The Amazing Dr. S

One of the funniest memories I have of college was the day I showed up for class and changed my mind. You see I was a freshman at the time, drunk off the ability to set my own class schedule and have freedom on if I came to class or not. One afternoon, I went to class with my friend from high school and before class started, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s blow this pop stand and go get some lunch.” We grabbed our purses and American history books, and we high tailed it out of there. On the way down the hall, we came face to face with the professor of that class. Oops. We did not plan our escape and when he asked us where we were going, we sputtered out the first thing we could think of, “Just to the bathroom!”

I’m sure he figured out we ditched after about twenty minutes. If it didn’t, then Dr. H is still standing in the halls of McBrien waiting for us to come back. Now I know what you’re thinking – How could the history nerd walk out of an American history class? The answer is simple – Dr. H was the worst public speaker of all time. Don’t be surprised. He was a nice man, I’m sure he was a very smart person, but he simply was not an engaging professor. Here kids, read this syllabus. Here, let’s all read chapters from our history books out loud. He was dry and I barely passed his class by the skin of my teeth.

On the flip side of the coin, I had a World History teacher, Dr. S, who was the most engaging professor I have ever come across. Every day in her class was exciting. She always had some sort of story about the historical figures we were discussing – like how Napoleon is the reason there are three buttons on military jackets. His men were always wiping their runny noses with their sleeves and soiling them. Napoleon added another button to the sleeve so that they wouldn’t be able to wipe their noses.

Dr. S knew how to use little interesting tidbits to engage us and in comparison to Dr. H, I passed her class with flying colors. When it comes to engaging with your audience there are some things you can do to be like Dr. S.  She made sure that: 

She was incorporating facts we may not know. Sure everyone knows who Napoleon is, but the button thing – had no clue. Dr. S knew that the key to getting her audience to retain information was to tell them something new, instead of just repeating old information we’d heard since 1st grade.

  • Try to introduce your participants to new information or updated facts that will benefit your attendees.

She was communicating with us, instead of speaking at us. We were a part of the conversation and not just observing a lecture. She lobbed questions at us, surprising us by calling on those who may not be paying attention.

  • Have a conversation with participants and don’t just tell them things. Even if they are quiet and listening intently, you can still get them involved by using humor or asking questions.

She had the best tone of voice. Dr. S loved what she did, and you could tell by the way she spoke about history. She was never anything but enthusiastic while teaching us. Every time she opened her mouth, there was love and passion for the subject of history. It’s something I learned from her.

  • Remember that if you’re going to speak about something, it should be something you’re passionate about – your tone of voice is the most powerful thing that you have to get your audience’s attention.

Dr. S was a great professor, and above all the super cool things she told me, she was also memorable and I wanted to take her classes again. When it comes to hosting presentations and events, becoming memorable and enjoyable is what is going to keep people coming back for more. What are you doing to make your presentations unforgettable? How are you like Dr. S?

Communication Trends

Take a look at what you’re doing today to get a hold of your customers and friends. Is there anything that you’re doing right now that you hadn’t thought of doing a month ago? (Perfect example – FaceTime) How about two?  What about a year ago? How much has the way you communicate changed in the last 15 years? I know the answer – a lot. Things keep changing and eventually, there will be some avenues of communication that will be in a museum somewhere one day. Here are five communication trends I am starting to see.

  1. Social Media – Probably the biggest trend in past years is the growth of social media as not only a platform to communicating with friends, but also as a way to reach customers. It’s being used for everything right now – advertising, customer service, and marketing. It’s taking away the need to send an email to your cousin or to pick up the phone and call a local business to get an answer or help. You just send out a tweet and hopefully) the business will respond promptly.
  2. Decline of Emails – Currently, the use of emails as the preferred medium in an office is on the decline, despite the availability of emails through the mobile technology. The reason for this could be related to a couple of things:  more companies are adopting IM technologies that provide a quicker means of response and idea sharing, or it could be because companies are encouraging social media relationships with customers.
  3. Travel is stressful and expensive, and companies are cutting down on expenses. To keep the flow of business, there’s an increase in use of conference calls to get employees together, and saving the air travel dollars for special reasons.
  4. Less Tech-Speak – I’ve found that more places and people are coming down to their customer and client levels when it comes to sales.  Speaking above your customers head doesn’t mean that you’re going to get that client. What’s probably truer is that you’re going to confuse them, and if they are confused, they won’t want your services. More companies are trending to speak on a level the customer can understand.
  5. Decline of Automated Systems – While there are still plenty of these out in the world, I’ve noticed a slow decline of auto mated systems in the past six months. More customer service lines are opting to use the automated system to gather an account number and name, and then patching you into a live person.  In fact, a few have even done away with the auto operator on the whole. I hope this is a trend that continues.

