The Leader of a Brainstorm

A good brainstorming session has ideas flying all over the place.  Sometimes it's tough to keep up while writing gems down.  Everyone is contributing, jumping in as soon as someone else finishes, and talking as fast as possible.  Unfortunately, most sessions aren't like this.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a brainstorm session is only as good as its leader.  To help us make sure we're good leaders, the Heart of Innovation blog over at IdeaChampions lists ten traits of a good brainstorm leader.  Here are my four favorites:

Number one on their list is to be a brainstorm leader, you must be a conductor.  A lot of times there are multiple personalities and multiple disciplines in the room and you have to be able to manage the ebb and flow between them.  Not to mention keeping the whole idea-train on track.

A big part of a good brainstorm is wading through the okay ideas to get to the gems.  And even then, a leader needs to be a good gem cutter.  Even the best ideas don't emerge fully polished and ready to go.  No, they must be cut and shaped to fit exactly what is needed and what the goals are.

With all the chaos of a brainstorm, there still must be order.  It's your job as officer of the law – or as I call it: sergeant-at-arms - to keep the peace.  This could be as easy as being a traffic cop for whose turn it is to speak, or even stepping in to halt an argument of opposing ideas.

Number four is important - even if it's last on the Idea Champions list.  You have to be a stand-up comic of sorts when leading a brainstorm.  When people share their ideas, even ones they just came up with, they invest parts of themselves.  Egos can be bruised, feelings hurt, and tempers flared.  But that's where humor comes in.  You can defuse tense situations and keep things light - and moving - with a little humor here and there.

Those are my four favorites of Idea Champion's list of ten.  Head over there and check out their list then come back here and leave a comment with your favorites and any other roles you know of necessary to lead a good brainstorming session.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Just One

I came across a short post on the SAMBA blog.  It's so short I'll put it here in full:

What if you only had one customer?
How closely would you listen to them?
How fast would you respond to them?
Would they be satisfied?  Happy?  Thrilled?
How special would they feel?
Would they recommend you?

My first reaction was this one customer would be the most important person in my world.  They would have to be – which I think is SAMBA's point.  So what about all of your customers… if you asked these questions about them individually, what would the answers be like?

In most cases, it's probably impossible to engineer your business to run and respond as if each customer was your only customer.  However, what can you do to make each customer feel like they are the only one?

I don't know about you, but I enjoy reading stories about companies doing innovative and creative things to impress or endear their customers.  Southwest Airlines has always done some crazy - and great - things for their customers.)  So what are your stories?  How do you "go above and beyond"?  Put them in the comments section.
Can't wait to read 'em!

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Here's Your Change

Bill Sifflard has made a great point about customer relations… three of them in fact.  He points out that employees - no matter what size the company - have three places while dealing with customers where they can  increase goodwill, loyalty, and even sales.  Those points are the greeting, the follow-up, and the close.  

Using Sifflard's examples, they are "Next," "Anything else," and "Here's your change."

How often have you heard any or all of those phrases?  You probably don't even notice them anymore, except perhaps when they aren't used.  For example, how do you feel when a cashier says something different, like, "Hey, did you find everything you wanted?!"  Much better - I would think - than "Next."

How do you think sales would go in a store that got its employees to up-sell, or suggest compatible products with every item a customer wanted to buy?  How often do you think customers would return to a store that went out of its way to make them feel welcome when they arrived, and appreciated when they left?

Get some friends to walk into your store anonymously to find out what kind of experience your customers have.  Don't be too hard on your employees if they aren't making the most of the customer relationship opportunities.  Instead, bring it to their attention and talk about it.  Let them know why it's important and how sales are affected.  Then brainstorm together on possible things they can say.

Give them a chance to see the benefits of simple phrase and attitude changes.  They, and your customers, should be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

How To Get In Touch With Us

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We know choosing a conferencing service seem complicated, especially if you're not sure how you will be utilizing it down the road. For now, we'll be happy to put together a custom solution for your next teleconference and to get you our best prices on upcoming conferences that you're planning. We're always available, whenever you need us. Check out our contact information here.

