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Mar
12
2012
Solving Conference Call Annoyances Maranda Gibson

Earlier this week, I told you all about the 12 Conference Call Attendees That Cause Annoyance. Now that you've considered the list and mentally pointed the finger of blame at some of your co-workers, let’s go over what you can do to fix those annoyances on the conference.

The truth is that conference calls are supposed to be a productive and concise way to conduct business without having to shuffle everyone into the conference room, which, let’s be honest, is sometimes like herding cats. When one, any, or all of these things happen on conferences it can change the entire tone of the meeting and take a productive group of people down a desperate spiral of frustration. So what can you do?

  1. Offer a recording to the conference participants who are traveling or who have their children home with them that day. This way people won't feel pressured to join the conference if they are getting on a plane or home with a sick baby - who may decide at any time to burst into tears. These participants can listen in to the conference at a more convenient time and ask questions or give feedback later.
  2. Lock your conference call (Press *7 on the telephone keypad as the moderator) and prevent late participants from joining the conference. This will lessen the likelihood that someone will join the conference ten minutes late and then require that they immediately get caught back up.
  3. Use the power to mute the lines to control what is heard in the background and to filter out who is speaking. (We recommend using lecture mode for any conferences that are going to be five participants or more.) Use the live call screen to identify which lines are making noise so that you can mute them without disrupting the rest of the conference call. This works for background noise, hold music, pretty much any disruption that can be caused by unauthorized sounds.
  4. Encourage your participants to use a land line phone and a headset instead of speaker phones. In our experience, land lines tend to be more reliable for the conference call and headsets are the best, least intrusive way to be hands free on a conference call.
  5. Do your best as the meeting organizer to schedule your conferences before or after lunch time. The best time to host a conference is before the lunch hours but it does get hard to do this when you're dealing with people in multiple time zones. We wrote some great tips on the best time to have conference calls, so we encourage you to go over there and check them out.

Knowing what to expect on a conference call is part of the planning process. As the moderator you have to be prepared to step in a mute a line or suggest that someone call back in when they are in a less noisy environment. What do you do on conference calls and webinars that keep those distractions out and keep productivity moving forward?

Mar
07
2012
12 Conference Call Attendees That Cause Annoyance Maranda Gibson

Come on, admit it. Close your eyes and think about your last conference call and you'll immediately think of a number of people that turned the last conference into a disaster. There are a lot of different circumstances that call for conference call participation, but it never fails - there are always those one or two people who just make the experience slightly unbearable for the rest of the team.

The person who is always late.

Consistently, this co-worker will join the call five minutes late and demand to be caught up before the call can continue.

The last minute participant.

This person is different than the "late participant". This participant decides at the last minute they need to join the conference call about something that is out of their scope or they are unfamiliar with. Usually the first ten minutes of the conference are spent bringing this person up to speed.

The Mumbler.

This person doesn't speak up on the conference and therefore cannot be heard. It's either because their voice is very soft or because they are sitting too far away from their phone.

The "if I can just jump in here" co-worker.

This person always has something to add to the conversation, but it's often at the expense of other participants. They interrupt other attendees on a regular basis and instead of apologizing and remaining quiet until it's their turn to speak, they continue talking as if it doesn't matter.

The person who always laughs when his or her leather chair makes a hilariously suggestive noise.

Oh, hahaha, it's so funny.

The person who thinks "it's time for a conference call" somehow translates into "time to eat lunch!"

You can always hear this person smacking their lips as they chew or gurgling down their diet soda. If you know you have a conference call during your lunch time, make plans to eat at another time. Inevitably, this person always gets prompted to respond when they have just taken a bite. They will then proceed to speak around it.

The co-worker that works from home in a sea of barking puppies or crying babies.

We're not sure if they run a day care or pet adoption center in their spare time, but it just always seems like the sound of baby crying or a dog in the background is amplified on a conference call.

The scream talker.

