AT&T Data Changes

AT&T is trying to fix the network problems. By trying, I mean, changing everything so you'll use less on your data plans. Anytime you offer something "unlimited" users are going to test the limits and it's exactly what happened with the iPhone 3G.

AT&T announced yesterday that they will be rolling out new data packages, right in time for the OS4 launch. These new data plans are DataPlus ($15.00/month for 200MB) and DataPro ($25.00/month for 2GB).

I figured up the usage on my iPhone plan and I realize that it might actually benefit me to decrease down to the DataPro plan. I don't know if I've ever used 2 or more GB a month, so I wouldn't mind saving a couple of bucks a month on my cell phone bill. If I do go over my plan, then it's only an additional $10.00 for each GB over. The likelihood of extreme usage is low in my case, so it's something to consider.

These data plans are not meant to affect what I would consider to be a regular user - in fact, according to USA Today, only 3% of smart phone user's account for 40% of the data usage. The data plan package change is not directed to users like me, but instead to these 3%. These are the users who cause the network outages, and AT&T must get control of them.

If you have a massive amount of data use each month and you know that it’s going to affect your bill and make it higher, you might want to call AT&T now and get everything squared away. My unlimited plan will be grandfathered in but it might be worth it for me, in price, to go ahead and change. We all were screaming for AT&T to do something, now that they have, how do you feel about it?

Note: I spoke with an AT&T rep that let me know that if I decide to change my voice plan down the road, it will not force me to change my data package to one of the DataPlus/DataPro plans, just in case you were wondering if that would make a difference.

Really Anywhere, Anytime, Any Place.

While everyone might now be over excited about the appearance of two-way video calling on cell phones, I am. Since I work in an industry where we talk about how certain products and services allow you to take your office and meetings everywhere, being able to actually do that is a very cool change. Since Wi-Fi is everywhere you can take your laptop out and host or attend a conference without having to worry about being in the office.

Right now, if you’re stuck in traffic or on a train it’s not always an easy move to whip out your laptop and connect to a meeting. In the next year, we are going to be able to whip out our phones and see the person we’re talking to. Here are some of the companies that are making this happen.

Apple:  While official confirmation hasn’t come out yet, it’s a pretty good guess that the new iPhone 4G will support (at least) two way video conferencing, among many other things. More than likely, it will (with no big surprise here) support iChat or some other form of Apple based product, but I suspect with time, video conferencing providers and services will find a way to make their products compatible with that kind of video availability.

Evo 4G: A strong response to the iPhone, it’s got a similar layout and will provide a means for video chatting. The initial concerns to the Evo video chat was that there would be a charge for the service, but it seems like now, it will not require an additional fee to access, only an additional fee to access premium services (whatever those will be).

I guess the basic question comes down to if you see yourself using this kind of service, or if you will just try it out because you’re in the market for a new phone.  Are you more excited about Apple or Sprint being able to offer this kind of service and will it make your life easier, or harder?

It’s (probably) Going to Cost You

One of the things we let our customers know about is the concerns that they should have when using VoIP (voice over the internet protocol) with our conference call system. We have nothing against VoIP, in fact, its technology and we embrace it around here, but in my experience, it can be troublesome for sound quality and connection reliability. We have so many questions about using VoIP with our system we wrote a useful guide about VoIP.

The one thing we cannot advise clients about is the security of VoIP. Unfortunately, for us, there are too many carriers out there for us to do a comprehensive review; however, I did come across this from VOIPSA, a nonprofit organization who want to spread the use of VoIP, while identifying the risks – and what is being done to prevent security breaches. 

