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Aug
12
2010
5 Ways to Avoid the Huh Maranda Gibson

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?

Aug
11
2010
Ten Tips for Turning Off Your Accent Maranda Gibson

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?

Aug
04
2010
Teacher and Speaker Maranda Gibson

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?

Aug
02
2010
5 Ways to Have Comfortable Presentations Maranda Gibson

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?

Jul
30
2010
Three Things Twitter Taught Me about Customer Service Maranda Gibson

When I first started to manage the Twitter account here, I tried to take it from the perspective of “all business”. I didn’t make jokes, laugh, or say snarky things. I wanted to be this little pillar of customer service and professionalism that would woo and wow the masses, and bring the flocks to me. I was wrong – but that’s okay. I guess I didn’t exactly get it at first. There’s a big difference between the old fashioned ways of customer service and what Twitter (or any social platform) can do for a company.

  1. It opens a dialogue with the customer, giving the customer an opportunity to make suggestions for ways that we can improve the product we’re offering.
  2. Monitoring social platforms gives you the ability to solve a problem quickly. I logged into Twitter once and had a customer who was unable to connect to his conference. I had him email me his account information and come to find out; there was an error in the code he was using. We caught his concerns before he had to call us and everything was fixed quickly.
  3. It makes us real people. When our customers can relate to us, when they know our likes and dislikes, it makes us easier to relate to. I’m more than just “that girl at AccuConference”. I’m Maranda. That makes a huge difference in customer relationships.

I’m sure there’s more and there will always be more to learn. Using social media with customer service is one of those things that will be forever evolving. It’s completely different today than it was six months ago and then it will be six months from now. What have you learned about customer service from social media?

Jul
28
2010
Where to Focus? Maranda Gibson

There are a lot of different reasons a company will host a conference call. It could be to announce a promotion, have a guest on the call, train, update company policy, you name it and a company can accomplish it with a conference call. One of the things that always have to be identified when planning a call is what approach you should take as the speaker. Should you take the “I” focus, or the “we” focus and what is the difference?

Some examples of I-Centric presenting will be when you say phrases that have a personal focus, like I have or I feel. In a We-Centric conference, you’ll be referring to a lot of things in the third person or using we. So how do you know what focus to take? As I’ve said before, on a conference call you only have the ability to use words and tone to set a mood.

Set the mood with an “I-Centric” presentation if you are:

Invited to speak on the conference call. You’re there because you have some information, and people want to hear how what you’ve done worked for you.

Accepting a promotion or a new position. You want to address that you’re excited and that you’re looking forward to working with everyone.

Presenting research you did. Sometimes, what you’re showing everyone is something that you’ve done on your own, so “I-Centric” words are completely okay.

Set the mood with “We-Centric” phrases when you are:

Accepting a promotion or a new position. Yes, I realize that I suggested you use I-Centric words for this situation also. The truth of the matter is anytime you accept a promotion or new position in your company is a time that you should enforce the ideas that you’re all going to be a team. It’s important that everyone walks away knowing you’re excited about your new position and that you look forward to collaborating with a new team.

Updating on company policy. When policy changes are made, it’s not just the employees who are affected. Everyone will be affected by changes in a company. When announcing them to a group of employees you need to make sure they understand that the management will not be immune to the changes.

Status meetings. When you’re just updating members of your company or group with where you stand on a project or just in general, you should take a We-Centric approach. Any good things that have stepped forward with the project, everyone has a small part of the success – as well as any failures.

The bottom line between using a We-Centric or I-Centric focus is that most of the time, you’ll want to use a mixture of both, and depending on what you have to say, it could affect the way you say it. How are you using “we” and “I” to set the mood on your conference call?

Jul
22
2010
Share Your Knowledge Maranda Gibson

Since most of my love for public speaking comes from the love I had of debate, I can always think back on the things that I knew and learned from that time in my life. I’ve talked before about how it helped me grow and come out of my shell, but it taught me things that I didn’t realize until recently.

