The Leader of a Brainstorm

A good brainstorming session has ideas flying all over the place.  Sometimes it's tough to keep up while writing gems down.  Everyone is contributing, jumping in as soon as someone else finishes, and talking as fast as possible.  Unfortunately, most sessions aren't like this.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a brainstorm session is only as good as its leader.  To help us make sure we're good leaders, the Heart of Innovation blog over at IdeaChampions lists ten traits of a good brainstorm leader.  Here are my four favorites:

Number one on their list is to be a brainstorm leader, you must be a conductor.  A lot of times there are multiple personalities and multiple disciplines in the room and you have to be able to manage the ebb and flow between them.  Not to mention keeping the whole idea-train on track.

A big part of a good brainstorm is wading through the okay ideas to get to the gems.  And even then, a leader needs to be a good gem cutter.  Even the best ideas don't emerge fully polished and ready to go.  No, they must be cut and shaped to fit exactly what is needed and what the goals are.

With all the chaos of a brainstorm, there still must be order.  It's your job as officer of the law – or as I call it: sergeant-at-arms - to keep the peace.  This could be as easy as being a traffic cop for whose turn it is to speak, or even stepping in to halt an argument of opposing ideas.

Number four is important - even if it's last on the Idea Champions list.  You have to be a stand-up comic of sorts when leading a brainstorm.  When people share their ideas, even ones they just came up with, they invest parts of themselves.  Egos can be bruised, feelings hurt, and tempers flared.  But that's where humor comes in.  You can defuse tense situations and keep things light - and moving - with a little humor here and there.

Those are my four favorites of Idea Champion's list of ten.  Head over there and check out their list then come back here and leave a comment with your favorites and any other roles you know of necessary to lead a good brainstorming session.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Just One

I came across a short post on the SAMBA blog.  It's so short I'll put it here in full:

What if you only had one customer?
How closely would you listen to them?
How fast would you respond to them?
Would they be satisfied?  Happy?  Thrilled?
How special would they feel?
Would they recommend you?

My first reaction was this one customer would be the most important person in my world.  They would have to be – which I think is SAMBA's point.  So what about all of your customers… if you asked these questions about them individually, what would the answers be like?

In most cases, it's probably impossible to engineer your business to run and respond as if each customer was your only customer.  However, what can you do to make each customer feel like they are the only one?

I don't know about you, but I enjoy reading stories about companies doing innovative and creative things to impress or endear their customers.  Southwest Airlines has always done some crazy - and great - things for their customers.)  So what are your stories?  How do you "go above and beyond"?  Put them in the comments section.
Can't wait to read 'em!

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

How to Reduce Background Noise While On a Conference Call

I've been on many conference calls with technical difficulties. Either the PowerPoint presentation wouldn't load on the web conference, or the teleconference organizer put all of us on mute and then asked for questions (and couldn't figure out how to get everyone off of mute), or someone tried to stand outside by a freeway and listen to the call on their cell phone making the call practically inaudible. You know how it goes. We've all been there.

A few ways to reduce noise if you're facilitating or listening in on a conference call and the call will not be muted.

1. Call from a quiet location. Please don't try and join a teleconference from a room or place where there are televisions on, cars driving by, copiers running, folks typing on keyboards or talking on the phone, or in a public place with a lot of activity. This can be difficult if you work in a cubicle, so try to think about the best way to take part in a teleconference if that's your locale.

2. Avoid cell phones and speakerphones. If you have no choice, utilize the mute button. Unless you expect to talk through most of the meeting, it will be easier for other participants to hear if you take the responsibility of muting and unmuting yourself throughout the call. Usually this is not a complicated task, just a simple button on and off.

3. Use quality headsets to avoid a "tinny" sound. Avoid low-quality cordless phones as they sometimes create a buzzing background. Most offices provide quality headsets, but if you're attempting to call into a teleconference from your home or from another location, take care to find the best quality phone you can find.

4. Don't use the hold button if your phone system has built in background music or announcements. Just use the mute button instead. That way, you can hear what's going on, but no one can hear you. If you have to take another call, just leave the teleconference to do so. And of course, if you don't have to take the call right at that moment, just let it go to voicemail.

5. Avoid multitasking, such as paper rustling or answering emails, which are picked up by phone. It's hard to resist when the call seems to go on and on and you have many pressing things to finish before lunch. Once again, the mute button is our friend (I use it a lot when I answer email, eat food, or file papers while on certain teleconferences.)

Because audio quality is the most important aspect of most teleconferences, web conferences, and videoconferences, remember your fellow conference attendees the next time you all are on the phone line together.

Here's Your Change

Bill Sifflard has made a great point about customer relations… three of them in fact.  He points out that employees - no matter what size the company - have three places while dealing with customers where they can  increase goodwill, loyalty, and even sales.  Those points are the greeting, the follow-up, and the close.  

