Introducing Something Brand New - Online Project Manager


Having the right tools at the right time helps you stay productive. To stay focused and get things done, you need to be in close contact with your team. Our new product allows you to communicate easier with co-workers.

In 2011, we decided to create our own tool for managing tasks and projects.  We had a few basic requirements:  It needed to be cloud based, online, and work across all browsers and mobile devices. Once we finished, we decided to give the product a unique name; apio.

What you can do with apio Project Manager:

  • One page overview of all of your projects
  • Keep your project files up to date. When relying on emails, it's inevitable that someone will miss an update or work off the wrong document.
  • Discuss your projects and tasks right from the site. The comment feature keeps your discussions all in one place for everyone to see.
  • Assign due dates for tasks. See when tasks are completed so you always know the current progress or status of a task.

apio Project Manager is available right now and can be used to share documents, files, and tasks.

As an AccuConference client, we are offering you a free account for 90 days.

Call us at 800.488.3040 or go to www.apio.com.

Connect With Participants on Webinars

Participants have a lot of distractions in front of them when they try to sit down and attend a meeting or web conference. As a speaker, you’re suddenly up against unseen foes of Facebook, Twitter, and email. Most participants will tune in completely to your webinar for the first couple of minutes, but after that, if you do not hold their attention, they will start to drift.

If you don’t want to lose your participants to the weeds of the Internet and other distractions, there are a couple of things you can do during your call to make sure you’re doing what you can to keep their attention.

Pace Yourself.

When you're speaking and presenting on a webinar, you are up against the clock. When presenters are up against the clock one of two things usually happens – they either go through the information entirely too fast, or they get lost in the minutia of their information. Practicing before the event in your allotted time will help you get the right pacing down and make any last minute changes.

Interact with Participants.

During the call, use polls and visuals to keep them engaged. Offer a prize for the best question to the speaker or set up a Twitter hash tag for participants to submit comments and questions about your presentation. If you decide to use Twitter during the conference make sure you have someone manning the account that can respond promptly. You can always go back later and personally respond to your messages, but don’t try to do that while you’re presenting.

Remember the Golden Rule.

Never read directly from your slides or handouts. I’m honestly surprised at how so many speakers continue to make this single mistake when it comes to trying to keep their audience involved in their conferences. Reading word for word from slides is the most direct way to get participants to "check out" of your conference. Why would they need to listen to you when they can just refer back to the copy of the slides? They should be used as a guide and not serve as a script.

Web conferencing technology is here to stay and will no doubt become even more prevalent in your day to day business operations. It’s a good idea to start making these changes to your presentation techniques now so that you’re not behind the curve later.

How do you connect with participants on webinars?

Conference Calls With Your Sales Team

Many moons ago, I worked in direct sales. While it wasn't my favorite job in the world, I learned some valuable skills. The company liked to keep us up to date on new approaches with monthly conference calls, and they were very helpful. When it’s time to set up your next conference call with team members, here are some sales conference topics that you can use.

Success Stories

Each month, invite the “top seller” to make a brief presentation to new hires or those who wish to participate. You can open up for a straight Q&A session to let your new people or the ones that need a little extra motivation find out about what strategies make someone successful in the sales business. A lot of times it helps to simply hear what works for someone else and try to incorporate that into your own approaches.

Skill Refreshers

Once a quarter, set up a conference call with departments or teams that would not usually have direct contact with each other. Use these opportunities to role play situations with a large group and then allow for questions at the end. Ask your employees what was great, what could have gone better, or what needs a little bit of improvement. It’s a great chance to hear new thoughts and approaches from those you wouldn't usually have contact with.

Brainstorm a Better Pitch

The sales persons pitch is the greatest device they have when it comes to closing a deal. If the pitch doesn't resonate, then you've lost your potential client before you even have a chance to start talking about benefits to your product or service. Get your team together on a conference call and start collaborating on a pitch that can be delivered in a clear manner with the same messages delivered across the board. Host a follow up call after a couple of months and find out some of the feedback on the pitch. If it’s still not working – you can attack the pitch again and continue doing so until you find one that works.

