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Jun
25
2012
Crisis Management Skills Learned in a Crisis Maranda Gibson

Have you ever hit anything on the interstate? Of course you have! Until last week, running over something in the highway was always one of those moments where you pray that it’s nothing awful and you hope that whatever it is won’t cause a major accident.

Last week, I got to know what it’s like to hit something that isn’t “nothing awful”. While traveling at 65MPH, I hit a gas can the size of a propane tank. To make a long story short, it flew out from under a concrete mixer along with some other debris that caught my eye. The gas can flew into the air and slammed back down into the world and I had two choices: hit it or swerve into traffic.

Boom! The tank lodges under my SUV and I have no choice but to stop in the middle of the interstate or risk a spark that could, considering the fact that it’s a gas can, cause a giant explosion. So there I am at rush hour, hazard lights blinking, on the phone with the emergency operators, telling them I can smell gas and staring into my rearview mirror as cars and 18-wheelers go whizzing around me at 70 MPH. I’m waiting on the police to respond when a man pulls up and stops in front of me, aiding in getting the can free and sending me on my way.

Now that I’ve had some time to breathe, cry, and think about my response, I realized a couple of very key points of crisis management.

Know How to Respond

Large businesses have a coding system to let employees know of an issue and have pre-planned responses. For example, a “code blue” in a hospital situation refers to a patient that needs immediate medical attention. Knowing how to respond to a crisis is vital to ensure that staff members know proper protocol to project the livelihood of themselves and the people around them. After coming to a stop on the highway, my brain just went into action – I put on my hazards, kept my seat belt on, called 911, knew where I was so that I could get help, and knowing what to do helped keep me calm.

Understand Some Things Are Out of Your Control

When it comes to managing a business in times of crises, there is only so much that you can do. There are some things that you won’t be able to prevent – media leaks, rumors, speculation, and those kinds of things. Combat these types of occurrences by limiting the number of people that know the true ins and outs of what is going on, at least until you can fully assess the situation.

Don’t Make Things a Bigger Crisis

When you sit down to lay out the response plan don’t make any knee-jerk reactions. These kinds of reactions can make things worse when they don’t need to be. The last thing you want to do in the middle of crisis situation is create a larger problem by responding in an inappropriate manner. Make sure the response plan is distributed to the people who know what to do with it. There may be a crisis where you have to choose between unattractive options and you don’t want that decision to make it worse. Sitting in my car and waiting for the police wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was better than trying to play Frogger across the interstate.

Nothing will prepare you for when a crisis actually comes up and I now believe it’s a little bit of planning and a lot of instinct. But it’s that plan that will have you ready to trust your instincts. What’s your crisis management plan? Do you have one?

Jun
20
2012
Beat The Boring Meeting With Our Book Maranda Gibson

No one is born a pro speaker. It takes a lot of practice and preparation to nail it. Conferences and meetings can be downright boring causing participants to lose focus and not pay attention. So how do you avoid the drab and the dull?

Our first book Lessons from the Bored Room is now available.This collection of short articles shows you:

  • How to break the ice before a meeting
  • What makes a good PowerPoint presentation
  • How to effectively plan for a conference call
  • Many other helpful tips that will give your meeting a boost 

It's a quick, informative read that will give you an insight on perfecting your conferences and meetings.

Whether you are trying to inspire or just inform, issues like monotony in your voice and how long the conference should last are important.

With practice, preparation, and a little help from our book you will be able to improve your meetings across the board.

And more than likely, you will receive positive responses from your participants as well.

Purchase a copy of our book, Lessons from the Bored Room, and we will credit your account $10.00. Just email your receipt and account number to accuinfo@accuconference.com.

Order the paperback from Amazon.

Also available on the Kindle

Jun
18
2012
5 Myths that Make Meetings Unbearable Maranda Gibson

Were you told to set up a conference call today? Did you groan, roll your eyes, or curl up in the fetal position on the floor? That’s a shame – meetings aren’t bad, it is the way that we think they should be conducted that are.