They always think that their phone mic is turned down too low and feel like they need to scream to be heard. Usually, their voice causes echoes and feedback on the conferences.

The "hello? hello?" participant.

This participant always suspects they've been disconnected from the conference and must then interrupt the flow of conversation in order to assure they are still joined.

The Traveler.

Yes, sometimes we have to travel when it's time to take a conference call, and there is nothing wrong with that. It just always seems like the other participants end up hearing the boarding announcement or the commuter train departure schedule better than they hear the actual conference call.

The Multitasking Genius.

With their speaker phone on, they proceed to "listen" to the conference while answering emails or getting text messages. The sound notifying them of a new text notification or the gentle and somewhat soothing pounding of the keys on the keyboard play into the conference and give everyone a sense of "nothing is going to get done here".

The person who uses the hold button on their phone, instead of mute.

When you put a phone on hold in a conference one of three things will happen: silence fills the room and everyone makes the assumption the call has ended, periodic beeps will play into the conference, or some rocking easy listening music is about to interrupt and derail your entire conference call.

Who is the person on your conferences that you always feel like needs to be muted?

Feb
24
2012
Conference Call Information in CSV Files Maranda Gibson

We strongly advocate the idea of recording your conference calls, even if you don't think you'll need to listen to it ever again. The same goes for tracking and knowing exactly who joined conference calls. The way we provide this kind of information is by giving our customers access to downloading CSV files that store information based on the kind of conference call you host. Lately, we've had some customers asking us about how to get their hands on this information and how they can get the most out of this kind of attendance tracking.

General Conference Information

When you host your standard conference call you still get data on who joined the conference. It's very basic information like what conference code was used and the caller ID for those that joined the call. The data is saved in a CSV file that you can download directly from your customer site and is a good tool to use when you need just a basic headcount on attendance for your conferences.

Chat Transcription

Anytime you host a web conference with us and turn on the chat feature, we log that chat session and store it on the customer site. The ability to download the files directly wasn't always an option, but since our customers liked this feature so much we decided to make it more accessible. A lot of our customers use the web conferencing chat sessions for Q&A so that if they missed any questions, they have record of them and go back to answer them even after the call is over.

Registration Data

When you use our registration page, you get the information saved in a CSV file. With the registration page, you can edit what information you want collected (we automatically grab name and email address) and all of this will be recorded on the spreadsheet. It even breaks down your conference call to show who attended and who didn't. It's a great sales tool to see who might have registered for your conference call and didn't get to attend. You have the information that you need to contact them and find out more information.

Operator Answered Information

If you want to stand out go for the operator answered conference call. We'll take down the participants name and one other piece of information. After the call, that information is included on the Call Detail CSV file that can be downloaded directly from your account. Operator answered conferences are great for media conferences, special guest speakers, or shareholder meetings.

How to Download Call & Chat Logs

  • Login to your Customer Account
  • Click Conference Manager
  • Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the blue "view" link beside the call you're looking for.
  • On the next page, you'll find the reports listed at the top beside "Downloads". Click on the CSV file you want to download.

Got any questions? No problem - feel free to put them in the comments or give us a call and we can answer anything you want to know about these different files. Is there anything you're doing with these files that could make attendance tracking on your next conference call or web conference easier?

Feb
20
2012
Five Telecommuter Distractions (And How to Avoid Them) Maranda Gibson

By May of 2011, the United States reported that 14% of the overall population was telecommuting in some form or fashion, as well as posted growth year of year with these kinds of positions. It's obvious that more companies are not only looking for the "freelancer" but the importance to having a productive environment at home is on the rise.

If you're about to start telecommuting in some form or fashion, here are five things that can destroy the telecommuters productivity – and some tips on how to avoid these pitfalls.

Have a Place to Work.

Before a couple of weeks ago, wanting to work at home meant I was going to be sitting at the kitchen table with the most uncomfortable chair in all of existence. It didn't exactly foster a creative environment. Once I had my office all set up I was amazed at how much more comfortable I felt having a real place to work in the walls of my home. When working at home, have an area that has comfortable seating and a space that is just for you. It will really help you stay focused.

