Hey Look – You're Special … No, You're Not Maranda Gibson

In marketing, junk mail is one of those things that will always come across your desk. There's nothing you can do about it. Your name is on stuff and companies are constantly sending out mailers and letters to increase their business. It's always a "free" or "discounted" offer and I can understand that it's an effective form of marketing. The problem? What about when you already do business with the company that mass mailed you?

I'll give you a scenario:  I had a brief conversation with my boss about an advertisement letter we received from a company we work with and how the signature at the bottom was printed out to look like the persons real handwriting. The discussion was mainly about how the signature at the bottom was purely pointless, since all personal relationship to the "special" offer was now dead in the water. Our company is not special, you just sent me a mass mailer, trying to make it look like we were important to you, but we're not. Further dissection of the ad in question found that the letter was addressed to "Marketing Manager" and was also available for "any other website run by our company".

What? I thought this was a special offer you extended just for me.

There is also no phone number on the mailer, and I highly suspect that the name of the person would not be able to assist me directly.

What's the point in taking all of that time to "look" real if it's not real? This company in the end, in making us try to feel special, only made us feel like another face in the crowd and made a dent in any kind of relationship they could have established.

I think if a company is going to send out a mass mailer there's a couple of things it should do:

  • If you're going to list a name on the mailer, make sure it's someone that would be able to help a potential client directly.
  • Always include a phone number in case more information is needed by your client.
  • Don't bother with the "printed" signature. If you are going to sign a letter, sign it, otherwise don't even put it on the mailer.

To me, anything else is a little bit insulting and doesn't make me want to jump and do business with the company. I would have preferred a generic letter rather than something that was trying to fool me. What do you think? Can a mass mailer have a personal touch or is a mass mailer out of luck no matter what?

Easing Change Maranda Gibson

Change happens.  Sometimes it happens for a bad idea, and other times a new leader just wants to make their mark.  Sometimes necessary change for the better happens, but even then, if done improperly, the effects can be bad anyway.  Extensive planning and research help to ensure good and effective change.  Conference calls can do some good too.

A large cause of failure during times of change is self-fulfilling doom prophecies brought on by worry.  And worry happens when there is a lack of communication, or distrust.  Good communication then, can be our best ally in pulling off a change.

Of course, it's difficult to keep everyone in the loop by normal means, but what about using a conference call recording?  When top management meets to discuss the change, do it on a conference call.  Afterwards, we allow our employees to do dial-in playback to listen to the discussion.  We can also download the recording--edit it for any sensitive information—then email it, or put it in the company network.

That lets the employees know what's going on, but sometimes they need to hear it directly from us.  Instead of cramming everyone into a room, we can send out an email announcing a video conference.  It's probably not feasible for everyone to show their face, but everyone can see us on their computer—wherever they are in the world—and listen to us in the conference call as well.

More information is better than less in these types of situations.  So we can augment our video conference with a web conference.  We present a PowerPoint presentation that details where we are at now, where we want to be, and how we're going to get there.  This can go a long way in getting everyone up to speed.  A web conference also allows us to show pictures, videos, websites, graphs, spreadsheets… pretty much anything we need to allay fear and worry.

How does your company handle change, both good and bad?  Have you ever used teleconferences for smoother transitions?  Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Making the Main Event George Page

The hardest part of putting on a big event isn't getting it to start on time, or breaking the ice.  In fact, it isn't even during the event itself.  The hardest part is all the days, weeks, and months before "showtime," when all the planning and preparation occurs.  Here's a few ways that teleconferences can improve your main event by making the before-hand easier.

1.  Planning Sessions – The bigger the event, the more planning it needs.  And sometimes, the big planning meeting can be as complex as the big event.  By using conference calls instead of "getting everyone together," you can fit planning into more people's schedules, and be able to meet more often.  As an added bonus, the conference call recording can be made available for playback in case anyone missed a vital part of the plan.

2.  Juggling Collaboration – Events are a composite of the services of many different groups of people.  For example, the caterer, the band, and the valet company--to name a few--need to be on the same page, especially if there is a central theme.  A good way to convey that theme is to have the key players join your web conference.  You can go over scheduling and such, but you can also share pictures, videos, designs; anything to give them a good idea of the grand motif so that they can play their parts better.

3.  Guest Management – I just received and accepted a party evite.  It told me the directions, time and date, and costume theme; everything I needed to know.  For a much bigger event, there will probably be a need for something more.  If you have guest registration, why not give them a conference call code after they fill in their information.  When they dial-in, they can hear a recording that plays a message from you telling them thanks, what to expect, details of the event, and whatever else you think they'll need.

The key to planning, preparing, and organizing a big event is communication.  It helps keep things smooth and efficient, not to mention getting things finished long before the eleventh hour.  Have you tried using teleconferences to get ready for a big event?  Tell us about it.