Here are six myths about meetings that mean participants will be bored and as the presenter, you can’t wait for it to be over with a tip to bust the myth and get your participants engaged.

  1. The more people that attend the better your meeting will be.
  2. Wrong. If you’re putting a meeting together to follow up with a development project, you may not need to invite the sales department. The Modern Meeting Standard suggests asking if the presence of one person would dramatically shift a decision making vote. If yes, they need to attend, if no, then they can probably skip this one. (Al Pittampalli put together a great book and you can check out a more in depth interview with him in our April Newsletter)

  3. Everyone is paying attention.
  4. A lot of presenters think that once they send out the invitation and conference call information that their work is done. The truth is that it takes a lot of work to keep participants engaged during the conference call. Many participants just put their phone on mute so that the rest of the conference doesn’t hear them working or playing games on their phone. Things like Q&A sessions, polling, or even getting interactive on social networks during your presentation are great ways to keep participants engaged.

  5. Reading from slides is the same thing as “making a presentation”.
  6. No. The golden rule of presentation is never read from your slides. Slides are a guide to prevent the speaker from losing their place and to visually stimulate your participants along the way. Instead of filling slide after slide with bullet points, use images and short statements to clue the participants into the information, but if you give it away on the slides – they will tune you out.

  7. Your agenda is a script.
  8. Much like the slides in Myth #3, the use of an agenda is sometimes distorted into being used as a script for the meeting. The agenda should be more of a guide to let participants know how the conference call time is going to be spent. For example, an agenda might say that from 9:00 – 9:30 will be Introduction, 9:30 – 10:30 Speaker, 10:30-11:00 Q&A. A meeting agenda works best when used as a short check list of how presenters plan on the time being used.

  9. Meetings that are blocked out for an hour must fill the whole hour.
  10. Don't fill time for the sake of taking up the entire hour. If you wrap up early or get through questions quicker than anticipated, go ahead and close out the conference. People will appreciate your effectiveness and be glad they have some extra time where they can get some other things taken care of. Nothing kills a meeting faster than when your participants feel like you're wasting their time.

Part of the thing that makes meetings and conferences a bit of a drag is the way the meeting is viewed. If we start small, dispelling some myths, and move on from there we are guaranteed to have more productive meetings and happy co-workers.

May
16
2012
Why Do We Accept Bad Behavior Online? Maranda Gibson

Spend a little time on the Internet and you'll run into one of two things happening in conversations: either people are being respectful and understanding, or they aren't. We spend so much time using text messages, email, and even message forums where our tone and meaning are lost. We've become a bit desensitized to the way we sound thanks to the Internet and other technological forms of communication, and sometimes we forget what the proper, polite rules are when it comes to speaking to someone directly.

The rules of communication on the Internet do not apply in polite face to face conversation. It's interesting to me some of the things we do online that (most) of us would never consider taking to the offline world. Our level of acceptance to some behaviors is increased or perhaps we just really like having access to that "ban IP" power. I've complied a little list of things that happen online that we would never accept in the offline world.

  • Writing in all caps is basically screaming. Would you walk up to a person and just go toe to toe with them and start screaming in their face? If your answer is anything other than 'no' then you're not emotionally equiped for face to face communication.
  • Pretending to be someone else is never acceptable in face to face communication. This is simply lying. It's one thing to be anonymous online but it's another to embrace a persona or a character and develop relationships along these lines. Eventually, you will have to fess up to the people that are in your community about who and what you really are, or someone will find out.
  • Asking a total stranger for a date (or worse) when you first meet them. Walking up to someone on the street and saying, "Hey, do you want a cup of coffee", will probably get you punched.
  • Call someone a name just because you can.
  • Starting arguments while using the name "anonymous". Imagine someone walking up to you on the street with their face covered in a Richard Nixon mask and trying to get you to talk politics or religion. I'd have a couple of knee jerk reactions, but none of them would be to share my thoughts on the upcoming election.
  • Using a repeat of you're stupid to validate yourself or your argument. Our conversation would not go far if we were face to face, so one has to wonder why we continue to "feed the troll" online.
  • Bring up a completely off topic and horrible offensive subject. Have you ever been standing in a group of friends and have a nice pleasent conversation when someone walks up and says something so horrible that it completely derails the entire vibe of the evening? No? Well, go spend an hour or two on a message board and you'll come across that eventually.
  • Stalk someone. The phrase "stalk" is thrown around on the Internet, but imagine for a moment if you followed your favorite celebrity around offline the way you did online. Twitter is their favorite coffee house, Facebook is their home, and I'm pretty sure at some point, you'd get reported to the police.
  • Threaten someone. Disagreeing with someone in the offline world happens, but it seems like sometimes online those interactions often end with a threat.

