Communications in a Small Community

If it’s not your first time stopping by, then you probably know I’m from small town Arkansas, where word travels fast. If you say something about another person, by the time you get to the other side of town (which is about a three minute drive) they have already heard everything about it and have made their own decisions.

When a crisis strikes, the only way you’re going to make it through is being prepared. No one wants to sit around and think about what might come along and cause pain or injury, but because there’s no way to see the future, everything has to be taken into consideration. In business and on our social networks, we can often be considered as little communities, so how can you prepare in advance for something you might never see coming? What happens when your small community faces a crisis?

Whatever message you have, write it down. This information will pass through a lot of hands and you don’t want anyone playing “telephone” with a message as important as this.

Ever played the game “telephone” where you whisper a secret and it travels down the line, only to come to the last person a mere skeleton of what the thought originally was? When news breaks in a small community, it can be hard to stop the flow of mis-information and personal judgments. Put your message on paper so what you’re passing around is going to be the same for everyone.

Contact the neighboring towns to find out what they could provide if your community is put into an unexpected tight spot.

One of the towns close to home has a small, all volunteer fire department with one engine that is top speed about 50 MPH (no, seriously, I’ve been behind this thing when it’s on the way to a fire). It just so happens to be in an area that is highly prone to wildfires. The city knows they are without the funds to purchase new and better equipment, so they made arrangements with nearby communities to pitch in when it’s needed. I’ve seen the fire departments from five different towns converge on this tiny community to help put out fires.

Prepare messages in advance and role play potential problems that could affect your community.

You can never know what’s coming with your community, business, organization, or even your best friend – but what you can do is make a plan, well in advance and be prepared in the event that something does happen. That way, when you need to respond right away, you’re not stuck on the stage where you are trying plan what to do when faced with a crisis.

Public Speaking Anxiety

With it being the first work day of 2011, I’m sure a lot of us have some resolutions we are trying to live up to and trying to make happen. Whether your resolution is to lose weight, stop smoking, or overcome something that held you up in the past, I’m sure you have a set of goals to make your resolution happen.

If your resolution this year is to be a better public speaker, it can be hard to set goals that will help you reach what is, more than likely, an end result of making a public speech. Like all resolutions, the best thing for you to do is to set smaller goals that will get you more comfortable with the idea of being in front of people, before you tackle the idea of a long speech.

If you suffer from public speaking anxiety and want to overcome that this year, try starting small and working your way up the ladder of challenges. Here are some easy (free!) suggestions to starting down the path of conquering the anxiety.

  1. Volunteer time reading books to an after school program. Not only is this a great way to spend your time, but you’ll get used to reading out loud. You will learn the importance of pace, tone, and not to do the annoying robot voice that will put us all to sleep. Small children are also forgiving – so it’s an audience that can be very easy to make happy.
  2. Join an Online Forum. Joining an online forum will help you learn how to articulate your thoughts into a speech-like format. The great thing about forums is that you’ll get connections with people you wouldn’t usually come in contact with and it will teach you how to speak up in a situation when you’re dealing with people you don’t know.
  3. Watch other speakers. Attend free events at your local community college or university and watch how other speakers use the stage to their advantage. Take notes about what you like and what you don’t, then practice at home.

If you want to overcome this kind of fear, you don’t have to run out and spend a lot of money on different kinds of books and DVD’s. You can find some ways to get a little bit of confidence in your abilities right in your own backyard and never have to spend a dime.

Using *6 on Your Conference Call

We are a community of multitaskers, like the supermen and women of technology, able to do one thousand things at once. Okay, maybe not a thousand, but we are usually involved in two things at once. Whether we are cooking dinner and kicking a cat out of the kitchen or answering the phone and email at the same time, we like to fill our time with two things at once.

When it comes to being on a conference call, it may seem like the perfect time to call in on your cell phone and head over to the local market to get a tube of toothpaste (that counts as still working right?). What you might forget about while checking out is that everyone (including a boss or a potential client) can hear the beeping as things slide across the scanner and the muffled cursing as you try to hold your phone, pick up your bags, and get your change from the cashier. (Three things at once have a tendency to throw us off balance).

This is the perfect time to mute your own line using the *6 command. *6 is a command that can be used in a lot of different ways. Here are just a few ways to use the *6 command on your next conference call.

  • If you’re hosting a conference with multiple moderators and speakers, remember that your line is always open to the attendees. If you’re waiting for your chance to speak or simply listening in, press *6 on your telephone keypad to mute your line. You can use *6 again when it’s your turn to speak to open your line back up.
  • On conferences with a small number of attendees, you can use the *6 command to go through Q&A sessions. Each participant can keep their line muted until they have a question or a comment on the conference. As the moderator, you can see on the live call screen when someone unmutes their line and know that they intend to speak.
  • During a moderated Q&A session, once your line is unmuted, it will stay open until the operator goes to the next question in line. When you’re just listening to the answer to your question, press *6 to mute your line so that the moderator won’t be interrupted.

