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Oct
24
2013
Learning Success Through Failure Maranda Gibson

It’s October which brings about the winds of change. The air is turning cooler, the leaves will begin to change color, and budding authors around the globe are about to change into energy drink consuming plunderers of the keyboard.

That’s right novelists, it’s almost NaNoWriMo time. I’ve partaken in the grueling marathon of 50,000 words in thirty days since 2009 - but I’ve only won once. That’s almost 1400 words a day at the minimum in order to succeed and get your shiny badge and bragging rights.

Success is not guaranteed though. In fact, it feels like failure is.  NaNo seems easy for anyone who considers themselves able to string a couple of stories together, but when the euphoria of “It’s time for NaNo!” wears off and you’re left with the idea of actually having 45K more to go, it’s pretty easy to turn around and run away. In fact, I admit that in 2011 I completely imploded. About four days in, I threw my hands up and walked away.

This article from Psychology Today suggests that failures might actually shape us in a more definite way than success does. The assertion actually makes a lot of sense. Think about your latest success - what did you learn from that specific success. 2011 NaNoWriMo showed me all of the things I needed to do in order to have a better chance in 2012.

When I won in 2012, I knew it was because of two very big changes I made in light of the previous year - I outlined the entire novel and did word games with friends to give big boosts to my word count in a short time. In 2011, I took a very solo approach to NaNoWriMo despite that my friends we were working hard on theirs as well.

I can't do it alone. 

Getting a 500 word boost in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes puts a huge dent in your daily goal. The task was less daunting when I had someone to work with.

Creating an outline meant I wasn’t going to get bogged down in the direction of plot or “what happened then” questions. I had every move that each character was going to make down on the page, so all I had to do was create the story around it.

I honestly think that without my utter and complete NaNo meltdown in 2011, I would not have been able to “win” 2012 NaNo. I learned a lot in 2011 and I applied all of those “well, I’m not going to do that this year” thoughts, which I think helped me succeed. One might even say that my failure was the reason I succeeded.

What’s going to be most interesting to me is competing again in 2013. Will the same drive push me to finish, or will I feel more complacent in succeeding? I wonder how much is to be said for being a back to back NaNoWriMo winner.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Oct
23
2013
Active Listening Skills for Customer Service - Updated Maranda Gibson

Update:  After putting my head together with some of the other operators, we determined a couple of other things that can improve your active listening skills. 

When we bring on a new employee, the first thing they learn is customer service, and the most important skill we focus on is listening. Customer service is about being an active listener. You can't just "hear" what people are saying, you have to really be grabbing onto the words and turning them over in your head.

What does it take to be an active listener? There are a lot of rules to active listening but we break these skills down into basic steps. These steps have improved our customer service responses and our communication.

(NEW) Clarify The Message

One of the best tools when speaking to a customer is the ability to clarify the message they are trying to send.  You never want to make assumptions when trying to decide what a customer wants. Most of the time you will get that assumption wrong and have to go back to the customer. It's always better when you're not clear to make sure you understand. A lot of times a customer uses words or phrases that might not be what you would use. You can just repeat it back to them in another way. "It sounds like you need..." or "Let me make sure I understand..." are great ways to start.

(NEW) Test Your Listening Skills

The Active Empathetic Listening (AEL) measure has eleven key items that test how well you sense, process, and respond when you listen to someone else. Sensing is the way you indicate you are taking in the information, processing is how well you construct the narrative delivered, and responding is how you ask questions to make sure you understand.  Take the AEL test and find out where you stand as a great listener and how you can improve. 

Focus on Understanding

Engage in communication with the goal of "understanding" instead of "understood". When your customer is speaking, it's best to focus on what the customer is saying, rather than trying to get a head start on how you're going to respond. Once someone in a conversation goes on the defensive, you are less likely to come to a resolution.

Give Your Undivided Attention to the Person Speaking

This may seem like common sense but devices like cell phones and the constant access to email are roadblocks to active listening. When a customer calls, disengage from the emails you’re working on, the spreadsheet you are clicking through, or the text message that might be waiting on you. Engage fully in the conversation that is present and not the one that is waiting for you to type a response.

