The Patterns of Preparation

The Patterns of Preparation

I talk a lot about public speaking and how you can get yourself prepared as well as the approach you’re going to take. One of the things I am the most vocal about is how getting up “in front” of a crowd is no different than standing on the other side of a conference call. You’re still being heard by a large group of people and you’re still being listened to intently, with your audience members hoping that you will add some value to their current plans.

Being on a conference call doesn’t always take the pressure off – sometimes, it can put more pressure on. Gone are the non verbal cues you can give people to let them know that you’re enthused or excited and say goodbye to making eye contact with people in your audience to engage them in the conversation.

The way your audience processes your information is going to be different and the way you deliver the information has to adapt, but most of the time, the stages leading up to the presentation are always the same. I read this great post from Michael Hyatt called “The 10 Psychological Stages of Public Speaking” about how his brain processes the emotions leading up to a presentation.

Take a look at these, it’s pretty interesting and I very easily relate, especially to number 5. I feel a bit like everything is going to be horrible, like I’m going to get completely tongue tied or have one of my strange moments where my brain just completely stops working. (Usually, my main focus is to not do this horrible awkward laugh thing that I do.)

The point is that no matter what you’re about to do, most of us are naturally nervous when con something like public speaking, and there’s no major difference between planning for a live conference or for a conference call.. It’s not just you. Maybe the way Michael puts himself out there will be a way that can help you get over those jitters.

Thanks for the honesty Michael!

Office Conference Etiquette

When conferencing from your desk, there are a lot of things that can be in your way or on your mind, even though you’re trying to conduct some business, and when you’re lost in your full-steam-ahead mindset, you could be bothering the others trying to work beside you. Here are a couple of ways to be polite the next time you have to take a conference call from your desk.

  1. If at all possible, take your conference call in a private area, even if all your conference rooms are filled. Not only will this cut down on the possibility to disturbing your neighbor, you’ll also be separated from your distractions like IM, email, and even Angry Birds. Let the people around you know you’re going to be on a conference. Tell your buddy at the desk beside you that you’ll be on a conference for a little while, so you may not be as fast to respond to emails or IM.
  2. Resist the urge to put the call on speaker phone. The people around you weren’t invited to your conference call, so they don’t need to hear it. If you want to be hands free, do that by a headset instead of disturbing your cubicle buddy.
  3. Speak in a normal voice on the conference. Just because it’s a conference call doesn’t mean that the ability for your to be heard has decreased that much. Speak in your normal voice in order to be hear.
  4. Make a funny sign to hang on your cubicle wall to let everyone know you're on a conference. Monsters and zombies are pre-approved by yours truly.

Having a conference call from your cubicle can be a bit of a distraction to your every day work environment. We’re used to getting up and going into conference rooms and being able to block out everything, but that’s not always a possibility, so we have to be able to keep ourselves focused, as well as not disturbing our buddies.

MagicJack Blocks Conference Calls (UPDATE)

A few months ago, I let you know about the problems that some of our customers were getting when they were trying to connect to our conference services with MagicJack. The basic rundown is that we were told to simply email them to request that the phone numbers be unblocked. It has not turned out that easy and we wanted to update our customers on where we stand in the resolution.

  • We contacted MagicJack via email, as per their request, to ask our numbers be activated. In response, they asked for some additional information, information that applies to VoIP providers, like an IP address. Since we are not a VoIP provider, we do not have that kind of information to give them.
  • For a brief period in time, MagicJack customers attempting to dial in on one of our toll free numbers were being blocked, but those issues were resolved within 24 hours of letting our contact know.
  • MagicJack has let us know that an interconnection is required in order to proceed but since we are not a VoIP provider, we’re not able to connect to them in such a manner. Their response is “Unfortunately, if we cannot interconnect there is nothing I can do”.

What does this mean for you as a MagicJack subscriber trying to use AccuConference?

Unfortunately, this means that if you’ve been experiencing this interruption in trying to connect to AccuConference, for now, you will continue to get this message. MagicJack has provided no additional information on how we can resolve this, simply stating that we can’t interconnect, therefore, we cannot resolve the issue. We are continuing, on our side, to try to work everything out, but it doesn’t seem like it’s understood we are not a VoIP provider, so we cannot give them what they want to fix the problem. There’s no other solution for us.