Before you start any conference call with your sales team, it’s important to break the ice and start opening up the lines of communication. A good ice breaker planned into the meeting agenda will get people talking and feeling comfortable with each other.

Motivating a sales team doesn't have to be all about money and success. Giving them an open door to get new ideas, stay current, and keep things going helps just as much.

Problem Solving in Customer Service

Not long ago, I received a phone call from a customer who was very frustrated that something hadn't gone the way she planned on her conference call. Her participants had been on mute, they were not able to speak, and she could not figure out how the conference had ended up in that setting. As she spoke, I ran through all of the possible things that could have caused the issue. By the time she was done telling me what happened I had a pretty good idea of what caused the issues on her conference call.

That didn't mean that I was about to take over the conversation and tell her exactly what I suspected. I   have a very specific thought process when I'm problem solving with customers and always follow three basic rules.

Remember that the company is guilty until proven innocent. We frequently get calls from customers who have typed in the wrong code. This prevents them from joining their conference and they will call us to see what we can do to help. When we get one of those calls from customers, the first thing we check is within our own system. We check our side to make sure everything is good to go first. This kind of information will help us diagnose the problem the customer is having and we are the cause until we can find out otherwise.

Don't talk down to customers. Once we have determined that everything is okay from our side, it's time to ask the customer some more questions. It's an imperative part of problem solving, but the golden rule here is to not talk down to the customer. When one of our clients is having a problem, it's getting in the way of them conducting business, and they need our help, not a tone that would make a customer feel that I’m secretly saying "I told you so". It’s much more important that we offer solutions to the customer than to prove the customer wrong.

Don't blame the customer. This is a fine line with the customer because you, as the company representative, know that the system wasn't at fault and you're relieved, but it's important to remember that until you hang up the phone, you have to help the customer. It's important that I tell the customer how to prevent the same problem, and not what they should have done to not have a problem in the first place.

Problem solving with a customer can become a he said / she said event if you allow it. I've found that when it comes to a problem, most customers don't want to get upset, they just want you to tell them what is wrong and either fix it – or tell them how to fix it.

How do you approach problem solving with customers?

17 (+4) Tips For More Productive Conference Calls

Conference calls have become an important part of corporate business life and yet they are not always used to their best advantage. The world of telecommunications has traveled light years since the old days of the traditional party line, but the modern conference call is really just an expansion of that retro concept. Today, most companies use a specialized service provider for conference calls and they are being used more and more in conjunction with web conferences. These service providers maintain the conference bridge and provide the phone numbers used to access the meeting or conference call.

How can your business better utilize this service? First, let us define exactly what service we are talking about. What is meant by the term, conference call? This is a telephone call in which the caller wishes to have more than one party listen in to the audio portion. Calls may also be designed so that the called party can participate during the call or so that the called party merely listens in and cannot speak. A conference call is also sometimes referred to as an ATC (Audio Tele-Conference).

In a book called "Death By Meeting" author, Patrick Lenzioni, argues that conference calls really should be more fun. He says: "If I didn't have to go to meetings, I'd like my job a lot more." According to Merlin Mann and his fascinating, irreverent and very witty family of websites dealing with personal productivity known collectively as 43 Folders, the following ideas have helped to make his life in general and conference calls in particular, easier and more productive. Also check out this interview with Al Pittampalli, the author of the Modern Meeting Standard. Consider them the next time you schedule a conference call. Read on and hold that call, please!

  1. Circulate an Agenda.  Don't do a conference call without first circulating an agenda to all involved parties. An agenda helps to structure the conference and helps members to prepare by providing in advance the type of information they will need in order to effectively participate in the discussion.
     
  2. Get familiar with each other. Have everyone in attendance introduce him or herself up front. In fact, make that the first thing on your agenda. It is important for people who don't know each other's voices especially well to become familiar as quickly as possible.
     
  3. Give the conference a theme. Don't meander, for the road is costly and time-consuming and leads ultimately nowhere! Use the agenda to amplify the theme in question by explaining how it will be covered or explored in each section of the meeting.
     
  4. Have conference calls only when you need to. Many are unnecessary and could be avoided with either a one-on-one call or a focused e-mail exchange. Group calls should only be made when either in-depth dialogue or brainstorming is required.
     