Play Pretend

The more I can act like I'm face to face with a customer, the better our conversation goes. Imagine the customer across from you and nod when you understand. Responding to the customer as you would if you were face to face, you will be an even better listener. I will smile while I speak and even nod my head as the customer tells me what’s going on. It makes me feel like I truly understand the customer's needs.

It's not always easy to listen and even more so when we are immediately trying to figure out what we are going to say or have too many things going on at once. If we can just stop for a moment and become a more active listener, it will improve our communication with everyone.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Oct
22
2013
Your Body Language and Confidence Maranda Gibson

A few years ago, I was hanging out with some of my younger cousins and surprised the “country girls” by wearing a snazzy pair of zebra print purple heels. They asked me how I managed to walk in those shoes and I informed them that I “walk with authority.”

It’s amazing how a clothing change or a new pair of shoes can make you feel more confident. I wrote about success on the debate team being somewhat wrapped into my power shoes, but what are some other changes you can make in how you walk and move that can boost your confidence?

Carry Yourself Well

How you hold yourself plays a role in how you see yourself. So the first place to start in making changes to your body language is to hold yourself a little higher. To appear more confident, you need to act more confident.

  • Posture is the most imperative part of carrying yourself. Put your shoulders back and keep your spine straight.
  • Hold your chin up when you walk. Looking down at the ground while walking is an indicator of unhappiness.
  • Make eye contact and smile to strangers. Not only is this a sign of confidence, but it also makes you feel better when you smile.

Movements Send A Message

Any movement you make can send a message. These messages can be positive or negative, so one of the most important body language changes you can make is to be aware of how you’re moving.

  • Putting your hands on your hips is an indication of being mad or having lost patience. Even if you feel like you’re just in a resting position, the message sent is one of disapproval.
  • Try not to make fidgeting gestures like shaking your legs or tapping your nails against the table. Not only will your nails create an annoying sound, but it indicates impatience.

Your Hands and Arms Serve as a Door

The movements made with arms in communicating tells a lot about the openness of a speaker. Those who cross their arms “close the door” to others feeling welcome to chime in or discuss.

  • You can make gestures open by holding your hands apart with your palms pointing upward.
  • Clasping or wringing your hands in front of you or touching your hair or face is a sign of anxiety or being unsure.

The good news - you can control your own body language. Remember you have complete control over the way you carry yourself which translates into the way you are perceived. How will you walk with authority today?


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Oct
15
2013
Writing a Meeting Agenda Maranda Gibson

An agenda is an important part of any large meeting running smoothly. When dealing with multiple speakers or parties on a conference call, assigning specific time increments to each speaker or Q&A session will keep everyone on track.

When I think of something that needs an agenda, I think of a large event that has multiple speakers and subject matters. An agenda, in my opinion, is to let me know who's speaking, how long they will have the floor, and give the main idea of what information they are going to present.

What makes an effective agenda?

Pick a type of agenda. Did you know there is more than one kind of agenda? I didn't until I started doing research for this post. The most popular agenda is called a "common agenda". This kind of agenda will call the meeting to order, offering a reading of the agenda, and then call for business matters to begin. The second most popular is a "priority agenda". This agenda places items of business in order of importance so that the highest priority items are sure to be addressed. Those are just two of the most popular ones, but there are a lot of different ways to arrange an agenda.

How detailed will your agenda need to be? First, consider if your agenda is going to be sent to just speakers or if all attendees will get a copy. You also need to decide just how deeply you will break out the agenda. Do you need to list every speaker or subject matter? A good rule is to break out the agenda when you will have two (or more) speakers and / or two (or more) subject matters. If you’re doing a town hall type of conference where multiple speakers will weigh in on one topic, listing the speakers should be sufficient.

Have someone else look at it. Get a second pair of eyes on the agenda to make sure you didn't leave anything out or get your timezones mixed up. Since you’ll be sending out your agenda with your invitation (right?) you don’t want to have to update this document multiple times. Limit changes as much as you can, and letting a second person read over it will help.

Like most things when it comes to having successful conference and webinar events, the amount of time you spend planning will have a great effect on how attendees respond before, during, and after your conference is over.

