Conference Calling: The Hardware Makes All the Difference – Part 1

Good conference call etiquette requires not only that, as a participant, you comport yourself in the discussion in a professional manner, but also that you show you're a pro by not being the cause of any unnecessary hardware disruptions. You can always control your own behavior, but what about that of the equipment you're using?

In terms of hardware, there are always going to be things that are out of your control. You may not always be able to be alone in a nice quiet office with the door closed, you might have to be on travel, your phone might be on the fritz, or you might be in a large group clustered around a speakerphone.

Whatever the case, with some thought and knowing what the most likely problems are, you can minimize a lot of the distractions on a conference call that come from what you're using, as opposed to what you're saying or how you're saying it. Below are two things to keep in mind for your next teleconference.

If at all possible use a telephone with a land line, not a cordless phone, cell phone, or computer telephony (i.e., a phone that used Voice Over IP). The reason for this is that a land-line telephone has the highest quality sound with the least amount of static, cutting in and out, latency, jitter, echo, or other issues that degrade voice quality and the ability of others on the call to understand you. You can't leave a good impression if your phone is the one causing a lot of technical problems for the group.

If you get a bad connection, tell the host you're going to hang up and call in again to see if you can get a better connection. Nine times out of ten, this corrects any problems. Nothing is more annoying or distracting than to be stuck in an hour long teleconference when one person's phone is generating a lot of static or when there is an echo every time you speak.

Group Communication Options: What's Out There and Why

Not so long ago, there was only US mail and the telephone for people who needed to stay in touch. But in the last 10 years, there has been an explosion in the numbers and types of communications tools that can be used to keep your team together and keep important stakeholders informed of project and/or company progress.

Many still revolve around the land-line telephone because it is such a universal installation. But as computers and wireless installations have become increasingly more prevalent, communications technology that uses these platforms have entered and revolutionized the field.

The ability of these more recent platforms to let people share graphics in real time and the ability, of some, to allow that all important "face-to-face" type of meeting is dramatically changing how some businesses communicate, boosting their productivity, and dramatically cutting costs.

Due to the newness of some technologies, there can be reliability and interface issues that still need improvement, but the rapid rate of technology advancement and provider innovation is quickly eliminating these issues.

Some of these technologies include: classical and suped-up conference calls and videoconferencing; podcasts; webinars; Instant Messaging, just to name a few.

Preferred Modes of Communication: Identifying the Right Media

Once you and your team have produced your list of people for your communication plan, gotten everyone's phone number and email, and listed their role, there is one more thing that needs to be done. Add each person's preferred mode of communication to the list. This is one of the most crucial, but commonly overlooked, elements of a good communication plan. Different people have different ways they like to communicate and the more you respect that, the better off you and your project are going to be.

Some people are at their computers all day and constantly check their email, others travel a lot and you can catch them only on their cell phone, others prefer office phone calls, and still others only respond if you talk with them face-to-face. Not using a person’s preferred mode of communication means you may not get the information or feedback you need when you need it. This can prevent you from being able to effectively make a required quick decision or stave off an impending crisis.
In today's workplace, adequate communication is difficult because many times not all the people in your communications loop work in the same building or city or state, and some don’t even work the same hours. Once you know how you need to communicate to the people identified on your communications plan, you then need to identify which of the many available communications tool are best suited for your team/company and how they work.

Strategic Communications: Tools – No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

If you have never seen or put together a communications plan before, the uncertainty of not knowing what it should contain, how it should look, and what other people might be expecting to see can be paralyzing. As a result, a lot people stop after the exercise of identifying who should be on the list and what those people need to know, never actually completing an actual full blown plan. Because communication is so important to business and/or project success, don’t let this happen to you!

For almost anything in business or government, and that goes for communication plans too, there are books, tools, examples, freeware, and professional software packages for just about anything you want to do. The Internet has all kinds of sample communication plans that come with extensive descriptions of what they need to contain and what they look like that you can copy and download for free.

To find one of these, just use any major Internet search engine and type in: "project management, communications plan" and a host of sites will appear. Many of these have forms you can copy or download and use right away. Even if you have never written or even seen a communications plan before, within minutes you can be filling out a professional looking and organized communications plan.

Strategic Communications: Who Needs To Know What When Part II

When you forget or omit an important communications link and have a breakdown in communication, problems occur; and sometimes they are so big they take an entire project down; and everyone loses.

So how can you stop this from happening? Well, nothing can ever be completely avoided, but you can minimize the possibility of a major communications breakdown by generating a communications plan spreadsheet that lists all of the tasks and associated deliverables and who is responsible for them.

Your spreadsheet should also include who is to receive whatever product that task produces, whether that be an invoice generated by your accounting department, a status report for your upper management or a regulatory agency, a software tool to automate a piece of equipment in your company’s chemical plant, or a highway overpass for your customer.

In addition, your document should indicate who needs to approve the deliverable and how frequently along the way that person needs to be kept informed on its progress. Such a matrix of tasks, people, and frequencies of communication helps keep you focused and keeps you from forgetting who has to know what when and prevents you from tiring out your key people by spamming them unnecessarily.