Using Sifflard's examples, they are "Next," "Anything else," and "Here's your change."

How often have you heard any or all of those phrases?  You probably don't even notice them anymore, except perhaps when they aren't used.  For example, how do you feel when a cashier says something different, like, "Hey, did you find everything you wanted?!"  Much better - I would think - than "Next."

How do you think sales would go in a store that got its employees to up-sell, or suggest compatible products with every item a customer wanted to buy?  How often do you think customers would return to a store that went out of its way to make them feel welcome when they arrived, and appreciated when they left?

Get some friends to walk into your store anonymously to find out what kind of experience your customers have.  Don't be too hard on your employees if they aren't making the most of the customer relationship opportunities.  Instead, bring it to their attention and talk about it.  Let them know why it's important and how sales are affected.  Then brainstorm together on possible things they can say.

Give them a chance to see the benefits of simple phrase and attitude changes.  They, and your customers, should be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

How To Get In Touch With Us

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We are happy to chat with you using Twitter. Find us at http://www.twitter.com/accuconference.

You can call us toll-free anytime with questions.
We know choosing a conferencing service seem complicated, especially if you're not sure how you will be utilizing it down the road. For now, we'll be happy to put together a custom solution for your next teleconference and to get you our best prices on upcoming conferences that you're planning. We're always available, whenever you need us. Check out our contact information here.

Our web site and blog are full of resources and information to help you host and launch a successful teleconference, either as a one-time deal or as an ongoing event.
We've set up our web site and blog to provide you with information that will help you run a successful teleconference. We seek to offer the best business communications information that we can find. We also are always developing new products and services to complement our already strong line-up of teleconference offerings, so even if you don't see what you're looking for, please just call or email us. We specialize in teleconferencing. We also don't scare easily.

We have several white papers and ebooks to help you see the Accuconference difference and to learn more about our services.
We've put together some white papers and ebooks to help answer any additional questions you may have about our approach and reliability. Feel free to download as many of these resources as you need. If you have any queries you'd like to direct to one of our customer service representatives, please feel free to give us a call or email.

Above all, we'd like to help you with any teleconferencing needs that you may have, without pressure, without intense sales tactics. Let us know how we can serve you.

Picking the Right Conference Call Service

As more and more companies choose to do business utilizing conference calling, the question is often asked of us: How do I know exactly what kind of conferencing tools I'll need?

We feel that when you choose a conference call service, you should keep in mind future conferencing needs, even if you're sure now you'll never need anything that fancy later on. We always encourage folks to keep their options open.

Accuconference offers a wide range of conferencing tools, some of them you definitely need now and some you don't. However, adding the ability to share applications later is always an option, so no worries.

I just want to host a straightforward conference call.

A simple conference call among a smaller group (less than fifty) will require a conference line, invitations, and a date that works for everyone taking part in the meeting. Check it out.

What if I want to add a PowerPoint presentation?

Web conferencing allows you to share, review and revise documents or web pages, demo products or present a proposal—all in real-time, sharing the same screen space. Look here.

How about video? I really think it's important that people can see me as I speak.

Video conferencing will never replace the in-person meeting, but it will support your business meetings by providing you with unique ways to interact. The online collaborative tools can enhance a meeting in ways that can't be done in person. Find out more here.

Plus, Accuconference offers recording playback at your convenience, secure conference controls right from your computer desktop, and toll-free customer support for any questions you may have. A full list of our customer benefits is here.

Often people aren't sure about teleconferencing because they're nervous about learning how teleconferences work, not sure if everything will run smoothly at the right moment, and general nervousness about having to speak with a group via the telephone.

We can't help you with your nerves (talking on the phone in a teleconference will get easier over time, we promise), but we can promise a stress-free, easy to use experience when you choose our teleconferencing system. Our rates are reasonable and well-priced when compared with other conferencing services, and we offer outstanding customer service. And I mean outstanding. Our customer service specialists will and often do bend over backward to help our clients with any issue.

Still not sure about conferencing even after that amazing list of benefits?

If you have any questions or want more information on how Accuconference can help you with your teleconferencing needs, please let us know.

Business Communications Across Generations

For employees who are Gen Y and Gen X, instant messaging (IM) is a no-brainer. They come into work and log in, using IM to contact fellow employees and others throughout the workday. No problem, right?

For the older generation of Baby Boomers, IM is a problem. It's not how they want to communicate with their colleagues or their peers. They prefer email, the phone, and face-to-face communication. So they choose not to log in to IM first thing on a workday morning.

It may not seem like a big deal, but for companies who rely on all employees to communicate effectively with each other, a little thing like not using the same tools can escalate into something more menacing. What kind of alternate communication channels should be encouraged? How does a company facilitate failing communication between two very different generations of workers?