VoIP is, in essence, low cost phone service that travels through the internet lines to reach the destination number. The Insurance Report released from VOIPSA makes one thing very, very clear – “all internet servers are susceptible to hacking”. Much like a Trojan attack on your computer, VoIP can be left open for cyber-attacking: theft, hijacking, rerouting calls, eavesdropping, you name it. If you’re calling “overreaction”, I want to think for a few minutes to the kind of information you give out over a VoIP phone, and now think about what could happen if someone with malicious intent was listening. Javelin Strategy and Research reported that by 2009, 1 in 10 US consumers had fallen victim to identify theft, costing an average of $500/person.
I think its cause for concern; you wouldn’t buy anything online from something that wasn’t PayPal, VeriSign, etc., secured would you? So why are we choosing to make phone calls on environments that are not secured? If you’re going to use VoIP be sure that you ask whoever is carrying your call some important questions:

Is security guaranteed?
If there is a breach, what is the carrier’s liability for any subsequent fraud/loss funds/etc.?
Do they have any suggestions to help secure your phone lines?

The service might be cheap, but you get what you pay for right? The first step to improving the security of VoIP is to classify it as “telecommunications” as defined by the FCC – this will force regulations and requirements. Until then, you might as well be reading your credit card off through a megaphone in the middle of Times Square.

What do you think – are you scared? Or is everyone just overacting?

Tech Wars Google/Apple VS Yahoo/ Nokia

Let’s get ready to rumble. Today, in a move that reminded me of doing dishes for a month if my brother helped me take down the evil Empire of Dad in a game of Risk, Nokia and Yahoo announced an alliance that they hope will change the way the user experiences their networks. The long and short of it is that Nokia will power Yahoo!’s map services and Yahoo! will help Nokia power their Mail and Chat services. Carol Bartz, chief executive of Yahoo! says this deal could be a “winning combination” but I think she might be about 10 years too late.

Without coming out and saying it, the merger hopes to offer some competition to Google and Apple both of which are dominating the web search and mobile phone markets. Sure, it’s a good idea to throw your hat in the ring, but if you’re throwing down the floppy straw while the people are fighting in trendy fedoras, you might rethink your steps. Let’s run down some of the pros and cons of this alliance:

Pro: Nokia broke the mold on the smart phone in 1996 – so you have to believe that if they can get a piece of the pie, they’ll make it the best darn piece of pie ever tasted. Nokia remains the largest mobile phone maker in the world with Apple at #3, behind Samsung.

Con: You can have my iPhone back when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers – even with the unreliable network. Apple provided me something that was easy to use and did everything (and more) I could imagine my phone doing. Why would I change?

Pro: A lot of people never made a transition fully to GMail. I have GMail, but I prefer using my Yahoo! address. Why? I’ve had my Yahoo! account forever and the hassle of telling everyone “Hey I’m at this email account now” was just annoying. So I stuck with Yahoo! Mail – I’m sure a lot of people have – I’d be tempted to see a phone that made my personal email easier to manage.

Con: Yahoo! and Nokia are so far behind the game, there’s a chance that they will never catch up. Nokia didn’t release a phone for 2 years – the 1680 classic in 2008 and didn’t release the 1800 until 2010. Anyone can tell you that disappearing for two years will not make you an industry leader.

I think that while as exciting as Yahoo! and Nokia are, and despite my “root for the underdog” nature, Apple and Google are too far ahead of Yahoo! and Nokia in “techie popularity”. Is Yahoo! being pulled into the middle of a nastier battle? Maybe Yahoo! and Nokia will get lucky and Apple and Google will tear each other to shreds. Plus, if memory serves, my brother always took advantage of me when we made deals to take down our dad, so it usually backfired in his face when I refused to do the dishes. What do you think? Does the alliance of Yahoo! and Nokia stand a chance?

Market Like A Gleek

I was watching Glee the other night (love it) and I started to think about why I am into this show. If you really step outside and look at the show, it isn’t that great. I started asking some of my friends who also enjoy the show, asking them why they tune in every week to watch an hour long program that has as much singing and dancing as a Broadway musical. After getting their responses, I have determined that Glee is a marketing machine. What have the writers and producer of this show done that we can apply to our everyday business?