There are a ton of other communication trends happening out there.  What have trends have you been noticing and embracing in your own communication?


AccuConference Announces Fax to Email Service

AccuConference would like to announce the unveiling of our new option, fax to email — a service that will enable customers to receive their faxes via email.

Fax to email is all about the streamlining of our customers’ communications. It’s a practical application that will convert faxes to PDF’s that will arrive in our customers’ inboxes. These faxes are archived digitally, allowing customers to sort, store, print and review them as if they were a typical email.

For less than $2.50 a month, customers get a dedicated, uniquely assigned fax number. In addition to fax-to-email conversions, it allows customers to receive faxes in an electronic Web format, which puts them at customers’ fingertips and makes them viewable from any browser. Fax to email also grants access to a customer site where customers can log in and view all of their faxes and calls.

Fax to email is a modern opportunity that chimes with modern businesses in the information age. With so much inflow of information, the ability to organize and archive digitally is essential.  The fax to email service fulfills that need.

What's Your Superpower?

I am five feet tall, and my husband is a man who is well over the six foot mark. Now, as adorable as we look together, he’s also quite handy to have around. Whenever I need something that’s on a shelf, I just ask him to come get it for me, and since I’m pretty dang short, I am often calling for his help. I do it so much, in fact, that he has determined that he has the worst super power in the world.

He’s naturally good at getting things off tall shelves because he’s a tall person. For him, it’s nothing, but for me it’s the greatest thing in the world.

Have you ever considered what your super power might be?

I was reading the latest Escaping Mediocrity and watching on Twitter as @SaraRobinson struggled with this post. As part of her coaching she is supposed to name ten ways that she can be a rock star for her clients. It’s easy right? Not so much. She ran into a couple of roadblocks while trying to figure out what her super powers are – mainly, she didn’t want to brag and she mostly just considers herself to be a normal hardworking person. It’s so hard for us to admit what our super powers might be. What matters is if we can identify them and how we are using them.

If I look at myself, I realize that I have been writing ever since I could pick up a pen and make letters. Somewhere in my Papa’s attic is a box of composition books that contains some of the worst stories ever. I always liked to write and I just thought it was something that made me special. Writing has always been something that I was good at. I’ve taken that skill and turned it into my career (which is pretty sweet).

You superpower is something that simply sets you apart from everyone else and when you are trying to get clients to come to you – it can be the thing that makes you the one to do business with. Everyone is trying to find a competitive edge and yours can be as simple as a talent or personality trait you’ve had all your life.

Sit down and think about something that just seems to come naturally to you. Are you a great speaker? Are you comfortable in social situations that might drive someone like me to the brink of a nervous breakdown? Once you’ve identified your super power, how are you using it to set yourself apart from the others?

Think about that, and then comment below or find me on Twitter and tell me what your super power is and how you’re using it.

Facing Your Fear

This past Friday night, I did something very out of character for me. I turned off all the lights and watched a scary movie. Not just any scary movie – the original Nightmare on Elm Street. Since I was five, I have been deathly afraid of Freddy Krueger. As a child, I couldn’t see Robert Englund or I would burst into tears. My brother wasn’t allowed to wear his striped sweater because it made me cry. When you’re five, you rationalize things in a very strange way. For me, it was about a man who came in your dreams, and I would have nightmares about him. It was very real for me.

What I found after watching Nightmare was that Freddy was lame. Maybe it was the cheap 1980s graphics and special effects, or perhaps it was Johnny’s Depp’s hair, but I am no longer scared. I don’t plan on going out and renting all of the Nightmare films, but I won’t need to hide my face from him anymore.

Did you know the number one fear of the average person is public speaking? The old school of thought would tell you to picture everyone in their underwear to kick this fear, but I have to be honest – that just tends to make things seem more awkward. Here are a couple of ways you can approach facing your fear – and everyone can keep their pants on.

  1. Don’t try to ignore the fear – it never makes it any better. You’ll be much more productive stepping up and facing the fear.
  2. Take small steps. If you have stage fright, it’s a bad idea to throw yourself into the running for speaking at something like SXSW. Start smaller, like a chapter of a local business group or even your church. Get used to being in front of people before you really put the pressure on.
  3. Remember that nervous people will sweat. Sounds gross right? Tough luck – sometimes, nerves can overshadow the power of your deodorant, and there’s nothing quite as embarrassing as being “un-sure”. You might think about wearing dark colors, just to lessen your worries by one.
  4. Eat something! It’s easy to not eat before you do something you’re afraid of, because you’re a tightly wound ball of nerves, but if you don’t eat, I promise you won’t be happy. Don’t pass out on stage.
  5. Think positive thoughts about yourself. Don’t just focus on your speech contents, but on yourself – are you having a good hair day? Are your shoes amazing? Did you buy a new outfit that you really love? It’s all about confidence and giving yourself a little boost will help you get out there and face your fear.

