Five Ways Educators Can Use Conference Calls

In sixth grade, I remember our teacher telling my class about the importance of working in a team. It was the new thing when I was in elementary school – breaking into groups and doing projects together. We had to assign managers, reporters, and the like in order to get the best grade. She always told us that it would be the most important lesson we would learn, something we would appreciate when we got out of college and into work.

  1. Invite a Professor. Even in elementary school, kids are developing their likes and tastes. When I was in fifth grade, I realized I hated math and I liked learning about history. Elementary school was when I decided that I was going to go to college – without fail. It would have been one of the coolest things in the world to get to speak to someone who taught college so we could ask questions to someone who could be one of our teachers in the future.
  2. Authors.  When I was in elementary school, it was so different to have a student that likes to write. I was that kid who took writing assignments so seriously, turning in three pages when only a paragraph was required. I wanted to be a writer from a very young age and to have had the opportunity to speak to someone that did that for a living probably would have been the highlight of my life. (Up to that point, at least)
  3. Phone Pals. Remember having a pen pal? I wrote to a girl in Paris, and she never wrote me back. The point of having a pen pal is to learn about different cultures and when pen pals don’t write back there’s only discouragement. If a kid doesn’t get a response, they won’t be interested in the assignment. Instead of writing letters or emails, set up conferences with other teachers from around the world.  You don’t have to talk to people outside of the United States in order to be exposed to different cultures, and schools are full of kids who will already have different life experiences.
  4. Other Teachers. Set up a conference call with other teachers from your school or branch out to other states and countries to share lesson plans and things that have been happening in your class. If you had a student who had a great idea, you can share it with other teachers. Just because you’re not in college anymore, doesn’t mean you’re not learning something every day.
  5. Summer Reading Clubs. Okay, obviously I was that kid in elementary school. The one who was sneaking her book out of her desk and reading it intently when the teacher wasn’t watching (and sometimes when she was). It would have been fun though, since I wasn’t the only one who was a super book geek, to have been invited to a conference call once a week with other students who were reading, and our teacher advisor. You could even get with other teachers in you district, put together the same reading list and start the discussion.

Most conferencing services have some kind of discount for educational institutions (shameless plug: Get Connected) so if you’re interested in trying to incorporate something like this into your class room, be sure to give your provider a call and see what they can do for you. Are you an educator currently using conference calls? Let me know how you are using your conferences to make for a better classroom experience.

3 Ways To Set Tone With Invitations

A couple of weeks ago I (as the dutiful and wonderful daughter I am) went to my mother’s house to clean it for her while she was out of town. While cleaning up, I stumbled across these, beautiful “G” wax stamps that I used to seal my wedding invitations. It made me think about how when it’s something that we are excited about, that we put a lot of time into sending out an invitation. From birthday parties to wedding invitations, we put a lot of thought into the message these invites will send. We agonize about what the invitations look like and what we write on them. When it comes to inviting people to something that’s more “business” we forget that how we phrase the invitation is just as much a message as the invitation itself. When we send out an invitation, no matter what it is, what we send is going to affect the tone of the event you’re inviting people to.

Here are three ways that you can set the right tone with your conference call invitation.

1.) FlashCan Evites -These were cute and fun. It lets you create your own scenario using artist donated flash material. I played around for a few minutes and while they are a little on the campy side, it’s a great way to invite co-workers or close business partners to an informal or impromptu conference. The humorous tone of the invitation is going to let everyone invited know that they are joining a conference call among friends.

2.) Press Releases and Registration Page – To set a more formal tone with your invitations, publish a press release and include a registration link. The press release goes out online, or sent to individual agencies. The tone created is going to be a more serious tone, and may not be necessary if you’re hosting a training update or something with your co-workers.

3.) Handwritten Invitations – Yes, in this crazy technical world where everything can be sent out via email we should never discount the handwritten invitation. Handwritten invitations set the tone to the invitees that you are willing to invest time in them. There is a great deal of time spent handwriting and stamping individual notes, and as soon as that invitation reaches the client, they know instantly that you are willing to spend that time.

No matter what you are inviting someone too, it’s always important to remember how to set the tone. Since a conference call can be considering something that’s a business “annoyance” sending out creative invitations is one way to make your next conference call less of a bore and more of an event, without a dress code.

