a third party vendor. Such calls can involve the party line type functionality in which all participants can speak with each other, or a layout where only the host may speak, and the others only listen.

Ventrilo/Teamspeak

Group voice communication is a veritable requirement for any gamer who plays multiplayer online games. Ventrilo and Team Speak (competing programs) are a cross between VOIP, party line functionality, and IRC. In essence it is IRC that uses voice communication instead of text. With these services, a host server is established, which users can then log into using a client. Once logged into the server, the user may a join a chat channel and speak to the group of users within that channel as if it were a party line. The service is primarily used by gamers for gaining an efficiency advantage in their competitive games. If one team needs to type text to communicate, while the other team merely needs to speak, the advantage becomes obvious. This advantage has become such a commonplace necessity that "World of Warcraft ", the world’s best-selling MMORPG, has recently integrated this functionality into the game itself. While still primarily the realm of gamers, it is only a matter of time though before programs like these enter the public spotlight, as IRC did in the early 90’s.

CB (Citizens Band Radio)

For truckers, CB radios have been the chat room of the interstate for over 40 years. Invented by Alfred J. Gross, who also invented walkie-talkies, pagers, and cordless phones, CB radios first appeared in the late forties after World War II. What gave CB radios the edge was low price and ease of use offered by its hardware. For the first time, one didn’t need to be a specialist to chat with people over the radio. Similar to cutting edge technologies today, governing bodies at first tried to establish laws to regulate the new medium, but with users widely ignoring these regulations, most of these laws were eventually dropped. As with communication over the internet, a genre of slang has formed for CB radio use. Terms such as "bear" for police officers and derivatives of FCC recommended "10 codes" such as 10-4 are still used today. As can be expected though, CB radio’s popularity has waned in recent years obviously due to newer technologies such as mobile phones and the internet itself. Looking at the full story of CB radios however, it’s easy to consider that group communication over the internet is nothing more than just a little bit of history repeating.

Text Messaging

On December 3rd 1992, the very first commercial text message ever was sent in Great Britain from a personal computer to a phone on the Vodaphone network. Soon after, in 1993, the very first phone to phone text message was sent by a engineering student at Nokia in Finland. Today in Europe, 85% of all mobile phone customers utilize text messaging. In the United States that number is 40% but quickly growing. While the ability to send a short message of text from one user to another can be seen as a great convenience, it is in group communication that text messaging absolutely shines. Text messaging has been used to mobilize everything from urban militias, to instant protest mobs. Some executives in Hollywood have even blamed text messaging for supposed "box office slumps", since audience members can now spread word before the movie has even finished as to whether or not the movie is worth seeing. On the positive side, text messaging has been utilized in rescue efforts, and for virtual "town hall meetings" when members of a community have found themselves scattered by a natural disaster. With usage steadily on the rise, one can only imagine what the world’s most popular use of mobile group communication will be able to accomplish in the future. Government elections are a definite possibility.

While inventions such as the wheel, metal alloy, and the harnessing of fire are often mentioned as mile markers in our technology, it’s interesting to note that all along this time man has strived to improve his capability for group communication. If the technology continues on its current course, virtual telepathy may be the ultimate goal. Perhaps though, the greatest breakthrough has already happened: the ability to now be part of a limitless group while, at the same time, still maintaining our individual solidarity.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you are the main speaker for a conference call or web conference, you may want to practice before the day of the phone call or event. You can assure yourself that your audience will get the full impact of your message by taking the time to be well prepared. What you really shouldn’t do is try to conduct a conference call in an "off the cuff" fashion.

Prepare your notes ahead of time
Think about the main topic, what you want to say, and the length of the conference call as you compose your notes. Remember that people in other places will be listening, but not seeing you. They will likely be taking notes themselves, so you have to present your theme in a digestible fashion.

Practice going over your notes
Once you have your notes in good shape, it is time to practice saying them aloud. You cannot replicate what will happen during the call, but you can be familiar with what you want to say. You could tape record yourself reading through the notes and play it back to get an idea of how you might sound. Or you could ask a friend if you can could them and go over the notes. This person could ask you a few questions and give you feedback.

Web or Video Conference: How to Know Which One You Want

Sometimes you need to get your team or group together for a meeting, but it is just impossible for everyone to get together in the same place at the same time. Because it is important to have everyone seeing the same thing at the same time, a teleconference just does not seem like the best vehicle for interaction. What do you do?

Well, pretty much, you have two choices: web conferencing or video conferencing. How do you know which one would be best? It can be confusing. There is overlap in capability because web conferencing can include video and you can share documents via video conferencing.

To decide, which one is best for you and your meeting, you have to ask two things: "What do I, and everyone else, need to see?" and "What is being emphasized, the content of a presentation or interactions between people?"