So my question is this - Why do we tolerate online what we wouldn't tolerate in face to face communication? Is it easier to turn a blind eye to people being rude, mean, or just downright creepy because we know that we can simply "delete" or "ignore" them online? I also want to know your "okay online but not face to face" rules.

Apr
25
2012
Five People Who Don't Need an Invitation to Your Next Conference Call Maranda Gibson

It's not always your fault when you invite a good number of participants to your conferences and then don't get many attendees. When people don't want to join your conference calls it's usually because they feel like it's not worth their time to do so and there could be a couple of reasons for that. One of those reasons could be who you're inviting to your conferences. Some attendees can cause distractions on your conferences and makes the people who need to join the conference find something else to do.

The next time you send out conference call invitations you should consider keeping these distractions off the list.

The Boss

Sometimes, having the boss on a conference call can be more of a distraction than benefit. When the boss gets on the line, he or she may see the conference call as an opportunity to bring up topics that they feel are very important but do not have anything to do with the agenda for your meeting. The boss will seieze the opportunity of having everyone on the phone at the same time as a great moment to update on policy changes or ask questions. If you want to stick to your agenda or need to adhere to very specific time constraints, it might be better to email your boss the highlights of the conference call after it's over.

The Notetaker

When meetings happen there is a natural flow of conversation that seems to happen and it can happen at a quick pace. When someone is trying to jot down the information that is being discussed on the conference, they can easily miss something important or have to ask everyone to slow down so that they can get all of the information. When you have a conference call, be sure to take advantage of the recording option so that all of the information is stored, and there's no need to invite the notetaker.

Your Customer

We all love our customers but many times they just need to be briefly updated on what's going on. They don't always need to be a part of your teams conference call. In fact, they may not want to be and just feel obligated to attend because you've invited them. It's another good reason to record the conference call so you can provide it to the customer later, if they ask for it, or for you to use to keep track of what you're working on for them.

The Traveling Person

Unless the person who is traveling is imperative to the success or failure of a conference call topic, they do not need to attend the meeting. Dealing with the traveling employee is another great opportunity to use recording your conference calls to your advantage. More than likely, they will be relieved that they don't have to try to attend a conference call in the middle of an airport terminal, and you'll be thankful that you don't have to hear flight annoucements in the middle of your conference.

Having a conference is important to advancing your business and your plans with customers, especially when you're scattered all over like a lot of employees are. Having the conference isn't nearly as important as making sure it was worth everyone's time to attend. The first thing to do when it comes to having better conference is trim the fat and only invite the people who absolutely need to attend.

Apr
09
2012
Mike Wallace’s Death Leaves Questions for Today’s Journalists Maranda Gibson

The sad news of veteran TV anchorman and 60 Minutes patriarch Mike Wallace passing this weekend moved a lot of people to stop and remember a pioneer in the field of journalism. Mike Wallace was known for his curveball interview style ("Forgive me...."), his documentary style presentations on 60 Minutes, and a number of lawsuits filed against him. He was also known for his personal losses (the death of his son in the 60s) and a personal battle with depression.

Over the last sixty years and his personal struggles, Mike Wallace leaves the world known as one of the most respected journalists in the world. His pace set the stage for many of the men from my father's generation - the late Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and even Dan Rather.

