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Sep
09
2011
We Remember 9/11 Maranda Gibson

I like to think that I’m honest on this blog. I like to think that I give you all, you wonderful readers, an insight into what my real personality is. If I’ve represented my way in the hopes that I have then you will understand when I say that this post had to be written today.

As you know, Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks against the United States. In the aftermath of these attacks everything changed. Life as we knew it would never be the same. It was the same year that I graduated high school and over the course of a single summer the world would overwhelm me.

On the eve of the anniversary of the attacks, I’d like to just take a moment to ask that if you see a member of the fire department, police force, military, or an EMT out where you’re eating dinner or getting coffee, take a moment to thank them for what they do.

In fact, it’s something we should to a little more of.

With that being said, this post is dedicated in memory and honor to all civilians, first responders, Port Authority officers, and military members who lost their lives on such a day.

Sep
08
2011
5 Keys to Gaining a New Perspective Maranda Gibson

The The Prop Comics Guide to Public Speaking

This post kicks off a series on what a prop comic can teach us about how to present to an audience. We hope you enjoy!

I’m assuming that most of you would recognize the name Carrot Top. No? Okay, I’m wrong. How about the name Gallagher? (Come on, even I know that one) Both are comedians, but not the typical kind of get up and spew jokes into a microphone type – these two are prop comics.

Prop comedians use everyday objects to create humor. Carrot Top and Gallagher are two of the better known names. For example, a prop comic will use a breakaway chair or a street sign as a visual representation of their joke. Sitting down in a chair and falling to the floor can be a little bit funnier than saying “he sat in the chair and he fell”.

Prop comics are (sometimes) funny because of the way they see the world. They have a completely different perspective on life than we do. This changes the way a joke is delivered and makes the old seem new again. Speaking on the same subject over and over again can start to feel the same way but if you take the prop comic’s stance and look at things from a new perspective.

Look at things from a new perspective is simply a fancy way of saying use your imagination. If you don’t feel like you’re very good at that – don’t fret, there are some things that you can do to rekindle that old spark in your brain.

  1. Talk to a child. Children see things in an incredible way. Talk to a child about different objects and watch their imaginations run wild.
  2. Drive a different way to work in the morning. This one was my boss’s suggestion and I loved it. A different perspective isn’t always a different way of thinking of things. Sometimes, it’s simply seeing the physical world from a change of direction.
  3. Take an art / writing / other creative class. There is very little that can open your mind like simply being educated. Classes like this help to teach you how to harness the imagination you had when you were a child and put it into practice.
  4. Go to the city / country. People in the country do things differently than people in the city. Everyone knows it but taking a little trip one way or the other will remind you that you are not alone. Visit the grocery store and observe how the local family owned grocery operates differently than the chain store you attend.
  5. Go people watch at the mall. Make up stories about the different couples and people you see. If you haven’t seen our post on how to spin a story from a moment, I urge you to go over there and follow these steps at the mall. Making up a simple “who, what, when, where, why” for people you don’t know will put your imagination into overdrive.

The reason a prop comic can be really popular is because they are looking at items that we see every single day in a new and exciting way. By doing this with your presentation topic you can breathe new life into an old discussion and get your audience moving in a different direction.

Aug
31
2011
Toddler Speaking Tips Maranda Gibson

I am going to ask very nicely that no one judge me. I have expressed my love of really horrible reality television a number of times, but today I’d like to share a secret shame with you. Toddlers & Tiaras is my favorite show to watch with my husband. Not because we’re taking notes on how to win against all these other glitzy pageant queens but because we like to play the “Is it appropriate” game. While we both have encountered outfits or parental decision making that makes us cringe on that show, there’s also something to be learned.

I know, I know – I sound like one of those clichéd mothers that puts their daughter in pageants to relive their own glory days, but tell the TLC crew it is so she can learn communication skills (these are often the women with the cringe-worthy parental decision making skills). Here’s the part where I need you not to judge me. These mothers who spend way too much money on bedazzled skirts and spray tans are gasp right. Being in front of judges is one of the greatest tests of your communication skills. Suddenly, all of your abilities are on display – can you walk without tripping? Can you smile? Can you make eye contact? Do you look like you know what you’re doing? Your audience, board members, presentation panel, or team is a lot like a panel of judges. So do what the toddlers do and remember “pretty feet” and these five tips.