Our web site and blog are full of resources and information to help you host and launch a successful teleconference, either as a one-time deal or as an ongoing event.
We've set up our web site and blog to provide you with information that will help you run a successful teleconference. We seek to offer the best business communications information that we can find. We also are always developing new products and services to complement our already strong line-up of teleconference offerings, so even if you don't see what you're looking for, please just call or email us. We specialize in teleconferencing. We also don't scare easily.

We have several white papers and ebooks to help you see the Accuconference difference and to learn more about our services.
We've put together some white papers and ebooks to help answer any additional questions you may have about our approach and reliability. Feel free to download as many of these resources as you need. If you have any queries you'd like to direct to one of our customer service representatives, please feel free to give us a call or email.

Above all, we'd like to help you with any teleconferencing needs that you may have, without pressure, without intense sales tactics. Let us know how we can serve you.

Picking the Right Conference Call Service

As more and more companies choose to do business utilizing conference calling, the question is often asked of us: How do I know exactly what kind of conferencing tools I'll need?

We feel that when you choose a conference call service, you should keep in mind future conferencing needs, even if you're sure now you'll never need anything that fancy later on. We always encourage folks to keep their options open.

Accuconference offers a wide range of conferencing tools, some of them you definitely need now and some you don't. However, adding the ability to share applications later is always an option, so no worries.

I just want to host a straightforward conference call.

A simple conference call among a smaller group (less than fifty) will require a conference line, invitations, and a date that works for everyone taking part in the meeting. Check it out.

What if I want to add a PowerPoint presentation?

Web conferencing allows you to share, review and revise documents or web pages, demo products or present a proposal—all in real-time, sharing the same screen space. Look here.

How about video? I really think it's important that people can see me as I speak.

Video conferencing will never replace the in-person meeting, but it will support your business meetings by providing you with unique ways to interact. The online collaborative tools can enhance a meeting in ways that can't be done in person. Find out more here.

Plus, Accuconference offers recording playback at your convenience, secure conference controls right from your computer desktop, and toll-free customer support for any questions you may have. A full list of our customer benefits is here.

Often people aren't sure about teleconferencing because they're nervous about learning how teleconferences work, not sure if everything will run smoothly at the right moment, and general nervousness about having to speak with a group via the telephone.

We can't help you with your nerves (talking on the phone in a teleconference will get easier over time, we promise), but we can promise a stress-free, easy to use experience when you choose our teleconferencing system. Our rates are reasonable and well-priced when compared with other conferencing services, and we offer outstanding customer service. And I mean outstanding. Our customer service specialists will and often do bend over backward to help our clients with any issue.

Still not sure about conferencing even after that amazing list of benefits?

If you have any questions or want more information on how Accuconference can help you with your teleconferencing needs, please let us know.

Business Communications Across Generations

For employees who are Gen Y and Gen X, instant messaging (IM) is a no-brainer. They come into work and log in, using IM to contact fellow employees and others throughout the workday. No problem, right?

For the older generation of Baby Boomers, IM is a problem. It's not how they want to communicate with their colleagues or their peers. They prefer email, the phone, and face-to-face communication. So they choose not to log in to IM first thing on a workday morning.

It may not seem like a big deal, but for companies who rely on all employees to communicate effectively with each other, a little thing like not using the same tools can escalate into something more menacing. What kind of alternate communication channels should be encouraged? How does a company facilitate failing communication between two very different generations of workers?

1. Recognize the needs of each generation and keep everyone focused on the work to be done. Each generation has a way they prefer to work, as we've seen, Gen X and Y adore IM and social media, whereas Baby Boomers prefer more of a personal approach (phone, email, face-to-face), so can't the work get done by utilizing all of these communication channels? Have a face-to-face meeting at first, move to email and IM later, and then end the project with another face-to-face meeting is just one suggestion. Make it work!

