The Four Stages of Online Team Interactions: Results from Academia

Because distance learning and teleconferencing and videoconferencing are becoming so commonplace these days, and because people find it harder to foster the kinds of interactions they get when they are face-to-face, university researchers are looking into the dynamics of online interpersonal interactions in team working environments to see if they can understand what is going on and make the experience more effective.

Brian Hoyt an Ohio University professor studied how teams interact in the online environment and found out there are four distinct and progressive stages of interactions: socialization, presentation, interaction, and closure. In his study, he found out that the initial socialization stage was incredibly important and should never be skipped. What he also found out was that people running the online teams generally wanted to skip this stage and plunge right into the meeting content. This is a mistake!

It is crucial to have introductions, have people express their interest or expectations, and perhaps even participate in an icebreaker before beginning. This is not wasted time, as some might think. Hoyt and his colleagues found out that when the socialization stage was present, participants were more engaged and the chat and work sessions were more dynamic then when it was skipped.

So keep that in mind when trying to build a team from a dispersed group of people, err on the side of socialization, at least initially. Your team will be more productive and more energized if you let a little personality get through.

Emotional Energy. Word of Mouth. Hype.

All things every business wishes for itself and the products it sells.

Whether you are a small business or a huge enterprise, you are always trying to build up the emotional excitement of your product.  It just seems there are some products and industries where this comes a little more naturally.  Heroes on the sportsfield or battlefield create tremoundous loyatly and emotional excitement.  On such example is the hero from the game series Halo, Master Chief.   Halo is a video game for the XBOX made by Bungie Studios.

Here at AccuConference, we don't just look at the marketing aspects of how Microsoft and Bungie are promoting the newest installment to the series (Halo 3) in order to gain more marketing perspective.  We also decide to sit back, relax and enjoy the wave of hype and excitement before diving headfirst into the fictional world of Halo on September 25th.

September 25th is the day Halo 3 will be released, and there are some of us here at AccuConference who will be diving in and playing online.

Work Hard.  Play Hard.  Play Halo 3 Harder.

See you online!

Webcasting in Government: The New Indispensable Tool

To give people living in New York more access to their government and governing processes, earlier this year, Eliot Spitzer, the Governor of New York issued an executive order requiring all state agencies, public authorities, boards, and departments to broadcast their meetings on the Internet by July. Although not on quite such a grand scale, many small municipalities are adopting webcasting as a way to reach out to those they serve by webcasting legislative meetings and making archived, key word searchable copies of them available on the Web so people can assess them at their leisure.

What some cities have found is this allows more community and media knowledge of what is going on and saves time and money by no longer having to have staff make and mail out CDs of the meetings for those who request them.

Communities that have initiated webcasting, like Hesperia, California have found that with their webcasting that fewer people are coming to meetings, but the number of people viewing the proceedings, both in the live webcast, as well as those archived has gone way up. It is easy to see why. If you have ever been to a county board meeting, wanting to hear or talk about one of the topics on the agenda, many times you have to sit through hours of discussion on other topics before the one of interest to you comes up. Provided the archived webcasts have key word search capabilities, a viewer can connect only to the part of the meeting or the topic they are interested in.

Webcasting of legislative or other government meetings are generating a lot of interest and use in rural communities and states where there is no universal cable TV coverage and where people have to travel long distances to see what their government is up to.

Communications Etiquette: Challenges of Changing Technology

Beware of the communications faux pas that occur when a new technology or form of communication takes hold and goes mainstream in the business world.  Sometimes things that were accepted when the new form was being developed and moved forward, which generally happens in a more casual atmosphere, don't work when the tool becomes common in use in more formal settings.

Let's use text messaging as an example.  Some of the common text abbreviations like LOL (which could mean "laugh out loud” or “lots of love") just don't work, and could be considered offensive, in a business setting.  The classic example is to never say anything in text message or email for that matter that you would not say to someone's face, whether it is the person you are emailing or the person who you are talking about in the email.  This is because emails are a written record with your byline attached to them. These notes can be sent or forwarded purposefully or by mistake to others whom you might not want to know what you think about them.