  1. Eye Contact. Holding the audiences eye is important, but you don’t want to keep your focus only on the people who are front and center. Spread the love and constantly scan and make eye contact with as many people as you can, even the people in the back.
  2. Speaking Clearly. If I say “it’s because some people don’t have maps, everyone, like, such as” don’t deny that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Speaking clearly is one of the most important parts of your presentation. If you’re mumbling or speaking in circles your participants won’t learn anything from you. Speak up for the people in the back.
  3. Personality. Don’t be a dud! When you’re onstage in front of an audience, it’s imperative that you sparkle and stand out. You want to be remembered – and no, you don’t need the fake eyelashes and glitter, you just need to have a great time. Speak with cadence to your voice, don’t read off your PowerPoint slides, and always move around the stage.
  4. Dressing the Part. Sorry everyone, but how you look is very important up on stage. It’s a way for your audience to relate to you. You should know the kind of people who will be attending your conference. For example, the conferences I have been to have always been business casual, and the speakers dress on the same level.
  5. Confidence and Fun. The truth is that when you’re up in front of an audience it’s all about just having a good time. You need to enjoy yourself, be passionate about the topic you’re speaking about or what you’re doing on stage. If you don’t truly believe in what you’re saying, no one else will either.

The whole idea of making a presentation might seem overwhelming to you but I promise you, if a four year old wearing her body weight in sequins and fake hair can do it – so can you.

Aug
29
2011
Customer Service Chat Tips Maranda Gibson

I sit behind a computer a lot, pretty much all day long. I check news sites, I write at work, I write at home, I send Tweets and update Facebook. Like many others, I am probably more likely to answer an email or a tweet than I am to answer a phone call. So when it comes to getting some help with a question or a need – I’m the person digging around on your website for a chat option, because I have too many things going on to try to wait 30 minutes for a rep to pick up the phone.

Not too long ago, I was on a chat with a company and felt like I was not being respected as the customer. I kept being told to hold on, there were long delays in getting any kind of response, and it seemed like the person wasn’t interested in dealing with my questions.

If you have read our post over on the AMEX Open Forum you know that we have very specific policies in regards to the way we handle customer service. When we decided to integrate a chat option, we kept many of the frustrations in mind and adopted five rules on how to responsibly use our customer chat feature.

  1. Take people chatting with customers off the phones. When we get notification of a chat, the person handling it immediately goes out of the phone queue. The chat customer deserves our full attention. We would never take two customer phone calls at the same time, so why try to juggle a chat and a phone call?
  2. No pop up window asking if someone wants to chat. We make our chat button visible and available on our website. We never “time” our customers and interrupt their browsing session in order to ask them if they need help. If they need us, they will let us know.
  3. We don’t ask our customers for feedback at the beginning of the chat. We feel like this can take advantage of the relationship we have with our clients. We believe that we shouldn’t ask our customers to “sell” our business for us, but if they want to talk to the manager or leave us great feedback, we will happily accept it.
  4. We let them know what’s going on. If a customer asks us something and we have to do some research on it, we always let them know to hold on for just a second and we’ll check everything out for them. If it takes us longer than we expect, we go back to the chat and update the customer. We would never leave a customer on the phone on hold for a long time and we don’t do that with our chat customers.
  5. Still no scripts. We have no phone scripts and we have no chat scripts. Just like over the phone, being able to operate without restrictions allows us to develop a friendly relationship with a client and better answer their questions. Copy and pasting is lame.

For the most part, customer chat seems to run smoothly, but recently, I’ve had some really annoying experiences and wondered why companies make things so difficult. Chatting is a great way for customers to contact us and we’ve had great success with it. Our customers are happy to have a lot of options if they want to get in touch with us. What are you doing to make chat customers feel as welcomed as those that call in on the phone?

Aug
25
2011
The Man Who Talked Too Much Maranda Gibson

Dr. Bob is a legend at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, but if you go on campus to ask students where to find “Dr. Bob” the only people who will direct you to him will be those who are in the field of Communication. Dr. Bob, also known as Dr. Robert Steinmiller, presides over his class in a way that makes you think of Santa Claus. He looks like the jolly one, too – with a bright red nose, a round belly, and a full beard. He likes to laugh, tell stories, and is incredibly approachable.

Dr. Bob was my favorite teacher in college and as the debate coach he was a close mentor to me. Without debate and his encouragement, I probably would not have crawled out of my shell. Since I graduated from a small school, I took a lot of courses from the same professor – and Dr. Bob was always my choice. Dr. Bob was a story teller and a joke teller. For as wonderful and as amazing of a professor that he was, he had a tendency to get a little long winded – not that he wasn’t an amazing communicator, he just failed to miss the warning signs in his easily distracted college students.