*6 is just one of the conference call star commands we have available, and you can check out the list of all our star commands. But remember, even with these tips, you should never assume that mute is on, and always be aware of your surroundings when on a conference call.

Before Social Media There Were Virtual Groups

Back in 2004, before the word “social media” became main stream, I took a class about something called “virtual groups”. In all honesty, I took it because the professor said it was an online course and I assumed it would be pretty easy. As someone who had been a member of various online groups and organizations throughout the years, I was curious to see how people were starting to use those kinds of systems to their advantage.

Today, everyone knows what social media stands for, as well as what the use and benefits can be. Curious, I decided to go back into the Yahoo! Groups account we used for the “virtual groups” class to see what we were talking about and what was making huge strides towards popularity. Here are some of the things that were just starting to emerge in 2004.

  • Teleconferencing: In 2004 teleconferencing was a rising star. The market itself had been around for nearly 50 years, but the need for the use of service increased in demand after September 11, 2001, as airlines raised fees and travel became more expensive. With in-home video conferencing services and conference services changing the way business is done, it seems unlikely that anyone would go back to the pre-conference days of travel, long lines, and TSA agents.
  • Online Support Groups: 2004 showed the emergence of the online support group, with some groups even acting as “virtual interventionists”. These peer to peer networks encouraged the growth of relationships and the care for individuals that may never been seen in a face to face environment. Since then, social communities have popped up everywhere for a million different kinds of afflictions – parents with autistic children, addicts, even those who suffer from a number of phobias. While it’s certainly not a doctors advice, it can sometimes help to ease your mind to speak to someone who may be going through the same thing.
  • RFID: In 2004, the FDA approved the use of RFID chips in humans, the same kind of technology that is used in an animal for tracking. In 2004, there were a lot of concerns about storing your personal information on a chip, as well as some of the religious implications of such a device. Looking at the end of 2010, RFID is slowly starting to gain acceptance. Researchers at IBM are working on technology that will allow for personalized advertising, while Wal*Mart discusses the possibility of using RFID technology for tracking their merchandise and sales.

Those were some of the emerging stories that were “hot” topics in 2004. Some of these we’ve heard of since 2004, some we haven’t, and some I’m sure we’ll see more of in the future. One thing is for sure though; you can never tell what is right around the corner.

Five Things Every College Freshman Should Know

My cousin is going to college in the fall. Even better – she’s going to college where I graduated. Since she was six years old, I have always felt a kindred spirit to her. (Has it really been 11 years? I guess it has been.) She liked school, like I did, and dreamed of going to college, like I had, from a very young age. Like all kids, she has big dreams – she wants to do something amazing, be something great, and learn something new every single day.

When she announced she was going to my alma mater, I felt my chest swell up in pride. I remembered taking her to the campus and walking her around, showing her the different buildings telling her funny college stories. I remembered showing her my “hang out spot” on the quad and telling her that the professors were really amazing. Her eyes were bright, alive, and I could tell she was already picturing herself standing on the very campus that I called home. Now that’s she’ll be attending Henderson State University, it’s made me think of what I would tell high school graduates about their first year of college. What advice, thoughts, and warnings would I impart on those about to take that first step into adulthood?

  1. Learn a million things. Take advantage of your elective courses – they are there to encourage you to broaden your horizons and be introduced to things that you didn’t already know. It was through my elective courses that I discovered debate and found something I was truly passionate about.
  2. Make lots of friends. As a commuter for three out of my four years of college, I feel like this is the one thing I missed out on, but once I moved into the dorm, I was able to get some friends that have lasted a very long time.
  3. It’s not high school, most of the time. College courses are one of those places where you’re encouraged to raise your hand and get involved in the discussion. There’s no stigma of being a “nerd” or a “suck up” in college. It can lead to having a great mentor.
  4. Speaking of mentors. You will find professors who are willing to guide you and direct you along a path. There will be professors who will make the difference in your life, even if just for a split second, and will give you advice you will carry through your entire career. I can still remember mine – Dr. Daniel Kendie, the first professor to tell me I had great potential to do something amazing; Dr. Angela Boswell, my academic advisor who helped me see that just because I loved history didn’t mean I was meant to work in the subject; and Dr. Robert Steinmiller, affectionately known to his debate kids as “Dr. Bob”, who taught me everything I needed to know about public speaking and how I could be a mentor myself.
  5. Get involved in stuff.Don’t hesitate to get yourself into political or social groups on campus. Especially when being a commuter, it’s hard to get involved, because you’re often not on campus property when your school is hosting things. Check with your student services department to see if they offer special programs for commuters.