Strategic communication will be your key to success!

Strategic Communications: Who Needs to Know What When

For any project, the most important part and, indeed, the area almost always identified by project managers and management as needing improvement is communication.

Communication between team members, communication between the billing department and suppliers or subcontractors, communication between upper management and the project team, communication between management and outside stakeholders, communication between the construction bosses and inspectors, communications between your company and the surrounding community…..you name it.

Communication to all major stakeholders not only keeps people up to date on your project's or company's progress, but it also helps create that all important buy-in and ownership of project or company decisions.

Just remember however that, although communication is your key to success, no one likes to be spammed continuously with information they don't care about or need to know. Indiscriminant communication not only irritates those receiving it, but can also dilute your ability to get what you need from people when you need it, because they no longer read what you send them because so much of it has nothing to do with them. So, after you make that extensive, team-generated, communications list, sit down and look at it (with the team), think collectively about the risks of one person or another not knowing something important and the impact it could have on your project, and then prioritize the people on that list.

This will help you and your team to identify who has the capability and highest probability of wreaking the most havoc on your project if they are not adequately informed. Sometimes the results of this kind of analysis can be quite surprising and you find people you might not have thought would have such a huge impact as they do!

You will also find that some of the people on the list you thought might be important are less critical than you initially thought. Obviously, keeping the highest priority people informed of the project, its status, progress, and problems is going to be your project's or company's key to success.

Strategic Communications: The Key to Project and Business Success

How many times have you or your team been involved in a project, no matter what the size, and had someone come out of the blue or get some unexpected bad news at the last minute which puts your project, all your hard work, and careful planning in jeopardy?

Chances are you forgot to put a key person in the information loop. This person could be as big as the CEO of the company or as seemingly insignificant as the kid in the mail room.

Unwittingly leaving a key person in the dark is a classic and chronic problem faced by all managers and project teams. One way to overcome this problem is to leave nothing to chance and develop a communications plan……and put it in writing! But don't just do this in a vacuum because one person is never able to think of all the people that might need to be put in the loop.

A good communications plan is a team effort. Different people know different parts of a project or problem. It never fails that each person on the team will come up with different contacts that they know who have critical information that you will need. Sometimes these people can help you or can come out of left field and kill your efforts for one reason or another. It is important to keep these contacts in the communications loop and use their collective knowledge for your project's success.

Putting together the master list and prioritizing the people on it is the next step. We'll talk about that in our next blog post.

A Brief History of Telecommunications (Abridged)

We've come a long way from smoke signals and drums, the earliest forms of telecommunication. Today's telecommunication industry uses electromagnetic waves and electronic transmitters to connect people. Connections are still made by sight or hearing, but telephone, television, radio, computers and satellites now allow the message to travel around the world, even out into space, and to be received almost instantly.

Did the men who invented modern telecommunications -- Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), Guglielmo Marconi (radio), John Logie Baird (television) – realize how profoundly they would change the world? Today, the telecommunication industry is a significant factor in world economy, generating 3% of the gross world product. Figures for 2006 place industry revenue at $1.2 trillion and rising.

Highlights, interesting facts and a few near misses in telecommunications history:

  • 1837 Samuel Morse develops the electrical telegraph and signaling system. Embarrassingly, he couldn't get it to work during the unveiling demonstration!
  • 1849 Antonio Meucci invents the first device to electronically transmit the human voice (i.e., phone). It flopped because to hear, users had to put the receiver in their mouth.
  • 1866 First transatlantic telecommunication is made.
  • 1876 Alexander Bell and Elisha Gray independently invent the telephone. Although Gray filed his patent application first, bad legal advice and a clerical error led him to withdraw his application and the patent was awarded to Bell.
  • 1878 First commercial telephone service set up in New Haven, Connecticut (home of Yale University) and the following year in London.
  • 1901 Guglielmo Marconi positions himself to win the 1909 Nobel Prize in physics by inventing a working wireless radio that functions between Canada and England.
  • 1925 John Baird demonstrates the transmission of moving pictures at Selfridges, a London department store which conveniently sells couches.
  • 1929 The BBC makes the first experimental TV broadcast.
  • 1940 George Stibitz makes the first computer transmission using a mainframe system and remote terminals. Mammoth mainframes dominate the emerging industry through the next two decades.
  • 1960 Computer geeks start experimenting with packet switching, bypassing the mainframe to send large packets of data directly to different computers.
  • 1969 The first network – just 4 modes – is in operation.
  • 1970 Scientists at Corning Glass Works produce the first viable optical fiber, ushering in a new era in telecommunications and enabling the internet.
  • 1978 The first international packet switched network connects the U.S. and Europe.
  • 1989 While working for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau invent the web.
  • 1990 Fledgling micro-networks slowly merge to become the behemoth that today we call the “net.”

No longer an infant, telecommunications has hit its teen years and like a teenager is growing by leaps and bounds. A chronology of the discoveries and achievements of the past 15 years would fill pages. Today the path from discovery to implementation and production moves literally at the speed of light.