Here are the warning signs that Dr. Bob should have been looking for:

  • Lots and lots of yawning.
  • No one is blinking (also known as “zoning out”)
  • Obviously working on something else.
  • Sleeping.

These are also warning signs you can look for in your next presentation to tell if you need to bring your points back into focus. Just like Dr. Bob, I bet you’re a great presenter, it’s just sometimes; we forget that when we are passionate about something, we might go on just a little bit too long. If you can recognize the warning signs early, you’ll be able to wrap up your story and get back on track.

Have you ever seen these signs when you’re in the middle of a presentation? Share in the comments and tell me what did to get everyone’s attention back. How did you get yourself back on track?

PS: Dr. Bob if you are reading this – you were always my favorite and you always will be.

Aug
24
2011
How to Spin a Story from a Moment Maranda Gibson

If you’ve been keeping up with me lately, you’ll know that I recently purchased my first house and have been getting settled for about a month. One of the things that I enjoy the most about my new home is that we are in the flight path of DFW International airport. Whenever I’m outside, I love to watch the planes fly overhead. I know it sounds silly, but I really enjoy watching the jets climb over the tree tops and then make the slow turn that brings them directly over my house.

Since I’m a creative person, and a writer, I find myself thinking of who is on the plane, where is the plane going, and why. The plane flying overhead only lasts a moment and there is a lot of compelling story that could be told. Stories are essential for driving your point home, especially when presenting. Stories give you context, they show the audience a way to see a different perspective, and they also set up the punch line to any jokes you might be trying to tell. But even the best writer can get writers block and creating stories can be that much harder if you don’t do it on a regular basis. In order to create stories you have to see the world in a different way. Here’s an exercise you can do to start to open your eyes to seeing those stories.

Ask one question about everything that makes you take pause. Seeing something that makes you look again is a great way to start to see the stories. Whenever you see something like that ask yourself one question about what you saw. Write down your question and a brief description of the scene so you don’t forget.

Example: The other day, there were men in the building wearing sombreros and when asked about them; the response was “That’s top secret”. I asked myself why they were wearing the sombreros.

Answer the question with one sentence. When you get home or back to the office, answer the question in one sentence. Take my sombrero question – “Why were these men wearing sombreros?” and answer it very simply. My answer to the question as “Because it was someone’s birthday”.

In three paragraphs describe the events leading up to the moment that made you take pause. Why would someone want everyone to wear sombreros on their birthday? Did the boss rent a margarita machine? Does someone really like salsa dancing? The reason to this is because if you can “make up” a story you should have an easier time seeing the stories that are always around you.

Doing this isn’t going to turn you into an author, but what it will do is get your mind open to what could be going on around you, and give you more of the ability to see the world through open eyes. You never know where the inspiration for your next blog post might come from.

Aug
16
2011
You Are Not A Bird, Stop Winging It Maranda Gibson

I went back a few weeks ago and watched my wedding video. We had a wonderful ceremony and like most weddings it wasn’t without its problems. The AC stopped working in the reception hall, which in the middle of June means everyone is going to sweat like mad. My friend from high school had to leave in an ambulance after accidentally putting her hand through the glass window pane and passing out in the bathroom – something I didn’t know until well after the wedding. (She’s a really great friend). Aside from those things, we were also the catalyst for what has become the worst best man speech of all time.

No, I’m not being mean, if you ask him, he will agree with you, and if you ask him what went wrong he will tell you.

“I was winging it.”

No, you didn’t read it wrong – my husband’s best friend made it up as he went along (for 30 minutes) about really nothing.

Personally, I think you should never wing it. Even if it’s a situation where you’re speech is something that everyone isn't looking forward to.

I understand that not every speech can be planned.

  1. Always have an idea of how you're going to introduce yourself. You should always have a standard greeting for yourself and your company, that way you're not stumbling through "umms" and "ahhs" as you try to think of things on the spot. This is also known as your "Elevator Pitch".
  2. Think about the subject being covered and what your knowledge of the subject matter is. If you were asked to "weigh in" for a brief moment, what would you say? You don't have to write this down, but at least give yourself an idea of what your take would be so you would be prepared if someone were to say, "Hey you, what do you think about blogging/social media/etc".
  3. Do some research. Learning more about a subject is always a great idea -- and if you think that you might end up having to weigh in on a subject you don't know much about it, take about ten minutes and Google it. It'll pay off in the end.

No matter what you're about to attend (wedding, graduation speech, networking event) you should always remember that you are not a bird, so stop winging it.

What do you do to get prepared when anticipating having to make a speech?