I went to a tournament where one of the debaters was a really cocky guy, and in truth their entire school was. They were the “ones to beat” and everyone knew it. So while our team and another team were sitting out by the hotel pool, hanging out, and having a good time, no one wants to speak to their team. Their team knew everything about debate, and didn’t offer any kind of help to novice debaters, or schools. It seemed like they took it too seriously, and didn’t use it as a learning experience. They were great, and everyone knew it, and we always want to learn from what is considered to be the best.

This one guy was the worst. You could hear him a mile away talking about how great he was. After his rounds, he would come into the community prep room and very loudly declare that he is the greatest thing ever. Naturally, he was really ticking me off. In one of my second rounds, I drew against him, and I dreaded it.

He beat me. He beat me so bad that I swear I think I still have a bruise. In fact, I think he might have won that tournament. It was the judging sheet that we got back weeks later that surprised me. He scored low on courtesy points. Courtesy points are usually the easiest things to get, because all you have to do is be nice to your opponent. Part of my beating was that he just verbally assaulted me (it was bad – I cried after) and the judge noticed that he was not as polite as he could have been.

Yes, he might have won, which a lot of people would argue that’s the point of being involved in a competitive event. I disagree – debate was a place for many of us to get introduced to networking and speaking under pressure. Most debate team members are involved in the Communications department somehow. That judging sheet taught me one thing very quickly – there is always someone observing you before you speak.

What you do and say before an event is going to be just as important as what you say during the event. Someone is going to be observing you and there’s a pretty good chance they are going to jump on the opportunity to pick you apart. We all know “that guy” is out there.

You don’t need to sell yourself. Why not just cut loose and have some fun? My debate colleague was good – everyone knew it – but we disliked him because he walked around talking about how great he was. I actually heard him say some pretty clever and witty things, so I’m sure he was a great person to be around, but no one (aside from the people on his team) wanted to be near him.

When it comes to being invited to speak somewhere, we have an obligation to share our knowledge with other people and not just talk about why we are so awesome. How are you inviting people to learn from you not only during the conference, but also before?

Jul
20
2010
Quality or Quantity Maranda Gibson

I took part in #blogchat on Twitter Sunday night and an interesting conversation arose from @prosperitygal who asked, “Do you think you have to blog once a day to be a “real Blogger?” This is a great question because it comes down to objectivity.  Everyone is going to have a different take on this question.  It really depends on how you feel about blogging and why you are blogging. 

Some people feel that there is no such thing as a real blogger because anyone with a blog and a keyboard can call themselves that. Others will tell you that posting everyday will count as content and boost your rankings, and while that is very true, I have to say I disagree.

I think that bloggers have a responsibility to say something meaningful. My mom always told me that if I was going to speak up in a conversation, I needed to make sure what I said was relevant. Basically, that I shouldn’t try to speak just so I could say “okay, I spoke, check that off the list.”   Look at Outspoken Media – the team posts something new every day, but for me, it’s always a good read. There’s always an underlying thought or a greater conversation to be had.  They don’t post blogs for the sake of posting blogs. Maybe you dislike Outspoken Media; maybe you’d rather gouge your eyes out than to see one more post – that’s why this is such a great question. 

You can also take a look at UnMarketing, who has had 5 posts between now and back in April (one of my favorites being this one about blogging frequency). Both of these sites are top notch blogs in my opinion, but they both have different styles, and I enjoy reading both blogs. 

When it comes to blogging, I think its quality over quantity. I don’t care if you post on your blog once an hour, as long as it’s written well and has a purpose. It’s very easy to talk about creating “good” content but I don’t feel like that phrase really has a meaning, because what is good to me may not be good to you. If you post once a week and I like what you have to say, I’ll keep coming back.  Personally, I think that hitting send and putting something on your blog, just so it makes your analytics happy is a waste of time.  Sure, I might read it for a few days, but once I realize your content bores me, I won’t be reading it anymore. 