Telecommunications have enabled companies to build global empires, just look at Amazon and Wal-Mart, two outstanding examples. It is now possible to do face-to-face business with customers all over the world while sitting at your office desk. When you must travel, telecommunications allows you to stay connected to your home office and instantly resolve customer issues. With telecommunications, employees can remain an integral part of your business team while working from home when personal or family matters demand their attention.

It's been less than 100 years since Samuel Morse first pressed down on a telegraph key. It's only taken 15 years for the internet to change life as we know it. Can you imagine where we'll be 15 years from now? Buckle up! We're in for an amazing ride!

Management Mistakes You Don't Want to Make

You're climbing the corporate ladder. You've just landed your dream job or maybe you've been tagged for that management position you've been angling for. You're anxious to impress your boss with your leadership capabilities and earn your colleagues' respect. This is the opportunity that could send your career skyrocketing!

So what's the catch? Many new managers make the mistake of assuming that their previous work habits will continue to gain them success in their new position. It's a common mistake says Michael Watkins, a former Harvard Business School professor and author of The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders At All Levels. In fact, though managers come from different backgrounds and possess different characteristics, they often make the same common mistakes.

Top 10 Management Mistakes

  1. Rigid policies. While policies need to be followed, some flexibility must be afforded employees and customers, particularly in small companies. Before you act, weigh the importance of the policy against the good will of a loyal customer or employee.
  2. Lack of communication. Communication is the key to being a good manager. Employees need to know what is expected of them and when projects or tasks are due.
  3. Failing to listen. A good manager listens to what his employees have to say and hears the needs and concerns behind the words.
  4. My way or the highway. A good manager doesn't try to solve every problem or pretend he has every answer. He knows when to seek help and realizes that there's more than one way to accomplish a task.
  5. The half empty glass. Don't always focus on what went wrong. Recognizing achievements and employee accomplishments builds morale and creates a positive work environment.
  6. The buck stops here. As a manager, you can't delegate blame. If you're in charge, you're responsible for the actions of the employees you manage.
  7. Favoritism. Showing favoritism is a fast track to poor morale. You lose credibility and the respect of your team when you play favorites.
  8. Just do it. You can't expect your team to blindly plow ahead if they don't understand the project. Take time to explain the project and how it fits into the larger plan. A team that is invested in a project will work harder and produce better results.
  9. Too much technology. Don't hide behind emails. You must embrace and practice your people skills too.
  10. Never change. In the rapidly changing business environment, you must be open to change. There is a place for tried-and-true methods, but there must also be room for new ideas and practices. Be flexible.

Did You Know That Accu-Rate Communications is a GREEN Company?

We're big on saving you money with superb video, telephone, event and web conferencing services, but did you know we can also help you and your company to make a difference for the environment and to move in the GREEN direction too?

Accu-Rate Communications Inc., parent company of AccuConference, strives to be as paperless as possible. We're working hard to do our part to save a few trees by going digital with nearly all of our office documents. We can help you move in the GREEN direction too. With our services, we help you to cut travel costs that you would incur for sales calls across the country, training seminars for employees spread across multiple branches, and international brainstorming sessions. Using our online conferencing services for audio and video, you may never have to leave the office again. Just think of the travel budget savings as well as the smaller environmental impact your business will make.

If you're worried that being there versus being on a screen might not work for you, you may want to check with your clients after a test of our services. We make it very easy to try out our services for your next meeting. We've found that with video conferencing, clients get that "personal connection" in the same way as if you were in the room "face to face". Video conferencing is a great way to connect anywhere, anytime, with anyone.

So next time you think that you've got to fly off to London for a sales call, think GREEN and get AccuConference instead!

AccuConference | All posts by chilton-tippin

The Hook: 5 Ways to Quickly Get Your Audience’s Attention

Arguably the most important part of any presentation is the beginning. It sets the foundation for the rest of your talk. If you come across as a strong, entertaining speaker at the beginning of your presentation, people will be forgiving if your material gets a little more routine as the talk progresses. Most peoples’ judgment is reserved for those first few seconds of the talk. So if you want to get people listening you need to hook them fast.

Think about it. How many times have you heard a speech that begins with, “I’m here to talk with you today about….” Or “Thanks for coming out to listen to my talk about…” or some variation of these intros. While they do get straight to the point, they do absolutely nothing to grab your audience, to rivet them so they’ll listen, or in other words hook them. With that in mind, here are a few ways to get your audience’s attention right off the bat.

Quote, Anecdote, Rhetorical Question

These are some of the most common ways to hook your audience. You must be sure to use a quote, anecdote, or rhetorical question that segues nicely into your material. If, for example, you were talking about the current recession, you could give an anecdote about the Great Depression and use it to underlie the point of your message. Or you could ask the rhetorical question: Just how similar is our current economic crisis to that of the 1930s? These types of lead ins will get people wondering, and help them tune in to what it is you’re saying.