For the time being, our hands are tied, but that doesn’t mean yours are. If you’re a MagicJack customer, please feel free to contact their customer service department and let them know that the numbers are being blocked. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission by visiting their website and clicking on “Internet and VoIP”. This will file a complaint with the FCC for “unlawful advertising” while the FCC is continuing to work out regulations and rules for VoIP providers.

Encourage Great Questions

Most of the time, when it comes to ending a presentation or conference call, it’s always the same – “We’d now like to turn the floor over for questions.” Then this dreaded thing happens -- silence comes over the crowd and no one seems to have any questions. Everyone knows that the call for questions can be the quietest part of your presentation, when it should be the most collaborative moment you have. When else will you have all these great minds in a room together to pick each other’s brains and share ideas?

In my personal experience, the missing questions are usually related to it being a lot of information thrown at your audience at once, without any real time to digest things. It’s not until later; when you’re reviewing your notes that you’ll realize you have an entire list of questions.

As the presenter there are a few things you can do to help open up the possibility of getting some great questions.

  • Pass out an agenda to the participant prior to the conference. This gives them time to review the information ahead of time and they might even show up with some questions.
  • For long presentations, take periodic breaks for questions. The longer you give information, the more likely questions are to be forgotten. Your audience will be able to feel like they are staying “on topic” which will encourage questions.
  • Give multiple ways that participants can ask questions. Don’t give them the audio only option, also provide a chat box, or email to submit their questions. A lot of people do have stage fright that that could be preventing them from asking their question.

Three little things can change the outcome of your next conference and make it the meeting of collaborative genius you had been hoping for. What are you doing to encourage questions after your conferences?

3 Ways to Make Participants Pay Attention


3 Ways to Make Participants Pay AttentionI have two cats and like cats are prone to do, they get into things they shouldn’t. I love my cats but they are naturally nosy and they get into so much. I realized the other night, as one of my little beasts poked her nose around an electrical outlet that when she turned to check and see if I was watching her, which I was, that the glare that was on my face did not do anything to dissuade her from her exploration. It wasn’t until I waved my hands in a large gesture and made a sound at her like air leaking from a tire that she paid attention to me.

The message I learned from this situation was “cats don’t understand non verbal messages.” They are animals, responding only to the sound of the cat food hitting their bowls. If I want them to listen, I have to get their attention. In a lot of ways your participants or attendees on a conference are the same way, attending, but hungry for the information you’re about to lay on them. That is what they are going to respond to. You can get more of a response if you do three things that pet owners do.

  1. Big Gestures. Stepping in front of a crowd means you have to command their attention. People are going to do their own thing unless they have something to pay attention to. The way you get someone’s attention is by grabbing it right away. You have two minutes to make people sit up and pay attention, and then you’ve lost them to their laptops or smart phones.
  2. Give them treats. When my cats do something good they get a treat, maybe some cheese or a can of wet food. Throwing your participants an added bonus is going to make them stay focused and hang on your every word, just in case they might get another one.
  3. Don’t be afraid to get their attention. Most cat owners probably know the wonders and amazement of the squirt bottle of water. Cats hate water and it’s the quickest way to get their attention. While I’m not advocating pointing a Super Soaker at the crowd and going crazy (oh, God, someone please do this) I do think you need to figure out who you’re speaking to and get their attention in a way that is appropriate for those who are attending.

It may seem like a crazy way to look at your conference participants, but I don’t mean it a bad way. Hopefully your participants have the resolve not to wind themselves around your legs in excitement.

Protect Your Privacy

There’s a lot of conversation about privacy going on right now. I’m seeing it all over multiple blogs I read and everyone has something to say about it. When the Google CEO (even jokingly) tells you to change your name if you want privacy, it’s time to evaluate what we are doing with ourselves.

Now I want to be clear, privacy is a big deal and there are things that I don’t want published about me on the internet – it’s part of the reason why I deleted my MySpace page (that and I’m not a 15 year old anymore). However, I am not perfect when it comes to keeping my privacy under lock and key, and I probably have too much trust in companies.