Oct
08
2013
How to Lead a Successful Conference Call Maranda Gibson

Leading a successful conference call isn’t just about getting a reliable conferencing service and calling into the conference. There are things that you have to do before it’s ever time to call into your conference to ensure that it will be successful. As a leader, it’s important that you do three things well before your next conference: pick a good date and time, get people to attend, and present compelling and thought provoking information.

Here are some tips from our e-book How to Plan, Setup, and Execute a Successful Webinar.

Pick the Right Date and Time

You’ll never be able to pick the perfect time for everyone but what we suggest is picking a time that is good for most of your participants. We’ve found that the most popular times are right before or after lunch (10 AM and 1 PM in respective timezones) and meetings held on Tuesdays or Thursdays get the best turnouts. Avoid Monday meetings unless you need to get everyone ready for the week.

Send a Better Email Invite

The easiest and most common method to achieve getting the word out about your meeting is to send an email blast or calendar item directly to participants. The problem with this is that your emails will often get buried in other requests and notifications. Make your subject lines quick and focus on the who, what, and when. A good example: Marketing Webinar Featuring Bob - The Greatest Marketer Ever.

Bonus: Use registration pages and know who is going to attend your event. You can also use the system to send out reminders so that people remember to attend your event.

Create Great Presentations

You can pick the most popular time of day and send out the greatest invitation known to the invite world but if you aren’t presenting something of worth then you won’t get people to stick around for very long. Content is what your participants came to the presentation for, but there’s a fine line between too much and not enough information on your slides. Keep the text to display to a minimum and use visuals to make your points. Remember the 10 / 20 / 30 rule from Guy Kawasaki - no more than ten total slides, twenty minutes of presenting, and thirty point font for your slides(to keep you from cramming too much information on a slide.)

Leading a conference call is more than just using the mute button when you should and sticking to your agenda. It’s about what you do to plan the call, how you get people to participate, and presenting information your audience wants to hear.

You can get more great webinar tips by downloading and reading our ebook.

Oct
03
2013
Facts About Aggressive Driving Maranda Gibson

Last week, while sitting at a red light beside a gas station, I noticed an ambulance turn on lights and sirens, then exit from the opposite side of the gas station. During rush hour traffic, the EMTs needed to get through a busy intersection - the one I was waiting to cross. As the light turned green, the ambulance weaved into the turn lane to go through the intersection, so I waited. The guy behind me did not appreciate my adherence to the law and proceeded to lay on his horn to rush me from the light, and then once we could cross he tailgated me and… well, lets just say he made a number of gestures at me.

Since I live in the second worst commute in the country, I’m used to aggressive drivers. After DFW was named the third worst area in the nation to drive in, I did some research and found some interesting tidbits about aggressive driving / "road rage".

  1. In 2008, there were 61,954 serious accidents on Texas highways.
  2. Aggressive driving is a traffic violation, and becomes a criminal offense once the drivers yell or gesture at each other.
  3. Ten states consider aggressive driving a class 2 misdemeanor.
  4. For every ten MPH you drive over 50 MPH, your risk of death or serious injury doubles.
  5. 60% of all accidents in 2009 were caused by aggressive driving.
  6. Three out of every four fatal accidents involving an 18-wheeler are not the fault of the 18-wheeler driver.
  7. Think twice before cutting in front of a big truck to get through traffic. A semi moving at 55 MPH can take up to a football field to come to a stop.

David Byrd had a similar experience, but with a different outcome, while waiting on an ambulance. "An anxious driver honked a few times at me, and then I pointed to the ambulance. The driver, after seeing the ambulance, put up his hand in apology. So what made the guy behind me react in anger and the guy behind him take a breath? When does the every day driver become the jerk flipping you off?"

There is research showing that the way someone drives is a direct correlation to their personality. While there is no formal profile on someone who is an aggressive driver, research shows a correlation between aggressive driving habits and following personality traits:

  • Found to have more judgmental and disbelieving thoughts about others.
  • Tend to express their anger and other emotions outwardly while also acting impulsively.
  • Aggressive drivers are more likely to inaccurately access risks on a cognitive level.
  • Have more competitive personalities or are even considered “egotistic”.

Curbing aggressive driving isn’t just about the other people who are on the highways with you. You can make some changes to the way you drive to lower the chance that you encounter an aggressive driver.