New Twist on the Familiar

Take a common story, quote, saying, or anecdote and change it. This will give your audience a new perspective on the familiar as well as grab their attention. If you handle the twist skillfully enough, you can actually make quite an impression. Let’s say you were giving a presentation on nutrition in America. You could say something like, “To eat, or not to eat. That is the question.” The bolder the twist, the better the reaction will be. However, you must make sure it makes sense and fits into your material. One of the best ways is to simply find popular aphorisms online and try switching the wording around.

Personal Story

This will help introduce you as a speaker and gives a personal take on the material. Part of what gives you credibility as a speaker is the authority you have to talk about a subject. A good way to do this, for example, could be to lead into your presentation with a personal story about how you got involved in the field, started your business, or became an expert on the subject. The key is to be either funny or endearing so people will trust you.

Audience Participation Exercise

This is useful as an icebreaker, but typically only works in small settings. The simplest example is to have everyone introduce themselves. However, you can get creative, depending on the setting. Often in classrooms teachers will have people work in pairs and find out 5 interesting facts.

The Screening Question

Also known as the “Show-of-hands Question,” this gets the audience to participate, engages them in the material, and gives you, the speaker, an idea of how much the audience already knows.

With all of these options and a dash of creativity, you should be able to think of a good way to grab your audience’s attention quickly.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Lost in Translation? 5 Keys to Being an Expert Communicator

If you step back and analyze the process of communication, you will realize that it’s actually a fairly difficult one, where a lot can get lost in translation. The upshot, however, is that the communication loop between one person and another can be decoded and improved upon. In pursuit of this improvement, we’ll take a look at what goes in to a communication loop—be it written, drawn, spoken, etc. And then we’ll go over five ways to make yourself better at simply getting your point across.

The Communication Process (Via Mindtools)

Source > Message > Encoding > Message > Channel > Message > Decoding > Message > Receiver > Feedback

The above communication process details each step that must occur for a piece of information to be communicated. It starts in your brain (the source), is put in some sort of message form, like the written or spoken word (encoded), and then passes it through a channel (blog, telephone, book, television), where the receiver interprets it (decodes), and then gives feedback.

Now that you see everything that occurs in the transaction between source and receiver, you can better understand the ways in which your communication often gets garbled, distilled, altered, or lost. The opportunity, as mentioned above, is understanding this loop. Part of this understanding is just seeing it fleshed out—like you just did. But here are five keys that can help you take advantage of the communication loop.

  1. Talk clearly, with fewer details rather than more. Seeing the communication loop, you now recognize that there are many stages along the path from source to receiver in which information can be skewed or lost. If, however, you articulate short, succinct chunks of information, the main ideas are less likely to fall through the tracks. This requires that you plan your communication out, which may take a bit more time. But doing this will pay off in the long run.
  2. Select the most appropriate channel for delivering your message. Nowadays, we’re inclined to email and text, sending our messages in short, quasi-written form. For many types of communication (rapid-fire, informal) these are appropriate mediums. Nonetheless, email and text simply cannot get to the bottom of things as effectively as a conversation. Talking face-to-face or over the phone, both people in the communication loop can ask questions, listen for tone of voice, explain and re-explain until the point is both made and taken. This works best in describing details or for items covered in meetings. On the other hand, certain types of communication may take more nuanced or structured arguments (think letters to attorneys, bosses, editors) and are best if composed and edited.
  3. Become adept at giving feedback. A big part of communicating is being the receiver of communication. To be good at this, you need to get good at showing the speaker that you’re understanding what they’re saying. For an example, I’d like to talk about my dad, who is a dentist and has a tendency to drill, not just teeth, but information, too. By that I mean, he wants so badly for the listener to understand what he’s saying that he will repeat and repeat the same piece of information over and over again. This can get frustrating over time. Being his son, and thus the receiver of a great deal of his information, has taught me how to convey very obviously that I understand what he’s saying. I do this first by taking what he’s told me and rephrasing it in my own words. This typically works. If it doesn’t, then, I literally repeat what he said word for word and say, “Dad, I get it.” There are other, more subtle methods to use as well: quickly nodding the head, saying things like “true,” “I see,” “that makes sense” and “uh-huh,” or asking questions that indicate your understand of points made.
  4. Train yourself to be an expert decoder. In other words, be a good listener. It seems simple, but failure to listen properly is the bane of the world’s information flow and the greatest creator of the world’s misinformation. In many conversations, we are so eager to weigh in or to give off the vibe that we understand—when, truly, we don’t—that we don’t take time to decode what’s actually being said. In order to listen, you must do all that is in your power to not lose concentration. Also, unless you are in a debate, do not try to formulate your response in the midst of their conversation. Our brains are good at switching tasks but not at multitasking, so you will undoubtedly lose some information if you try to formulate a response in the midst of another person’s talk.
  5. Step five is to practice the above four. It’s easy to think of these once or twice after reading a blog post, but to really get good, you must be a diligent steward of your communication. That is, you need to be conscious of these steps as you go about your day talking to friends, family, coworkers and whomever you may encounter.