What would you tell those in your life heading off to college this year? If you could look at yourself, as a college freshman, and speak with all the wisdom and knowledge you have now, what would you tell yourself? Are you taking these tips and applying them to your business outlook?

Inspire by Just Being Yourself

There are a lot of very important things when it comes to public speaking and while the inspiration series has covered some of them, it definitely doesn’t even begin to touch on everything. This series has been about one thing – inspiring your audience and making them want to get up and embrace your ideas and practices.

Methods, figured, charts, whatever, sure they are help to show an audience how your practices can be incredibly useful, but if you’re night lighting a fire under them to make them get up and want to go and do something, it’s not going to do any good for you to stand up in front of them and lecture.

I saved this inspiration tip for the last because without doing the other four things then “being yourself” is pretty much pointless. We all have different quirks, things we enjoy, and how they have affected out business experiences. While “be yourself” is a great tip, it’s another one of those things that doesn’t really tell you anything.

What qualifies as “being yourself”? If it’s getting up in front of your audience and acting like a clown because you enjoy playing pranks and making jokes, you’re not going to be perceived as much of a serious business person. It’s a careful balance between showing your personality and airing all your dirty laundry.

  1. Tell stories that have personal meaning, but keep your stories appropriate for your audience.
  2. Connect with your audience in a way that makes you comfortable – and doesn’t cross boundaries. Walking up to a stranger and wrapping them in a bear hug is probably not a great idea. Best connection strategies? Good solid eye contact and a firm handshake.
  3. Let your personality shine! There is something special about you that everyone should get to have a little taste of. If I was in front of an audience, I’d be making short jokes and confessing silly mistakes that I’ve made. Why? Because I’m short and I know how to laugh at myself.

Before your next presentation, think about what sets you apart from the rest of the people that could have been invited to speak, and incorporate those parts of yourself into the presentation. Don’t forget to be honest, kick your fear to the curb, and just have a good time.

Inspire by Overcoming Fear

There is a big difference between being “fearful” and being “nervous”. When it comes to public speaking, someone who has stage fright might sweat profusely or revisit their breakfast before it’s time for them to go on stage. I’ve even heard stories about people who stand too straight with their knees locked and just fall over passed out.

Personally, I’m a nervous speaker, probably borderline on the whole “stage fright” bit. It takes me a few minutes to get warmed up in front of a crowd, but once I do, I start feeling some confidence and am able to shake off the nerves. As important as it is to inspire your audience, you have to have some of that inspiration too; otherwise your speech won’t have the same excitement-boosting factor.

Here are some tips on how to draw a little inspiration for yourself before you go out in front of the waiting fans.

  1. You’re out there aren’t you? There are a lot of people who would be too scared of even agreeing to speak at an engagement, let alone being able to take that stage.
  2. Say some good things about yourself. You are your greatest critic after all, so shut up the negative inside of you that wants you to fall off the stage or rip the seam in your pants and pump yourself up with some positive things – even if you only end up complementing yourself on your hair.
  3. The night before your speech do a dramatic reading of your speech. No, maybe your speech isn’t MacBeth or Romeo & Juliet, but doing something really over the top can help you shake off some of those ‘pre-speech’ nerves. Plus – it would be really fun.
  4. Stop second guessing yourself. You’ve been preparing for this speech for weeks, or even months. So put down the notes, stop making changes, and trust yourself. You’re not so bad you know?

What kind of things do you do in your preparation to give yourself an extra boost of confidence? Remember that you have to believe in what you’re saying if you expect a room full of people to believe along with you.

Get Connected to Your Staff, Students, and Speakers.

Tis the season for … snow, ice, and roads that you can’t even look at without spinning wildly out of control. In most parts of the country there is one constant in every winter season – winter weather, and it causes a headache. Seattle, WA and Buffalo, NY have already experienced a snow storm, one that snarls traffic, and makes getting to work nearly impossible.

Earlier this week, there were reports that we were going to get some “record-breaking snowfall” here in DFW. That report has since started to fade from the forecast, but if the early season computer models are already starting to predict snowfalls, I can only imagine what will happen come January.

Not only is this the beginning of the winter weather season but it’s also the holidays – a time of year when non-profit organizations are hosting fundraisers. What happens when an event you planned has to be cancelled or if your guests cannot safely arrive? As an educator, how do you prepare when a crucial lecture must be rescheduled? In government, you can’t run a country without being able to get people in the same place – so how do you continue when you can’t get to work, school, or your event?

Check with your conference call provider to see what their capacity is for last minute / large events. Get everyone on your conference call and let business continue as usual. Even if you’re in sunny California with a speaker who’s stranded in their hometown, you can get a phone hooked up to the loudspeakers and have your speaker call in. Their presentation still happens and your guests are still happy. Your event happens, despite Mother Nature’s disagreement with you.

Where was the worst place you were stranded during snow or ice? How did you continue conducting your business or did you crawl under a blanket and come out after everything thawed out?