When I was watching Nightmare, I had a five year old part of me screaming into a blanket and hiding her chubby little face. I recognized her, I respect that scared little girl, but I was determined to conquer my fear. It paid off for me and Freddy is just a movie character. If you can overcome your fear of public speaking you can open all kinds of doors for yourself. Have you already battled your stage fight and overcome it? What did you do that first time to help ease your nerves?

Where Does Communication Go Bad?

Communication is tricky. Having developed a friendship with someone over the internet, I learned over time that I would have to ask if there was a hidden meaning to the word because I can’t hear her say them, so I’m not sure what she meant. We do a lot with our tone of voice when communicating with others so taking that out of things, it can cause confusion.

Tone isn’t the only place that communication can go wrong. Communication is such a broad term that, to put it bluntly, there are a million different ways to mess it up. Here are some of the biggest offenders that can cause communication to fail – at least as far as I’m concerned.

Email / IM / Chat / Etc. -- They are, in my humble opinion, part of business. In this day and age, if you are not working with these kinds of services, then you’re falling behind. The problem is that when communicating through these forums, you lose all of your tone – and tone is so incredibly important. A good rule of thumb is the first time you have to ask yourself “I wonder what he/she means by that” during an email or chat conversation, it’s probably time to pick up the phone to finish the conversation.

Distractions – Things like the TV, your cell, or computer. At my house, I always forget that my hubby can look at the TV and listen, just like I can text and listen at the same time. It leads to a lot of those “You’re not even listening to me, are you?” moments. This is easily overcome by turning off whatever it is that is distraction.

Spelling / Grammar – Cruise on over to FailBlog and check out how quickly a spelling error or using the wrong context of a word can send a message spiraling out of control. Use your spell check or get someone to read over emails or newsletters before you send them out. Abbreviations – Once, a long time ago, I asked my boss a question in IM and his response was “Y”. I didn’t know if he meant yes or why, and it required me to get up to clarify, adding an extra step in our communication process. It’s best to just spell words out in their completion to avoid any kind of confusion.

Implied Meanings – Making someone guess what you mean is no fun when you’re on the other side of it. If you mean something, come right out and say it – don’t make people guess.

Those are just a few of the things that can make communication go wrong and how you can get around them. What kind of things have you experienced that has made communication go wrong and how do you fix them?


5 Ways to Avoid the Huh

One of the first experiences I had after moving to Arkansas from South Carolina was a total mis-communication. I was sitting at the lunch table with some good ole Southern boys who would end up becoming some of the most important people in my life, when one of them asked me a question. It was a very general question like, “So you’re from the city?” It was like someone punched him in the back of the throat and made him spit out all of those words in one breath, thus ruining a potential conversation.

I just stared at him until I admitted, “I have no idea what you just said. Can you slow it down for me?”

“So… You...Are…From…The…City?”

In South Carolina, we like to drag out our conversations, thick and slow, like hot air or molasses. In Arkansas, it was the complete opposite, and I had to keep up or I was going to be left behind. When opening up and speaking to people (especially when you’re the new girl) here are five things to keep in mind to keep yourself from talking at the speed of sound and causing those “huh” moments.

  1. Think about what you’re going to say it before you let it fall out.
  2. Rehearse when you can and when it’s appropriate.
  3. Don’t be nervous! Or… well, try not to be. At a networking event, everyone is there to meet people, try to keep that in mind.
  4. Skip the caffeine boost. Don’t drink anything that might send you into fast forward mode.
  5. Get someone you trust to help. When presenting in front of a group it can be really helpful to get a friend who will stand in the back and hold up their hands when you’re starting to babble or speak too fast.

When was the last time you got or gave a “huh” look after speaking to someone or a group? Have you been able to identify when you’re speaking too fast and what you can do in the future to keep it from happening too much?

Ten Tips for Turning Off Your Accent

I had an advantage when it came to me learning English and speaking – I learned how to speak in a foreign country, so my basis for language did not have the blanket of an accent. When I was f ive, I moved back to the states and to South Carolina, where my mother often reminds me of how she caught me trying to teach myself how to speak like my family did. The longer I have spent in the south, the more of an accent I have developed, but I feel like I speak eloquently.