For me, a “real” blogger is someone who can make me think, make me laugh, or make me cry with every post. We are all victims to our hits and misses – things we think will be great, but it didn’t warrant a lot of traffic, but I honestly think that in the end, it’s what you say and not just how often you say something. 

In the end, my rules don’t apply for everyone, but I truly feel like it’s a great writer who makes a blog, and not how often they post on their blog. What do you think? Is it quality or quantity that keeps a reader coming back for more? 

 

Jul
15
2010
Presentation Time Limits Maranda Gibson

Last week, my dad called me in a mess of bubbling excitement, the likes of which I hadn’t heard since one of his Little League teams was getting to battle it out on the road to a championship years ago. A few weeks ago, he got a new job and was faced with the prospect of presenting a proposal—something new for his company.

He struggles with getting up and doing presentations. It’s not that he’s shy (by ANY means), it’s just not something he’s had to do a lot, and his brain tends to get ahead of his mouth—especially when he’s bubbling with ideas. Naturally, he called me for some tips about what to do. The first thing I told him, based off what I know about my dad and his ability to ramble, was to set a time limit for his presentation. He had one hour in front of the big-wigs in his company, and he wanted to make the most of it, but he had about thirty pages of information he wanted to cover. We had to whittle all that down to a presentation that would fit in a time limit that didn’t seem like too much, or too little. Here’s what we came up with:

  • Give yourself enough time to cover what you want to cover and leave time for questions. Since he was presenting something new to a company that they had never done before, it was important to pad the time for a little longer question session. We anticipated they would want to know a little more about what he had in mind, and he wanted to be able to answer those questions.
  • Define specific points to cover – and make them the most important things. To do this, we found that he should take a journalistic approach. In his presentation, he should answer who, what, when, where, why, and how and then let the conversation start.
  • Stick like glue to the plan. When you make a plan and then veer off the path, it’s almost like people can see that your thought train was completely derailed. Once you make a plan for time limits, stick to it.
  • Plan what you’re going to say, and then put together the PowerPoint. Since we were trying to stick to a time limit, we decided that if we put together what he would say, instead of what he would show, we would be building a PowerPoint that was to the point of what we were trying to accomplish.

In about ten minutes, we had my dad ready to go, and after another thirty, we had his PowerPoint knocked out. It only took us about an hour to get him ready to present to a Fortune 500 company – and the best news? They loved his ideas and gave him the green light to go ahead and get the ball rolling on a major venture.

Jul
09
2010
Public Speaking Practice Maranda Gibson

A lot of times I talk about how to “practice” before you stand up in front of a group or jump on a conference call, but I get the distinct feeling that not a lot of people take this into consideration. We make a lot of excuses as to why we can’t practice – or sometimes, even why we won’t practice. I’m going to debunk some of those reasons right now and show you why you should always practice before you present.

Excuse #1 – I’m a pro. Yeah? So are Major League sports players, musical talents, and theatre stars. So are movie stars, television stars, and even acrobats in the circus. They still show up to batting practice and dress rehearsals. Getting paid to speak at events doesn’t mean that you’re immune to wardrobe malfunctions or technology failures. 

Excuse #2 – I don’t have enough time. Make time – plain and simple. You should never try to make a presentation when you haven’t familiarized yourself with the surroundings or topic. You would never present on a subject you don’t know anything about – so why would you make a presentation in a conference room or over a phone system that you didn’t know anything about. 

Excuse #3 – I have to travel to get there. Okay, that’s understandable, but that shouldn’t be your excuse for absolutely not practicing. Give yourself enough time when you get into the venue to at least take a walk around the hall, or to ask someone to tell you how the conference call will work, instead of just walking into the presentation and expecting everything to run smoothly. Pad your scheduled with, at the very least, 10-20 minutes of down time before you start.

 Those are the three biggest reasons that I hear for why people don’t do a run through before their conferences. Everyone says the old cliché about how practice makes perfect – but I don’t agree with that.  I think that striving to be perfect will only lead to disappointment because no one is perfect. You should instead strive for confidence. Part of confidence is being comfortable. So practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make confident public speakers. 


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