Mike's passing made me stop and take pause about the state of journalism today - what's changed and how journalists approach news stories today. The truth is that everything has changed since the days of Mike Wallace. People don't get their news in the same way that they did in the 1960's and before, and I can't help but wonder where are all the journalists?. In forty years, will my children be able to recognize the people who brought the news to the world? Will there be archives for them to reflect upon - the same way that I watched Walter Cronkite announce the death of JFK on a black and white news reel? Who will fill the gap in the newsroom? More importantly - will there even be a news room to fill?

The Landscape of "Journalism" Has Changed

Perhaps many of us don't want to admit it but the way that news is sent and received has changed. When Osama Bin Laden was killed, it was Twitter that knew first, thanks to the messages sent by a guy who was unknowingly live tweeting the Navy SEAL operation taking place near him. When social media networks often do a better job of getting news stories out to the masses, why would we wait until six PM to turn on the Nightly News to see what is going on in the world?

The advent of the 24 hour news networks (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, etc.) has also changed the way that we receive our news updates. Again, it becomes a question of why wait for the nightly news breaks. Even if I don't want to get my news from a source like social media, I have the ability and the option to tune the television to a news network right away. Breaking news is always the top of the news - and the 24 hour networks love to follow every piece of a story.

How does a "standard" journalist keep up with the always available news streams? What do they do to make people want to turn to them, instead of the 24 hour a day channels?

Enter the Journalistic Narrative

As my husband and I were discussing Mike Wallace and his passing, he made an excellent point. Journalism is nothing more than a narrative at this point. As much as we'd all like to say that there are still journalists who present the news in a way that doesn't have a slant, or a shtick, I wonder if there really are. Well - let me rephrase, I'm sure they are out there but no one is listening. Why? Because no one wants to read the facts. Journalism has evolved (devolved?) to the point that without a narrative, no one wants to read it.

When we read a news story we expect to read a story that panders to our beliefs. We want to read something that confirms our beliefs and opinions. We want to read or hear a presentation that will make us feel like the way we feel as an individual is validated by a news source. The ones that do not verify our opinions are the ones that we stay away from. If we think that the news is too serious, we turn our attention to the John Stewarts and Steven Colberts of the world.

But this appeal can go too far and that's where you start to get doctored 911 calls and documents. Even the respected Dan Rather was not immune to this phenomenon and got himself into trouble, and ultimately lost his position on the CBS Nightly News.

When did we stop watching the news to get the facts and instead turning our backs on the programs or outlets that didn't pander to us? Is it why so many people are now gathering their information from smaller sources - even down to the local outlets? Has the need to appeal turned the networks that created journalists like Mike Wallace and Walter Cronkite to nothing more than content marketers?

When did all the journalists become storytellers?

Apr
03
2012
The Fray Gets In Over Their Heads with The National Anthem Maranda Gibson

In high school, as part of a competition choir group, we were often asked to perform the National Anthem at different sporting events and activites around our community. The one thing I can clearly remember is our sweet choir teacher telling us that we would take it seriously or we would not participate. I can only imagine if I would have shown up on the field holding a tamborine. I would have neverbeen invited back.

So imagine my surprise when last night at the NCAA Championship Game, The Fray steps out with their guitars, a drum, and a tamborine. (Oh yes, a tamborine) You are welcome to watch it for yourself but lets just say, well, it was awful. In fact, it was worse than Roseanne Barr and she has the unfortunate title of "worst Star-Spangled Banner Ever". Truthfully, that title may be in question after last nights unessecary attempt by The Fray to change the National Anthem.

 

I didn't recognize it at first. In fact, I thought it was the "warm up" act or "America the Beautiful". As the guitar started to play in an off tempo, somewhat awkward beat, and the singing began, I felt my mouth fall open. The camera panned the crowd and even as they held their hands over their hearts, their mouths and facial movements seemed confused, scared even. When it was finally over, there was an awkward moment, and then applause - but it felt subdued, less like a celebration and more like relief. Relief that it was over and relief that the game was about to begin.