  • The left lane is for passing only, not cruising along at the posted speed limit.
  • Don’t react to aggressive drivers (even if the temptation is usually there to lay on the horn to some idiot in a white Prius who barely missed you while trying to merge across six lanes of traffic at the last minute).

Although, when following these precautions you can still run into that one driver that makes their aggression apparent to everyone on the roads. Mary Williams recalls one encounter she witnessed not too long ago. "I was driving into work one morning when I ran into a pretty bad accident involving a construction truck. Traffic was at a standstill. This woman driving what looked like a Land Rover decides to move from the center lane to the right lane. Without turning on her blinker to give any courtesy, she just scoots on over. I don’t think she checked to see if she was clear because she ended up forcing a driver of a compact car onto the shoulder to avoid a collision. The driver of the compact car took this offensively. They drove on the shoulder and then cut off the driver of the SUV. I then hear horns blaring and see obscene gestures being thrown out. In my opinion, both parties were being aggressive. Luckily, neither of them caused another accident."

So when you encounter an aggressive driver, remember that maybe they just a had really bad day. Leave them alone and don't provoke them. They probably aren't thinking 100% logically. Things can get out of hand very quickly on the road. 

And remember - if you wouldn’t act like that in public, why are you acting like that on the highway? (Thanks MNDot)

Slow down folks, drive carefully, because we’re all in this together.

Here are some links to some interesting research and findings about aggressive driving and road rage:

http://www.nhtsa.gov/Aggressive

http://dmv.dc.gov/page/behaviors-aggressive-driving

http://www.progressive.com/vehicle-resources/deal-with-road-rage/

http://home.trafficresourcecenter.org/Traffic/Aggressive-Driving.aspx

http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun05/anger.aspx

Sep
30
2013
How to Make Conference Calls Fun Maranda Gibson

Okay, maybe "fun" is the wrong idea here. The words conference call are not exactly going to inspire anyone to think of a delightful day at the circus or spending a beautiful afternoon whirling around on your favorite roller coaster.

When people search for how to make a conference "fun", I think that they are looking for ways to make calls more effective. Implementing some of the rules on your next conference can help with the lack of effectiveness.

Rule #1 – Only Have Conferences When You Need To

This brings up a good question. What is "need to"? It’s going to vary for you but Al Pittampalli, the author of The Modern Meeting Standard, says you should only have a meeting when there is something to decide. This isn’t going to cover everything and it’s not going to apply for all circumstances, but it is a good benchmark to start from.

Rule #2 – Consider Including Video Conferencing

Even if you’re meeting with coworkers you’ve seen a number of times, integrating video conferencing can help increase the effectiveness of your meetings. A video element adds the ability to read non verbal communication to a meeting, as well as providing a way to keep everyone accountable. Not just for attendance, but for how well they are paying attention. If you see someone staring off into space or working on something else, you can call on them and bring them back to the topic at hand.

Rule #3 – Prepare for the Call

Finally, make sure you prepare for your meetings and conferences. No one wants to be in a meeting where the moderator is stumbling over their notes. When you prepare, you can get to the meet of the meeting quickly and efficiently. You don't want to waste anyone's time, and your participants will appreciate that. One way to prepare for your call is to write out your agenda and make sure you know what to say regarding each point.

Are you following these conference call rules? What rules can you contribute to make your conference calls more fun?

Sep
17
2013
The Public Relations Mess Clorox Can’t Seem to Clean Maranda Gibson

I’m not afraid to admit I have a deep affection for cleaning. Most people who do have a "scent of choice". Personally, I love the smell of Pine Sol. I picked up a new bottle a few weeks ago, noting the “longer lasting scent” label. Great, right?

The problem is that it smells nothing like my favorite smell. In fact, the "longer lasting scent" down right stinks. After some complaining, I decided to see if I was just being picky, and went to the Pine Sol Facebook community. I found vindication in other fans feeling like the new stuff is awful.

Given some of the responses from customers and the brand responses, it appears that the people at Clorox (the makers of Pine Sol) have created a bit of a disaster, and they are breaking all the rules when it comes to a social media crisis. In fact, it’s the public relations disaster you haven’t heard about.