2. Utilize each generation's disparate approach to problem solving so that everyone feels as if they play a valuable role. The face-to-face approach helps Baby Boomers feel that they are bringing their experience forward, whereas IM and social media helps Gen Y do research they need to find that same information. Both generations can provide the experience and research, it just takes a well-structured environment to bring it out.

3. Think through each generation's work concerns and figure out how to create forward motion together. While Baby Boomers want stability (and thus often attempt to control a project by their experience and "that's how we've always done it" approach), Gen Y wants to move forward with their careers by thinking outside the box. How a company melds those two concerns and moves forward is a matter of leadership. A manager who sees both sides, and welcomes all viewpoints and concerns will not bend to either side in finding a solution.

4. Above all, each generation wants respect in some way. The best way to give it to them, is to explain that everyone's approach requires some give and take. If Gen Y will let the Baby Boomers have their face-to-face meeting, perhaps the Baby Boomers can attempt to sign in to IM each morning and make their vast experience and expertise available to those who seek it.

All in all, the generation gap requires a strong management role that won't be influenced for or against any communication approach. That's the main challenge of business communications during this time.

Are You Too Negative?

As a boss, is it hard for you to hear other opinions? Is it too difficult for you to accept suggestions from other people, especially your employees? When a client suggests you make a change in your operations or policies, do you instantly discard the idea?

What follows are some tips for becoming a more positive, interactive communicator.

1. Stop yourself before you go rogue negative. An instant reaction just is not worth it. Think before you instantly discard anyone else's feedback or ideas. When you stop to consider and think about your reaction, people will appreciate you taking them seriously.

2. Realize that people do want you to succeed. If people are giving you suggestions for improvements for your company, better policies, or streamlining day-to-day processes, recognize that they have your best interest at heart. Sure, some folks can be snarky and demeaning, but for the most part if someone brings it up, they're trying to help you.

3. Be open to off-the-wall ideas. Some of the best ideas coming your way might appear to be lame and genuinely ill formed, but before you quickly and instantly reject them, consider how you might refashion some of these ideas into workable solutions. Be open to fresh, unconventional ideas always.

4. Don't forsake your gut. Don't take on suggestions willy-nilly without really understanding why and how they will be implemented. If you have a check about a certain idea, you are the boss. Your job is not only to act on good advice, but also to ignore and refuse to act on bad advice. Simply listening to a plethora of ideas does not mean you have to take action on every single one. Chances are you'll only actually entertain about 10% of the ideas you hear. That's a healthy percentage.

5. Confirm with trusted confidants. Your board of directors or trusted group of likeminded business owners can help you weed out the good from the bad. If it's a truly good idea, others will think so, and they will bring up every aspect they can in order to help you decide. A trusted group of advisors can see right through the scams of the amateur; they can also know when to take that amateur idea and make it go pro!

All in all, thinking about your response and allowing yourself to be open to communication tactics and ideas you might not have otherwise entertained may not be something you've ever considered before. Maybe now is a good time.

How to Crush Creativity

In some companies -- especially large ones – creativity is expected and encouraged only by those paid to be creative.  The rest of the employees are expected to follow policies and procedures, keep quiet, and do what their told.  Of course it's never expressed like that, but the end results are the same.

But where do good ideas come from?  Where is the next gem that will send sales skyrocketing?  A spark of creativity can hit anyone at anytime.  When that does happen, it's best to support both the idea and the person.  Richard Highsmith of BusinessKnowHow writes some tips on how to NOT encourage creativity in the workplace.

First, remember that a man is an island.  Your employees get a paycheck and should be grateful for this.  Any ideas they have were probably inspired by your greatness and are therefore yours.  Plus, you're insulating them from upper management and office politics.

Of course, who are they to suggest anything anyway?  You know best about your company and department.  Only you can see the forest because they are all pruning trees.  Because of this, make sure you tell them your (better) opinions often.  How else will they know what's going on.

