Communication Exercises

My Fair Lady (Pygmalion) is a charming story about a young girl with a bad accent who takes speech therapy in order to prove herself as a society lady in London. It’s a great movie – classic Audrey goodness and in an age where films about speech therapy are winning Oscars again, it’s not just about good entertainment.

Eliza Doolittle had a rotten accent and some pretty reprehensible mannerisms. Despite her charming qualities, she can never be presented to society as a lady without some *ahem* fine tuning. With the help of Henry Higgins – Eliza finds a voice that was hidden under her bad mannerisms and atrocious speech. While the musical adaptation is lots of fun, the movie does teach us a very important lesson about phonetics.

Phonetics, for those of us that don’t know, is the study of how you articulate and sound when you pronounce certain words. The sounds we grow up hearing and the language that we speak can affect our phonetics. Those of us with accents are often searching for ways to improve our pronunciation. In case you don’t have a Henry Higgins close by, here are some things you can do to help improve the way you speak.

  1. Listen more effectively. In order to say things in a clearer fashion, you must be able to listen to the conversations around you. One of the best things to listen to is an audio book – the people reading those books are paid to have excellent pronunciation.
  2. Practice. It does make perfect – so practice the words you struggle to pronounce. If you just don’t think you’re getting it just right, have someone pronounce it for you, or try this pronunciation tool.
  3. Twist it up. Get yourself a list of tongue twisters and set yourself five minutes a day to read them aloud. Reading them over and over will teach your mouth and tongue how to say words that might otherwise be difficult. Your tongue is a muscle and this is the perfect work out.

When it comes to public speaking there are a lot of things that you can do to improve the way you pronounce your words. When you pronounce words better, you can speak clearer, and help your audience understand the message you’re trying to communicate. If all else fails, remember that the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.

How Not to Be a Jerk on Collaborative Projects

I want to introduce you to someone, but I suspect you know this person already. I’ve deemed this person to be Idea McStealerson, and he or she likes getting all the credit for ideas that were a team effort. You know this person– when it comes time to present group ideas, they walk away looking like the hero while the rest of you end up looking like you didn’t contribute at all. Idea McStealerson is a jerk.

Sure, it may seem like a great idea to commit collaboration crimes – why wouldn’t you take credit for a great idea in front of the boss and look like the smartest person in the room? Well, there’s one very simple answer for that – your boss knows it was a collaborative effort. While you might feel like you look like the smartest person in the room, you just look like a jerk.

The temptation to further your own career is great – I get it. Everyone wants to look like the superstar. It’s important to remember that when you’re working in a group everyone knows that you didn’t come up with all the ideas. Even if it’s not you’re intention to take credit for the group project, you can still end up looking like that’s what you’re trying to do, unless you’re using the right words. Here are some tips to keep from looking like a jerk in the eyes of your boss, and in the eyes of your co-collaborators.

Words like me, my, and I are possessive and indicate sole ownership. Instead, you should try using phrases like our team and other words to establish shared ownership for an idea. If everyone came up with it, it’s not your idea and you shouldn’t use the possessive.

When it comes time to present all of your awesome ideas, don’t give the responsibility for presentation over to one person in the group. There will probably be a couple of different categories or sections that you will need to cover. Let everyone have something to present so that you are letting everyone on the team take a turn in the spotlight.

Use names! If you’ve been charged with presenting one of the categories, but it wasn’t your supreme brain power that spawned where these fantastic ideas came from, don’t be afraid to tell the story of how you got to this point. Say something about how Stephanie made a joke that we should do XYZ and it spawned the entire idea. How a simple joke lead the group to these ideas.

Collaboration works best when everyone feels like they get credit for the ideas that they helped to create. Plus, your boss knows when something was a group effort and they have been in the game long enough to have expectations when it comes to group collaboration, and they expect everyone to share in the development of a great idea. You might think you’re being sly, but your boss knows better.

Businesses Continue to Benefit from Audio Conferencing

Despite a reported upswing of the economic recession, businesses are not flying more. Audio conferencing saw a large jump in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, but many people speculated that over time, business travel would increase again.

A recent study from WWF shows that is actually not true. The report shows that 85% of the businesses interviewed (among the top 500 in the UK) do not plan to return to their pre-recession levels of travel. Simply put – the benefits of audio conferencing are simply too great.

87% of these businesses have used audio conferencing to stay connected. Despite the bit of a bounce back in the economy, many businesses that still feel the sting in rising airfare, gas prices, and other fees are still very happy with their conference call providers.

In the US, business travel continues, but often without perks or points that were offered by companies previously. The business traveler who is used to first class may find themselves flying coach or not staying in a five star hotel. They may be asked to foot their own cab fare, rental car fees, or expense for food.