1.) They know who they are selling to.
My husband does not like Glee and I love it. The writers and producers of Glees know that when it comes to my living room I’m the one who’s watching, not him. So they market the show to me. The songs that they chose are songs that their demographic will navigate towards, like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”.
•  How can you learn?  When you’re selling, know who you’re selling too – it’s the most important part of sales and marketing that can be grasped. How do you know how to define your techniques if you don’t know who your customer is?
2.) Guest stars and themed nights.
This week’s episode featured Neil Patrick Harris where he was one half of a duet of “Dream On” by Aerosmith. Glee also centers their episodes on artists, hosting Madonna night a few weeks ago, and bringing Lady GaGa to the show choir world for the season finale next week.
How can you learn? Never underestimate the power of a guest speaker or inviting someone to keynote your event.  They always bring something special to an event and the right speaker will make your event something that attendees will be excited about.
3.) I was one of these kids. While I have never known the horrific feeling of a frozen beverage in my face, I was a member of the choir at my school. When I watch Glee, I can relate to these kids, I know what it’s like to not fit in among the jocks and cheerleaders. I laugh because if I had known then what I know now it would have been different.
  How can you learn? It’s a matter of being able to relate to our audience. A way that we can put our hand on someone’s shoulder and say “Hey, its okay, I’ve been there.” As a speaker, you should give great tips to your audience and tell them how you were in their position not too long ago. The more an audience relates to you, the more they will come back.
While I’m personally supporting the speaker who grabs a microphone and starts singing in the middle of a presentation a’la Glee, that’s not always a plan for your conferences. Define who you need to sell to and how you can relate to them, and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Are you already applying these tactics? Have they worked for you?

How to Get and Use Feedback

Your conference call has been planned, executed, and now you’re sitting back, enjoying the endorphins that are flowing through your system after a successful presentation. It was successful, right? You think it was because you managed not to forget what you were talking about or get derailed, but did you remember to ask what participants thought? Here are five easy steps for asking for feedback and what to do once you get it.

1.) Ask for feedback.  If you’re not providing the channels for your attendees to give you feed back, you’re not going to get any. Make it easier on them by polling them throughout the web conference, providing an email to send feedback to, or encourage them to use social media by liking your company page on Facebook or a hashtag on Twitter.
2.) Respond to the feedback. Nothing sucks worse than feeling like you’re not heard. When you get feedback from someone, respond to them, thank them, or ask for more information. The more you know about how they developed an opinion, and compare it to your other feedback, the better you’re going to know what works and what doesn’t.
3.) Implement the suggestions. This is important especially when you have a repeat conference with repeat clients. What is the point of asking for feedback if you’re not going to make changes based on what your clients feel? Meet with the other conference organizers and see what the participants said and how you can make the changes – if you can at all. There will be some changes you can’t make, but you should evaluate all the suggestions.
4.) Invite the clients who gave you feedback to another conference. Once you’ve evaluated the changes you can make and implemented them, invite the people who had feedback to a session for free. Let them see how you took the suggestions they made and implemented it into further conferences.
5.) Follow up with the participants. Once the conference has ended, don’t be shy to send them an email and ask them how you did. If they have more suggestions, they’ll let you know. 

The most important thing to remember is that you can ask for feedback all day long, but unless you do something about what you’re given, it’s empty question. What’s your preferred way to ask for feedback and how are you responding?

Meet Maranda

Amber’s drawing for today is a characture of me. I think it’s amazing and is going to end up being my new profile picture on some stuff. Here’s a little bit of info on why I look the way I look.

I am an amateur chef. I love to cook and create recipes. It makes me happy to spend an hour in the kitchen and come out on the other side with something amazing. I have a pencil and a pad because I love to write, whether it’s for work or for something more personal. I always have my iPod in and my music is up loud. Once, I ran out of the house to work with a brown shoe and a black shoe on and everyone had a good laugh about it all day.

So that’s me in a quirky nutshell. What are your quirks?