Below are some good general rules for e-communication etiquette in the office.

  1. Use Instant Messaging and text messages only for short requests or immediate responses.
  2. Use email sparingly and don't expect people to respond right away.
  3. Use the phone for building rapport or to discuss delicate matters
  4. If you are going on travel and cannot be reached, leave phone and email answering messages that note this to anyone who might try to contact you.
  5. Do not use humor, sarcasm, or anything that might be considered flirtatious at work.  It might be misinterpreted and cause trouble.
  6. Do not use “emoticons” like smiley faces :) or frowny faces :( or other graphics in your emails, they make you look unprofessional.
  7. Keep a record of important decisions reached over the phone or via IM and print out a copy and file any important emails or messages.
  8. Don't say anything in an email or digital communication that you would not want to have read out loud in a staff meeting.

How To Make Your Video Conferences More Productive

Video Conference

Conference calls have been around the business world for some time and are certainly nothing new. Quality web conferencing, however, has changed the context and purpose of the traditional conference call and by introducing new exciting features has enhanced its dimensions enormously as well as decreasing the entire cost of the process.

What exactly is video conferencing? The dictionary defines what is also known as a video teleconference as "a set of interactive telecommunication technologies which allow two or more locations to interact via two-way video and audio transmission simultaneously." It is also known as visual collaboration and is a type of groupware. Video conferencing can either happen between individuals or involve multiple locations scattered throughout the world. Apart from audio and visual transmissions, video conferencing can also be utilized to share documents and a wide range of computer-displayed information. What does this mean to the average business manager? Read on and learn.

The advantages provided by video conferencing are many. Modern technology makes it easy to meet with any client anywhere and at anytime, defying geographic boundaries. It's a way to qualify clients and candidates before meeting them in person, saving time, effort and money that might otherwise be spent on traveling, food, gas and accommodations. Video conferences serve to demonstrate products and services to clients many time zones away, and can provide a conduit for training employees in another country. Although video conferencing can never replace the in-person meeting, it can, via online collaborative tools, provide you and your business with unique ways in which to interact. Some of these tools include: document sharing and text-messaging.

The following tips will help you make your next videoconference session as productive as possible. While not everything may apply to every business, all will render positive results if used correctly.

Decide upon your space

The conference room is a factor that must be decided on before even considering which equipment will work best in it. Good video conferencing facilities will consider the effect of walls and echo problems. Square rooms, for this reason, should be avoided. Tiles and carpeting have different degrees of sound absorption, all of which must be considered.

There are many fancy setups for effective video conferencing, but sometimes the easiest and most obvious is also the most effective. A U-shaped table with the display and camera at the top of the U and participants sitting around is the best acoustical arrangement possible. Almost any conference room can be adapted for use as a video conferencing site by making adjustments based on the needs of the video and audio equipment to capture signals. A basic web camera is really all you need to get started.

Know how you will use your video conferencing system

Who are the users and what role will the system play in your particular scheme of things? Will it be for an occasional chitchat or for more formal face-to-face meetings between business executives? You may not need high-definition resolution and can possibly opt for the much cheaper web cam and instant messaging if you are going to use your videoconference system for infrequent casual chats.

Along the same lines, decide how many locations you will need to connect to simultaneously and if these locations are outside of your network's firewall. How tech-savvy are your users and what kind of equipment do they have? Will you be using your system collaboratively, with many parties communicating, or will you be watching one central presentation?

Consider extraneous factors that can affect the conference experience. You want to choose a location with a neutral background that contains as few moving distractions as possible. Avoid rooms with tinted or colored light and opt always for natural lighting. Place the camera above the monitor, a few feet away from participants.

