The Man Who Talked Too Much

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.

How to Spin a Story from a Moment

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.

You Are Not A Bird, Stop Winging It

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?

Interning at AccuConference: Saying Goodbye

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.”

Down With Being Boring

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?

Interning at AccuConference: The Old School Way

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!

Are You Asking The Right Questions?

I’ve finally purchased a home and one of the (many) unexpected things I have to do involves transferring my utilities. My power company makes it very easy – all I have to do is go online and arrange for the start date at one address and the stop date at the other. (Thanks Reliant)

With my cable company, my husband and I have been considering switching to a different company, since my bill has gotten completely out of control. I joined the customer service chat with my current provider to get details on how to turn off the service, if we chose to do so. The person I chatted with was very helpful and I was very honest with her about what we were considering.

She gave me all of the information, let me know about when I would be billed again and how the bill would be prorated should we chose to disconnect our services. She forgot one very important thing – she never asked me why I was planning a switch of services. There’s a good chance that with the right price, I could have been persuaded to stay with them a little longer.

My reason for wanting to leave is the steady dollar or two rise of my bill over the last few cycles, which can add up fast. This representative failed to ask me one very simple question – Why is it that you are looking for a new service? It’s very important when a customer calls you to cancel or close their service you ask them why they are interested in discontinuing their services.

Even if you can’t retain the customer, they might be willing to give you some insight on how you can improve an aspect or two of your company. Are you asking questions when your clients call in to cancel services? Do you think it’s important to find out why they are leaving and going to another brand? What do you ask them instead?

Picking Up What You're Putting Down

I admit to loving the cliche I'm picking up what you're putting down. I think it’s hilarious – don’t judge me. But I heard it the other day and I wondered how we can apply a statement like this to things like writing. Writing a blog is all about catching someone’s attention and getting them to come back over and over again. What makes someone “pick up” what you’re “putting down”?

  1. Make it shiny. What makes you lean down and pick up a coin from the ground? The answer to that question is simple – because it’s metal and the light catches your eye. Natural curiosity has you stopping to study the item to see what it is. 1. For blogs you have to create the shiny effect by grabbing their attention right away. Many readers are “skimmers” so they’ll read the beginning and the end, so if those aren’t interesting, your readers are going to move on. You have to tell a story, or a joke, and create a moment that they will want to stick around for. Now, you’ve caught their eye, just like a shiny coin waiting on the sidewalk.
  2. Add some value. How many times has a penny grabbed your attention and you’ve walked right on by? Why? Because it’s a penny and many of us can’t see the value of a single penny. (Don’t try to tally up the number of times you have done this, it will only depress you – seriously.) If that penny magically becomes a dime, I know you’re going to pick it up and put it in your pocket. 1. You have to tell people how the heck they are supposed to take what you’re writing and make it work for them. It is one thing to say “hey this worked for me” but another to really show them. If you don’t want to give away your own secrets, that’s okay, but you need to show them how another company did something similar. This is so your readers will be inspired to do something about the idea you’re sharing.
  3. Save, save, save. That dime will end up in a change jar or hanging out in your purse with your lip gloss, until the day comes that you’ve had enough and you head down to turn that coin into cash and go shopping.
  4. It’s one thing to make your readers pick up the coin and it’s another to make them save it. When you’re writing you have to give them a reason to carry around the information. It’s not as simple as “great content” – it’s about showing readers how your post is going to affect their business or blog down the road. What happens in six months? What happens in twelve? Give them an idea so that they will put your post in their pocket and take it with them.

The next time you write a blog, plan a conference call, or start new campaigns think about how your attention is grabbed when you see that coin on the street. What makes you think it’s valuable and worth putting in your pocket? Ask yourself this – are your readers or atendees picking up what you’re putting down?

Make the Things You Hate Suck Less

Confession: I hate cucumbers and tomatoes. There is just something about the texture and that jelly like seed pod thing in the center that just grosses me out. I am such a picky eater in the first place, but you start trying to fancy up my salad with crap like cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, that just became the garbage cans lunch and I'm going hungry.

Second confession (two in one post!): I love pickles and bruschetta.

What is that? I had this realization about myself and my food choices last week and I simply can't understand it. Throw a cucumber in some vinegar or toss some Roma tomatoes with basil and garlic and I will be the happiest girl in the world. Why? Simple - someone took something I dislike and added a lot of things that I do like (salt, garlic, warm and toasty bread). Those simple additions can take something that would make me walk away from a meal and chow down.

It's a principal you can apply to one of the most hated things in all the lands - public speaking. Figure out the things you don't like and add elements of things you really look forward to. Here's a couple of examples:

  1. You hate being the center of attention, but love a team atmosphere. Instead of the typical 'stand in front of a room' presentation try doing a collaboration type of presentation. Let people make comments, ask questions, and build off a main idea that you have presented. Instead of doing a thirty minute presentation and then taking brief Q&A, do a five minute presentation and spend the rest of time getting your audiences input.
  2. You hate using a podium, but love attending round table meetings. In this case, consider setting up something more like a town hall meeting and using limited visuals if possible. Try to put yourself on the eye level of your audience by sitting down on a stool and shifting around as you speak to make eye contact.
  3. You hate using PowerPoint, but love a visual element in presentations. Try a different kind of visual presentation -- like using a short video or even the old school white board. PowerPoint, strangely enough, can make a lot of people uncomfortable so even though it might be considered "old school" to not use one, you have to find what works for you. Just remember that it is never okay to read from your presentation slides.

Just like cucumbers and tomatoes, public speaking can be considered a hated part of every day society, but by adding in some things you like, you might never think about the bad things.

Tell Your Story

A couple of weeks ago, while catching up on some reading, I came across a post from Mack Collier (the leader and brains behind Sunday night #blogchat on Twitter) titled: Turning Failure into Success. I suggest that everyone check it out and read it, but if you can’t, here’s a quicker overview. Mack tells a story of his lack of preparedness in a college Business Communication presentation, his train of thought completely derailed, and even how he considered abandoning ship. Nine years later, at the B2B Forum, he found himself wishing he was presenting there – a far cry from the nervous kid who wanted to run nine years before.

I sent Mack a brief tweet and let him know how great I thought his post was and got an interesting comment back from him, stating that he hesitates to write personal stories because he doesn’t think anyone reads them.

I was absolutely surprised to read this. If you’ve never read Mack’s blog or followed him on Twitter, I’ve always found him to be very personal. His writing style is very open and honest, so I was surprised to hear that he doesn’t usually like to tell personal stories. I am the exact opposite and love to tell personal stories that somehow relate or lead into the points I am about to make.

I wonder why bloggers feel this way. Mack isn’t the first blogger I’ve corresponded with who feels like their personal stories are unwelcome in their posts. For those, like Mack, who feel like personal stories are often pushed to the wayside, I offer, as a reader, two thoughts on storytelling and blogging.

Everyone is a storyteller. No, not everyone is going to be able to sit down and hammer out a novel the likes of Stephen King or Tom Clancy, but everyone has experiences. We have all been in one place or another and had a moment resonate with us, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t have a story to tell.

Everything has a story. Look at this post – what’s the story here? The story is that Mack told me something surprising and it made me think, and this post was born. Those are the kind of things that I love to know when reading a post. Where did your inspiration come from? What made you think that this story was relevant to the topic that you wanted to write about? Those are the things I want to read about, the things I want to know.

What you’re saying about a certain subject is just as important as how you go the place where you had to sit down and write your thoughts out. I want to know that, I want to feel your passion and your feelings on the subject. What do you think? Are you like Mack and feel like no one wants to read your personal stories, or do you write more like me who believes that every story is worth telling?