Becoming a courteous and coherent communicator can take you far in this world. Perfecting these steps will get you on the right path.

What Talking in Spanish Taught Me About Communicating in English

When I was in college I spent a summer in Ecuador and a semester in Argentina. Though I spent most of my time just blundering around down there, looking back on the experience, I realize now that I learned quite a few things about communicating. You see, the problem was that I didn't speak Spanish. I didn't speak it at all when I went, and after a few months of study, I learned to speak it, but few would say I learned to speak it with fluency. Nonetheless, it is often those moments of confusion, the botched conversations, the wandering lost in unfamiliar neighborhoods—in short, the miscommunication—that teach a person his or her most lasting lessons.

So, with that, here are some lessons I learned while attempting to communicate in a foreign language. These lessons, I think, can be applied to any form of communication, because whether it's in Spanish, Chinese, English, or a lingua franca, the end-goal is to get your message across.

  1. Speak Slowly– Often while I was abroad, I would be afraid that people would think I was stupid if I did not get my sentences out quickly. In my own tongue, I can speak at a fairly rapid clip, but in Spanish it would sometimes take a moment to order the words in my head. I would blurt things out, which often came out garbled and nonsensical. If, however, I told myself to slow down, I found that my message would usually get through to whomever I spoke with. In many cases, too, I would find myself utterly confused by people who spoke Spanish as if they were auctioneers. In these instances, I would remind them that I was foreign and that they would need to pump the breaks a bit. In any case, communicating abroad taught me that slow articulation in conducive to clarity in communication.
  2. Lessons on Vocabulary Usage– I took Spanish classes while abroad, and thanks to some brilliant teachers, I was able to learn the grammar and mechanics of the language relatively quickly. But what was difficult was learning the vast and rich Spanish vocabulary (which is actually small compared to English). I often found that among native speakers in my dorm, there were colloquialisms that went over my head. Whenever I heard new words, I would make a note in my iPhone and look them up later. But for the most part, I was at a loss in understanding the slang and jargon. On the other hand, my Spanish teachers were aware that their students' vocabularies were limited, so they made sure to use words that we'd understand. What I took away from talking with these two groups of people is that communicators should always take into account the vocabulary and understanding of the people they're communicating with.
  3. Become a master body-language reader– I observed in Argentina that locals tended to gesture a lot more than most folks do back home in America. Certain gestures, from what I could tell, were universal, like shrugging shoulders to say, "I don’t know." One unique gesture that I picked up was when an Argentine would conjoin all their fingers in a point, turn their wrist upward, and bounce their hand, while simultaneously scowling and pursing their lips. This gesture was meant to say, "What the heck is this? Or what on earth is going on?" As a foreigner, I used this gesture from time to time to the delight of my local friends. It taught me just how much can be communicated by studying the gestures of others and applying those gestures yourself.

Communicating effectively can be like cutting through a fog. If the message is complex, or if it needs to be translated between unfamiliar languages, you'll need to bring as many skills to bear as possible in understanding and delivering the message. Being adept at using these same skills in English-English communication will make your message that much more clear.

How to Squeeze More Out of Your Weekly Meetings

It’s hard to imagine anything more routine than a weekly meeting. Typically scheduled at the same time every week, the meeting starts ten minutes late. People filter in and chat about the week. You try to get some things done: discuss the previous week of work and projects, lay out a foundation for the next week, some people take notes, some don’t, and then someone says meeting adjourned and everyone gets back to work—most likely grumbling. Okay. It may not be this bad—but still, it may not be all that good either. Routines are helpful, but they can lose their spunk. By this I mean they turn more into a rut than a routine. With regard to weekly meetings, your team may start to think they’re mundane, a formality, a little unimportant. In reality, a weekly meeting is very important: it can catalyze new ideas, get people back on track with their projects, and it’s a great way for everyone to keep abreast of the bigger picture, keeping some perspective on what your company or organization is doing.

So here are some ideas to help squeeze more out of your weekly meetings.