  5. Establish meeting timing. This includes when the meeting will begin, break and end ahead of time. Provide a time structure, which all participants must adhere to and matters will flow smoothly.
     
  6. Focus on the conference. Limit "electronic grazing" to during the conference call. Set it up like they did in the old frontier days at the saloon with all who enter checking their guns at the door!! The equipment is different; phones and laptops to be exact, but the attitude is the same. No multi tasking while the meeting is in session. This means no email, no phone calls and this means you! Attending the meeting is like being pregnant; one either is or one isn't present at the meeting. If an emergency occurs and a call needs to be made, then the person should leave the room to make the call and not tie up the meeting.
     
  7. Schedule guests and make the best use of everyone's time. Use your agenda to indicate when people will be needed to present their arguments and avoid the traffic jam of having thirty people in a room for three hours, twenty of whom will have nothing at all to do or say until the last 15 minutes of the meeting. Tick off items on the agenda as they are covered.
     
  8. Delegate roles. Don't wear too many hats at your own meeting. Employ someone to keep track of the time so that you as the leader are free to focus on the matters presented in the agenda and keep the meeting rolling along at an even pace.
     
  9. Stay focused on your time element and subject matter. Not all issues require the same amount of time to settle and any issue that can be resolved offline or does not require the input of the majority of the group should be dismissed as quickly as possible and ticked off the mighty agenda.
     
  10. Welcome late arrivals. If you join into a conference call after it has already begun, make sure that other people know you are there. If you are the organizer of the conference call and this happens, seek an opportunity to introduce that person and then quickly review any key decisions that have been made. (If the person being late is you the organizer, you probably should find someone else to head the conference call in the first place.)
     
  11. Meetings won't run themselves. Be aware of which tips work best for you and remain consistent in their use. Meetings have never been able to run themselves, and you as the leader, must always think things out thoroughly so that people attending do not feel they are wasting their time. After all, that is the one commodity that we never seem to have enough of and that waits for no one, as the old saying goes.
     
  12. Stick to the point. Keep conference calls short and very sweet. This way, each participant knows what to expect, more or less, in terms of why they are there and what they are supposed to do. There is nothing more boring than a rambling speaker and nothing that will lose a listening audience more quickly, except maybe a sudden office fire.
     
  13. Get through the agenda first. Consider dealing with any matters that are not  on the agenda last even if they are brought up at the beginning of the conference. This prevents sidetracking and losing precious time in covering the more pertinent issues at hand.
     
  14. Invite only the people that need to be on the conference. Don't call bosses and technical experts to attend the conference unless you know in advance that their advice will be needed. Regardless of the outcome of the conference, they will definitely owe you one and be eternally grateful.
     
  15. Limit the Chaos. Limit the number of people on the conference call to four or at most five. Chaos is sure to follow if there are too many opinions circulating at the same time. Problems are likely to occur because the more opinions, the harder it becomes to keep track of who is speaking and a common reaction is to go on automatic pilot and "leave the meeting in your mind."
     
  16. Wait your turn to speak. Try not to interrupt when others are speaking and wait for the appropriate moment to jump in. One has to listen and concentrate much more acutely over the phone than is necessary in person.
     
  17. Summarize and follow up on meeting proceedings. This can either be done by you or by a project manager, if one has been so assigned. Take a few minutes at the end of the conference to review any major new projects that were generated in the meeting and email the list of resolutions to all participants. Also, take a minute to identify those issues or questions that must be explored further. Don't forget to thank everyone for his or her participation and say goodbye.
     
  18. Practice makes perfect. Familiarize yourself with the conference call service before you use it.  You're going to want to know how to use the conference call service so that you can use your mute functions and any of the moderator controls.  You should be able to call the conference company and get a quick overview of the different commands that you can use. 
     
  19. Start the conference on time.  You've sent out a lot of invitations that have a specific date and time provided to the other participants.  Start at the right time so that the conference will begin for those who showed up at the right time. Participants who are late will just have to miss the introduction. 
     