Know how much you are willing to invest in your video conferencing system

Purchasing a system can be a very costly venture. Fully customized conference rooms can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, but lower-end desktop-based systems won't very likely put a big dent in your budget. You should also calculate the costs associated with the activities you are planning to replace or enhance with your new video conferencing system.

Make a short list of vendors

It's all part of doing your homework. Compile a list of those sellers who have systems that meet your needs. Run each system through a real-life test to see how it performs before you buy. Most vendors will permit a test-drive. Some things to look for might include:

* Call reliability:

How often are you disconnected in the middle of a conversation?

*Audio-video quality:

The quality of the sound and the consistency of the picture

*Ease of Use:

Is the user interface simple or complicated to navigate?

* Standards-based:

Can your system be easily connected with other systems?

What type of network will you use for your videoconferencing traffic?

By knowing which geographic areas your videoconference will be servicing, you can ensure beforehand that the digital network you have chosen as well as the required bandwidth is available in those specific areas where the parties you wish to connect to reside. IP networks are generally cheaper than the ISDN varieties and they are easier to secure.

Don't expect perfection the first time around

Even if you choose the simple "web cam" route for your video conferencing, there are almost always problems that occur because each client has a different and usually confusing user interface for its video feature. Non-technical users will need some help in figuring out the process and should not be expected to do so on their own.

Pay attention to the lighting

The speaker and the presentation must be in view. The speaker should avoid remaining in a dark area as, if that is the case, he or she will remain in silhouette for all of the conference participants. Also avoid area that is overly flooded with light.

Always maintain eye contact

As much as possible, look participants directly in the eye even if you have to do so from a web cam.

Speak clearly

Do not speak in a monotone voice. There is nothing more boring than listening to a voice without a single variance in its pitch. In Video conferences the audio can sometimes be garbled, and for this reason, it is very important to not chew on words.

Make your presentation as interesting as possible

Participants will quickly lose interest if you as a speaker, don't sustain it with well-prepared and coherent material.

Follow other speakers' presentations with respect

Give the next person your full attention. Do not yawn or fidget as these two actions translate directly into boredom and disinterest.

Check your computer settings before the conference begins

You might even want to attempt a mock session with a colleague to iron out whatever problems you might encounter. Can your colleague see and hear you? It's better to know this before the conference begins than during it!

The video conference is the way of the future for online interaction and communication. A child of the Information Age, it is growing by leaps and bounds as a convenient and effective tool for companies everywhere around the globe. It is being used more and more, not only by the corporate world, which already appreciates its many advantages, but also by homes, small businesses and universities.

Get on the bandwagon now and set up your first company video conference. You will be amazed at the results!

Building Relationships: The Power of Audio, Web and Videoconferencing

Nothing is more important than the relationships a company builds with its customers and partners. To foster these relationships, larger companies sometimes have annual conferences where people from across the country come together to meet each other, catch up on new company products and services, and learn new ways to use the company’s system. These usually cost quite a bit of money for both the company and the participants.

 Although nothing beats a good physical face-to-face conference, just in terms of time and money it is not something that can be done more than once every year or two. And, getting together with key clients and partners only once every year or two to fill them in on what’s going on is just not sufficient to build a real relationship.

What some companies have decided to do is to still offer the once-a-year physical meeting, but to augment them with quarterly web meetings that are similar to their large conferences, but smaller in scope (50 to 75 people) and that target different market niches and that use audio and video tools to provide interaction between parties.

Due to the more intimate nature of the web meetings over the physical get together, this becomes a venue to find out how clients are actually using the product and its features and get them to share what they are doing and what they are finding out about it. It also proves to be a great vehicle to brainstorm and troubleshoot with clients about products under development; and provides a great way to find out what the client’s priorities are for new products, allowing the meeting convener to better prioritize product enhancements or new product releases.