Other People in the House.

This is one of the greatest distractions to the telecommuter. No matter if it's your kids, your spouse, or your mother stopping by for coffee in the AM, having other people in your house is a natural deterrent to getting things done. I have a deal with my husband that if the office door is closed, it means I’m working and don’t want to be disturbed, but if it's open I’m not tied up and it can be chat time.

Amazon, EBay, Tumblr, and Facebook.

Working from home more than likely means you're working from your computer. The amount of distractions on the Internet can be killer when it comes to productive telecommuting. Since telling you to just avoid the sites all together is pretty much pointless, I'll instead suggest that you take a mental break every few hours. Set a timer for the ten or fifteen minutes you're going to give yourself to scroll your Facebook news feed and, most importantly, stick to it. Too many times a short mental break becomes an hour of lost productivity.

The Other Things You Could Be Doing.

As the "clean-freak" in my house I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked myself out of being productive in the office for doing some dishes, mopping the floors, or getting that extra load of laundry done. Close the door to your office and ignore it – to the best of your abilities (this is harder for some than others) so that you can stay focused on the work at hand. Since you’re going to be giving yourself proper breaks, you can always throw the dishes in the dishwasher then.

The Need For Social Interaction.

Working at home can sometimes cut you off from the rest of the world. So much of your communication is done through email that you might find yourself venturing out more often than you like to incorporate yourself into society. A quick trip down to Starbucks can turn into a couple of hours out in public. Instead of doing everything by email, pepper in a few conference calls or video conferences with co-workers and clients, so that you can hear the sound of someone’s voice that isn’t your internal monologue.

How do you stay focused while working at home?

Feb
17
2012
Technology Ruined The Superbowl Maranda Gibson

Yard Line

UPDATE:Nielson Ratings on Most-Remembered and Best-Liked Ads.

The 2012 Superbowl between the NY Giants and the New England Patriots broke ratings history. The ratings make it not only the most watched sporting event, but the most watch television program of all time.

It probably helps that this year's match up pitted two teams with huge fan bases and huge populations against each other. It also helped that other stations abandoned regular programming because who is dumb enough to put their shows up against the biggest football game of the year?

The game was great and it was obvious that the two teams that were there deserved their places on the field. The game kept fans either biting their nails or screaming at the TV all night and, in short, was everything you would hope the Superbowl would be.

Well, everything you thought except for the commercials. While they were still broadcasted and many of them were as funny as expected, some of the most popular ones were released days in advance of the big game to social media audiences.

YouTube has become a big part of marketing and advertising. As someone who is in the business I get it. I am all about companies embracing new media and giving customers a glance behind the scenes to how a business operates or giving away a teaser trailer to entice them to watch for more. I'm just not sure how I feel about social media breaking the tradition of the Superbowl.

How many times have you heard someone say, "Oh, I only watch for the commercials" or chose to grab their refills when the actual game comes back on? I'm not saying that airing the commercials online was a bad idea from a marketing standpoint. I talk a lot about how companies need to be where their markets are, and most demographics are online now. It would make sense that the next logical step for advertising would be online.

It just makes me wonder why a company like Chevrolet would choose to spend the kind of cash for a Superbowl spot, only to post it on YouTube a couple of days in advance of the game. Isn’t that kind of like telling a kid what they are getting for their birthday?

Obviously, based on the ratings, releasing some of the commercials via YouTube days before the game started didn’t hurt the number of viewers for Sunday’s game, but I can't help but wonder if we lost the experience. Marketing is changing – which, it has always evolved as new ways of delivering messages has been in front of people. (Think of the evolution from radio to TV)

Did you feel like something was missing from the Superbowl experience? Were you disappointed that many of the most popular commercials were already seen or spoiled through social networking in the days before the game?

On a sidenote – here is one commercial that was a sweet surprise - the introduction of Ms. Brown for M&Ms.