My boss put it best when he said You don't cover the National Anthem.

So to the Fray - I ask, in a manner indicitative of the resepct you showed the National Anthem - why didn't you just light the flag on fire and run away? Exactly who do you think you are that you need to be the ones to change the entire tempo, tone, and musical accompaniment to the Star-Spangled Banner? Even if your guitar had been in tune it would still have been awful.

What a lesson in humility this should be for all of us. Getting asked to perform the National Anthem would be a huge honor for anyone. Even as a teenager in a choir group I understood that. I also understood that my lack of respect for the moment would mean that I would not get to participate.

It's a perfect example of how we get ourselves in the thought process that we need to change something. There are some things that work just fine without the help of some 2nd rate hipster pop group. The lesson to be learned from The Fray? There are some things that are so perfect and amazing in their own right that they do not need your "personal touch". Being asked to sing the National Anthem is no different than making a presentation at a conference or writing a blog for someone else. When you're invited to someone else's stage you have to respect the nature of the stage. If you have been asked to post on a blog that has never posted a curse word, it wouldn't be respectful to include a bunch of them in your submission to the site.

Also, if you're desperate to get that horrible performance out of your mind - here are two that I've always really thought were top notch.


 

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Mar
29
2012
What To Do When No One Asks A Question Maranda Gibson

Few public speaking situations have made me as nervous as when I had to present my senior thesis to the Communications department. Everything I had worked so hard for and watched my parents sacrifice for came down to one presentation on propaganda and the pressure was on. I knew that there would be questions about my research. When I wrapped up, I stood at the front of the room with nothing but blank faces staring back at me.

No questions? I was shocked. They simply thanked me and I was allowed to leave the hall. I convinced myself that no questions meant I had failed. I didn't.(Thank goodness).

At the end of a presentation, you expect there to be rapid fire questions coming from every point of the audience. What happens when you wrap up the presentation, ask anyone if they have questions, and there is nothing but silence?

Come Prepared

Before stepping out on the stage to make your presentation, you should be prepared for the event that no one is going to have a question at the end. Have a list prepared with a couple of additional notes to your presentation that you can offer if no one has any questions.

Ask Friends Before Hand

One of the things about asking questions on a conference call or face to face is that there is a hesitation to being the first person to speak up. Before the presentation, find a friend or co-worker and ask them if they would be willing to offer up a question if no one jumps in, just to get the ball rolling. You'd be surprised how many people will chime in once someone starts the Q&A off.

Wrap it Up

Not having any questions after a presentation might signal a need to wrap things up and hand the stage over to the next speaker. If their truly are no questions, it will be very awkward for you and the audience if you just hang around onstage. If you don't want to wrap up you presentation early, open a dialogue with your participants and see if you can't get them talking to you, instead of the other way around.

Provide Another Way to Ask

Maybe the presentation you're making is on a sensitive subject or everyone has simply succumb to shyness that day. Either way, you should give your participants a different way to ask questions. Some may prefer email or they simply won't think of a great question until it's time to put your suggestions into action.

When you open the floor for questions and all you hear are the crickets and papers shuffling - it doesn't always mean you didn't do a great job. Q&A sessions are very helpful for both you and the participants listening in so when things don't go your way at Q&A time, it doesn't mean you have to disconnect or leave the stage feeling like a failure. What do you do at the end of your presentation and there is nothing but silence?

Mar
23
2012
Use Webinars and Engagement to Get More Maranda Gibson

This week, I read this awesome post over on Copyblogger called How to Use Webinars to Create Great Relationships with Prospects and Customers. The blog is highly indepth about how you can reach out to customers and make sales connections by inviting them to Q&A sessions or with coaching programs. I have personally written about using Q&A session with customers in a webinar format before and how it can offer great benefit to your company by knowing what your customers want to know more about.

These are great ideas and I fully support them, but there are some things you have to keep in mind when approaching using a webinar for any part of your business.