  20. Pay attention. As a participant you should take good notes. This will help you retain information and it will encourage you to pay attention, rather be distracted by your cell phone, email, or social networking. 
     
  21. Use visuals on conference calls that require them.  Not every conference is going to require them, so use them only in situations that call for the visual representations. 

The mercurial business world of today demands quick decisions based on as many facts as possible. Aided by the cold hand of technology, telecommunications has made the transfer of information an instantaneous and ubiquitous affair. Take advantage of this process. Wasting time hurts business and morale on many levels and it is something that can be avoided by planning ahead all the details for your next conference call. Follow these tips and you are sure to have more productive conference calls. Perhaps not all of these ideas will work for you, but many of them will.

And by the way, hold that call, will you? I have to go. There's a conference call I have to attend ...


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

Announcement: Operator Answered Call Reporting Graph

When you have an operator answered conference call, you will get a line chart that shows you the progression of your attendees at various times.

This data is a compilation of the information that you can collect from the CSV file found on your account after each conference. What we do is plot it along a line graph so that you can see your average call time and your maximum number of users. Charts are much more fun to look at than Excel spreadsheet files.

We want to make sure that you can see how your conference calls work and how your participants are responding. Maybe you are unnecessarily overbooking for your conferences or this data might show you how you can break up your calls and maintain your participant count.

If you receive one of these graphs and have some feedback, we'd love to hear what you think. Is something missing? Maybe we can add data that you would like to see to it. Give us a call at 800.989.9239 to discuss the graph or if you have any other questions.

Web Conferencing Review - Updated Features

We have some exciting additions to our web conferencing platform.

Video Conferencing

Share your video as part of the web conference so participants feel like they are in the same room.

Desktop and Application Sharing

Our program allows moderators to share their screens with a simple download. Participants observe as you navigate through websites or share your programs directly from your PC.

YouTube Video Sharing

Share your video directly with participants using the URL from youtube.com. Pause and play the video as needed.

Added Timed Polls

Put a time limit on responses from participants.

No Download for Participants

Participants will continue to access all of these new features through the web.

Stay tuned for audio streaming over the web for participants.

Call today 800.989.9239 for a one on one demo.

Best Inspirational Speeches

In most colleges, some form of oral communication or speech class is a requirement for graduation. These basic communication classes teach you a couple of things but the most prevalent are the types of speeches. One of these is an inspirational speech and its purpose is to make an impact on the audience. Most of the time, the inspirational speech gets caught up and mixed in with the motivational speech, which usually brings across memories of Matt Foley and the fear of living in a van down by the river.

An inspirational speech is so much more than just trying to motivate and when properly delivered, it can change the world. Some of the best speeches of all time have been nothing more than an inspirational speech in their mechanics.

Martin Luther King – "I Have a Dream"

The MLK speech is one of the most highly recognized and historically significant speeches in the world. The speech was written to call to reform the legal system, but something amazing happened. Where the written words should have concluded, King improvised, in the moment, adding some of the most powerful words of the entire speech – "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Like any speech, this one was written and crafted for the moment, but King found himself inspired by the thousands that listened intently and hung to his every word. He connected to his audience and felt their common emotions and translated what they felt into words that he had the power to deliver. Truly great inspirational speeches do not just repeat words already on the page – they feel the emotions of the crowd and give a voice to the movement.

Abraham Lincoln – "Gettysburg Address"

When your country is torn apart in a vicious civil war and 51,000 men just lost their lives, the task of inspiring a nation to unite could be the most daunting of all. When Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, less than half of the Union soldiers had been properly buried. It sounds like such a somber moment in history – so why is this one of the greatest inspirational speeches of all time?

Lincoln marked a tragic occasion with an address that honored the dead but challenged the living, and he delivered the speech in under three minutes. In many ways he placed the task of honoring the dead on the grounds into the hands of those that lived – asking and wanting to know what they would do now. "It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on."

John F. Kennedy – “Man on the Moon”

In the shadow of the Cold War, John F. Kennedy knew that the United States had to do something about keeping up with the Soviet Union. He announced in front of a special joint session of Congress that by the end of the decade, the United States would put a man on the surface of the moon.

