Communication Icebreakers

"No pressure, Bridge, but your whole future happiness now depends on how you behave on this one social occasion." "Right. What should I do?"  -Bridget Jones’s Diary

Have you ever found yourself preparing for a networking event and asking your friends for advice? How do you break the ice in a room full of people that you may not know or might not have anything in common with? In the film, Bridget Jones has to attend a networking event where she wants to impress the famous authors she was going to surround herself with. In the end, she only made a fool of herself, but in a completely theatrical and amusing way.

Breaking the ice isn’t always easy, but you can get through it. Here are five communication icebreakers that can help you on your next networking event to break through the introvert and make a splash.

  1. Arrive at an event a little early. This will give you a chance to find a place you feel comfortable and go ahead and get an order. When someone comes in, they might be more likely to approach you, or find a empty seat near you, and let’s be honest – it’s always easier when you don’t have to make the first move.
  2. Be confident, not arrogant. When introducing yourself to people, remember that there’s a fine line between knowing what you’re talking about and sounding like a pompous jerk. Know the line and stick to it.
  3. Have a drink. I’m not a big fan of drinking outside of my house in the first place, but limiting yourself to one or two drinks, at the most. Above all, you should know your limits and not over do it.
  4. Stick your hand out and introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to walk up to someone and introduce yourself. They probably want to meet people too.
  5. Try to join conversations with your peers. Trying to join a conversation about a subject you’re not interested in or don’t have any experience with will translate into you being unconfident. Find people talking about something you know a little about and have passion for.

Those are five really easy ways to break the ice at your next networking event.These kinds of events are made for meeting people and making connections – everyone is there for the same reason. How do you break the ice when you’re meeting new people?

 

Public Speaking

Back in Junior High, I had a choir solo in front of the whole school. I got dressed up for my big debut and listened to the music intently for the musical queue. I was singing a solo from Sunset Boulevard and I was 12 years old and nervous as heck. Since I fidget when I’m nervous, I played on the ends of my skirt, rolling the ends a little between my fingers.

When my choir teacher (who looked a lot like the wicked witch of the west) played the video in front of the choir class, I realized that I was not “rolling my skirt” a little – instead it was rolling quite a bit and I thank God I managed not to flash anyone. Mortified, I’m pretty sure that was the moment I determined that my choir teacher hated me for letting the tape play, and it was also the moment that I realized that a socially awkward girl prone to fidgeting and embarrassment had no business putting herself on the line like that – despite my love of singing.

When I moved, I decided to build a new me, and my fear of speaking in front of a group of people was the first thing I wanted to tackle. Despite my introverted personality now, in high school and college no one would have ever applied that adjective to me. I got active in debate and by the time I graduated college in 2005, I majored in Communications. Not bad for a shy kid, don’t you think? As I worked (and continue to work through) my old fears of public speaking, here are the presentation skills that I know are going to help you rock some socks off.

Rule Number One: You should never read word for word from a printed out document or slide show. (Please never forget this one.)

  • Start strong – come out with a relevant story that ties everything together.
  • Let go of the podium and take down the last wall between you and the audience.
  • It’s a presentation – not a sales pitch.
  • Be passionate, exciting, and make people want to know more.
  • Be open for questions and if you run out of time, give the audience a way to get a hold of you after the presentation.

The people who taught me these things know way more about public speaking and presenting in front of live crowds than I do, but thanks to some of these things, the shy awkward kid from South Carolina moved to Arkansas and now has a career that she’s comfortable and happy in. Never saw that coming.

How did you make yourself a better public speaker? Who did you watch and what presentation skills did you try to emulate when it came to when you did your own presentations?

Small Community Social Media

If you’ve been following the news at all, then you know about the flooding in a little town by the name of Caddo Gap, Arkansas. Before this weekend, it was never a town that was on the news, and it wasn’t exactly listed on any of the local maps. Before Friday, this part of Arkansas has never gotten a bit of national news coverage, and suddenly, it’s a town inundated with CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News. While for many of you, it’s just a sad news story that you see, but for me, it smacks me right in the heart, because that’s home.

Through all the sadness I can’t help but find an interesting study in community here. We talk about social media and how it’s a community, how we are all connected and how we help out when we need to, no matter what the cost. Twitter campaigns have been successful in events like the Nashville flood and the earthquakes in Haiti, and through communication, we have created sub-communities that stretch across oceans. What I’ve come to realize this weekend, is we treat Twitter like a small town community, not a large social network.

I truly believe that each of us, even if we can’t send money, we can send thoughts – we watch a news program and a story can touch us in a way that we didn’t expect. What you heard all weekend were rescue/recovery attempts and survivor stories – but what you didn’t hear about was how a small community pulled together to help out total strangers. I know this because I know people that were involved in the rescue as well as some who were affected personally by the tragedy. In a small community, the ties run deep.