Aug
12
2011
Interning at AccuConference: Saying Goodbye Maranda Gibson

Sadly, I have to annouce that our summer interns Kaitlyn and Laura Lee have left us to head back to college. It's been a big summer for them and I have to say they have been a pleasure to have around the office. Here is our interns last thoughts on their summer at AccuConference.

By: Laura Lee - Oklahoma State

Well everybody, the time has come. Time to pack up my bags, shove everything I own into my car, jump on I-35 and head north for the familiar 4 hours. The college term is starting soon and it’s time to get back to the hectic, crazy and fun life that accompanies every college student. This will be my last year as an undergrad on campus, and soon I will have to face the real world, go find a big girl job, and eventually, grow up. These past three months have served as a stepping stone for the rest of my future life. It’s helped me realize my options of growing up as well as the many facets of working in a business environment. I will sincerely miss the people of Accuconference along with their good humor and high level of efficiency.

What was great about this internship was that through it all I actually felt of use to the rest of the employees in the office. It was cool to be of help through the company’s website changes and creations, and help directly with customers through daily mail outs and monthly UPS boxes. From everything that our ‘mentor’, Maranda, taught Kaitlyn and I’d be happy to say that we gave back a little, by being responsible enough to help out with her projects as a team.

This summer, working with the Marketing team here at Accuconference has taught me that flexibility is key to success with SEO and Google. You also must know your game and know it well, so your flexibility isn’t tinged with surprise. I also have been introduced to the remarkable monster known to us as Google Reader, and I am sure that I will be reading through the blogs that have been recommended to me and blogs that I’ve found on my own for a very long time. It’s a whole different type of learning experience when you are actually able to witness firsthand what is being taught to you. It’s obviously a lot more interactive than a boring classroom setting, and because of this I’ve been able to learn even more.

I now have a far more expansive work portfolio leaving this internship than I did before. My plan is to impress my future employers through the roof and make them hire me on the spot with my beefed up resume from this summer. Internships are the best thing you can do for yourself if you are a college undergraduate. I know that during the time I spent searching for the right internship for me I was keenly aware that I would be setting myself at a serious disadvantage if I did not intern with a company that aligned with my interests (for example, marketing).

Overall, it’s been a great summer. I’ve learned a lot more about SEO, learned some office/business etiquette, and I’ve learned that in the Texas heat it really is possible to fry an egg on the sidewalk. I’ll be walking out of this office for the last time, and I’ll be walking out a more educated person.

 

By: Kaitlyn - Texas A&M

This week will mark a bittersweet occasion, my last week of interning at AccuConference. A couple more days and Laura Lee and I will be gone, back to our own schools. I know you all are devastated (riiight), but I want y’all to stay strong.

Someone in a movie once said, “Where is the good in goodbye?” While this may be a fitting question for many situations, I can find plenty of good in my goodbye from AccuConference. From the first day I set foot in the office, it has been nothing but a learning experience and I will be departing here with a brain full of new smarts. Not only that, I will be leaving with a larger work portfolio and a shiny new pin on my resume. In today’s economy, I am thankful to have even snagged an internship at all, let alone the valuable one I had this summer. I can’t help but feel a little silly when I think back to my first blog post and how torn I was when deciding which company to intern for. I might be a little biased, but I’m quite confident I picked the right one.

Of all I have learned, one thing that sticks out to me is relearning how to write. In college, I submit a paper to the professor, they grade it, write some notes, give it back to me, and it’s done. It’s a one-time event. I hate to admit that I do not follow the traditional writing process of spending weeks writing multiple drafts for each paper that is due. Once it is submitted I am done, and I dump everything about that paper out of my head, never to return to it again. Here at work, the story is far from the same. I may submit five drafts of a writing piece to my bosses before it is approved. I receive critiques and edits to be made and I constantly revisit the same articles until they are up to par. I’ve realized this is how the real world works, so I’m glad I learned that this summer instead of later in the midst of my first real job.

Another is, of course, all the things I learned about Google and SEO, but anyone who has read my blog posts is probably fully aware of this by now. I was learning something new about it every single week. I feel like it deserves some mention in my very last blog post, considering it has been a recurring theme in each of them.

As the short time remaining before my last day of work is winding down, I am reminded of how pleasant it’s been working with this great bunch of people. The thoughtful gestures, friendly conversations, and welcoming faces will surely be missed. It’s been impressive watching them market an intangible product and give customer service to customers they will never meet. I hope each of them realize how valuable they are.