By just reading the title of this post I'm sure you realized that I don't really want to encourage the crushing of creativity.  However, I'm sorry to say the above examples aren't made up.  If avoiding these examples are ways to have more creativity in the workplace, what are some proactive things you can do?

Well, realize that other people can have good ideas, no matter their station in life.  If you can't be congratulated for coming up with something creative, at least you can be known as having the foresight, intuition, and humbleness to be able to spot and implement someone else's good idea.

But you can't spot what isn't there, so ask people their opinions about problems.  Have meetings to let anyone throw any idea out there.  Let people know that their thoughts are welcome, appreciated, and most importantly, listened to.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Reading Without Words

Whenever we talk to someone, we don't so much pay attention to what they say as how they say it.  As it's been said before, 70% of communication is done through body language.  So, it would seem to be important to understand what the body is saying, especially in business.

Body Language

In his post on SalesGuru, John Boe begins with a great example of the power of body language using the Nixon vs. Kennedy election.  Right after their pivotal debate, opinion polls reported voters watching on TV felt Kennedy had won, while radio listeners were sure that Nixon was victorious.  What it came down to - for the TV viewers at least - was that Kennedy looked more presidential.

It is with this in mind that we look at business communication.  What is your customer telling you verbally that their body suggests otherwise?  What signals are sent that a co-worker is unhappy, in disagreement, or upset with a project or policy?  More importantly, if you could know all of these things all the time, how better would you communicate?

Boe's blog post is mainly geared for sales, but his points can be used for negotiations as well.  "Mirroring" is one such tactic.  This is where you mimic the other person's subconscious body language and it sends the signal to them - again subconsciously - that you like and agree with them.

These signals and tactics aren't for face-to-face communication only.  They can be invaluable during a video conference as well.  In fact, the signals may even be easier to spot.  Most people on a video conference tend to make sure they are clearly visible and close enough to the camera to be seen well. 

This makes it easier to spot someone touching their ear or scratching their nose.  And when they cross their arms, it's like a billboard saying, "I'm against this."  If you become good at reading body language, video conferences may be your preferred method of meeting.

At the end of Boe's post is a quiz about reading body language which I highly recommend to you.  For example, what would you answer to this question:

1. What emotion is associated with the "palm to chest" gesture?

A. Superiority
B. Critical judgment
C. Sincerity
D. Confidence

Go on, give the quiz a shot then see how many body language indicators you see in a day.  Good luck!

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

3 Meeting Tips for Leaders

A meeting is a time to show what kind of leader you are.  Yes, it's also a time to gain or share information, but it can be one of the few times that employees get to see their boss at the helm.  How you run your meetings will tell a lot to your employees about you and the state of the company.

John Baldoni of the Harvard Business Press wrote about leaders and meetings in a recent blog post, "Now more than ever, senior leaders need to be seen and especially heard by the people who are counting on them for direction and focus." 

Meetings are times when you can be visible and proactive, so use them to inspire your employees.  Here are three meeting tips Baldoni gave us to help leaders run a solid and energizing meeting

1.  Be Focused – It's sometimes easy to get distracted or off on a tangent during a meeting, but this isn't strong leadership.  Have an agenda, stay on task, and schedule tangents for another time.  To quote Baldoni again, "Executives need to demonstrate their knowledge of the situation as well as their command of the situation."

2.  Tell Stories – This piece of advice is invaluable.  A lot of information is thrown around during a meeting, and often even copious notes don't catch it all.  And if you record your conference calls or web conferencing, you still have to remember what the webinar was about.  Figure out what your main point of the meeting is and tell a story about it.  A story will make it memorable, long after the notes are gone.

3.  Hear from the Field – A good leader knows they cannot do everything themselves, but must delegate.  It can be the same during a meeting.  You don't have to stand in front of everyone for an hour to be seen as a leader.  Instead, let people report about their departments, tell what they've accomplished, or voice their ideas or concerns.  You and everyone else can learn from these people, and perhaps be inspired by them.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist