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Feb
21
2011
Never Underestimate a Thank You Maranda Gibson

I have a client who often sends me questions or requests to change their account via email. He and I have a very good relationship, even if he always spells my name incorrect. It’s no big deal, but when you’re reading an email and you see your name spelled wrong, it’s one of those things that stand out. He and I were working on something that took a little bit of investigation and when it was all over, I sent him a thank you card.

The card was mailed a few weeks ago and yesterday, he emailed me again with another question and thanked me for the card. What else? He spelled my name correctly. Much like how it would stand out when it was wrong, it stood out even more when it was right.

I found it interesting that it was the first email after he got his card – it stood out to me and I can’t help but wonder if maybe the reason is because of the card. If you want to stand out to a customer, here are five ways to thank them.

  1. Send them a card just to thank them for their time and let them know you appreciate their business.
  2. Give great customer service and always thank them for choosing your company.
  3. Invite them to write guest posts on your blog or be interviewed for your newsletter.
  4. Send them a gift. It doesn’t really matter what you send them but something to express your appreciation of their continued business can do wonders.
  5. Send follow up email to thank someone for taking the time to sit down with you and let them know that you’re available to help them whenever they need it.

Sometimes, giving your customer “thanks” isn’t just in what you say, it’s in what you do. You can thank your customers by just showing them that you appreciate that they are choosing your company to do business with. What are you doing to thank your customers?

Feb
18
2011
Five Tips for a Happier Home Worker Maranda Gibson

A few weeks ago, we had an ice storm and record breaking cold weather that trapped most people in their homes for four days. I personally went a little crazy after two days and was ready to return to the office. I couldn’t imagine how people do that kind of thing every day – then I realized they probably weren’t thrown in to the middle of it like I was, nor are they sitting in front of their lap top in their living room because they don’t own a desk.

That week taught me a lot about what it takes to work from home and the things that would have made my four days in my living room a little more productive and a little less crazy. Here are five tips to being a little more productive at home and a little less distracted.

  1. Make a written schedule and include breaks. Plan out your day on paper and stick to it, but schedule yourself to have breaks away from your desk. I know you want to go change out a load of laundry – so put it on your schedule so it gets done and you can get back to work.
  2. Have a daily conference call to check in with your employees or co-workers. When you’re away from your desk and away from everyone, it can be hard to keep track of those that you work with. Check in with them daily and remind yourself of the people you work with.
  3. If you have an office to go to, schedule a day in the middle of the week to spend the day there. If not, grab your laptop or iPad so you can get out of the house for a little while.
  4. Shut the door when “work time” is over. Keep a separation between your work and home life by creating a work space that you can close the door to, that way, you won’t see the stack of papers on your desk that need to be finished. Out of sight and out of mind – enjoy time at home!
  5. Work with background noise that makes you comfortable. Some people work better with complete silence. Personally, I need some background tunes. In the office, you’ll rarely find me without my headphones on, and at home, I love the sound of the TV in the background. Take advantage of being at home and watch a violent slasher flick, if that’s what motivates you – just turn it off before you take a call or have a video conference.

I know a lot of you work from home – it’s a trend that we’ve seen on the increase over the last few years, and as someone who probably wouldn’t like it very much, I’m wondering if any of you ever felt the same. What did you do to make your day more productive at home? Did you hate it at first and now you love it? What happened to make you change your mind?

Feb
15
2011
The Bing and Google Battle Maranda Gibson

Computerworld released an article last week that alleges that search engine Bing! is more accurate than rival (and unofficial giant) Google. With Experian Hitwise reporting that Bing boasted a higher market share of search, as well as snagging 1% from Google in January, and with a popular marketing campaign that suggests those who use “other” sites suffer from search engine overload, data suggests Bing is making moves in a positive direction.

Even though the allegations are out there that Bing copies Google’s algorithms, the response by Microsoft that denies the allegations, and a number of other denials and finger pointing – the truth, as they say, is in the search – or is that pudding?