1. Recognize the needs of each generation and keep everyone focused on the work to be done. Each generation has a way they prefer to work, as we've seen, Gen X and Y adore IM and social media, whereas Baby Boomers prefer more of a personal approach (phone, email, face-to-face), so can't the work get done by utilizing all of these communication channels? Have a face-to-face meeting at first, move to email and IM later, and then end the project with another face-to-face meeting is just one suggestion. Make it work!

2. Utilize each generation's disparate approach to problem solving so that everyone feels as if they play a valuable role. The face-to-face approach helps Baby Boomers feel that they are bringing their experience forward, whereas IM and social media helps Gen Y do research they need to find that same information. Both generations can provide the experience and research, it just takes a well-structured environment to bring it out.

3. Think through each generation's work concerns and figure out how to create forward motion together. While Baby Boomers want stability (and thus often attempt to control a project by their experience and "that's how we've always done it" approach), Gen Y wants to move forward with their careers by thinking outside the box. How a company melds those two concerns and moves forward is a matter of leadership. A manager who sees both sides, and welcomes all viewpoints and concerns will not bend to either side in finding a solution.

4. Above all, each generation wants respect in some way. The best way to give it to them, is to explain that everyone's approach requires some give and take. If Gen Y will let the Baby Boomers have their face-to-face meeting, perhaps the Baby Boomers can attempt to sign in to IM each morning and make their vast experience and expertise available to those who seek it.

All in all, the generation gap requires a strong management role that won't be influenced for or against any communication approach. That's the main challenge of business communications during this time.

Are You Too Negative?

As a boss, is it hard for you to hear other opinions? Is it too difficult for you to accept suggestions from other people, especially your employees? When a client suggests you make a change in your operations or policies, do you instantly discard the idea?

What follows are some tips for becoming a more positive, interactive communicator.

1. Stop yourself before you go rogue negative. An instant reaction just is not worth it. Think before you instantly discard anyone else's feedback or ideas. When you stop to consider and think about your reaction, people will appreciate you taking them seriously.

2. Realize that people do want you to succeed. If people are giving you suggestions for improvements for your company, better policies, or streamlining day-to-day processes, recognize that they have your best interest at heart. Sure, some folks can be snarky and demeaning, but for the most part if someone brings it up, they're trying to help you.

3. Be open to off-the-wall ideas. Some of the best ideas coming your way might appear to be lame and genuinely ill formed, but before you quickly and instantly reject them, consider how you might refashion some of these ideas into workable solutions. Be open to fresh, unconventional ideas always.

4. Don't forsake your gut. Don't take on suggestions willy-nilly without really understanding why and how they will be implemented. If you have a check about a certain idea, you are the boss. Your job is not only to act on good advice, but also to ignore and refuse to act on bad advice. Simply listening to a plethora of ideas does not mean you have to take action on every single one. Chances are you'll only actually entertain about 10% of the ideas you hear. That's a healthy percentage.

5. Confirm with trusted confidants. Your board of directors or trusted group of likeminded business owners can help you weed out the good from the bad. If it's a truly good idea, others will think so, and they will bring up every aspect they can in order to help you decide. A trusted group of advisors can see right through the scams of the amateur; they can also know when to take that amateur idea and make it go pro!

All in all, thinking about your response and allowing yourself to be open to communication tactics and ideas you might not have otherwise entertained may not be something you've ever considered before. Maybe now is a good time.

AccuConference | Parenting from Distance: Staying in Touch via Video Conferencing

Parenting from Distance: Staying in Touch via Video Conferencing

It is hard enough to be a good parent when you and your family live in the same house; but when you either have to be on the road a lot or live across the state, across the country, or around the world from your family or children it's even tougher. With the globalization of business and services, long-term, long-distance travel for some jobs is now a necessity. This has made it tough for some parents to stay as personally and emotionally in touch with their loved ones as they would like.

The mobility of the US workforce has also had a tremendous impact on grandparents, who now many times live far away from their grandchildren and who maybe get to see them once or at most twice a year, if that often.

To stay in touch with those you love, sometimes you have to get creative and one of the best ways to do that is to web conference with them. Seeing someone and how they react in a conversation and vice versa is a powerful tool for staying close and emotionally in touch. Seeing is also much more comforting and real for children than simple emails or letters and photographs.

Because video conferencing is so cheap and easy, compared to flying or driving long distances, you can also increase the amount of time you get to see your kids or grandkids, especially in those early years when they are growing up.

The cost of video conferencing and other modes of web-enabled video has dropped precipitously so this can be a viable option for those who want to stay in touch and maintain strong personal relationships with other people in their lives

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