In response, hotels are starting to offer fully wired conference rooms to attract the local business who might be trying to connect virtually to a client or department. Instead of flying to China to meet with the manufacturing division, the hope is that you will come down to your local five star hotels and take advantage of renting out their conference room. (Personally I say why go to hotel when you have everything you need at your fingertips?)

Did you go back to business travel and make a move towards conference calls when the price of flying increased drastically? A lot of people did, but what I want to know is if you stuck to it, even when people started to travel again? Are you still enjoying the cost savings for conference calls or have you gone back to travelling, the TSA, and body scanners?

Live Streaming Funerals – Great Idea or Inappropriate?

Last year when my friend got married, I wrote about broadcasting your wedding through a video conference. It wasn’t such a crazy idea – we use video conference services now all the time. Just like FaceTime, video conferencing is being used to connect families who are millions of miles away, and we’re fine with that.

Now imagine your feelings that if you’re going through the process of planning a service for a departed loved one, and a funeral employee asks you if you would be interested in the streaming package. Curiously, you inquire to know more and the director tells you that if you have family scattered about the country, instead of missing the opportunity to say their goodbyes – now, they can be conferenced in with the rest of the family and view the services from their home. Live streaming of the funeral services could include something like this:

  • Video stream of the entire procession, invocation, and eulogies.
  • Interaction with family members through chat.
  • Invitation only or password protected services.
  • Order a CD of the services when it’s over to keep or to send to family members who were unable to attend.

Now, I know you may seem a little creeped out. I was at first when the idea was brought to me. It seemed inappropriate, morbid, and just inconsiderate. But then I thought about it in a different way.

Do you remember when Ronald Reagan died? For days on end, we were glued to our television screens to watch the procession through the Capitol rotunda, and then to the television to watch the motorcade escort the former President to his final resting location. Most of us can remember the faces that two somber little boys wore as they escorted their mother, Princess Diana, to her funeral. In fact, Princess Diana’s funeral is the highest rated funeral of all time, followed by Michael Jackson and Ronald Reagan. 31 million people tuned in to watch Diana get laid to rest.

Since 1997, there’s a new technology that makes watching news coverage of events easy – live streaming. (PDF) MSNBC reports that their streaming of Michael Jackson’s funeral service was greater than that of the day President Barack Obama was inaugurated. So what does this say about how likely we might be to accept the streaming of funeral services?

We have no problem tuning in on our televisions or at our desks to watch an idol that we admire be laid to rest. Clearly, the numbers prove that. So why then does the thought of streaming a funeral of someone we truly knew and care about seem tasteless or wrong? Last year, my dear grandmother in South Carolina passed away very suddenly, and there was no way I was going to be able to afford to fly out with that short of notice. (Don’t let bereavement discounts fool you, folks, it’s not that much). Sadly, I had to miss her funeral and the opportunity to say goodbye, or see my family.

What if there would have been a way for me to join the services virtually? Would I have taken the opportunity? I’m not sure if I would have or not – despite the fact that I have watched the coverage of a number of funeral services of famous people, I’m still hesitant on if I would want to see that with someone who was personally near and dear to me. That’s probably just because it’s such a new idea and something that I don’t think we see a lot of. If we were to take part in the live stream of a video conference of a funeral once or twice, we might feel differently about the perceived inappropriateness.

Considering we watch funerals on mainstream media for people we don’t know, what drawbacks do you have to joining a funeral for a friend or loved one in a virtual set up, if you have any? Does this seem like a strange or outlandish idea to you? Let me know in the comments below – maybe we can figure out some situations in which this would work and some that it wouldn’t.

Thanks to Troy Claus for getting me thinking about this. I was a little surprised when he first mentioned it, but once I started to think about, I wondered what the difference between watching the funeral of a stranger on TV is between watching a friend or relatives services on your laptop.

Top 5 Songs On My iPod For Work

I don’t know how you operate, but when I’m really focused and trying to pump out my “great content”, I need music in my ears. I usually listen to it loud enough to make everyone around me cringe, but I can’t seem to help but when I hear a great song, I have to turn up the volume. Since its Friday – I thought I’d share some of my favorite songs to listen to when I’m writing, and tell you what makes them the kinds of songs that you could listen to all day long.

  1. HysteriaMuse. The base line on this song is absolutely incredible. Just the first 20 notes get me completely pumped.
  2. W.A.M.SFall Out Boy. I love the drums in this song – especially in the chorus. I’m a big fan of F.O.B (always have been) because they have such addictive and catchy beats.
  3. Chasing PavementsAdele. Who doesn’t love the sound of Adele’s voice? She’s got a beautiful sound and some true talent. (Plug: If you haven’t checked out her new CD, I highly recommend it. I could listen to her sing all day.)
  4. All the Right MovesOne Republic. One Republic is best known for their remix with Timberland and the song Apologize, but after seeing them open for another favorite band of mine in October, I immediately bought their CD. They have so much energy in their lyrics and vocals, coupled with an incredible amount of control – listen to that cymbal work in the chorus. Awesome.
  5. Keep It Comin’ LoveKC and the Sunshine Band. (What? Don’t judge me.) Every time I hear this song it makes me tap my feet and dance in my chair. It’s a great song to listen to if you’re having a bad day or if you want to shake off some kind of funk (Though, with disco wasn’t the point always to bring on the funk? Interesting…)

My parents were wonderful with exposing me to all kinds of music. If you follow my Twitter account, you know that I often go from listening to hard rock to disco, and all the things in between. If these songs aren’t your cup of tea – that’s fine, I like pretty much everything and am always open to new musical suggestion. What are your top five go to songs when it comes to really getting focused and getting your stuff done?

Sidenote – I head out for Austin and PubCon on Monday, so if you see me, stop and say hi. I’d love to meet you!

Do’s and Don’ts of Using Color on Presentation Slides

When it comes to creating our slide presentations, concerns are usually focused on making the slides entertaining and informative. Basically, our main goal is to not cause death by PowerPoint. When we start putting our slides together we start to think of ways that we can make it more interesting and entertaining to our audience. We have all been guilty of breaking the rules and over animating or putting far too many graphics on our slides. The temptation is there to make your slides bright and colorful, but you could be doing more harm than good.

The first thing you have to know when it comes to coloring your slide presentations is to know what colors are complimentary. Just like in fashion, you want your slides to be appealing to the eyes of your audience and you don’t want your colors to clash. If you wouldn’t wear bright yellow pants and a lime green shirt (which, please do not do this – ever) why would you want to make people look at it on a slideshow? Use a color wheel if you want to double check yourself to make sure that your colors complement each other. On a color wheel complimentary colors are across from each other – for example, in the link above, you can see that red and green complement each other.

Once you know what colors complement each other, you can start adding it into your presentations. Remember to use dark text with light back grounds or vice versa. Trying to stick yellow text on pink backgrounds will only give your audience a headache. Your goal with a slide show is to make them look at your slides. The last thing you want is for them to go running from the room screaming, “My eyes are bleeding!”

Extra Tip: Pick one combination of colors and stick with it throughout the whole presentation.

There is an entire psychology about color and how the colors that we see can evoke certain emotions in our brains. Red is associated with energy and power, whereas yellow is associated with joy and happiness. Knowing how the colors might affect your audience will help you know which colors might be the best combinations to use.

You can spice up your presentations in a number of ways, but be careful when you start throwing colors and graphics into your slides. Slides should make your audience pay attention, not make them think that you are completely nuts. How are you using color in your slide presentations? Are you playing it safe with all black and white? If you are using color – how do you decide what colors to use?

Five Brainstorming Tips for Better Conference Calls

One of the most awkward parts of a conference call is at the end when the host quickly interjects to speak now if you have any comments or questions. Many times, there is just the awkward silence filling the lines before the host disconnects the call. In my experience, this happens because no one has had any time to prepare for the possibility of having comments. They are expecting a “listen-only” call and then are thrown off when the host asks for your opinion. Here are some tips to avoid the awkward silence when it comes to that time and how to get people talking on your next conference.

  1. When you send out your agenda, make special note of the topics you want to get feedback or ideas for. Tell all of your attendees that you want them to come with ideas about some of the different projects going on in your company.
  2. Don’t be afraid to throw anything on the table. We have brainstorming meetings here when sometimes, where we throw out crazy ideas. In an open setting, you can encourage everyone to toss out any idea they might have, and you can always go back later and refine them.
  3. As the host of the call or the boss you have to be okay with taking all of the suggestions. Even if one of the off the wall suggestions might not be something that you can (or want to) implement, there is the potential that it will spur another great idea.
  4. Bring in new people when you get stuck. This is a great place to use outdial to call in someone from a different department or someone who might have a different perspective. Sometimes, they can help the group see things in a different way.
  5. At the end of the conference call, put all of the suggestions to a vote and narrow down the options to three to five different ideas.

We don’t always have conference calls in order to update staff or co-workers on the latest changes or company policies. There are plenty of times when we’re trying to get an idea off the ground or come up with something new and exciting. Schedule a brainstorming session with your co-workers, give them some topics to think about, and then see what happens.

Never Underestimate a Thank You

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?

Five Tips for a Happier Home Worker

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?

The Bing and Google Battle

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?