Vacationers Guide to Conference Planning

When heading out the door for vacations, you have a very specific plan in mind when it comes to how to approach the trip. Where are we going? What are we doing when we get there? My mother planned every aspect of our road trips down to a “T” and I learned the guide to a great road trip. Most of us have a plan for things that are fun and if we could just apply that same dedication to our business, we might find that much of our daily stress will be gone.

Here's how my mama’s vacation planning guide can help you plan your next conference call:

1. Make a list to keep from forgetting anything. If you are an organization nerd like me, then you know that a packing list is one of the most important things you have for your trip, especially when traveling with kids. It serves as a “to-do” list for your upcoming trip. You should have the same approach to planning your conference. Can your provider handle the capacity needed? Do you need to schedule the call with them? Making a to-do list leading up to your conference will ensure that things work smoothly. We have a number of free eBooks available that can help you plan your conference and how to leverage conference calls to your advantage.

2. Get your business done before you lock the door. When we got buckled in, my brother and I both knew that we were not going to get to make a stop for at least two hours. So before we left the house, we were sure to have our bellies full and have used the restroom. Before a conference call, you should make sure that you’ve done these as well. When you’re body is happy, you’ll be able to pay attention and no one will be able to hear your stomach growling over the speaker phone.

3. Have a map – not just a GPS. GPS is a great tool until you’ve ventured off the beaten path enough where you don’t have the right map for your location. You know you’re on a road, but GPS doesn’t think that road exists. One second you know just where you are and then next, you’re completely lost. This is why you should always travel with an atlas. When you’re hosting a web conference, you should provide your participants with the hard copies for the presentation as well. If someone doesn’t have computer access or (horror of horrors) your power goes out or your internet dies in the middle of the presentation, you can keep right on going.

4. Keep the kiddos entertained. The greatest invention ever for a road trip family? The back seat DVD player. I remember traveling without those and peppering my parents with an endless stream of are we there yet? The last thing you want as a presenter is for participants to be thinking are you done yet? Be sure that while covering the topics and being knowledgeable, you are also entertaining. Remember that you have two minutes to get the audience’s attention at the beginning and after that, you might never get them to pay attention.

5. Be sure to make stops along the way. Growing up, we were adept at taking really long road trips and my parents always made sure to plan about an hour long stop somewhere, so my brother and I could get out of the car and run around. While we were great travelers, we were also kids, and we still needed to stretch our legs and play. While your participants are still business people, they are also human and will want to get up and stretch their legs. Pad conferences that will last longer than an hour with a short break in the middle.

By applying the same rules to setting up a conference call that you would to hitting the road with the kiddos in tow, you can make things a little easier. Remember that, unfortunately, most people don’t look forward to conferences, much like small children who dread the backseat of the car. All they need is a little bit of entertainment and they will stay nice and happy. That’s my plan, what’s yours?

Five Ways Educators Can Use Conference Calls

In sixth grade, I remember our teacher telling my class about the importance of working in a team. It was the new thing when I was in elementary school – breaking into groups and doing projects together. We had to assign managers, reporters, and the like in order to get the best grade. She always told us that it would be the most important lesson we would learn, something we would appreciate when we got out of college and into work.

  1. Invite a Professor. Even in elementary school, kids are developing their likes and tastes. When I was in fifth grade, I realized I hated math and I liked learning about history. Elementary school was when I decided that I was going to go to college – without fail. It would have been one of the coolest things in the world to get to speak to someone who taught college so we could ask questions to someone who could be one of our teachers in the future.
  2. Authors.  When I was in elementary school, it was so different to have a student that likes to write. I was that kid who took writing assignments so seriously, turning in three pages when only a paragraph was required. I wanted to be a writer from a very young age and to have had the opportunity to speak to someone that did that for a living probably would have been the highlight of my life. (Up to that point, at least)
  3. Phone Pals. Remember having a pen pal? I wrote to a girl in Paris, and she never wrote me back. The point of having a pen pal is to learn about different cultures and when pen pals don’t write back there’s only discouragement. If a kid doesn’t get a response, they won’t be interested in the assignment. Instead of writing letters or emails, set up conferences with other teachers from around the world.  You don’t have to talk to people outside of the United States in order to be exposed to different cultures, and schools are full of kids who will already have different life experiences.
  4. Other Teachers. Set up a conference call with other teachers from your school or branch out to other states and countries to share lesson plans and things that have been happening in your class. If you had a student who had a great idea, you can share it with other teachers. Just because you’re not in college anymore, doesn’t mean you’re not learning something every day.
  5. Summer Reading Clubs. Okay, obviously I was that kid in elementary school. The one who was sneaking her book out of her desk and reading it intently when the teacher wasn’t watching (and sometimes when she was). It would have been fun though, since I wasn’t the only one who was a super book geek, to have been invited to a conference call once a week with other students who were reading, and our teacher advisor. You could even get with other teachers in you district, put together the same reading list and start the discussion.