  1. Make Sure You Have a Weekly Leader – Your organization may be somewhat informal and your meetings are more like discussion time. While in some respects this is good and can breed fruitful ideas, in other respects it can be quite damaging to your meeting’s productivity. Having a leader is important because he or she will keep things moving. They can settle disputes, bring up the next point on the agenda, make sure the meeting starts and ends on time, make sure people stay on topic. Your leader needn’t be the same one each week. But a meeting without a leader is like a ship with no captain at its helm – it will drift off course. To watch a discussion about the importance of a meeting leader, see Broken Meetings (and how you’ll fix them).
  2. Make Sure Your Meeting Starts on Time – People are busy, and it’s annoying when others don’t respect others’ time. Therefore you should always start your meeting punctually. This seems like a given, but how many times have people showed up a few minutes late apologizing and everyone just shrugs it off? This can actually be damaging because it subconsciously primes people to take the meetings less seriously: they figure, meh, no one cares if I’m on time, it’s a pretty casual meeting anyways. A simple system of rewards and punishments will encourage people to show up on time. It doesn’t necessarily be anything big—you could reward those who show up on time with their first choice of projects, for example. Or, for those who are late, they may have to do more work that week. Or, more simply, the person who is late might have to take meeting notes and email them to everyone. For a more exhaustive list of ways to get your meeting kicked off on time, see here.
  3. As Meeting Leader, Set Clear Agenda – Weekly meetings will run most efficiently if you have a clear, step-by-step agenda. This can be organized with a broad topic and a checklist. For example, this week’s broad meeting topic may be “Increasing Customer Base.” Under that broad topic you would then have an agenda by which you proceed: Brief Intro – 3 minutes; Brainstorm – 10 minutes; Pick Strategies – 10 minutes; Plan for Implementation – 7 minutes. Having a time-stamped breakdown will keep things moving fast, keep things on topic, and generally help keep the meeting productive.
  4. Keep Meetings Short – A meeting should waste no unnecessary time just like a painting should waste no unnecessary paint. One of the common ailments of a weekly meeting is simply that it’s allotted too much time. Keeping them brief-20-25 minutes-is good because it allows your team to focus on a few key items, lets people get back to work, dissuades people from showing up late, and is respectful of everyone’s time.
  5. Use Tools Available For Organizing and Timing – The Internet has recently sprung to live several free web apps that will help you organize meetings. For keeping meeting notes, we recommend Evernote – it syncs all of your notes in the cloud, meaning they’re available on all of your devices and can be shared with your whole team. Another great app for minutes is minutes.i, which is devoted to meeting minutes. You fire up the website and it generates a minutes template that can be shared immediately after the meeting. Timebridge coordinates everyone’s calendars, finding the best times to hold your weekly meeting, check it out here.

Master Your Voice to Captivate Your Audience

An often overlooked aspect of a presentation is your voice. I’m not talking about the things you say; this post isn’t about filler words or the context of your presentation, but about the actual quality of your voice. A study conducted at UCLA by Dr. Albert Mehrabian found that when visual, vocal and verbal sounds are inconsistent, the actual content of your presentation counts for a mere 7 percent of the entire message. Everyone’s paying attention to what you do. In fact, 55 percent of the message, according to Mehrabian, comes from your facial expressions and body language. The remaining 38 percent comes from your voice. Sure, it’s less of a factor than your posture, your gestures, and your facial expressions combined. But mastering your voice gives your message a 38 percent better chance of getting through. With that in mind, here are some tips for improving your voice quality.

Let yourself be heard…by yourself

Have you ever heard yourself on a recording and discovered that your voice sounded different than the way you hear it in your head? That’s because it does. Your voice enters your inner ear via vibrations in your chest, throat, and mouth. This is called bone-conditioned sound, because it hits your inner ear after traveling through the tissue of the head. All external sounds travel through the air, where they’re dispersed, then enter your ear. This is called air-conditioned sound. The latter sound type typically sounds less rich, higher in pitch. So one of the best ways to get an accurate idea of what you sound like is to leave yourself messages or speak into a recorder. You can try different things out and alter the pitch of your voice to get the best clarity.

Animate Your Voice

Some people think it’s best to sound casual when they speak. But if you sound too casual you may come off as dispassionate, monotone, or downright boring. Instead, focus on animating your voice, delivering key emphasis on important aspects, varying pitch and tone. With some practice your talks will become livelier, your audience more engaged.

Physical Vocal Support

There are a number of physical things you can do to improve voice quality. You can sit or stand up straight, which ensures your airway is unhindered. Take deep breaths; the more air the better. As you talk you can use your lower diaphragm to push the air back out, helping your voice to sound clear and confident. You should also focus on using the muscles in your tongue and mouth to articulate the words correctly and avoid slurring.

Paying attention to the actual quality of your voice is one of the best ways to captivate an audience. Though it may seem tedious, taking the time to learn the above steps is one of the best ways to improve your public speaking.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

How Do I Avoid Decision Fatigue?

In a given day you make hundreds of decisions. What time to wake up. What to wear. What to eat for breakfast. New research published in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has discovered that each decision taxes our brain’s ability to make decisions, so that as the day wears on and we make more and more decisions, our ability to ponder different options and choose wisely becomes hindered.

In the NAS study, they offered the following example (via the New York Times). Three Israeli prisoners went before a parole board on the same day. Prisoner 1: An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud. Case was heard at 8:50 a.m. Prisoner 2: A Jewish Israeli service a 16-month sentence for assault. Case was heard at 3:10 p.m. Prisoner 3: An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud. Case was heard at 4:25 p.m. Of the three prisoners, can you guess which one was paroled? The researchers analyzed 1,100 decisions over the course of the year. In their research they found a pattern: prisoners whose cases were heard early in the morning received parole 70 percent of the time.

Prisoners whose cases were heard late in the day were paroled 10 percent of the time. True to this statistic, the prisoner whose case was heard at 8:50 a.m. was the only one who was paroled, despite his case being very similar to that of the prisoner who appeared at 4:25. For the late prisoner, the judges’ brains had given up. Their ability to make tough decisions had been sapped. Studies similar to the above have been duplicated time and time again. In another instance, for example, people on a diet were offered M&Ms and chocolate-chip cookies throughout the day. A control group was offered nothing of the sort throughout the day.