There is a lot of wiggle room in these numbers though and it is slightly irresponsible to see higher percentages and simply state that Bing is hanging it to Google in the accurate search department. Among many other things that stand out and being possibly fallacies, I see three big problems with just looking at the numbers of Bing .VS. Google.

  1. The numbers don’t address the browser that is being used. If you open Internet Explorer, the default search engine is going to be Bing! and for someone who doesn’t use search that often, it’s easiest to just go with what is given.
  2. There is no accounting for who is searching – the difference between someone who is “experienced” at web surfing and someone who will go to whatever engine is provided and click on the first link that comes up.
  3. How many of the Bing! users have to go back and search again? Are the percentages reported from Experian Hitwise taking into account that those users might have to come back and search again because they didn’t get what they want?

Google has long carried the mission statement that they are dedicated to providing the most accurate search results in in your first query. Look at this study from last year that shows that most Google users are experts, while most Bing! users aren’t. Doesn’t that speak to the quality of results that a Google user will generate versus a Bing! user? Saying that a higher number of clicks means the results are more accurate is kind of like saying I have more money in the bank, so I make more than you, to someone like Donald Trump.

What do you think? Is Google losing ground – or is the whole thing just a bunch of baloney without any real meat?

Feb
10
2011
Planning for Unforeseen Circumstances Maranda Gibson

One of the biggest stories of last week was a massive winter storm that left drivers stranded on highways in Oklahoma and made travel to Dallas/Fort Worth locations nearly impossible. Usually, getting around town wouldn’t be a big deal, but it just so happened that the Superbowl and a myriad of events were in town. Last week was a once in a lifetime experience that brought with it a once in a lifetime winter storm.

We get snow and ice in this area, but it usually only sticks around for a day, with the sun coming out and temps rebounding quickly. Four days of below freezing and not a peek of sunshine weather is not what we expect. The city froze – along with the roads and various events. Charity events were cancelled, celebrity appearances were cancelled, and when Saturday brought a sunny day, unexpected crowds left a lot of people waiting in line – myself included. Now, we can never anticipate something like the ice and snow that fell across our area last week, but we can try to plan for the unforeseen circumstances. Here are some things we can learn from living in the middle of the unexpected winter blast.

Plan for more attendees than you need. On Saturday, more people showed up than there was space for, and the fire marshal had to close the doors. Get with your conference call provider and find out how many people you can have, what you need to make a reservation, and plan over what you expect so that if you do have additional people coming in, they won’t get turned away.

Advertise One Start Time. The event I tried to attend was advertised on the bands site as beginning at 2:30. Those of us that showed up at 1:30 were an hour early for that event, but were still turned away due to the first event being full. If you’re going to have multiple presenters or speakers, send out one start time for the event as a whole, and then send out a detailed agenda about the events going on throughout the day.

Communicate earliest start times. Even though your event starts at 10AM, can participants log in before that time? Are they able to call in five or fifteen minutes early? If so, communicate that message so that those who are anxious to join the conference are guaranteed a spot.

In the end, I listened to the concert on TV later that night and realized that even though some things are seen as “once in a lifetime” events – like the biggest football game of the year or a monumental winter storm,  we can’t see the future to know everything that might be coming. We can only plan for the unexpected and give everyone a lot of information upfront so that there are no surprises.

What are you doing to plan for the unexpected that might come across on your conference calls or events? What is your contingency plan in the event of a last minute change?

Feb
07
2011
Useful Debate and an Open Mind Maranda Gibson

Have you ever fallen into a conversation you didn’t really want to have? I have a friend who is incredibly smart, open, and kind, but we disagree on 99.99% of everything socially and politically. There isn’t anything wrong with that since she and I obey the rules for civil debate. Sorry to tell you, but not everyone is going to be able to have these kinds of open conversations. There is a fine line between openly sharing ideas and wanting to bang your head against the wall.