Most conferencing services have some kind of discount for educational institutions (shameless plug: Get Connected) so if you’re interested in trying to incorporate something like this into your class room, be sure to give your provider a call and see what they can do for you. Are you an educator currently using conference calls? Let me know how you are using your conferences to make for a better classroom experience.

Mommie Dearest

I love Mother's Day. I'm not a mother myself (someday) but I am lucky to have a wonderful relationship with mine. 

The story is that when I was five, my mother went to work 3rd shift in the cotton mill to help us make ends meet. She then spent the next ten years working 12 hour shifts and getting to spend time with my brother and I twice a month.  On the Saturdays she was off, my dad would take my brother out of the house, and my mom and I would watch Turner Classic Movies. For some reason, it was like on Saturday afternoon the only movie played was Mommie Dearest, starring the iconic Faye Dunaway. My mother has always been a bit of a neat freak, so after seeing the "no wire hangers" scene a couple of times (a rule my mother actually implemented in our home, though with not nearly as severe consequences) we started to refer to each other as Mommie Dearest and Maranda Darling.

In fact, I just sent her flowers and the card says I love you, Mommie Dearest. The florist was slightly freaked out.

It's our thing though and it's something that I will always remember my mom for and despite the weirdness of the memory, it's the fact that I got to hang with her and watch movies that matters most.

On Sunday, I'm going to take her out to dinner and clean her house for her.

What's your favorite memory with your mom and what are your plans this Mother's Day?

And of course, happy Mother's Day to all those out there -- especially you, Mommie Dearest.


AccuConference | Video Cube

Video Cube

One of the worst parts of my little part of the office is the fact that I stare at a wall every day. I've done what I can to make it a more cheerful place, like hanging a new picture of some where I want to go each week. I'm still surrounded by my co-workers and at anytime I can pop my head out for a quick bit of conversation. Even if I don't feel like talking, I can at least stand up, stretch my legs out, an d look at something else besides whatever skyline I've chosen for the wall that week.

Telecommuters don't have it as easy, their monotony often is in the same place as their home is, and while it can be a great thing to spend more with families, I can't help but think that sometimes, telecommuters have to miss the camaraderie of the office lifestyle.  It seems like working in the office to working from home would change the location, but not the problem: which is the same thing every day.

I read a really cool post by Scott Hansleman that discussed an experiment he had undertaken to create a so-called virtual cubicle. It's an interesting study in how comfortable it can feel to have someone close to you when you're working. Sure, your kids are great, and not having to spend money on gas can feel like a blessing, but sometimes you have to be craving that grown up interaction and the office experience.

Here's what you do.  Grab a partner, a web cam, and your favorite conference service and boom—instant office neighbor. Set up the camera to make it feel like someone is right over the top of the cubicle wall, Scott suggests being careful to make sure that you're not feeling like your space is being invaded. You wouldn't want to have that camera right in your face all day long and since you're trying to create the “office” atmosphere, you should try to make it as close to that kind of set up as possible.

What do you think telecommuters? Do you miss the feeling off the office surrounding you or do you find yourself working better where you have the freedom to hit up the Wii with the little ones when you step away for lunch?  Is this something you would consider giving a try?

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