Great Communicators In History

History is full of people who have inspired audiences to move their feet or even brought a room full of people to tears. One of the best speeches I have ever seen was from Radio and Coach Jones , the real life inspiration behind the Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ed Harris film, Radio. I got to meet them both and they were charming and kind (even to a girl wearing a Go Greenwaves shirt), and when they got onto the stage together, it brought tears to my eyes. The message I took away from the speech was to never give up and it's something I've carried with me to this day.

What else can you learn from speakers who have historically made a deep impact on the world? The right speech at the right time can turn a national crisis into an incident, or pour sand on the flames of injustice. What have some of the most memorable leaders taught us about public speaking?

Winston Churchill -- Winston knew how to make an impression on a large audience, even in times of great turmoil. Churchill's speeches inspired a country in the time of World War Two, eventually leading to a win by the Allies against Nazi Germany. Winston was known for his direct, straight-shooting manner on a variety of subjects. One of my favorite quotes from him is History will be kind to me for I intend to write it. And he did, through his success in the WW2 theater and his amazing skill at public speaking.

What should you take away? Winston commanded the respect of an audience even in tough times because he was confident and got right to the point. Different situations (like WW2) might call for you to dive right into the subject matter at hand, with no time to warm them up. Be confident in front of your crowd.

Abraham Lincoln -- With the 147th anniversary of The Gettysburg Address, one of the greatest speeches of all time, it's safe to say than when you think of "great communicators" Abe has to come to mind. In his speeches, Abe was known for saying the things we were all thinking. Take the Gettysburg Address as one example and it's well known opening line, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." With that one statement, Abe grabbed attention and changed the course of a nation that was spinning wildly out of control.

What should you take away? Even when the situation calls for you to leave out the jokes and get right into things, you still have to deliver that powerful, opening statement. You have to make everyone in a room look up from their phones and laptops, and listen only to you.


Ronald Reagan -- Considered "The Great Communicator" Reagan proved that keeping it simple in public speaking is the way to get your audience on board. While he often was given a hard time for his lack of detail, he was able to take things that a public might not understand otherwise and simplify it down to a way that everyone could understand, including solutions to the Cold War.

What should you take away? Like Reagan, you should speak in a language that your audience can understand. Sure, you may have some IT people scattered in the room, but you might also have PR, sales, customer service, and they aren't all going to understand the same jargon. Bring your speech and vocabulary down to an "average" level for everyone, so that everyone can get something great out of your speech.

Bill Clinton -- Clinton was able to connect with a crowd. He knew how to break down the walls of protocol and procedure in order to connect with his audience. Clinton's speech writer, Josh Gottheimer, says that Clinton would make notes in the margins of the speeches and go mostly off those notes, rather than following the speech line by line.

What should you take away? Find a way to break down the barriers with your audience. Sure, you may not be big enough to need Secret Service to usher you in and out of the building, but you may be in a set up that will make your participants feel like you're standing on the other side of the wall. Find a way to greet people before or after the speech, shake some hands, and always make eye contact with audience members throughout the room.

Researching and learning from histories most amazing speakers can help you to figure out different ways you can approach your next engagement. The most important thing to remember is that your own style will develop the more you speak in front of a group. You just have to be able to acknowledge where your strengths are and hone those skills. What are your skills when you speak?

If you've fine tuned your skills and want to make an impact with your next speech, try hosting a webinar or conference call. Sign up for an account with AccuConference and host your next speaking event today.

What’s Good About Bad Meetings?

A meeting can educate, allow collaboration, and build cohesiveness. For more benefits, check out Part One: What’s Good About Meetings? There are even more ways a meeting can be detrimental rather than helpful, but can a bad meeting be a good thing? And as the Harvard Business Review also asks, can a good meeting be bad?

If the purpose of a meeting was simply to have a meeting, then “we had a great meeting” would always be a good thing. But what is the point to have a great meeting? Shouldn’t we rather have a bad meeting with good results? After all, what we desire is the collaboration, choosing the best ideas, and the swaying of opinions that a meeting can produce. And that can’t happen if everything is nice and good.

In a meeting atmosphere, participants need to be able to vocalize their thoughts, share ideas, agree and disagree... you know, participate. The very best course, thought, or idea is not the first uttered, or the last, or even the most popular. The best comes from the culling of all other candidates, and can be a painful process. If everyone simply agrees with everyone else--or just the boss--then the true potential of a meeting is wasted.

But don’t judge a meeting by the state of mind it creates. Conflict and disagreement can create the best crucible. The length of a meeting doesn’t matter, only what progress was made, (and how much).

It’s okay if a meeting creates more work, as most good things don’t come easy. And if a meeting creates more meetings, it just means the subject is more complex than originally believed. We will always have a place for meetings in business. Remember though, a meeting is merely transportation, and not the destination.