Think about someone you might talk to a lot on Twitter, even if just about mundane things. Recently, a woman in my friend’s list daughter went missing, and though I didn’t know her, I found myself retweeting her “Missing” posters and joining the Facebook page for her daughter. Could I help? Probably not, but may someone who reads my Twitter would see it, and forward it to someone who could. It’s the small community idea – one person picks something up and runs with it and soon, everyone is pitching in. That is how Twitter is like a small community – we help strangers like we would family.

How do you treat Twitter like a small community? Do you reach out when someone needs help?

Know Your Strengths

I read a great blog over at Outspoken Media by the great Lisa Barone on how the power of competition can be a great motivator to start laying out a game plan. Lisa freely admits that she is a fierce competitor, but not in the crazy way – in a way that has made her a better business woman.  In order to win on the web, you must be competitive. 

Lisa talked about many aspects that your competitive sprit can help you come out swinging and kick some butt, but the two that I think are the most important are to know your strength and know your team. Since I’ve never been competitive in the traditional sense, I’ll give you a different scenario – Intercollegiate Debate. We fought with words and quick wit, thinking on our toes. So, with Lisa’s thoughts in mind, how can I define my strengths and my team in terms of what I learned in debate. 

Strengths

In debate, everyone you could go up against more than likely has the exact same facts and words ready to twist the tables around on your argument. (Remember 8Mile when B-Rabbit said all the things the other rapper could say about him and completely threw him off – yeah, it’s a lot like that.) We all had words – we couldn’t use those right out of the gate, and what I learned was my strength was to wait for the right time.  I knew when to make those twists and I have been told that I never looked like I was that “fierce” of a debater.  Many of them ignored the pant suit clad, glasses wearing nerdy looking girl who was sitting at her desk, prepping. By being surprising, I knew I had an edge. 

Here I like to keep the element of surprise in how I do things. I’m dealing in another world where everyone has the same words, and it’s just going to take something to flip it around. I always liked being that something.

My Team 

Before rounds, there were piles of college students with laptops and books (yes books) looking up information regarding various topics. Those who were seasoned debaters were with the novice kids, teaching them how to prep fast and go into what could be their first ever round to compete. Our team never had any drama and we always had a great time on tournaments. There was always something to celebrate, even if we didn’t break out into out rounds, we were proud of the work we had done that day. 

Now, in the working world, I feel like our team does the same thing. If I have a question, there are a number of people I can ask, and if there’s something I can’t fully explain, someone will teach me how to explain it. And when that doesn’t work, I can transfer the customer to speak to the person who handles the question. Not only will the customer be happy, but he will also come out and show me what he sent to the customer, so I can understand it better, should the issue ever arise again. 

That’s back up right there. For me, that’s the strongest part of any company – your people know their strengths, and the higher ups are willing to get involved in order to have our backs. So now I ask you – are you putting your own strengths and teams to work to get the best out of them and the best out of business?


Innovator and Didn’t Know It

I love history. It’s one of the things that I am very passionate about. One of the reasons that I love history is because everything that is done, it can be traced back to something that happened many years ago. Thanks to the History Channel, I’ve been getting a reminder of some of these inventions that, when we look back now, seemed like child’s play, but they were the basis for many of the technological advances we have today. Here are some of my favorites:

Cotton Looms: The cotton mill is the birthplace of binary code. In the 1800’s the machine was plugged with punch cards that told the machine when to turn “on” certain colors and when to turn them “off”. As the machine read the holes in the card, it knew what color to use in the fabric. This is the basis for binary code, which changed the way the world operated.

Fun Fact: A laptop computer of today, to have the same computing power, would have had to be the size of a passenger bus in the 70s to have that kind of output.

Oil Drilling (Naturally): The United States first mined oil in the early 1900’s, and it caused a shift in the way everything was done. The price of gasoline plummeted, making cars and electric lighting wildly available to the masses. Steam power was long forgotten and traded for gasoline and oil powered machinery.

Fun Fact: In the 1920’s, more money was spent on advertising than education.

Hoover Dam: Frank Crowe’s massive undertaking to block the Colorado River not only gave jobs at a time after the Great Depression to men who were willing to work, but it also provides power to the states out west; AZ, CA, NV, etc. The Hoover Dam also serves as a connector over the Colorado River, continuing the merger between east and west.

There are a lot of things in our past, both in the United States, and across the world that has changed the world. I bet the first person to use the cotton loom didn’t think that they were using what was, in essence, a basic computer system. Stories like this are the reason why I am passionate about history in the first place. You never can tell what’s going to change the world. What are some of your favorite stories in history and what did you learn from them?