Enter Gini Dietrich over on the Spin Sucks blog and echoes the sentiments I have felt since my years participating in intercollegiate debate – your mom tells you what you want to hear. (Doesn’t she though? Moms are the best people to talk to when you need a little confidence boost.) In her post, Gini challenged us all to reach out to a blogger or co-worker that we find ourselves disagreeing with and talk to them.

Like Gini says, we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people, so how do we step out of that comfort zone to gain a greater perspective on the opinions of others around us. How do we introduce ourselves to new ideas and new opinions?

  1. Attend an event outside of your comfort zone. Sign up to go to a networking event or conference that you wouldn’t usually see yourself attending. If you’re into social media marketing sign up to attend a conference that focuses on more traditional marketing ventures.
  2. Befriend someone who is interested in something you are not. The old adage of opposites attract can be very helpful when it comes to expanding your horizons. Making a new friend who loves comic books might show you that you don’t have to be surrounded with the people who love and think the way you do.
  3. Educate yourself on new things. Set a goal to learn about one new opinion each month. Think about the things you are passionate about; educate yourself on the origins of the “opposing sides” opinion. Why do they feel the way they do? How were their thoughts and opinions shaped by the changes in the world? Just remember to read with an open mind instead of a defensive one.

Learning another’s opinion is an important part of success and just because you may not agree, it doesn’t mean their opinions should be discounted. How will you be reaching out to a new thought or idea? What can we do to be more open minded when it comes to all parts of life – not just in business?

Feb
03
2011
Twitter Emergency Management Maranda Gibson

A huge winter storm moved across the Midwest this week, leaving areas from Dallas/Fort Worth to Chicago and over to the Northeast covered with ice and snow. With blizzard conditions reported in areas of Missouri, Oklahoma, and Illinois, driving conditions got worse and drivers found themselves stranded along major thoroughfares. Conditions were so bad that a number of interstates were closed from Oklahoma to Missouri to Kansas.

Tuesday night, the Department of Emergency Management in Oklahoma issued to Civil Emergency Message to stranded drivers along Oklahoma highways, advising motorists to stay warm, conserve fuel, and to dial 911 if they are stranded. I’ve seen these messages before but the message issued last night contained something new.

If you are on Twitter, you can tweet your information to @OKEM.

Twitter has increasingly become a form of media to express weather conditions or traffic. Follow any media personality from a local news station, emergency management location, or even a school district account and you’ll find that more of these are embracing Twitter as a means to get information out to the public. School closings, road conditions, and even National Weather Service warnings are becoming something that is seen often on various Twitter accounts.

This means that Twitter is being seen more and more as a legitimate means of communication and not just a way to update the world on what you’re reading or having for lunch. If the OKEM is accepting Twitter as a preferred means of communication – and I’m sure other agencies will follow. I thought of some ways we may see agencies using Twitter in the future.

Police & fire departments can send out Twitter updates for extreme situations – like hostage events or even terrorist threats or DM the police department with tips about unsolved crimes.

School districts can use twitter to update on a number of different issues. Since a lot of students are on Twitter, you can send @ replies to students or even DMs to notify students and parents about impending weather service warnings or any dangerous situations in the area that could affect your children.

National Weather Service could take advantage of Twitter’s growing popularity by actively finding users in locations that have imminent warnings. Imagine being at a movie with friends and getting a text notification that there is a tornado warning – instead of being completely unaware.

Twitter, long seen as just a marketing or “friending” trend, does have the potential to keep us up to date. While Twitter will never replace traditional 911 services how do you see other types of emergency management or alert systems being used to update citizens on potential problems?

Jan
26
2011
Speech Writing Tips Maranda Gibson

When the State of the Union address opened, I was reminded that the President of the United States is a powerful and engaging public speaker, and he opened his address the way that I have advised public speakers to do for a long time.