How are you setting the tone for your conference calls?

The Perfectionists Procrastination

A few weeks ago it was suggested I check out The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron. Naturally, I hopped on over to Amazon to see if I could get a good deal on it and got to take a peek inside.I skimmed the first part of the book and one of the first words that stood out to me was procrastination.

I balked. Procrastination, me? Impossible. I am on it, together, and always getting things done. I feel busy most of the time and I would think that’s the opposite of procrastination. Isn’t procrastination more of a conscious thought of letting something slide so you can do something else that you feel more desire to do? When I was in college, I used to put off my Rhetorical History projects because I would rather do something for another class. That, I’ll admit, was procrastination, but I didn’t think I fell into that category now.

According to this, I am one big procrastinator. Do I fill my day with “low-task” priorities? Sometimes. Do I wait for the “right mood” to strike before tackling things? I would have to admit yes I do. I don’t believe that procrastination is a symptom of laziness, as I am sure that many procrastinators are highly skilled and successful. In fact, many perfectionists are often the ones out there procrastinating, in fear of doing a project wrong the first time.

According to the folks over at MindTools, there are a couple of things I can do to help detour my trip to procrastination town.

•  Figure out why I am procrastinating. If I can determine why I don’t feel inclined to complete the task right away, I can figure out how to tackle it. By focusing on figuring out some inspiration for what I’m working on, I might stumble on the motivation to tackle that project first.
•  Reward myself. When I do finish a project I should give myself a little treat – like a quick break from my desk or something horribly bad for me for lunch. (I’m thinking Chipotle when I finish this post.)

I am defiantly not lazy, not in any sense of the word, but I find that I procrastinate due to my perfectionist streak. What makes you a procrastinator and what do you do to rise above and get things done?

Express Yourself

Ever wondered why saying “goo-goo-ga-ga” in a high pitched voice really seems to get a baby going with the kicks and giggles?

According to Science Daily, new research suggests that infants as young as seven months can be as sensitive to the tone of voice of a parent or loved one as another adult would be. Since infants don’t understand words they relate to the tone of a voice.  It’s easy to forget that the tone of voice you take on a subject is just as important, if not more, than your body movements.

Conveying your emotions on a conference call is not nearly as easy as a game of peek-a-boo, but it can be if you’re aware of your tone. Here are some quick adjustments you can make to your tone so that you can make it a little more clear what you want your audience to understand, beyond saying, “I feel –this way-.”

Soft tones.  Using a soft tone, while it might seem like it would be translated as a soothing sound, in public speaking, it’s one of the worst things you can do. Not only does it bore everyone, but it also doesn’t convey any confidence in the speaker. Instead, use a clear tone while speaking, speak loudly, and don’t be afraid to be excited.

The wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable. You need to use inflection to help your audience understand the topics you’re discussing are very important to you. Just be careful of what you’re emphasizing and why you’re emphasizing that word.  Have a game plan in mind when it comes to what you might be asked and how to express yourself.

It’s not impossible to share your emotions with people when all they have to gauge is with your voice.  Try out these suggestions on your next conference call or tell me what you do to convey your emotions on your conferences.

The Frayed Knot

 

A rope walks into a bar, asks for a drink, and the bartender tells him that ropes aren’t served. The rope goes to another bar and gets the same response, and this keeps happening all over town. The more he goes around the town, the more upset he gets and he starts pulling apart at the seams. The rope gets angry and twists him up as he walks into the last bar in town, sits down, and orders a drink. “Are you a rope?” The bartender asks with a quizzical look. Angrily the rope snaps back, “I’m a frayed knot!”

He didn’t have a plan on the way to his larger goal. Had our little rope thought of his first step, it probably would have been to Google search “bars that serve ropes”. He could have saved himself a lot of stress.

Chris Brogan wrote about success being little “flags” along the way towards a larger goal and in order to stay focused, you have to set little goals on the way towards a big goal.

Even if the little flags you set seem unnecessary, you should still put them down. Not only will it make a guide for you to follow on the path towards success, but it will also give you a bit of motivation in the event that you feel like you’re stuck.

Celebrate the little victories along the way, briefly patting yourself on the back for the things you have managed to achieve.  Don’t just celebrate yourself, if someone helped you or offered input, celebrate with them. They earned it too.