When was the last time I really examined those terms and conditions that needed me to “agree”? Do I even know what I am signing up for? What if there’s a clause about the FBI coming by and demanding a blood sample? Did I just “agree” to that? When it comes to the privacy debate – there are two things going on:

  1. Companies shouldn’t lie or be shady. Since it’s the most well known, let’s take a look at Facebook as a perfect example. We signed up for Facebook with a thought about our privacy, and then suddenly – BOOM. Everything was changed. Suddenly, privacy was an “option” and not a “default” setting on your Facebook page. When a user opts to give you their information, it is your responsibility to be sure that they know when you are going to change things, give them an “opt-out” choice, and provide them with information to manually change their settings. The problem with Facebook is that they didn’t give anyone a choice and said “we are going to share your info and you can’t stop us”.
  2. We are ultimately responsible for what we “agree” to. Think about the last time you signed up for a service or social media site – did you actually read the terms of use, or did you just say ‘oh, okay, I’m sure this is standard stuff’ and hit ok? Would you sign a credit card agreement without reading the fine print? No, you wouldn’t. So why treat your personal information any differently? In the end, it’s up to us to know what we sign and who our information is going to.

I think in the end, we should all be reading what we’re agreeing too. But when you have a company that you’ve been a member of or subscribed to for years that suddenly changes everything you’ve ever known about that company, it’s not right. Companies have a responsibility not to sell your information, not to share what you don’t want shared, without a proper and complete warning about the whole thing.

But remember – if you don’t like it, you can always delete or cancel.

Have you been sold out by a company trying to increase their bottom line, or do you admit to making mistakes and not reading what you were signing? When was the last time you read that new iTunes agreement?

Social Media Gets Turned Off

Social Media Gets Turned OffIf you’re a student at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, then you are unaware that your Facebook friends have harvested plants, gotten into Mafia battles, and checked in at the local grocery store.

The university has blacked out social media sites for the last week.

The experiment began on Monday as a way for students to begin seriously considering the way they spend their time on the Internet. It was recently reported that the average user in the US spends more time on Facebook than on Google.

Eric Darr said the experiment is not a punishment for students, but the hope is that their university students will seriously consider the way they are using their time. Darr also added that he can’t believe that this week has caused such controversy on Twitter, Facebook, and even late night talk shows.  Some have gone as far to accuse the school of infringing on people’s rights.

The hope is that the block will show students that stepping away from the computer can be a good thing for their overall grades and class attendance. Even Mashable is interested to see if the school reports any increase in attendance, but Adam Ostrow adds that he doesn’t think the blackout is feasible in the long term. “You really can’t disconnect people from it in the long run without creating some real inefficiencies and backlash.”

Students can still check via their smart phones and Darr is okay with that. “I want an honest reaction to the experiment.” The reaction has ranged anywhere from a typical “eh-whatever” college student reaction to those who are finding it difficult to coordinate their social activities without access to Facebook and Twitter.

While the blackout won’t last forever, it does open up some interesting questions, like what is the time we spend on social media sites taking away from?  Are we slaves to social networks? I’ve only recently started to make myself “go offline” for one hour a day, and frankly, towards the end of that hour, I’m really excited about checking out the latest status updates or Twitter postings.

As far as a university goes, maybe if they attendance increases while social networks are down, it could be something that any school might consider shutting down during critical weeks like finals week. The next question I would ask would be when it became a university’s responsibility to teach you how to manage your time and be a dedicated student.

No matter what universities decide to do, the social blackout has caused controversy and stirred debate about how we manage our time on social networks, and how this time affects our daily activities. 

The Digital World Pivots Around Me

Maybe Galileo had it wrong when he said the earth gravitates around the sun.

Today, I arrived at work ready to consume my news. I didn’t flip open a newspaper. I didn’t look for a remote to watch Good Morning America. I didn’t grab my iPhone to first turn to the New York Times or The Washington Post to sift through 100 stories that I didn’t want to read in order to find three that I did. I opened up my Google alerts, then checked my Twitter, then checked my News Feed on Facebook. Here I found stories that I had seeded the internet for, that my friends were taking part in, or that my friends had, because their preferences parallel mine, recommended to me. Hmm, my news seems to revolve around me.

On Twitter today, I stumbled across a link to a NYT article by Nick Bilton. Bilton writes, “If you pull out your smartphone and click the button that says locate me on your mapping application, you will see a small dot appear in the middle of your screen. That’s you.” After this, Bilton pointed out that as you move, your proxy, that little dot on the map, stays still; it’s the map that moves to keep up with you. Hmm, my mapping application likes to keep me in the center of the world.