He opened with an engaging and thought provoking story about the birth of the United States, and how our country was built on the backs of pilgrims and critical thinkers.

“That's why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It's why our students don't just memorize equations, but answer questions like "What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?"”

Now, say whatever about his political platform and his political beliefs, but the above mentioned are powerful words. Considering he spent a good amount of time on the subject of education, it was a great way to tie in the whole speech and express a common theme.

When dealing with a powerful public speaker, we are sometimes so enamored by their presence; we forget that the words have to come from somewhere. In the White House, the President is surrounded by talented speech writers. We give tips on speaking in front of a crowd but how do we make sure to express the right message with our words? Here are some tips for speechwriting.

  1. Select a main idea and define the purpose of your speech. When your audience walks out once your speech is complete – what is the central thought that you want rolling around in their head?
  2. Keep it conversational – this is a speech, not a graded paper. You only have an opportunity to make your speech once, and there is no ability for your participants to go back and reread the way you said something, so write the speech the way you talk.
  3. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Cut out all the fat, read it out loud to someone, let them tell you what doesn’t make sense, then reword or cut it all together. A speech is just like any other thing you’ve written – it’s not going to be right the first time out.

Preparing a speech is long, hard work, no matter if you’re making a speech like the State of the Union or if you’re going to talk about something more specific to your industry or focus. You still need to be prepared and be sure you have a clear, concise message for your audience.

Jan
18
2011
Tips From A King Maranda Gibson

I have written about the great communicators in the past, Presidents and world leaders who have made their mark on society through economic or political changes. People have taken note of their speeches and dissected them at length to see what made these speeches so powerful.

The thing that is so interesting about being a public speaker is that there are a million different reasons why you can end up in the position to make a speech and different barriers you can come up against when you get there. It’s why I’ve been intrigued by the story of The King’s Speech staring Colin Firth. A brief history about the film – Colin Firth stars as King George VI, a man who was never supposed to be king. When Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry an American woman, George was unexpectedly thrust at the throne.

George suffered from a terrible stutter and as a monarch, who is often in front of the English public, it simply wouldn’t do. The King’s Speech is the story of George’s speech therapist, named Lionel, and the King himself as they work on improving his speech skills.

I stumbled across this great set of presentation tips from @JesseDee through Lifehacker yesterday, all about what you can learn from the movie and apply to your own presentations. It’s a great set of tips and I really recommend you check out the full slideshow, but here were two of my favorite tips.

Admit You Need Help.

Bottom line – we all have flaws. Let go of your ego and find an expert in the field you might be struggling with. It could be something as simple as reaching out to a scientist to help you word a phrase or getting a speech therapist to help you over a stammer.

Put the Hours In.

You want to be a great public speaker? It’s a lofty goal but you have to be willing to focus and hone your craft. As @JesseDee put it, there is no substitute for hard work. You want to be great at something you’re going to have to break your back in order to get it. That’s the bottom line.

I highly recommend that you check out the full set of tips here and that you give The King’s Speech a fighting chance when it comes to your next film. It’s on my list of things to watch. What orators do you know that have struggled with their speech and what have they done to change things?

Jan
13
2011
Curiosity Can Be a Good Thing Maranda Gibson

Picture credit to Milo Gasagrande.

Growing up, my dad was a gadget fan – he used to want to have all the latest computer chips and software, he wanted the latest video cards, and he wanted to be a part of this thing called the “world wide web”. My brother and I were one of the first kids in our elementary school to know how to “log on” to the Internet, how to send an email, and how to add RAM to a computer tower. In the late 80’s and early 90s, the quality of electronic devices didn’t stand the test of time – or the test of two children. Things would break and would need to be replaced – personally, I admit to helping keep VCR’s off the shelf. When a VCR would break, my dad, instead of throwing it away, would announce the electronics killer had struck again, and then let me have it.