If the answer is "the presentation and its content", then you should be thinking "web conference". If you want, you could arrange a small pop-up window on the screen with a video of the speaker just to add a personal touch. If the answer is "personal interaction", then video conferencing is your communications vehicle of choice.

Web conferences are very good if you are making product demonstrations, analyzing reports/data or doing software training. Video conferences are better for board meetings, negotiations, interviews, or depositions.

Of the two, because video conferencing requires more technology and infrastructure, it is the more expensive option.

There Are Times When a Phone Call is Better than Email

Sometimes it is not a good idea to email a message, it is better to pick up the phone and chat.

We've all received an email message that we simply wished we wouldn't have gotten, one where we've been chewed out or chastised for something whether we deserved it or not. In some cases the criticism that has been sent in the email message would have been received in a much more constructive manner if instead it would have been given by phone.

Here's when it is best to pick up the phone and chat and not to email:

  1. If you have to discipline and employee, although email is faster and you have a written documentation of the situation, a verbal conversation is much better. A written confirmation of the call can be sent by email after the conversation.
  2. If you have a difficulty with a client, a long winded response by email should definitely be replaced by a quick phone call to clear up the gray areas. In most cases prompt action in a misunderstanding with a client will resolve a problem quickly before it grows into a huge difficulty or nasty misunderstanding.
  3. Training issues are best done by phone or even better via web conferencing. You have a much better chance of having an employee understand the directions if they see you perform the action once online while they watch. To send long instructions via email can cause some employees to scan the information and not to follow the instructions step by step as they do not understand the importance. Once you have verbally explained the instructions revisions or repairs may be minor or non-existent. 

You probably have others that you can add to this list as well, but the key is to understand that although we all lean heavily on email as a major form of business communication that sometimes teleconferencing is by far better than email.

Business Travel and the Holidays

Now that Thanksgiving is over, we have a bit of a break before Christmas and New Year's at least for personal travel, but business travel continues as usual. This time of year however, is the bane for the business traveler with longer lines to check in at the airport, huge queues to get through airline security and capricious weather forecasts.  Not only is traffic in the airport heavier and especially as we approach Christmas, but with fuel prices rising the airline fuel surcharge is adding to the cost of tickets to every location.

Consider one business traveler I know who is going to Manchester, England for a two day training class.  The fare was $1600 plus a $300 fuel surcharge and this was for regular coach class. It was 250,000 frequent flyer miles to upgrade to business class.

December is looking like a super month to try out conference calling due to the chaos at the airports and escalating travel charges. Additionally employees want to stay close to home during the December holiday period. Many families and friends have get togethers, church events, parties, and celebrations nearly every weekend before Christmas. And of course there's the time needed for shopping for gifts!

Give your employees the gift that they will love most this December - staying home with their families by using conference calling!

Use a Teleconference to Get the Word Out

A teleconference is a great way for associations and nonprofits to get the word out to members across the country.

Think of topics that could merit a teleconference rather than a letter or e-mail. What do you get the most mail about? What do your members keep asking about? Are you launching a new initiative? Find something that will pique their interest and set up a teleconference on that subject.

There comes a time when you have to go beyond FAQs. A teleconference will allow membership in various places to connect with someone at headquarters. You cannot underestimate the value of such an interaction. You get to speak on something that they need to know and you don’t have to hope that every read the memo. Fielding questions from members lets you know what is on their minds and this could yield topics for future teleconferences.

Quick Software Tricks that Help You Create Brochures, Business Cards and Even Barcodes.

Chances are you haven't explored the full breadth of your software capabilities. Microsoft Word and desktop publishing software like Publisher, InDesign, and Pagemaker all have built-in templates for everything from business cards to brochures. PowerPoint, a great tool for presentations and teleconferences, also has stored templates, and allows you to import design elements and backgrounds.

Microsoft provides free, fun downloadable templates for parties, dinners, and holiday themes at office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/default.aspx

Here is a Microsoft link for a business plan template:
www.microsoft.com/mac/resources/templates.aspx?pid=templates

Here is a Microsoft link for great resumes:
office.microsoft.com/en-ca/templates/default.aspx

Another resource you can use is on Office Depot's online Business Center.
http://www.officedepot.com/promo.do?file=/guides/papertemplates/papertemplates_od.jsp

There you will even find templates for balloons, bumper stickers, index dividers, media, post cards, tent cards, binders, greeting cards, tickets, and tri-fold brochures. These are a great place to start, allowing you to customize the design with your stored logo.

Avery labels (www.avery.com) also provides printable templates and downloadable easy-to-use Design Pro software. You can access all sorts of clipart images. There is also a tool for curved text. There is easy photo editing software. And something that you rarely find without special software, the ability to serial numbering and create bar coding. There is also a feature that makes mail merge easy.