With that being said, it is sometimes brought to my attention when I’m nervous, angry, or around friends and family that I do indeed have a bit of a southern twang. My biggest offender is the word “orange”, which I am constantly, reminded that I pronounce “are-gne.” I’m self-conscious of my accent, since nerves bring it out and social settings for me bring out nervousness, I feel like it’s prevented me from really being able to go to events and let myself shine. I’ve been working on my accent and how to reduce what I like to call Southern-Girl-itis.

Here are ten tips to toning down your accent – or getting rid of it completely.

  1. Remember that it won’t be easy; you’re basically teaching yourself how to speak again.
  2. Find words that give you a hard time and practice them in a mirror.
  3. Record yourself speaking to another person or read a passage from a book. Play it back so you can identify letter combinations that might be giving you trouble.
  4. Speak clearly by remembering to open your mouth.
  5. Say the word in your head before you say it out loud.
  6. Hold your fingers at the side of your throat when you speak to help “feel” what shapes you’re making when you say the words.
  7. Immerse yourself into speech that doesn’t showcase a regional accent.
  8. Speak to someone with a different dialect (like someone from above the Mason Dixon like if you’re combating a twang) and let them tell you what words sounded different.
  9. Learn new words and expand your vocabulary to introduce your brain to words without and accent.
  10. Remove colloquial phrases like “ya’ll” from your daily use.

What’s your accent? Are you like me with a country girl twang or do you have something like Boston or Minnesota seeping the edges of your tone? What have you done that’s worked to combat your accent?

Teacher and Speaker

One of the great things about being asked to present on a conference call is the joy of getting to educate people on something you’re passionate about or work hard gathering data for. When we work hard on something and we want to share it with the world and getting invited to speak on a conference call is a great way to do it. We log into the conference call with everything ready to go. We are ready to be teachers, even If only for about an hour and to talk about something that we have passion for. Here are some things to consider telling your participants before you dive into the meat of your conference.

  1. For conferences of 10 or more people, I recommend using the lecture mode feature to mute all. If you chose not to do that, be sure you instruct participants on how to use the system to mute their own lines.
  2. Advise everyone if you have an operator monitoring the call; even if just briefly troubleshoot.
  3. Let them know if their lines are in a muted state when you have the call in a lecture setting.Also let them know how you’ll be handling the Q&A. Will you open the lines up at the end? Will you be using the integrated Q&A system?
  4. In an open line conference call make sure that you let everyone know to use the conference muting feature to do so. Using “hold” on their phone might pipe music or beeps into the conference.
  5. Set your expectations and share your excitement about the topic with your guests.

As the host you want to make sure everything goes great, for the conference you are either the star in or you’ve gotten a great guest speaker to join your conference. Are you letting your participants in on how they can have a great conference?

5 Ways to Have Comfortable Presentations

There’s a reason why we all love going home. It’s comfortable and familiar. You know where everything is and you can stretch out in a chair that knows your form and weight. There is no second guessing in your home.

There also isn’t a group of people listening to some snappy conference call hold music while waiting for you to start a conference. It can be a little overwhelming, since conference calls are usually held away from your desk and you’re completely thrown off by the new surroundings. How many times have you been on a conference and heard, “Oh, one second, I don’t know where anything is in here.” Here are five very simple ways to be more comfortable in new surroundings.

  1. I suggest you stand up during your conference, but if you chose not to, make sure you sit in your own chair. Just like at home, your chair knows what you feel like and you’ll feel comfortable in your chair.
  2. Unless you’re “borrowing” someone’s space, choose your own room to hold the conference call. When you can, walk into each room and get a feel for it. I would hate to present in a room that didn’t have any windows, so I would never chose a room like that.
  3. Take at least 30 minutes before the call to poke around the room. I would even suggest planning on eating lunch in the office, the longer you sit in a room, and the more comfortable you’re going to be with it. You’ll know where the foot rests are for the conference table or where the table might squeak if you move too much.
  4. Use your own computer when you can. Out conference room computer set up is completely different from mine at my desk (my desk is Windows 7 and the conference room is Windows XP). Every time I go in there, it takes me like 15 minutes to get used to how things look. Use your own computer when it’s easy to take it into the conference room you selected – and if not, make logging in part of your 30 minutes of familiarizing.
  5. Always chose a room that has a door to close. Being able to shut the door will cut out any of the outside influences and you’ll be able to focus on what you’re doing without any interruptions.

Nothing is ever going to feel like your own desk and your own offices, but these are five very simple things that you can do in order to make yourself feel a little more at home in your conference room. What are you doing to get yourself ready for your next conference call?