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Mar
10
2011
Live Streaming Funerals – Great Idea or Inappropriate? Maranda Gibson

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.

Mar
02
2011
Do’s and Don’ts of Using Color on Presentation Slides Maranda Gibson

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?

Mar
01
2011
Five Brainstorming Tips for Better Conference Calls Maranda Gibson

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.

Feb
21
2011
Never Underestimate a Thank You Maranda Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb
16
2011
Webinars Can Promote Your Business…If Done Correctly Accuconference

Here's another in our guest post series, coming from Gini Dietrich. Thank you for taking the time Gini!

When I speak to business owners and leaders, I always have at least one person say to me, “I get that everyone is moving online to communicate, and I want to get on the bandwagon, but my customers don’t use the Internet.”

I call baloney.

American adults spend four hours every day online — which means your customers are on the Internet, and it’s your job to figure out how to reach them there.

Webinars are a great way to do just that. You can do paid webinars or free webinars, depending on your budget and what you’re trying to achieve, but it’s an easy way to market to new audiences without leaving the comfort of your home or your office.

But do webinars make sense for you? Maybe you run a kid’s fitness company. You’re probably thinking, “I don’t have time to also do webinars.” I always say that making time to do just one more thing is pretty difficult, but when you see the return you get on your investment, it’s pretty easy to make the time.

There are a lot of opportunities to use webinars in your own sales and marketing efforts. Think about it this way–how do you sell your product or services now? Is it one-on-one in an office setting? Wouldn’t it be easier to sell one-to-many in that same office setting? Or maybe you attract customers through promotions and coupons. Webinars offer another way to extend that message to more than just the people in your surrounding ZIP codes.

Let’s talk about what types of things you could include in the presentation.

  • Demonstrate how your product or service works.
  • Showcase your culture or what it’s like to work at your company.
  • Do you have a passion around something business-focused, such as leadership, finances, or human resources? Create a webinar around your passion.
  • Host a webinar that showcases your technical expertise.

Keep in mind, though, that webinars are about the customer, not about you or your business. So showcase what you’re about by making it valuable to the customer. Tips, tools, how-tos, and demonstrations work really well.

Now that you’ve decided what your webinar topic is, following are the top 10 things to consider when promoting to your customers and prospects.

  1. Define what attendees will get from attending the webinar. What’s in it for them? What kind of value are you giving them that they can’t get on their own?
  2. Create a line in your e-mail signature to allow people to click on, and sign up, from there.
  3. Promote via your newsletter/e-mail database by letting people know what’s in it for them and making it easy for them to register.
  4. Promote via social networks — post it to your LinkedIn profile, add it to your Facebook fan page, tweet about it, or blog about it.
  5. Include a line about your webinars on your invoices.
  6. If you have a retail location, post flyers at points of sale.
  7. Post to the home page of your Web site.
  8. Include a one-click Outlook reminder that people can add to their calendars as they register.
  9. Ask for questions in advance of the webinar in order to engage people early.
  10. Send a reminder e-mail one week, one day, and one hour prior to the webinar.

Once you’ve decided on your topic and you’ve promoted the heck out of it (don’t be shy about repeating yourself over and over again – people need to see/hear a message seven to 12 times before they act), following are some tips for having a great webinar the first time out.

  • Use guest speakers—not only to add a certain amount of credibility, but also so you can use their network in addition to yours
  • Hold rehearsals
  • Promote at least a month in advance
  • Consider having a moderator to engage the audience and field the questions
  • Limit to one hour — we recommend 40 minutes of presentation and 20 minutes of question-and-answer session
  • Ask for feedback after the webinar via a survey (SurveyMonkey is the easiest and most cost-efficient tool)
  • Don’t be afraid to follow-up after the webinar, even with those who registered, but didn’t attend
  • I’m not going to pretend that hosting a webinar is a walk in the park. They’re hard work and they take some serious project management skills, but if you use the tips included here, you’ll be halfway there and you’ll be able to drive some serious leads from your efforts.

    Once you’ve decided on your topic and you’ve promoted the heck out of it (don’t be shy about repeating yourself over and over again – people need to see/hear a message seven to 12 times before they act), following are some tips for having a great webinar the first time out.

    About the Author: Gini Dietrich is the founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc. and the author of Spin Sucks, the 2010 Readers Choice Blog of the Year, a Top 42 Content Marketing Blog from Junta42, a top 10 social media blog from Social Media Examiner, and an AdAge Power 150 blog.  You can connect with Gini on Twitter or on Facebook.

    Feb
    15
    2011
    The Bing and Google Battle Maranda Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Feb
    10
    2011
    Planning for Unforeseen Circumstances Maranda Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Feb
    07
    2011
    Useful Debate and an Open Mind Maranda Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

    Feb
    03
    2011
    Twitter Emergency Management Maranda Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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