Later both groups were given difficult geometry puzzles to solve. Researchers found overwhelmingly that the group who hadn’t forced themselves to turn down chocolate-chip cookies and M&Ms all day, the group who hadn’t sapped their will power, were able to stick with the problems and more likely to solve them than the other group. The M&M- and chocolate-chip-cookie group simply gave up more easily. So what can these findings teach us about making decisions in our own lives? Here are a few things to try

  • Schedule important decisions in the morning – In the morning your mind is fresh and ready to think. Your decision ability hasn’t been drained.
  • Make decisions on a full stomach – Giving your brain a dose of glucose, which is contained in food, can recharge your decision-making ability and your willpower. (Unfortunately, a catch 22 for dieters!)
  • Establish habits which avoid things that test your willpower – For instance, schedule a workout time so you go every day, no matter what. This makes it a habit, something you don’t have to force yourself to do, which eliminates the mental effort of making choices.
  • Schedule downtime in between important decisions – Simply allowing your brain some time to idle will give your willpower a chance to recharge.

Why Adults Can Learn Languages More Easily Than Children

Speaking a second language is a great way to broaden your communication abilities. But many people assume that learning a second language is something they should have tackled as a child, that it becomes too difficult as they grow older. In actuality, children don't necessarily learn languages more easily than adults. Rather, there are certain parts of the language-learning process that are easier as children, while other parts are easier as adults.

When children are young, their brains are in the process of developing. They are malleable and spongelike, always changing and soaking up information. For this reason, learning a first or second language takes place without conscious thought. For children it's more like second nature. A study conducted by Dr. Paul Thompson at UCLA, for example, found that children use a part of their brains called the "deep motor area" to acquire new languages. This area of the brain is activated when you're walking, tying your shoe, or taking a sip of water; it controls unconscious actions. The fact that this same portion of the brain is employed by children when learning languages lead Thompson to conclude that language acquisition is a natural process, something that is second nature, something that a child doesn't have to actively think about. Adults, on the other hand, must think actively about learning a second language. For them it is not second nature, but an intellectual process. This is because an adult's brain has already formed--the circuitry and synapses have been wired to fit the parameters and pronunciations of their first language. Luckily, as an adult, you've already developed the capacity for intellectual learning.

Since adults are capable of grappling with language on an intellectual level, they are actually better suited for becoming proficient in a language more quickly than children. Often we think it's the other way around. We may, for example, observe a child saying a couple of phrases in two languages and conclude that he or she is bilingual. But David P. Ausubel, a linguist at the University of Illinois, points out that children have small vocabularies and use simple constructions to communicate their needs. Adults, on the other hand, communicate in much more complex ways and command very large vocabularies. This gives people the false assumption that children learn a language more quickly. In actuality, adults simply have more to learn to communicate on the same level that they communicate at in their first languages. Moreover, according to Ausubel, adults and adolescents are able to generalize and think in abstract terms. A child needs to hear a phrase time and time again to distinguish a recurring pattern. This type of discovery takes a lot of time and a lot of exposure. Adults can hear a phrase once and understand that that phrase can be universalized across the entire language. The same goes for grammatical patterns: an adult is more likely to realize that many of their first-language's patterns can be applied to the second language, whereas a child's brain has not developed the maturity to think in such abstractions and is therefore unable to make the same connections.

Aware of the differences in language-acquisition processes and aptitudes, experts have realized that teaching methods ought to differ, too. In order to teach a child a second language it is important to expose them to both languages at school and at home. Full immersion will help a child pick up on patterns more readily. Also, using mnemonic techniques like singing songs or having repetitive drills will help wire the new language and its pronunciations into a child's brain. Older language learners often get hung up on pronunciation but learn to understand the grammatical and syntactical patterns more easily. Therefore, adults should concentrate on getting the grammatical fundamentals down so as not to get discouraged by pronunciation difficulties. Once the grammar is down, the difficult specter of correct pronunciation can be slowly chiseled away at and refined over time.

Understand Language to Make Language Work for You

In the field of linguistics there has for long been a debate on how human beings develop the ability to communicate. Often referred to as the nature versus nurture debate, the argument is over whether we are born with an innate ability for language or learn to use language through our interactions with environmental stimuli. Over time, both sides have presented convincing evidence. For example, Noam Chomsky, a linguist from MIT, demonstrated that babbling newborn babies produce phenomes (the smallest units of sound) which they could never have heard in the language of their present country, but which are used in a variety of languages all over the world. Babbling babies’ use of phenomes proves, according to Chomsky, that the human brain is prepackaged with a “language faculty.” Meanwhile, proponents of the nurture theory say babies merely make these sounds independent of any prewired linguistic ability. Given the nature of our vocal chords, any human has the potential to make these sounds; certain phenomes only become more difficult as a particular human grows more accustomed to the sound of the language in which he or she is immersed. It’s a matter of cultural evolution, according to the nurture camp. Depending on your interpretation of the data, the debate leans to one side or the other. But it’s most likely a combination of both: humans have some sort of built-in, prepackaged ability for language, which formed slowly via mechanisms of Darwinian evolution, but which quickly develops and matures based on input from the environment.