PR happens on the web now, and if you’re not prepared to respond, you might have a blow back that you didn’t expect or want. Here are some key takeaways from what I’ve witnessed to their response in the middle of a customer crisis.

If you don’t provide a reason or a message - your community will hunt one down for you. The problem with communities is that they can sometimes be wrong about a companies motivation for a particular move. It’s your job as a brand representative to provide the message so that the community doesn’t make up their own.

Using a form response to address the aforementioned concerns is usually a bad move. The form response being used by the social media managers on this page are especially unforgiving, because the only thing that is changed is the name. It goes a little something like this: "Hi, this is *NAME* and we understand your concerns, but we totally user tested it and everyone loved it. It’s also better than before."

Deleting / Removing negative comments only make you look worse. When you make a move that upsets your customers (no matter if you plan on sticking with it or reverting) it’s better to accept the criticism, rather than try to hide it. Rejecting a negative review is only going to make the situation seem suspicious. You need to be prepared to respond to any comments - good or bad.

Even though you probably haven’t heard about this public relations mess, hopefully some of these take always will be something you can apply and be ready for in the event you come across a similar situation. What PR situation have you learned from?

Sep
05
2013
Kindle Matchbook and AccuConference Maranda Gibson

This week, Amazon announced Kindle Matchbook. Of announcements that don’t involve an update to the popular Kindle e-Book reader, this is one of the more exciting. So what is Matchbook and what does it do?

In 1995, when Amazon started to sell books in their online store, things like e-readers weren't selling like corn dogs at the county fair. If you wanted to read a book, you had to buy it, wait for it to mail, and then turn pages. Amazon Matchbook will go back into your history of orders and offer you a discounted Kindle price, or in some cases a free copy, of the electronic version of a previously purchased book. The only caveat is that the publishers provide the discounts on a book-by-book basis. Hopefully they will do that, but if they choose not to enroll in the program, your book will not have the discount. The program will extend all the way back to when they first began to sell books through the marketplace.

This program is really cool because not only can you get reunited with a book you might have forgotten that you read (and loved) but it’s also a great way to help us all "upgrade" and use our Kindle’s more. It is a great move for consumers and a really smart move for Amazon – people who might have lost books along the way might be encouraged to buy an e-reader now.

AccuConference published a book last year and a lot of you went and ordered a copy of the physical book. (Thanks!) We signed up to offer our book, Lessons from the Bored Room, as part of the Kindle Matchbook program. If you've purchased a copy of our book, when Amazon rolls out the program in October, you’ll be able to add our conferencing, webinar, and video conference book directly to your Kindle – for free.

If you haven’t purchased a copy – you can grab a discounted copy from Amazon.com and receive the Kindle version in October.

Aug
26
2013
Delivering a Five Minute Presentation Maranda Gibson

When might you use a five minute presentation?

Some situations like when you've been asked at the last minute to make a quick introduction for someone else or a quick product announcement in front of a group are where you usually see the five minute presentation show up. They can be very useful tools in business because they force you to be effective and on point, since time is limited.

To make a great five minute speech you need to do some of the following.

Focus on a Single Point

When your time is limited to five minutes, the best thing to do is to derive one clear main idea from the information being discussed and present that as a single focus. You simply don’t have the time to elaborate much beyond a main point. Decide what the main point is and build the rest of the presentation around it.

Come Out with a Bang

You already know that there is a limited amount of time to catch your audience’s attention. When your speech is compacted into a five minute window, even more effort is required to get that audience to sit up and pay attention. You want to get participants attention in the best and most effective ways possible, and starting strong is going to be the best way to do that. Use something like a quick quote or an anecdote to create something amazing.

Close Like a Pro

Okay, your five minutes are up. Now is the time to reiterate your opening and bring it home for the listener. What was your main point of your five minutes? Now is the time to reiterate that to your audience. Maybe your goal was to introduce yourself – now would be the time to state your name again, and to invite people to come mingle with you. Maybe you wanted to get everyone amped for the next speaker about to walk on the stage, so remind everyone now of why they should be excited for the person about to take over.

Five minute presentations might seem like an overwhelming task, but they should only be used in certain situations. Your five minute presentation isn't always going to cut it but it’s good to have one on the back burner, just in case you need it.

How do you deliver a five minute presentation?

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