There is no time like the present to get started with these projects. Search online for templates before you begin. It will help guide you, ensure there are no key omissions, save you time, and ensure a professional looking piece.

Sam Houston

World's tallest statue of an American hero -- Sam Houston

The 67-ft. tall (plus 10-ft. base) statue is named "A Tribute to Courage" and is located on I-45 just south of Huntsville, TX

Conference Calling Fights Rising Hotel Costs

"… According to the Travel Industry Association, average domestic air fares actually dropped 1.3 percent in August compared with August 2006. But other factors, especially a 6.5% rise in average hotel rates, drove up overall travel costs by 2.4 percent for the month."
From the New York Times 10/2/07 "Conference Calling as Plan A, With Flying as a Backup"

Travel costs are rising and so are travel headaches. Not only do busy executives have to hassle with longer lines at airline checkins, long flight delays, and security check headaches, but add a 6.5% increase in the average cost of a hotel room. There just isn’t a better time for executives to be looking for a cost efficient alternative to travel for some business needs.

Conference Calling is just one of the solutions that top executives routinely implement as a cost saving measure to improve the bottom-line. With travel expenses up nearly 2.4% for September alone, the squeeze to find replacements to business travel is top priority for concerned business owners.

It used to be that the technology that drove conference Calling and Web conferencing was expensive, hard to use, and spotty in stability, but with new advances and new technology this has certainly changed. Conference Calling is a truly viable consideration in light of the overall increases in the cost of business travel.

Use Video Conferencing to Build Consensus

Have you ever been away at a conference and heard a really dynamic speaker? Or have you had the opportunity to consult with someone on a business trip who really changed the way you saw your organization?

When you returned to the office you were probably enthused and excited about what you learned and did your best to pass it on to your colleagues. It is likely that some of them got it and some of them wanted to get it, but couldn't quite understand your excitement.
You may have walked away from a speech or workshop with a great understanding of the speaker's core content, but you may not be the best person to convey that message.

This is where teleconferencing comes into the picture. By using video conferencing technology, you can see to it that the message gets through loud and clear.

No more do you have to say:

"I really wish you could have been there."
"I tried to take really good notes."
"I tape recorded some of the sessions so you could listen to them."

With video conferencing you can have that great speaker interact with your entire department. That way, even staff that does not usually get to travel can still be informed. Your vision will be clearer once everyone has had the opportunity to benefit from meeting with the speaker as you did. It is easier to implement new ideas when everyone is on the same page.

AccuConference | Kaitlyn Interns At AccuConference: Week 2

Kaitlyn Interns At AccuConference: Week 2

Week Two of our blog series from another one of our interns.

Post Written by: Kaitlyn

It is my fourth week at AccuConference. I am slowly adjusting to the whole 9-5 grown-up schedule. It hasn’t been bad; I’m just not a morning person. Other than that everything is great. One aspect of the office that I definitely have begun taking advantage of is the shelves and shelves of snacks in the break room. They don’t have some dinky vending machine where I have to pay 75¢ for a tiny bag of chips. It is literally three tall shelves, as well as the refrigerator, completely stocked with granola bars, chips, candy, popcorn, mac’n’cheese, water, cokes, energy drinks…and it’s all free. These people know how to keep their workers happy.

Aside from constantly stuffing my face, I’ve learned a number of things during my few weeks here. In terms of myself, I have learned that I am better at business writing than I thought I would be. I think it still surprises me when I email one of my writings to Byrd and he tells me he likes it. I just never imagined myself being decent at anything like that and it turns out I have a bit of a knack for it. I have learned a multitude about search engine optimization, linking, and keyword search. I have also learned the importance of continuous discovery. As soon as Laura and I got here, Byrd had us log in to Google Reader and subscribe to a number of blogs belonging to marketing specialists with innovative ideas. These people talk about new marketing strategies and tools, link building, SEO, important communication news and announcements, and everything in between. Books are recommended to us many times a week, and we watch videos of popular speakers who make presentations on new ways to look at things. I have learned that no matter how old a company may be, there is always room for improvement and we should always be open to learning how to change things up.

On new office developments, Laura and I got our own desks last week. I have a sweet corner desk facing two windows. Being the first set of interns, there wasn’t an established spot for us to sit, so we had been working in the conference room. Everyone was glad to do some rearranging and get some desks set up for us. My thought was, “We’re the interns, shouldn’t we be the ones doing the grunt work?” But everyone had stopped what they were doing and jumped up to move furniture around. This evidence of everyone’s great desire to help each other out becomes more obvious to me each day that I’m here.

In the meantime, I am kept busy typing out content for the website, writing articles, and composing marketing messages to be viewed by customers. The best part is that the things I write are actually being used for the business. It’s exciting to see my work portfolio growing and to know that I already have so much to show potential employers when I begin job-hunting for my future career.

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