Kennedy’s words set a direct and specific date for anyone who was listening. When a deadline is given for something, people are more likely to respond to the call to action – even for something as challenging as putting a man on the moon. Kennedy would later address Rice University on the same subject and utter the famous quote, "We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

Kennedy made his speech on May 25, 1961 and Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.

Do something you’re never done before. Be a voice to someone who doesn’t have one. Turn a moment into an opportunity for strength. Challenge yourself to do something that may not even be possible.

That is what makes a great inspirational speech.

Image credit to Smithsonian online.

Four Somewhat Forgotten but Beneficial Leadership Qualities

I've been lucky to experience leadership from a vast group of people who handle leadership in different ways. I've had the young and hip boss, the sales driven, goal-oriented, no-nonsense boss, and everything in between. When I was fresh out of college, I realized quickly what I would respond to and what wouldn't motivate me.

I've realized that some of the most important skills in leadership are some of the ones that you don’t see a lot of.

Communication Skills - The end goal of communicating with employees is to get a positive response. No matter if it’s a one-on-one situation where the employees behavior needs to change or it’s to a group in the hopes of brainstorming the next great thing, you want the talk to motivate employees to take action.

Representation - Our bosses would never ask us to do something that they wouldn't be willing to do themselves. This is why they will help with calls if we’re really busy or will pitch in to make things go smoother. You are the leader for a reason and showing your employees that you remember what it was like to be where they were, or be willing to pitch in goes a long way with a great office environment.

Approachability - I never feel like I have to hesitate if I see something that could be worded better or something that we can change to make the experience better for the customer. Since we deal with the customers all of the time, it works for us to be able to go to our bosses and explain what we see. For example, I just suggested to my boss we change one of our email templates, and now, I need to work on the text for it.

Sense of Humor - We have a great relationship with each other and our bosses and we laugh a lot together. We've been able to cultivate a positive team environment that leads to an open sharing of ideas and it just makes approachability easier to come by when we can work and laugh together.

My experience is that the best leaders will be the ones that can incorporate all of the things that make us better leaders.

What do you think are forgotten but important leadership qualities? What makes a great leader?

Avoiding Miscommunication

I started reading a book about writing last week called Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. It’s about the way your brain responds to storytelling and how you tailor the way you write to engage the brain. I tried to tell my friend about the book, but my explanation didn’t entice her wish to read. In fact, the moment I said the word “science” she seemed disinterested. Later she told me that she liked to keep her creative side and her science side separate, and I realized that wasn’t what I had meant at all.

Isn’t it funny how miscommunication works? While I was just trying to talk to my friend about a book, I failed to communicate the information in a way that would pique her interest. Instead, I assumed that she would understand what my underlying message was, and not focus on the mention book was applying scientific theories to creativity.

Even with a friend, these miscues can occur when we make assumptions or infer meanings that aren’t correct or there to begin with. Here are three ways to keep the miscommunication to a minimum.

Take the time to think about what you’re about to say before it just pops out of your mouth. My mother used to tell me that my biggest problem as a child was that I had no filter. It was cute when I was five and telling our landlord that he was not my father and couldn’t tell me what to do, but as an adult, that’s not really appropriate.

Consider your relationship to the person you are speaking with. It’s probably a bad idea to talk to your boss the same way you might speak to your friend after a couple of vodka tonics. Understanding relationships and how to appropriately respond based on any lines that you might cross is a must for adequately judging what you can say and how you can say it.

When writing your communications let someone else read it before you send it. Sending a response via email takes away your ability to be heard, so people can (and will) draw their own conclusions on what you mean. It’s important to set the tone in an email and you should never respond when you’re angry or frustrated. Kenneth Roman & Joel Raphaelson’s book, Writing that Works, features a chapter on how to craft a great email and breaks down the importance of tone.

Bonus Tip: When you’ve replied to an email twice and the issue is still unresolved, it’s time to pick up the phone. Our rule here is to not hit reply a third time; instead, make a phone call.

Bonus Tip #2: When you find yourself starting a sentence with “Don’t take this the wrong way…” you should stop talking.

What’s the best way to make your message clear to everyone?