What I think to be the most important part of Chris’s suggestion is that these victories are yours. Set your own goals, work them at your own pace, and never think that someone who doesn’t have the same goal set isn’t “doing it right”. Everyone sets their own goals and their own pace and you have to respect that.

Using this focus you are less likely to become that poor rope that got all twisted up from frustration. What do you do to keep yourself from getting discouraged? Do you have a set of goals like Chris suggests or are you just naturally laid back?

2 Minutes to Save The World

Two minutes and then I'm done. I'm demanding you to be Superman. In tights. The expectations are high, I know, but if you don't have me in the first two minutes, forget about it.

You must be "Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive.." Superman could fly, too, which make him double awesome, but Superman had something else: speed. Superman could be in a phone booth and out in a heartbeat, completely changed out of his doofy Clark Kent glasses and tie. Like bam! He was saving Lois Lane from her latest run in with the super villians.

And if he didn't -- Lois Lane was a goner.

Here are some other things you can do in two minutes:

-Sharpen some pencils.

-Check your horoscope.

-Eat yogurt.

-Transform from mild-mannered Clark Kent to spandex wearing Superman.

-Capture your audience's attention for a presentation.

Just like Superman with Lois Lane, you have about two mintues when you first step infront of an audience to grab their attention. If you're more of a Clark Kent type, it can take some work to rip off those glasses and go running on stage with your brightly colored spandex suit. While that might make people look up from their email, it might not be in the way you want. I can't tell you what to do to get us to sit up and take notice, but I can tell you some things that I've seen work.

Humor. At PubCon South in Dallas, I got to see the great @unmarketing . The first slide of his presentation read "Social Media, We Need to Break Up" and the beginning of his keynote speech was about how it's "not you, it's me." It was hilarious and everyone paid attention to see what the rest of this presentation could be.

Shock. On the first day of junior high school, my history teacher (Hi Mr. Bryant) put a chair in the middle of the room and jumped off onto the floor. It shook the walls and it broke all our conversations. It shocked us, without question and he immediately had our attention. More than that, it's a moment I've never forgotten and one that shaped how I felt about the subject of history.

There are a couple of ways that you can get your audience's attention. Remember, you only have two minutes to grab them, otherwise, they are goners. Not only that, you have the ability to make something memorable for your audience. Just watch out for Lex Luthor. He likes to lurk.

Power Boots

When I was in college, I competed in a lot of debate tournaments. I never went on a tournament without my boots. My debate coach called them my “butt-kicking shoes” and he always knew that I was going to do well when I wore them. There was just something about them that made me feel confident. Anytime you do a presentation, it’s always about confidence. You know your subject inside and out but that doesn’t mean that you can’t struggle with the idea of speaking in front of a group of people. If you want to make yourself feel a little confident, here are some things that you can do. They are very easy and will only take a few extra minutes.
 
Familiarize yourself with where you are going to be speaking. If you’re on a conference call, find a quiet place away from the bustle of your office to give your presentation.  If it’s not a room you’ve used much, take a look around, know where things are.  You never know when you might need to know where an extra outlet is located and knowing the layout of the room will make you feel much better.
 
Wear something you love. This sounds so trite, I know, but if you are wearing something that makes you feel great, you’re going to feel great. That’s how it was with my boots. Some women might have a lucky skirt or a man who has a lucky tie. Even if no one is going to see you on the presentation, it will make you feel a little more “take on the world”.
 
In case you were wondering, no, I didn’t always win my tournaments, but I always felt good while I was doing them. Do you have any silly things you do to get yourself feeling confident in the face of a presentation?

Free Your Mind

As a married woman, I often feel that my husband and I differ in our tastes in television and music. I guess Paula Abdul was right about opposite’s attracting. One thing that we can agree on is that I am a music freak and he loves trying to find new things he thinks I might like. Often he comes to me with a proud smile and tells me that he found something he thinks I’ll love.  

I usually stare at him skeptically because with him, you never can tell what you’re about to get. Sometimes, he brings me a song that I listen to and immediately make a face. However, there are many times when he brings what I would consider to be some of my favorite songs to me.