As I jumped from link to link to link on Facebook today, I noticed an advertisement for Dallas- Cowboys-colored M&M’s that kept appearing on each page: my profile, my Facebook home page, my cousin’s photo album of her trip to Amsterdam. The ad was following me around! And it wasn’t the only advertisement stalking me. I seem to be the virtual host for a “Groupon” ad that pops up in the strangest places: “Deal of the Day: sushi half-off,” the ad tells me when I read The NYT, CNet, and the Wall Street Journal. Hmm, my advertisements seem to orbit me like officious peddlers in a Chinese market.

Bilton explains that this new online universe, the one that is geared toward the individual, is the way of the future. It’s a world where people don’t buy maps of the zoo, of Paris, or of the state of Missouri, they buy maps of themselves; maps that go where they go and change with their changing locations.

The same goes with the consumption of information. Consumers are now their own gatekeepers. They decide which news comes to them through their acquaintances, through their preferences, and, in advertising, through the trail of cookies they leave on Web sites as they surf.

“Now you are the starting point,” he writes. “Now the digital world follows you, not the other way around.”

The Internet has spawned a new generation that forces media to bend to each individual’s preference. My friends don’t watch Modern Family when it comes out Wednesday night. They watch it on their smartphones during class.

This generation wants the media consumption experience hyper-personalized. Therefore, content creators need to be diverse. Content should be consumable on televisions, computers, smartphones and tablets. The new generation wants the digital experience. They want to comment, to like, to get involved. They want to be in the center.

Galileo may have been right when he said the physical world orbits the sun. As for the digital world, it gravitates around me.

Your Brain on Technology, A Saturated Sponge?

Last Sunday, I found myself sunk in my couch, arranged with a plate of chicken and rice for dinner, a drink in one hand and a remote control in the other. I had a blanket over my legs and my iPhone on the cushion next to me. I was ready to watch my favorite television shows on HBO. Gradually, however, a thought began to inch into my mind. Like a tick, this thought began to discomfit me. I wanted my laptop. I could see it in the other room. It beckoned me. How was I supposed to surf the Internet during my shows without it?

I observe situations like this almost everywhere I go: I notice it on the elevator when I grab for my iPhone to avoid interacting socially with the strangers in my proximity; I see it at the gym when exercisers flip through television channels as they pump their legs on treadmills; I see it at dinner parties when my friends lower their eyelids like poker players to tap out texts during a lull in conversation. It appears that now, with cell phones in our pockets and with Google algorithms primed fantastically to feed us answers to our questions, the tiniest windows of time are being filled with media. And while this media can turn moments of downtime into productive blips, a long-standing debate over the pros and cons of constant connectivity is becoming more volatile.

A study from the University of Michigan tested the capacities of two groups of people to concentrate and learn information. Before studying identical information, one group took a stroll in nature and the other group took a stroll in an urban setting. The nature group learned significantly better, leading the researches to conclude that processing a lot of information, characteristic in urban environments, causes the brain to tire. Therefore, giving the brain time to recoup, as it did in the natural environment, enhances its capacity to learn.

Perhaps even more alarming is the assertion by Harvard-educated scholar, Nicholas Carr, who wrote an article called, “Is Google Making us Stupid?” In the article, Carr explains that the rapid functionality of the Internet—with pop ups, links, email notifications, and a tendency toward shallow consumption of information—is actually rewiring the circuitry of our brains. Carr writes, “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

Carr contends that our ever-malleable brains are constantly being remodeled as nodes are unplugged and new circuits are routed. Since our brains adapt so quickly, the old channels that used to serve higher concentration on, say, books or creativity, are becoming eroded. This erosion, some scientists suggest, could lead to attention deficit disorder or depression.

It’s not all bad though. Camped on the other side of the debate are people like Wired Magazine’s Clive Thompson. In his essay, “the New Literacy” Thompson argues that people are reading and writing far more than they did during the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s when television was the main medium. Thompson writes, “Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text…they’d leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.”

Thompson also points out that the new type of writing, geared toward reaching an audience, requires concise and communicative prose, a positive step away from the esoteric pontifications of writers before. In his assessment, this democratizes the language. Where people used words like esoteric and pontification, they are now tending toward words like lofty and preachy—which the average reader understands. For Thompson, Twitter updates and text messages are a far cry from defilers of the English language. They are the promoters who bring regular people into it.

Taking the argument even further is writer and NYU professor Clay Shirky, whose idea of “cognitive surplus” posits that the low cost and the ease-of-sharing associated with the Internet has been a boon to creativity. In a TED presentation, Shirky explains that advances in technology have opened up vast amounts of free time for human beings. Until the Internet, this free time used to be eaten up by passive entertainment like television or video gaming. Now that the Internet is available, Shirky says, a shift has occurred in that humans with free time are devoting it to creating.

“The very nature of these new technologies fosters social connection—creating, contributing, sharing,” Shirky said in an interview with Wired Magazine. “This lets ordinary citizens, who’ve previously been locked out, pool their free time for activities they like and care about.”

Shirky says the free time we have for creating, or “cognitive surplus,” is poured into everything from the trivial site lolcats.com, where people post funny pictures of cats, to serious political activities like Ushahidi.com, where people update and map instances of social suffering. Though some sites are less substantial than others, they still spark peoples’ creativity.

More importantly, when people collectively collaborate on the Internet new feats of humanity and knowledge become attainable. Shirky sites Wikipedia as an example. The articles, the edits, and the arguments behind the articles represent about 100 million hours of human labor. Wikipedia, the most extensive encyclopedia, was built virtually for free through collective cognitive surplus.

So where does this leave us? Are we doomed to being shallow-thinking automatons ruled by Google, or is the Internet helping us dig deeper to reach new potentials of creativity and collective conscious?

Most are inclined to think it’s a combination of both. These are the typical convulsions of new technology. Plato lamented the invention of the written word, saying it would supplant the need to exercise memory. Yet, he couldn’t see the vast historical repository, the potential for teaching, the aid in deeper contemplation that the written word brought about.

This past summer a group of neuroscientists from both sides of the argument went on a rafting trip down Glen Canyon, Utah to study the effects of nature’s respite on the brain. At the end of a lengthy New York Times article, the scientists remained unconvinced either way. They felt relaxed after having been in nature, to be sure. However, they said the adaptability of the brain allows our circuits to become exercised and better able to cope with the barrage of information that we are constantly immersed in during our urbanite lives.

At the end, they recommended the Golden Mean: if your thinking gets cluttered, go for a stroll without your earbuds and your iPod.

Maybe instead of getting up for my laptop, I should’ve given my brain a rest by eating my Sunday night meal in the sanctity of my own thoughts.

Hallmark Moment

This morning, the news came down the wire that AT&T U-Verse customers would no longer have access to Hallmark Channel programming. Crown Media has stated via press release they are happy to re-start negotiations with AT&T. Talks broke down over new carriage agreements sometime last week, and as of 12:01AM ET, the Hallmark family of channels went dark. We’ve all seen these stories before, where renegotiations are going on, and both sides are urging customers to contact the other company to demand they do not lose programming.

This situation has been no different except that the Hallmark Channel has found a way to use social media to their benefit, even though they negotiations have still fallen through and the channels have been blacked out. They sent a very powerful message through Facebook and Twitter, both on their sites, and the AT&T U-Verse site.

Starting with the Don’t Take My Hallmark Site, Hallmark drove traffic both to their site as well as the AT&T pages, urging customers to comment and share their concerns. The results have been impressive:

  • Over 1500 comments urging AT&T to keep the family programming channels.
  • 4,580 FaceBook likes to the U-Verse related posts on the HallMark Channel fan page.
  • Multiple tweets and conversations with current fans of Hallmark.

Despite the failed negotiations to continue carrying programming for AT&T U-Verse customers, Hallmark more than doubled their traffic to their social sites and web site, and all since August 26th when they started the campaign. The number of likes they have gotten from the campaign and the comments on their pages will undoubtedly remain, and the Google search for “Hallmark Channel” have their Twitter, Press Page, and FaceBook on the first page of results. What can you learn from Hallmark Channel’s campaign?

  • Call to action. Not only did Hallmark tell their customers what was going to happen, they told them what to do about it – go to the AT&T U-Verse fan page and let their thoughts be known.
  • Monitoring. From the looks of things, Hallmark was prepared for social media to hit the ground running. Not only were they looking for mentions of their company, but they were directing their people to use it to get the message out.
  • Gave a reason why or why not. Every couple of months, battles like this arise, but Hallmark was quick to state what the negotiations were NOT about, taking to Twitter to clear up rumors they wanted more money. “It wasn’t Hallmark demanding big $$$ that got the networks taken off. We’re actually very disappointed that this happened. Thank you”.

What do you think? Did Hallmark hit a homerun here, even though they are no longer carried on U-Verse, they did get a HUGE turn out through social media and can show their results right on their Facebook page. Did they win or lose?

Note: You can check out the individual press releases from Hallmark and AT&T.