No matter which way the debate leans, all seem to agree on one fact: each one of us begins developing our linguistic intelligence at an early stage. Now that we’re older, we can hone in on this linguistic intelligence and put it to use. After all, before you master something, you must first understand it.

Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner says humans developed language as a tool. It’s a means at our disposal for achieving an end. Every time you speak, according to Gardner, you use language to achieve one of four ends.

They’re broken down as follows:

  1. People use language to convince or induce other people to a course of action. A boss, for example, may tell his employee that he needs his TPS reports by the end of the week, or a friend may ask another friend to pass the salad dressing at the table. According to Gardner, lawyers and politicians have developed this ability to a high degree, but it’s also an ability that begins to form at a young age—like when a three-year-old wants a second helping of cake.
  2. Language is used for mnemonics. Before humans had language, memorization was far more difficult. Language, however, functions as a tool for codifying and memorizing things. We use chunks to memorize phone numbers. We use mnemonics like Never, Eat, Sour, Watermelons to memorize the cardinal directions.
  3. Language is used as a tool for explanation. In fact, it’s the primary tool for teaching. Whether explaining literature or mathematics, anyone trying to teach someone something does so through the use of language. This is part of the reason why the human lexicon is forever expanding. As new developments and breakthroughs are made, new vocabulary words are needed to explain them. Google it.
  4. Finally, language is used to talk about language. That is, language is used to reflect upon language. This is called “metalinguistic analysis.” We can see this when a child asks his parent about conceptual words, like “dream” or “wish.” These questions would require the parents to think about the word and use language to explain its meaning.

Now that you have (I hope) a better understanding of the uses of language, try thinking of ways that you can put it to use. You can be confident in your linguistic abilities—after all they’ve been evolving since before you were born. Ask yourself the following questions: How can I put language to use to get a colleague at work to do something for me? What mnemonic techniques can I use to memorize things? How can I better use language to teach someone something, to make something run more smoothly on my next conference call or at work? If there is a difficult concept you’re working with, look at it at the quantum level. Look at the actual words you’re using to describe it and see if you can’t break those words down into easier-to-understand concepts. Who knows, a little metalinguistic analysis may very well make the answer to your problem crystal clear.

Conference Calls on iPhone

AccuConference iPhone App

Conference calls on the iPhone are a good way to meet with multiple people while on the go. With the AccuConference app, talking with multiple people on the iPhone can be accomplished almost effortlessly. This post will explain the steps you need to take in order to be conferencing within the next 10 minutes. While we think the AccuConference tools are the best means for conducting calls with multiple people, this application will allow you to connect to conferences hosted by any teleconferencing provider. Also, the iPhone has a built in capability for holding small conferences. T his method will be included in the lower portion of the post.

Conference Calls on iPhone - AccuConference App

  • Get the free AccuConference App from the App Store
  • Open the app and select “Add New Conference”
  • Fill out the fields (conference name, number, and code). If you would like to add other options such as conference date & time or other participants do so on the screen (optional). Save the information.

Now, whenever you need to connect to that conference, simply open the app, press join conference, and it will keep track of all of your codes and dial them for you. Your connection is reduced to one button.

Available in the App Store

Drunken Pilots Spark Concern Among Airlines

Drunken Pilots Spark Concern Among Airlines

A Delta pilot who was arrested just before takeoff in Amsterdam on Monday for being drunk has underscored an issue that appears more frequently than most travelers imagined.

According to USA Today, US pilots who blow over the legal limit for flying (.04 percent) crop up one time a month on average.

The FAA data shows that 12 commercial pilots, out of the 11,000 tested yearly, are found to violate the FAA standard each year.

The legal limit for driving is .08 percent in most states, and the airlines have become more rigid about legal limits for pilots, setting the limit at .04 percent after a few high-profile cases in the 90’s.

The most notorious case occurred in 1990 when three Northwest Airlines crew members, including the pilot, tested positive for alcohol after landing a commercial airliner in Minneapolis. The pilot blew over .10 percent.

Elaine Weinstein, former head of safety recommendations at the National Transportation Safety Board, told USA Today that she felt there should be a zero tolerance rule for alcohol and drug use by pilots.

“If a pilot is drinking before he flies, it raises the question in my mind about whether this person has a substance abuse problem,” Weinstein told USA Today.

In order to keep pilots from consuming alcohol before flying the FAA conducts unannounced tests and trains flight attendants and co-pilots to disallow any drunk captain from get behind the controls.

Delta issued a statement concerning the pilot in Amsterdam, explaining that the flight was cancelled because the pilot appeared “unfit for duty.”

He was called in by a suspicious crew member. The passengers of the flight were put up in hotels near the airport and flew out the next day.