What did I do with it? I tore it apart – every screw, every chip, every piece of metal. I broke apart the machine and I examined the parts that made it. What made the tape in the VCR turn? How did it project from the thin film through a wire, and onto my TV. Was there a tiny Ariel and Sebastian hiding in front of a teeny tiny lens and acting out The Little Mermaid five and six times a week? No, there wasn’t, but I liked pulling things apart and looking at them.

As an adult, I have the same inclinations – when I see something I don’t understand, or something that is new, I want to learn everything I can about how it works, what makes it tick, how to pull it apart and put it back together. I’ve performed very careful surgeries on laptops that have saved me a lot of money and fixed wires and sound systems, helped remove viruses from computers on the other side of the United States, and saved myself lots of money on tech assistance because I can do a lot of things on my own.

I stumbled upon an old study from the University of Buffalo that found that curiosity is very good for people. The study found that people who are curious tend to experience more positive interpersonal outcomes than the less curious. Basically, those who are curious want to learn more about people, ask more questions, and are personally satisfied when they find out new or surprising information.

Did you ever think that your curiosity as a child could start setting up your interests and strengths as an adult? We used to get scolded when we were children about getting into things that we weren’t supposed to get into, but we were just reacting to our natural curiosities. We weren’t supposed to put our fingers into light sockets, but there was a hole in the wall and wanted to see where it went.

Curiosity opens the door for people to learn more information and things about others and the way that things work. There is nothing that seems to work better than trying to learn how something works, instead of just accepting that it works. When you tear apart something, break it down to its pieces, maybe you’ll get a hint on how you can do it better, or what you can change to make it more efficient.

This weekend, I recommend everyone find an old VCR, or a DVD player – something that’s broken and has been sitting in your spare room or your attic for months, and tear it apart. Rediscover the natural curiosity you had as a child and think about what you can do the next time you’re in a position where you can learn more about someone with a couple of simple, curious questions.

Jan
11
2011
Increase Attendance on 2011 Conference Calls Maranda Gibson

Since the first official week of 2011 has come and gone, hopefully we’re all back in the swing of things. With the second week of the year kicking off, you’re probably finally sitting down to review all those things you tried in 2010, make notes on what you found to be successful, and what you didn’t.

There was a sharp increase of teleconference use in 2010, with companies and individuals embracing conference call providers to drive fresh business and clients to their products and services. For those of you that had a teleconference series in 2010 for the first time and want to focus on increasing your attendance in 2011 – here are a couple of tips from one of our event planners.

  1. Schedule conference times in the time zone best suited for the highest number of people. Chances are a lot of the people you’re inviting will be scattered throughout all times zones, so find the highest concentration of folks, and set a time most convenient for them. If 90% of your invites are going out to those on the west coast, you won’t get a high turnout if the call is at 8AM eastern.
  2. Schedule the teleconference before lunch time. After lunch, when we’re all full and thinking that we’re half way to heading home, we may find that we’re less inclined to really have our focus set on a conference call. I recommend between 10 and 11 AM.
  3. Plan ahead and send reminders. The longer you wait to send out invitations the more likely it will be that people will have other plans. Sending out invitations at least two weeks in advance makes it more likely that people will have the time to attend your conference call. Send them a reminder the morning of the conference in case they have forgotten.
  4. Don’t invite everyone. If you want to get the best turn out for your conference, use discretion when choosing who to invite. Send you invitations to the people you think would be the most interested in the conference. For example, if you’re selling Apple products, you wouldn’t invite Steve Jobs to your conference call.
  5. Make Your Conferences Interactive. Create PowerPoint presentations and share them with your participants. A little visual stimulation can go a long way.

When it comes down to increasing attendees on a webinar or teleconference, there is no perfect formula for getting people to show up and be active on your conferences.

For those of you who are old hat at hosting teleconference, what are your tips for increasing attendance? Comment any suggestions you have for companies that might be taking their first steps below. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions!

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