Sure, I will be saying goodbye to AccuConference, but I’m glad to say there is good in this one, and I’m certain all that “good” will come in handy for whatever I pursue in the future. I am excited for the new changes ahead of me and plan to take everything head-on, jump in with both feet, fly by the seat of my pants, put my best foot forward and all those other sayings about trying my best and moving onward. I think all that’s left to say is, “Look out, world, here I come.”

Aug
10
2011
Down With Being Boring Maranda Gibson

Have you ever seen the movie Down With Love?

I have seen it so many times. You have to look beyond the fact that it didn't get great reviews and see it as what it really is -- it a satirical piece that pokes gentle, but loving, fun at the rom-coms of the 60's. It happened to be on a couple of weeks ago and I watched it with a friend. (Sidenote: Movies like this should always be watched with your best friend. It makes them way more fun.)

The movie was so flawless in its satire - even right down to the over the top, wild hand gestures. David Hyde Pierce really has those down pat. My friend and I determined that everything should have big, over the top hand gestures. It makes things more exciting. Simply reading your lines in a movie and expecting a reaction is not going to be effective. The reason Down With Love works is because the actors and directors took special steps to make sure they moved and spoke in a way that would make the audience feel a certain way. The hand movements and camera angle were supposed to look cheesy -- so that I would remember my love of 60s rom-coms and giggle.

The next time you host an event or a web conference, think about how you are using the tools at your disposal to evoke emotions in your participants. Much like an actor, your tools are limited to your voice, movements, and facial expression. When you're without one or more of these elements, like on a conference call, it makes it harder to get the reactions you want and you could end up failing. Think about when Hollywood made the move to "talking pictures" rather than silent films, many of the faces that people had grown to love were no longer a viable part of Hollywood because they had really unattractive voices.

It's not really a shock, then, that I am often suggesting that you are aware of the way you sound. Which is where this title comes into play -- Down With Love has inspired me to advise to be Down With Being Boring.

  • Stop writing out all of your notes on a page and reading them word for word.
  • Stop standing behind a podium.
  • Stop mumbling.
  • Stop leaving your audience out of the presentation.

Instead....

  • Start making a bullet list so that you can follow a guide for your presentation instead of droning on and on. (People know when you're reading from a list)
  • Step out from behind the podium and walk around the stage during live presentations. Movements are natural.
  • Speak clearly and enunciate. Be sure you host a sound check with the conference call provider or the venue to have a sound check.
  • Leave plenty of time for a Q&A session. The information you're presenting will surely raise questions along the way -- questions that only you can answer.

On your next presentation or conference call, try taking the down with being boring approach and see how your feedback changes. What do you do to keep from being boring when you make presentations?

Aug
09
2011
Interning at AccuConference: The Old School Way Maranda Gibson

Laura Lee brings us this look into how there are some people still holding onto the "old school" way of doing things in this weeks Intern Post.

There’s a saying out there that goes something like ‘old habits die hard’. In the business world, and especially the online marketing world, I’ve found that the key to survival is to be flexible and grossly up to date on new technologies and SEO. I guess the world is full of contradictions then, because merely 100 feet down the hallway from our SEO powerhouse and updating machine is an office, complete with a desk, a peppermint jar, and a typewriter. No, this is not meant to give the office an antique-y feel; the entire office literally belongs in a museum. Strolling down the hallway one morning on the way back from the building café, (great breakfast muffins- not so great chocolate chip cookies) my intern buddy and I encountered this completely foreign sight. An older gentleman, with suspenders and beard was bent over his typewriter hard at work. We couldn’t believe it – we had to go back for a second look.

Here I am thinking that a typewriter (the last time I saw one of those things was in Grandma’s basement) is completely useless. No email system? No Google? No FACEBOOK?? I wondered how that office managed to stay in business. But thinking back on it, our neighbor with his typewriter probably is the least distracted tenant in the building. (Maybe in the whole country- who knows how many more typewriters are out there). He’s got nothing to take his mind off of typing; no social media notifications popping up at him. He is a free man. So my question is: is newer actually better? There is no way that I can be reverted back to a typewriter; especially when all I know is the PC and the Mac both which are fully capable of spooning me up some Facebook, Twitter, and all the other distracting social media whenever my heart desires.

I know even though we at AccuConference are equipped with our high powered and internet-capable machines that keep us so wrapped up in what we are doing, it actually is possible to enjoy yourself when hard at work.

This hot summer weather is not letting up anytime soon- I’m pretty sure Texas is heading towards a consecutive heat record. So I plan to make the best of it by blasting my AC, frying eggs on the parking lot and spending as much time as close to bodies of water as I can. (Preferably IN the water). Other than that, I’ll be here, melting in the heat and learning as much as I can!

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