The Middle of the Night Idea : Make It Work Maranda Gibson

It's happened to everyone. You're sitting at your desk, lying on the couch, or even trying to fall asleep when an idea jumps into your head. You hastily reach for pen and paper to jot down this wonderful idea so that it can be remembered and cultivated the next day. You jot down something like “tethered picture” or “life path” or some other random combination of letters and when you get into the office the next day, all you can do is scratch your head and wonder what you meant.


It might come back to you, it might not, but if it doesn't, don't trash the idea.  Maybe your brain just needs a little coaxing to bring it back to the surface. It could be the greatest idea in the history of your company, it could be the cure for cancer, who knows, but don't trash it just yet.

Here is a suggestion: it's the perfect time for an impromptu conference call.

Send out an email to your co-workers, asking if they have a moment free to dial into a conference call for brainstorming.  Tell them the story of how the seeds of a wonderful idea were planted in the middle of the night and now you just need a little water to help it grow (remember humor is a great ice breaker!). If you are looking for an outside opinion, use your social network to get some feedback from the people who might end up using your product. Send out a tweet or a message to your Facebook friends and ask them to DM you or send you a message if they would like to help you brainstorm. Since these are often the people using or interested in your product, surely they would like to be a part of a new idea you've had.

Getting others on the conference call can not only help jog your memory, but can also be the key to another great idea looming around the corner.

Do you reach out to your community of friends, followers, and co-workers to help you build on, brainstorm, or remember a great idea? Why or why not?

Make Strong Statements Maranda Gibson

SurprisedWhen we're leading a conference call, the only way to convey information to our participants is through our voice and tone of voice--and in a limited timeframe at that.  That's why I'd like to share some strong statements; powerful phrases that convey much more than most other two to ten word combinations.

I remember the first time a boss made a strong statement to me.  I was fifteen and working my first job in a retail store in the mall.  I had asked my seemingly omniscient boss what I thought was a very important question—ah, youth.  He thought for a moment, looked me right in the eyes, and said,

"I don't know."

I didn't think about it at the time, and I only remember the experience now because of a post on the Eloquent Woman blog about six strong statements.  It was a simple answer to a naïve question, yet those three words shocked me.  Because of what I read in the blog post, I understand now that my reaction was elevated to fit this person's elevated status, (elevated to me anyway).

"I don't know" is especially strong in a superior because it reveals their honesty and humility.  The other statement in the Eloquent Woman's list that scales with rank or importance is "I'd like to hear what you have to say."

The six statements are:

I don't know.
I disagree.
I agree.
I'm surprised.
I'm sorry.
I'd like to hear what you have to say.

Of the six, the strong statement that surprised me by its inclusion was—ironically—"I'm surprised."  I wouldn't have thought of that as being strong, and as phrases go, it really isn't.  What does make it strong is how surprises in general make people sit up and take notice.  As in:

  • Something surprising is usually interesting
  • Would I be surprised as well?
  • Birthday surprise
  • Meatloaf surprise

Surprises are different from the other life experiences; they're unique.  Well, I suppose they'd have to be.  Otherwise they wouldn't be surprises, right?

I agree with this list of strong statements, especially for conference calls when you have to convey a lot in a short amount of time.

Which one do you like best?

Funny People Maranda Gibson

It can be difficult to put yourself front-and-center of a presentation or meeting. Who hasn't had a completely valid question in the middle of a meeting, but ended up asking it later to avoid some sort of strange social embarrassment? 

Breaking the ice can be hard. There's a chance you have never spoken to any of the people on the conference before, and you don't really know where to begin. I've heard the phrase "Open with a joke" before, but I never really considered it.

Humor can lighten the mood and diffuse tension in the room. Because laughter really does improve your health, you'll boost everyone's endorphins by cracking a well-placed joke. Anytime you're going to use humor you should follow a couple of simple rules.

Be sure that your joke is relevant to the topic.  Not only do you want it to get everyone to loosen up a little, but you also want it to be a good opener to the subject you are discussing. Don't forget that you're still in a business setting. This brings me to my next tip. Make sure that your joke is not offensive to anyone. Sticking to a nice generic joke (or even something you come up with on your own) is a safe bet. Run it by someone.

Do you use humor in your conferences? If you do, what made you come to the decision and how do you determine what's a good ice breaker?

The First Step Maranda Gibson

Last month, I talked about Acronym Rehab and the representation that their repeated use can create. As a speaker, sales person, or presenter the use of these can cause confusion or a less professional appearance.  What other communication roadblocks can be created by the use of these in every day conversation?  As I've said before, it's one thing to text your son "k" or "btw" about something going on in your personal life, but it's another to send that sort of message to a customer or employer.

When it creeps into face to face conversation out of sheer habit, you may not realize it but it slows everything down, even if it is just for a few seconds.  When you speak to someone else, the brain is processing everything that is being said. Much like a computer, when you open an application, your brain has to find the information, open up the file, and execute it. The same general process occurs when you're communicating with someone.