Evo From an iPhone User

This morning the boss men ran out to Sprint and picked up the new HTC EVO. I gave them a couple of hours to use it, before I started to pester them for information.  I also opened my Twitter account up for questions and received one from @brandingme that I'll go ahead and answer and then I’ll highlight some of the differences.

@brandingme asked: “do you have iphone users who are testing out the htc evo's? if so, what do they think?”. Yes, both of the boss men have had the iPhone since the 3G first launched and today is the first day with a new device since. So far, the feedback on a transition from one to the other is that if you like to “tinker” with a device the transition would be easy.  Those who do not consider themselves to be “tech-savvy” might find the transition difficult.

There is a kickstand. I have to point this out first, because it made my day. There is a kickstand on the EVO. That is awesome and needs to be specially pointed out. Here are some of the highlights that were mentioned:
• Email is a little smoother layout. Instead of having to use the “back” feature over and over again, all of your inboxes are in the same menu; you just select the one you need from the dropdown menu.
• Music menus are essentially the same on the EVO as the iPhone, but the thing I really like is when you do a “search” for a band, it automatically pops up the keyboard.  I’ve never liked the search feature on the iPhone and tend to use the shuffle feature more than anything; those tiny letters on the side of the screen were hard to navigate so I like the auto pop-up of the keyboard, rather than the scrolling feature.
• The keyboard on the EVO is an improvement over the iPhone keyboard.
• The camera has flash, which is an improvement, but we’re still in debate over if the quality is better. I think it is, but we still haven’t come to a full determination if the quality is better, but again, it has flash, so win.

There’s a quick run down of the HTC EVO as compared to the iPhone – bottom line, tech savvy people will find it to be an easy transition, but if you don’t consider yourself to be a tech person, you might consider sticking with your iPhone for now.  Let me know if you have any other questions about the EVO. Have an EVO? What do you think?

AT&T Data Changes

AT&T is trying to fix the network problems. By trying, I mean, changing everything so you'll use less on your data plans. Anytime you offer something "unlimited" users are going to test the limits and it's exactly what happened with the iPhone 3G.

AT&T announced yesterday that they will be rolling out new data packages, right in time for the OS4 launch. These new data plans are DataPlus ($15.00/month for 200MB) and DataPro ($25.00/month for 2GB).

I figured up the usage on my iPhone plan and I realize that it might actually benefit me to decrease down to the DataPro plan. I don't know if I've ever used 2 or more GB a month, so I wouldn't mind saving a couple of bucks a month on my cell phone bill. If I do go over my plan, then it's only an additional $10.00 for each GB over. The likelihood of extreme usage is low in my case, so it's something to consider.

These data plans are not meant to affect what I would consider to be a regular user - in fact, according to USA Today, only 3% of smart phone user's account for 40% of the data usage. The data plan package change is not directed to users like me, but instead to these 3%. These are the users who cause the network outages, and AT&T must get control of them.

If you have a massive amount of data use each month and you know that it’s going to affect your bill and make it higher, you might want to call AT&T now and get everything squared away. My unlimited plan will be grandfathered in but it might be worth it for me, in price, to go ahead and change. We all were screaming for AT&T to do something, now that they have, how do you feel about it?

Note: I spoke with an AT&T rep that let me know that if I decide to change my voice plan down the road, it will not force me to change my data package to one of the DataPlus/DataPro plans, just in case you were wondering if that would make a difference.

It’s (probably) Going to Cost You

One of the things we let our customers know about is the concerns that they should have when using VoIP (voice over the internet protocol) with our conference call system. We have nothing against VoIP, in fact, its technology and we embrace it around here, but in my experience, it can be troublesome for sound quality and connection reliability. We have so many questions about using VoIP with our system we wrote a useful guide about VoIP.

The one thing we cannot advise clients about is the security of VoIP. Unfortunately, for us, there are too many carriers out there for us to do a comprehensive review; however, I did come across this from VOIPSA, a nonprofit organization who want to spread the use of VoIP, while identifying the risks – and what is being done to prevent security breaches. 

VoIP is, in essence, low cost phone service that travels through the internet lines to reach the destination number. The Insurance Report released from VOIPSA makes one thing very, very clear – “all internet servers are susceptible to hacking”. Much like a Trojan attack on your computer, VoIP can be left open for cyber-attacking: theft, hijacking, rerouting calls, eavesdropping, you name it. If you’re calling “overreaction”, I want to think for a few minutes to the kind of information you give out over a VoIP phone, and now think about what could happen if someone with malicious intent was listening. Javelin Strategy and Research reported that by 2009, 1 in 10 US consumers had fallen victim to identify theft, costing an average of $500/person.
 
I think its cause for concern; you wouldn’t buy anything online from something that wasn’t PayPal, VeriSign, etc., secured would you? So why are we choosing to make phone calls on environments that are not secured? If you’re going to use VoIP be sure that you ask whoever is carrying your call some important questions:

Is security guaranteed?
If there is a breach, what is the carrier’s liability for any subsequent fraud/loss funds/etc.?
Do they have any suggestions to help secure your phone lines?


The service might be cheap, but you get what you pay for right? The first step to improving the security of VoIP is to classify it as “telecommunications” as defined by the FCC – this will force regulations and requirements. Until then, you might as well be reading your credit card off through a megaphone in the middle of Times Square.

What do you think – are you scared? Or is everyone just overacting?

Tech Wars Google/Apple VS Yahoo/ Nokia

Let’s get ready to rumble. Today, in a move that reminded me of doing dishes for a month if my brother helped me take down the evil Empire of Dad in a game of Risk, Nokia and Yahoo announced an alliance that they hope will change the way the user experiences their networks. The long and short of it is that Nokia will power Yahoo!’s map services and Yahoo! will help Nokia power their Mail and Chat services. Carol Bartz, chief executive of Yahoo! says this deal could be a “winning combination” but I think she might be about 10 years too late.

Without coming out and saying it, the merger hopes to offer some competition to Google and Apple both of which are dominating the web search and mobile phone markets. Sure, it’s a good idea to throw your hat in the ring, but if you’re throwing down the floppy straw while the people are fighting in trendy fedoras, you might rethink your steps. Let’s run down some of the pros and cons of this alliance:

Pro: Nokia broke the mold on the smart phone in 1996 – so you have to believe that if they can get a piece of the pie, they’ll make it the best darn piece of pie ever tasted. Nokia remains the largest mobile phone maker in the world with Apple at #3, behind Samsung.

Con: You can have my iPhone back when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers – even with the unreliable network. Apple provided me something that was easy to use and did everything (and more) I could imagine my phone doing. Why would I change?

Pro: A lot of people never made a transition fully to GMail. I have GMail, but I prefer using my Yahoo! address. Why? I’ve had my Yahoo! account forever and the hassle of telling everyone “Hey I’m at this email account now” was just annoying. So I stuck with Yahoo! Mail – I’m sure a lot of people have – I’d be tempted to see a phone that made my personal email easier to manage.

Con: Yahoo! and Nokia are so far behind the game, there’s a chance that they will never catch up. Nokia didn’t release a phone for 2 years – the 1680 classic in 2008 and didn’t release the 1800 until 2010. Anyone can tell you that disappearing for two years will not make you an industry leader.

I think that while as exciting as Yahoo! and Nokia are, and despite my “root for the underdog” nature, Apple and Google are too far ahead of Yahoo! and Nokia in “techie popularity”. Is Yahoo! being pulled into the middle of a nastier battle? Maybe Yahoo! and Nokia will get lucky and Apple and Google will tear each other to shreds. Plus, if memory serves, my brother always took advantage of me when we made deals to take down our dad, so it usually backfired in his face when I refused to do the dishes. What do you think? Does the alliance of Yahoo! and Nokia stand a chance?

How to Get and Use Feedback

Your conference call has been planned, executed, and now you’re sitting back, enjoying the endorphins that are flowing through your system after a successful presentation. It was successful, right? You think it was because you managed not to forget what you were talking about or get derailed, but did you remember to ask what participants thought? Here are five easy steps for asking for feedback and what to do once you get it.

1.) Ask for feedback.  If you’re not providing the channels for your attendees to give you feed back, you’re not going to get any. Make it easier on them by polling them throughout the web conference, providing an email to send feedback to, or encourage them to use social media by liking your company page on Facebook or a hashtag on Twitter.
2.) Respond to the feedback. Nothing sucks worse than feeling like you’re not heard. When you get feedback from someone, respond to them, thank them, or ask for more information. The more you know about how they developed an opinion, and compare it to your other feedback, the better you’re going to know what works and what doesn’t.
3.) Implement the suggestions. This is important especially when you have a repeat conference with repeat clients. What is the point of asking for feedback if you’re not going to make changes based on what your clients feel? Meet with the other conference organizers and see what the participants said and how you can make the changes – if you can at all. There will be some changes you can’t make, but you should evaluate all the suggestions.
4.) Invite the clients who gave you feedback to another conference. Once you’ve evaluated the changes you can make and implemented them, invite the people who had feedback to a session for free. Let them see how you took the suggestions they made and implemented it into further conferences.
5.) Follow up with the participants. Once the conference has ended, don’t be shy to send them an email and ask them how you did. If they have more suggestions, they’ll let you know. 

The most important thing to remember is that you can ask for feedback all day long, but unless you do something about what you’re given, it’s empty question. What’s your preferred way to ask for feedback and how are you responding?