If not for him and his somewhat strange musical tastes, I would not know the wonders of Muse or Sneaker Pimpz (“Destroying Angel” specifically).  What’s the point of saying this? I would never have known some of my favorite bands if I didn’t have an open mind. I would have just scoffed and told him that I wouldn’t like it, rather than give it a chance. Now, there have been plenty of times that I’ve listened to ten seconds of a song and turned it off. But at least I gave it a shot.

Having an open mind is essential to business. It can be something like considering a new process or even defining a new way of thinking. “Innovators” in their business would not have been such if not for having open minds. People like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and even Henry Ford would not have an impact on the world if they weren’t able to look at things openly.  What about the first company to go “green”? They had to have open minds to even embrace a new way of thinking – one that has spread like wildfire.

When someone in your company comes to you with a new idea, it’s important to listen, consider, and then make a decision. Saying no right off the bat will get you nothing but an employee who thinks their contributions aren’t appreciated. No matter what the suggestion is – from different creamers in the break room to trading in expensive conventions for conference calls, it’s important to consider every idea that comes across your desk.

Take A Break

Oh, Twitter, how you give us a glimpse into the mind of the everyday office worker and how they feel about their day to day activities. Usually, that mild mannered office worker has a conference call to attend, from updating a team on procedures to going over financials.  Everyone is using conference calls to make their staff meetings go a little smoother, stay more productive, and save money on travel.  Most of the time, conference calls can go pretty quickly, but there are always those times when you know it’s going to be a long one – due to the topic or even the person who’s doing the presenting.

As the leader of a conference, you can do a lot to plan ahead for a conference call and have things in place to keep the attention of the attendees. However, nothing is fool proof and there’s always the chance that you are going to lose the audience. What can you do during a conference call to bring them back to attention? Here are a couple of suggestions to try on your next conference if you sense everyone is drifting.

Ask a question. Don’t call anyone out but throwing out a blanket question and pausing for a few beats afterwards can help pull everyone’s brains back into the task at hand. Don’t answer the question, just ask it.  A lot of times when people “zone out” hearing something new or that could require a response will draw them back in.

Take a break. Have a long conference planned? Schedule a break about halfway through. I would suggest this for any conference that is going to be an hour or longer. It doesn’t have to be a long break, maybe five minutes. Let people get up from their desks, stretch their backs and arms, and maybe get a refill of coffee. Then they come back and it’s like the call just began.

Switch speakers. Even if you’re talking about the same subject throughout the length of the conference, you can still bring a different voice on the call to finish up.  Not only does it help relax your vocal chords, but it will be a new sound and tone for your attendees to react to.  If you’re used to a sound or voice, it’s easier to drown it out, and bringing a new voice to the call can refocus everyone.  

There are some quick suggestions that can help you bring everyone back down to Earth during a conference call. Do you do anything differently? Have you ever tried these before? How do you prepare to refocus your group mid conference?

What We Can Learn from TV

Television, sometimes affectionately known as the “idiot box”, for the most part shows us nothing about the world.  Reality television has given us glances into human interaction that promote backstabbing, immunity challenges, and fist pumping. Programs that show us the deeper sides of human emotions can be passed over for programs that are full of drama. (Two exceptions come to mind: “The Biggest Loser” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”). TV is an escape and we don’t want to be “taught” anything from the things we do to distract ourselves from the stress of the day.

After the SuperBowl last night, CBS aired a show called “Undercover Boss”. The basic premise is a CEO of a major company immerses themselves in the day to day work of the average person in their company. Last night, we saw a CEO picking trash off a conveyer belt, collecting errant paper from a hillside, and steam cleaning port-a-potties. What things can we learn from this as business owners or management? I have some thoughts.

1.) Understanding your workforce will help you understand customers’ needs. Stream-lining processes, identifying understaffing issues, or changing the way things are done improves your productivity and directly affects your customers’ happiness.  Making it easier on the front line employee will help them make it easier for the customers.
2.) You can’t see the face of your company staring at numbers. Sure, numbers are the bottom line, and in the end, as the CEO it’s your responsibility to keep the company profitable. Remember that every “number” on the page is actually the face of someone who works tirelessly for you.

Did you watch “Undercover Boss”? Did you like it? I really enjoyed myself with it and I feel like it was trying to be socially relevant in a time when people feel like their head offices or CEO’s are a million miles away and have no real idea what goes on in their company. 

How are you going to connect to your workforce today?