Pay Attention to Your Time Constraints

Understand exactly how long it is going to take you to present the information to your customers, clients, or co-workers. Give yourself a little extra time on either side of the webinar for any last minute hold ups or if you happen to run a little long in a Q&A session. Most webinars are scheduled for an hour and have anywhere from 30 - 45 minutes of presentation time and then the rest is Q&A from the audience.

Don't Host a Webinar Just to Do It

Ever been a participant on a webinar where you've heard it all before? Instead of presenting buzz words and tired information, have something new and interesting to present. You can invite speakers to your webinars so that they can give a fresh perspective on the topic. You can invite a blogger in your niche to come on the line and have an open discussion with participants or debate over how to do something. You can also present new research on how your kinds of products are being used in businesses, so that your potential customers can see how the products will benefit them in the short and long run. If participants feel like they scheduled an hour to hear something you've already heard before means they are less likely to sign up for your businesses webinar event again, and it means you will stick in the minds of your participants for all of the wrong reasons.

Always Have Q&A Options

No matter how well you present a topic or how much you know about a subject - there will always be questions. It's not a bad thing, in fact, it's great because sometimes your audience can lead you to an idea you might have never thought of yourself. You have to give them a way to ask these questions and sometimes the idea of having to speak the question can be a bit of a hold up for participants. Use a webinar service that is going to provide both audio and some other form of question forum (like chat) to help give everyone a way to feel comfortable asking those questions. Provide an email address for the ones that you can't get to in the alloted time.

Using a webinar is a great tool for reaching out to current customers, clients, and even a public who might never have been exposed to your brand. If you're going to take on the importance of webinars in business, you have to be ready to make them useful and informative.

What kinds of thing are you doing to make your webinars stand out from a crowd? How are you engaging with participants during the presentation to make sure they are really getting what they came for?

Mar
12
2012
Solving Conference Call Annoyances Maranda Gibson

Earlier this week, I told you all about the 12 Conference Call Attendees That Cause Annoyance. Now that you've considered the list and mentally pointed the finger of blame at some of your co-workers, let’s go over what you can do to fix those annoyances on the conference.

The truth is that conference calls are supposed to be a productive and concise way to conduct business without having to shuffle everyone into the conference room, which, let’s be honest, is sometimes like herding cats. When one, any, or all of these things happen on conferences it can change the entire tone of the meeting and take a productive group of people down a desperate spiral of frustration. So what can you do?

  1. Offer a recording to the conference participants who are traveling or who have their children home with them that day. This way people won't feel pressured to join the conference if they are getting on a plane or home with a sick baby - who may decide at any time to burst into tears. These participants can listen in to the conference at a more convenient time and ask questions or give feedback later.
  2. Lock your conference call (Press *7 on the telephone keypad as the moderator) and prevent late participants from joining the conference. This will lessen the likelihood that someone will join the conference ten minutes late and then require that they immediately get caught back up.
  3. Use the power to mute the lines to control what is heard in the background and to filter out who is speaking. (We recommend using lecture mode for any conferences that are going to be five participants or more.) Use the live call screen to identify which lines are making noise so that you can mute them without disrupting the rest of the conference call. This works for background noise, hold music, pretty much any disruption that can be caused by unauthorized sounds.
  4. Encourage your participants to use a land line phone and a headset instead of speaker phones. In our experience, land lines tend to be more reliable for the conference call and headsets are the best, least intrusive way to be hands free on a conference call.
  5. Do your best as the meeting organizer to schedule your conferences before or after lunch time. The best time to host a conference is before the lunch hours but it does get hard to do this when you're dealing with people in multiple time zones. We wrote some great tips on the best time to have conference calls, so we encourage you to go over there and check them out.

Knowing what to expect on a conference call is part of the planning process. As the moderator you have to be prepared to step in a mute a line or suggest that someone call back in when they are in a less noisy environment. What do you do on conference calls and webinars that keep those distractions out and keep productivity moving forward?

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