If you're being spoken too and you're getting a lot of ABC's and XYZ's, it's going to slow down the time that it takes for your brain to process the meaning of what the other person is saying. Your brain has to break down and define the acronym, reset it into the sentence, and then process it. When you have a lot of extra information, it clogs your brain. The problem with this? The brain can't process quickly and what someone is trying to say to you is lost and by the time you decode the message, you might not remember what the point of it was the first time.

Cutting out the extra information in conversations will not only save you time, it might save you from having to start at the beginning and go through it again. 

What do you think? Does the use of three letter acronyms slow us down or speed it up? Are you ready to admit you have a problem and start to remove them from your face to face conversation?

Are You Listening? Maranda Gibson

We are a culture of multi-taskers, a society that proudly admits we can text and walk at the same time, and believe that driving with our knees while shoving a cheeseburger in our face is okay. When it comes to having a conversation with someone, it can be a drag if you are speaking, but they aren’t hearing you. I know lots of people who seem to think that being able to repeat back what you said to them means that they were listening, even if they are doing other things at the same time. Your ears are open to what information is being delivered, but are you engaged in the conversation?

If your customer makes a suggestion do you consider it and take it into account? Maybe it’s not just the request of one person—maybe it’s a change that will benefit all of your clients. It makes me think: Are you listening to your customers?

Sure, we can hear them, but are we taking it all in and giving that customer the time they deserve? If you’re on the phone with a client, is that your main focus or are you doing other things, like checking your email or texting your brother back about dinner plans?  Yes, multitasking is a great skill and is very beneficial to productive business practices, but there’s a point where it starts to take away from what should be your main focus—your customers.

Where do you draw the line between multitasking and "just listening"?

Comment your thoughts here and let’s figure out a good place to draw the line.

Power of Instant Feedback Maranda Gibson

Sometimes, the hardest part of a presentation is getting feedback.  So much time and energy is spent preparing for your conferences and presentations. You know your slides backwards and forward, you've done a mock presentation, revised, and practiced again. When it's all over and your conference is just a memory, you now have to sit back and wait to find out what people thought.

Sure, requesting an online survey after the conference is over is a great way to get feedback. There are a few snags to getting feedback this way.  Your audience is busy and while they fully intend on giving feedback for your presentation, it might take them time to be able to submit their thoughts. It could be days or even weeks after your conference is over and you want to get feedback while things are still fresh.

Have you given any thought to asking for feedback while the conference is in live?  Most web conference applications provide a way for you to ask for feedback through polls and allow asking more than one question.  You can update your poll from "How do you feel about…" to "What is a subject you would like to see more about" with a couple of key strokes and you can get feedback instantly. There's no waiting, all the information is still fresh, and the web conference tool will store your poll results as well, so you can go back and look up to see the results later on.

How important is instant feedback when you're having a conference? Do you want to know right away the things that need to be adjusted or corrected, or are you more of the kind of person who prefers to wait until after you're done to get feedback so as not to have any distractions when you present?

Cop Shows and Conferencing Maranda Gibson


The FBI agent walks quickly into the state-of-the-art offices that the team shares.  She finds the team leader standing near the entrance looking at a report.  "Sir, I've just come from the crime scene across town.  It looks like the cousin of the deceased has something to do with all this."  To which the team leader replies, "Good, head over there to talk to him."

Wow, that's a lot of travel and wasted time for what should have been a short phone call.  I've seen this happen on many of my favorite shows, but it seems like with police dramas in general--and the FBI/Mathematician show ‘Numbers' specifically--nothing is better than a photogenic group meeting, and cell phones always seem to be a last resort.

The truth is that on TV you've got to put your actors in the same room as much as possible to really get the most bang for the studio's buck—and to get the best ratings.  Though in reality, but just as true, we tend to call from the parking lot rather than go back inside and down the hall to ask someone a question; regardless of how cool the shot would look on TV.

I'd imagine that many more serial killers, kidnappers, and terrorists on TV would be caught faster if the police and FBI characters were allowed gratuitous use of teleconferencing.

So my question is how often do we do "something for the camera" rather than in a more efficient way?  Some examples of what I mean include postponing a meeting until someone returns from out of town, driving often and far for meetings, and typing long memos for the office (on TV, almost no one uses their mouse because it's not as interesting as a bout of serious typing!).

It's probably good then to ask yourself occasionally if what you're about to do is "for the cameras" or not.  Use that cell phone.  Start that conference call.  Communicate and collaborate now, rather than wait.  That is, if the goal is swift, efficient communication, and not an Emmy.

I've seen sparse and limited use of video conferencing on TV—which looks very cool to viewers on any show—but I've never seen a 30 person audio conference.  Have you?  If you have, leave a comment and tell me what show it was, which season, and even what episode if you remember.

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