Feb
07
2012
Anonymity Online – Why We Love the Mask Maranda Gibson

creepy mask 300Is the right to talk smack online, hidden under a cloak of anonymity, without being held responsible afforded to us under the First Amendment? That’s the big question this week as controversy swirls around Google’s unmasking of the “Skanks in NYC” anonymous author. Under court order, Google gave the blogger the chance to step forward, before they were ordered to reveal her identity as part of a defamation lawsuit.

There are good and bad aspects to the mask of anonymity online. Most of us like the idea of having the option to be hidden until we are ready to be otherwise, but as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Here is a breakdown of some of the good and bad of wearing the mask online.

The Good.

  • Participation in online support groups can spur someone’s desire to get help for an addiction or disorder. As human beings with emotions, we have been known to fear the judgment of others, and many times this prevents us from getting real or honest. Wearing a mask online helps up to feel protected from the judgment we perceive.
  • For many, social situations cause fear and anxiety. It’s not that they are scared of people – they are just introverted or feel socially awkward. Many of us just need a few moments to warm up, maybe a little liquid courage, and we’re good to go. But for many others, the mask is a way to reveal bits and pieces of themselves over a long period of time, instead of just “putting it out there”.

The Bad

  • In the teen circles, the mask of the Internet has proven to come with some very sad consequences. Recent research shows that in 2011 43% of kids admitted to being bullied online. Most of the time, these instances of cyber bullying follow these kids to school. There is a freedom that seems to come with the access to the Internet and the various resources that are available, but these same freedoms can also breed irresponsible behavior in teens when they aren’t aware of the dangers.
  • Spammers can operate safely hidden behind a generic email address and clog up the communication channels. Think about how your mailbox gets filled with junk that just frustrates you and ends up in the trash. You can’t write them back to complain and there’s no way to get them to stop aside from vigorous blocking systems. But even those systems are not 100% effective and they will drag down your reputation.

Masks make us feel safe. It’s a truth in society that we wear one any time we’re being introduced to something or someone new. We do things that will make us feel comfortable and in stressful situations, sometimes what makes us feel comfortable is hiding. It’s in our nature to want to keep some of our inner thoughts and ideas hidden. Could you imagine airing all of your dirty laundry on a first date? You’d never see a second.

Here is what it really boils down to: if you’re going to have the guts to talk about a person online, you shouldn’t complain when someone figures out who you are and wants you to take responsibility for what you said.

I’ve made some of my best friends through the safety of anonymity and I was “cyberbullied” before it was even a buzz word. Those who go online simply to stir up drama might have a right to do it, but it doesn’t make it right, and they simply ruin the experience for everyone.

You can use a mask to stir up the “bad” but once someone rips it off, it’s going to be time to put on your big kid pants and take responsibility for it. Think about that the next time you have a desire to spread negativity across communities online.

Jan
26
2012
Press Conference Management and Etiquette (For Everyone) Maranda Gibson

As a baseball fan, we recently had a very exciting thing happen for the Texas Rangers. Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish signed a six year deal to come to Texas and play with our Rangers. During the announcement press conference, I noticed something that was really pleasant - everyone involved did a great job of explaining the feelings of the baseball club, and speaking for the not present Darvish.

I've heard bad press conferences where everyone speaks over each other and it doesn't seem like there's any information, but this conference went very well. There were some things I noticed during the conference that stood out as some best practices for press conference management.

  • Define an overall message of the press conference and stick to it throughout the press conference. Press conferences are supposed to promote the idea of cohesive thoughts and show how different individuals, departments, or agencies are working together.
  • Everyone has a specific topic to discuss and they should stick to it. Let the people who are in charge of certain departments speak on those departments - it builds trust with the reporters and the audience.
  • Don't talk over each other. Commenting officials should answer the questions related to their topic.  If you speak up when someone else is talking {because pauses can get confusing} save your point until the first person is really finished.
  • Show some love to the reporters in the back. When taking questions, make sure you take some from the reporters in the back. Smaller publications usually don't receive top billing at these kinds of conferences, so it might be a good show of faith to show a little love to the reporters in the back. 
  • Be thorough but respectful of time limitations.  Yes you want to answer all of the questions but in a crisis, you're working against deadlines as well. While it's important to inform the public of a situation it is equally important to handle the situation. Set a time limit (usually 20 or 30 minutes) and stick to it.


What do you think makes for a good press conference? Are there any specifics like these that you'd want to add, or do many things depend on the nature of the conference itself?

Jan
23
2012
Distance Learning Not Just For College Students Maranda Gibson

With budget shortfalls affecting school districts across the United States, a lot of public schools are turning to virtual learning to ease some of the burden of these shortfalls.

When I started researching for this blog post I found that here in Texas, we have the Texas Virtual Academy, which is 100% supported and accredited by our school districts. I did some quick asking around in the office and found out that one of our operators has a child that started the program this year. I talked to him to give me some of his first impressions about the program.

What's Cool

  • Approved curriculum from the school district
  • Monitoring tools to keep kids accountable
  • Materials provided go well beyond text books. He informed me that not only did the school provide his child a preloaded desktop computer, they also threw in jump ropes and yoga balls for PE, as well as beakers for chemistry assignments.
  • There are also no additional grading requirements. Meaning all of the grades are submitted directly to the district - so there is no additional information for the parents to fill out or send in.
  • More one on one attention from the teachers and students are required to do at least six hours of logged work per day.

The ideas of distance learning are not exclusive to the state of Texas. In fact, a lot of school districts are embracing these ideas as financial burdens begin to affect the ability to hire more educators. Distance learning isn't just about saving money, it also exposes students to different teachers and classroom set ups.

Imagine the student that attends a large school district where the student to teacher ratio is 30:1 and this student struggles in the subject of Math. Now take that same student and virtually connect him or her to a classroom in small town America where the student to teacher ratio is 15:1. I wonder if the extra attention might help to boost this students grades.

We have an education system that if full of different perspectives and loyal educators. Embracing distance learning is going to give students the chance to be exposed to a number of the different kinds of classroom experiences.

What do you think about the potential benefits or drawbacks of distance learning?

Jan
12
2012
Conference Call Services to Try in 2012 Maranda Gibson

Teleconferences have changed since they were first introduced. They have come far beyond on the "audio meeting" to become a potentially integral part of your business and sales strategy. We put our heads together and thought of some other ways that conference call services could be used to interview employees, make new sales connections, and a lot of other really awesome things.

  1. Operator Assistance - An operator will take over all of the technical aspects of the call. They will also prepare a unique introduction to your conference call. Not only is this a great way to create some formality on the call, it's also a great way to relieve some of the stress from the moderator.
  2. Host a Sales Presentation via Web Conference - Instead of driving across town or hopping on a plane to pitch your next client, try using a simple web conference. Put together a PowerPoint presentation and stay in your office. You can still field questions and show growth potential, you're just doing it from the comfort of your favorite chair.
  3. Don't Travel for One Month - In the same vein as the previous tip, plan on keeping the wheels down for an entire month. Limiting travel will not only save you money but grant a different perspective on how you can manage your business. A lot of companies don't realize how easy it is to use conferencing and limit the travel.
  4. Host a Job Interview via Conference Call - Typically, the beginning of the year is when companies start bringing in new employees. Instead of the typical face to face interview, have the initial interview over the phone. You'll hear how the potential employee handles themselves when all they have are their words and tone of voice to back them up.
  5. Interview a Leader From Your Industry - Use a conference service to record the interview and then turn it into a podcast and host it on your blog. Simple as that.
  6. Telecommuter Friday - This may sound crazy but it could be a good experience for you and your employees. If your businesses allows (some won't, like retail) pick one Friday as a test and let your employees telecommute. Many companies successfully operate in a virtual office environment and end up saving money without the need for office space, phone lines, etc.
  7. Invite Your Customers to a Q&A Session - Try a monthly or quarterly call with your customers to see what they think of any changes or updates you've made to your products. This is an exceptionally great idea for start ups that usually make a lot of changes right away and rely on feedback from the public to know what is working and what isn't.
  8. Add a PowerPoint to a Status Meeting - Punch up your next boring old status meeting by adding in a PowerPoint. Suddenly, an audible list of sales numbers, increases, and projections become colorful and memorable graphs and charts. Using visuals reaches out and grabs the audience’s attention to keep the focus on the meeting and nothing else.
  9. Use a Registration Page - Trying to see who is attending a status meeting? Want to know what potential client attended one of your web conferences? Set up registration pages and collect information like name, email, or phone number. It gives you the ability to see who joined the conference, who didn't, and once you download the registration list, it's a marketing contact sheet that immediately lets you see who is interested in learning more about your products.
  10. Invite the Press to Your Company Announcement - We recommend that you use this tip in conjunction with the operator assistance suggestion. Inviting the press to an announcement is a good way to generate buzz, get a little excitement about a project, or gain a little extra news coverage.

In 2012, we highly encourage you to try one (or more) of these uses of your conferencing services. You might be surprised that a lot of people use conference calls for these very reasons and that it works very well.

Jan
03
2012
Verbal Communication Styles Maranda Gibson

It is generally accepted that there are four different kinds of verbal communication styles. Each person will have their own way of approaching projects and while one particular communication style will stand out among the different attributes, most of us will have a combination of both. The kind of communicator affects the way they see different aspects of their job, how they react to change, and how they may interact with their co-workers. While reading over these I also realized that the type you relate most with could have some bearing on your presentations. Here's a brief overview of the communication styles and some things you can improve once you know your type.

Relator - The relator is the team player in the office. They dislike conflict and are hesitant towards change (but not necessarily against) because it will throw off their daily routine. They are easy to work with, take direction well, and are always willing to listen to others. While they always have the best interests of their co-workers at heart their work can sometimes be affected by the need for their co-workers to be happy.

When planning a presentation as a Relator keep in mind that you have no ability to please everyone who is listening to you. There will be someone in the audience who has heard what you're saying before or won't "get it". Instead, focus on the audience as a whole and encourage them to participate throughout the presentation.

Socializers - These employees are energetic motivators in the office. They enjoy brainstorming meetings and look ahead to the bigger picture. They are excited about where a company can end up but might lose some of the small details along the way.

The Socializer should take care when planning a presentation to include the small details. If you're going through a long and complicated process of how to make a particular change with in an organization, be sure that you document everything that you did to achieve success.

Thinkers - They value logic and details. They can approach a problem and provide a lot of solutions and contingency plans. While they are not opposed to change, it will take some time for them to get used to.

Where the socializer needs to include more details, if you're the thinker you should include a little less in your presentations. It's your nature to include every step along the way, but maybe you need to simplify your presentations a bit and give the option to contact you if they need more information.

Directors - These are the "no-nonsense" folks in the office. They get right down to business and can sometimes be blinded by their own personal goals. While their eyes are on the "bigger picture" they may have unrealistic expectations of how to get there.

If you're a director work on your presentation opening. Sure you desire getting down to business but take a couple of extra minutes to open with a good morning and some polite chatting with your audience. It will make them more receptive to what you have to say.

After reading these, I'm pretty sure that I'm a mixture of the Relator, the Socializer, and the Thinker - with my standout category being the Relator. I am not opposed to change and, in fact, welcome it, but I do require some time to adjust to it. I love to brainstorm with a group and I enjoy conversations that lay out different opinions and thoughts. The thing that stands out the most about me is that I am a "team player". I am strongly opposed to conflict and, in the past, my work has been affected by the need for everyone to be happy and satisfied in their job. What combination are you and which one stands out the most?

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