Parenting from Distance: Staying in Touch via Video Conferencing

It is hard enough to be a good parent when you and your family live in the same house; but when you either have to be on the road a lot or live across the state, across the country, or around the world from your family or children it's even tougher. With the globalization of business and services, long-term, long-distance travel for some jobs is now a necessity. This has made it tough for some parents to stay as personally and emotionally in touch with their loved ones as they would like.

The mobility of the US workforce has also had a tremendous impact on grandparents, who now many times live far away from their grandchildren and who maybe get to see them once or at most twice a year, if that often.

To stay in touch with those you love, sometimes you have to get creative and one of the best ways to do that is to web conference with them. Seeing someone and how they react in a conversation and vice versa is a powerful tool for staying close and emotionally in touch. Seeing is also much more comforting and real for children than simple emails or letters and photographs.

Because video conferencing is so cheap and easy, compared to flying or driving long distances, you can also increase the amount of time you get to see your kids or grandkids, especially in those early years when they are growing up.

The cost of video conferencing and other modes of web-enabled video has dropped precipitously so this can be a viable option for those who want to stay in touch and maintain strong personal relationships with other people in their lives

Scheduling Your Webinar: When is the Best Time?

Because webinars don't require people to go anywhere, there's a lot of flexibility in deciding when they can be scheduled. Most presenters have not adjusted to this brave new world of freedom or the kind of things they need to think about when scheduling their webinar. Sometimes the best time for a webinar is completely counter to when you think the best time for a face-to-face seminar should be held.

First, and this you would think is the most obvious, is to be sure you arrange your webinar so that it works with the time zone in which your attendees live.

Depending on whether you are looking for a national or international audience, you may need to think, about scheduling your webinar twice.

Believe it or not, industry surveys have found out that if you are targeting professionals, Mondays and Fridays generally have good attendance, not what you would think. But these are bad days if your target is the support staff.

Also summer months and holiday weeks, like the beginning of the week of Thanksgiving or the week between Christmas and New Year can work well, though scheduling can again depend on your target audience. For example if you are looking to attract express delivery people, anytime two months before Christmas is off limits.

Because other meetings usually begin and end on the hour, start your webinar at a quarter after the hour and end on the hour or an hour and a half later. This lets your attendees get back from their previous meeting and get ready and lets them finish your webinar before they have to get to their next meeting.

Try to avoid the lunch hour. The best times to consider are generally 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. because people are already at work, generally no matter how late their workday starts, and your webinar will be over before those who come in early have to go home.

AccuConference | Business Communications

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.

What's Good About Meetings

As soon as two cavemen decided to sell round-rocks together, the first business meeting was born. Since then, meetings have transformed in many ways, such as in protocol, etiquette, time, place, medium, and so on. What hasn’t changed is the need for meetings, and as long as there is business, there will be meetings.

So what’s good about meetings? What purpose do they have? Why risk all the bad meetings--that we’ve all experienced--and waste all that time? The Harvard Business Review makes this defense for meetings:

The Social Aspect - For most individuals, working with others is a necessity. Social interaction is decreasing with the rise of remote workspaces and home offices, but even an office building can be a lonely place, especially in larger corporations. Meetings, quick chats, conference calls, etc. do away with the solitary aspect of business, prevent the stagnation of ideas, and increase the communication necessary to achieving goals.

Everyone in the Loop - More and more there is a decentralization to the business structure. There’s also more specialization, delegation, and delocalization. All this adds up to many people doing many different things from a myriad of places, all towards one common goal. Without meetings, it simply wouldn’t be possible. We need to spread valuable info on progress, changing needs and directions, as well as allow the input and contributions of everyone involved.

Status Symbols - As much as we might deny it, being invited to a meeting is much like being anointed. Inclusion means you are worthy of being informed, or of contributing. There is a danger of meeting abuse inherent as a status symbol though. We should never have a meeting because it’s a Monday, or to socialize, or simply because we can. Not only is it a waste of time, but can destroy morale.

Stay tuned for part two: What’s Good About Bad Meetings