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Oct
23
2008
Micro Communications Maranda Gibson

For those of you who don't know, Twitter is a cross between a blog, RSS feed, and stream of consciousness. Basically, you post very short messages about where you are, what you're doing, and what you're thinking. Your "followers" read what's going on about you, and you can read what others are up to. It's like a conference call that's always running in the background; you can hear other's comments and reply if you wish. The beauty of Twitter, what sets it apart, is the quick bursts of information that somewhat replaces emails or blog entries.

In an article on Businessweek, there is a debate on the beneficial nature of Twitter in business. On the con side, personal interactions suffer the most from this instant communication. The example given is a lunch meeting. If you are twittering about your lunch, while you are at lunch with someone, then you are basically having lunch alone. If at a business conference, why worry about updating your followers, when there are live people in front of you with which to interact with.

The pro arguments seem to embrace the intended nature of Twitter. It is highly useful as an information source. For example, if you twitter that you are looking for a better chair, anyone following you can instantly reply with good suggestions. These suggestions would probably never come up in normal conversation. At the business convention, a Twitter search allows you to see which other Twitters are there, facilitating networking. For a company, Twitter is another way to connect with customers and potential customers, much like what is done through a blog. For example, check out the AccuConference Twitter!

Both sides have great arguments, but the answer lies in not black or white, but grey. Using Twitter to get closer to people is a great idea, but have some common sense. Eat your lunch; don't twitter it!

Oct
09
2008
How to Better Manage Your Writing Part 2 Maranda Gibson

Engy

So previously we talked about how to approach a writing assignment. Our overall goal is to better manage your writing time effectively (and to better manage the anxiety that comes from writing).

Now that we've got a "quick and dirty draft," and we've taken a break (hopefully long enough to get some distance, but not too long so that we have to remember what we were writing), we'll venture onto revising. Kenneth W. Davis writes that the first part of writing is to "remind yourself that you're a writer, that writing can be managed, and that it's largely a matter of managing time." Thus, our first step in part 2 is reminding ourselves of just that.

1. Remind yourself again what you're writing and who you're writing to. A quick perusal of your key goals and your key points is helpful as you return from your break to revise your first effort. Just scan your collected information quickly and then turn to that first draft.

2. Davis calls it "locating your turns." This is a term used to describe the idea of finding your opening, your middle, and your end. Or, your introduction, your points, and your summary. Jot a few ideas down on a separate piece of paper. Just 1,2,3 in a row: this is the problem I see, this is my solution, and this is what I think our next action should be. Or when crafting policy: this is our company's standard, this is what's allowed and not allowed, and these are the results if that policy is not followed. See what I mean? Keep it clear in your head right now.

3. Now, let's read that first draft. Just go slow and circle what you like—a sentence or two where you made a good point, an opening line you like, even a paragraph that looks okay. Now put question marks by places that you may have drifted off-point (don't worry, we all do it). Set that paper aside. Now take your list of three items (intro, points, summary page or whatever) and compare. Did you make room for each of these points? Did you stick to these three core issues? If not, that's the extra that needs to come out. Go ahead and cross out the parts that don't belong.

4. Revision. I have a surprise for you. You've been revising already. Even before you knew you were. Cool, right? We're now going to either start on a fresh page or computer screen with only the parts of your first draft that you need to keep. All extraneous material should be long gone. Now, you can go in and add sentences. Just here and there. That first part may need two more facts. Add them. That summary paragraph needs to mention this one thing. Put it in. See what I mean?

5. Run a spell check now. Then print off a copy and read it aloud, pencil or pen handy. Once you've caught all the errors, hand it off to a colleague or an assistant to review. Input any feedback they find and then, close your office door (if you've got one), sit down, and think about what you just wrote. Evaluate it in your mind or evaluate it on the page. Is this what you wanted (and needed) to write? Does it make the points you wanted to make? Do you think there's anything else you would like to add?

Voila. That's a pared-down ten-step process to managing your writing. Wasn't that hard, was it? Was it easier? I hope so.

Oct
06
2008
How to Better Manage Your Writing Part 1 Maranda Gibson

Probably the most hated task of all when running a business: learning to write effectively to your employees and to your clients/customers. People dread it, they postpone it, they don't do it. So how can you, a busy executive, learn to manage your writing so that it gets done?

Read on.

1. Relax. Writing is not rocket science and it really won't hurt. If you can hush your inner critic (sometimes just saying the word "hush" to yourself works) and focus on the accomplishment you want to make with this piece of writing, that's the first step.

2. Spotlight who you're writing to. Is this a memo for your employees? Is this a marketing message for your clients? Is this a policy piece about employee dress codes? Make sure you narrow it down. If you're trying to write all of these at once, stop, jot notes on each topic, and then focus on one piece at a time.

3. Gather your information. What is the new employee dress code? Did you and your HR director hammer out those specifics? Make sure you have that nearby as you write. If you're offering a discount to your clients this month, brainstorm a bit—how will that discount help them be successful? If you need to write a state of the company address, highlight several successes from the past year and have them handy.

4. Write a "quick and dirty draft" without any editing or hand-wringing. Don't doubt your words or sit and wonder if you need a comma there or not. Just free-write, let it out, empty your head of everything you have a need to say. Quickly. It is messy, unkempt, and hopeless, but you have got to get it out of your head.

5. Now take a break. Walk away, do something else, let yourself eat cookies, whatever. Become the executive again, ignore the writing, and put it in a file folder, out of sight. Make a few calls, sell some services or products, whatever you do best, fill up your "feel-good" tank. And pat yourself on the back. You just wrote something. True, it's not done, it's a mess, and you have no idea if your staff really needs to know about your toothache, but for now, it's on a page and out of your head. Don't you feel better?

Next up, we'll do a revise and then step back and take stock on creating a process for the next writing project and the next and the next. You're well on your way!

Oct
03
2008
5 Tips to Improve Presentation Communication Maranda Gibson

When it comes to communicating through a webinar, it's important to remember that when one of your senses is numbed, the others become more aware. When you can't see someone's face while they are speaking, your body's natural inclination is that the other senses become more heightened and aware. So when you take away the face to face aspect of things, your brain begins to attach more to what is being said rather than just how you look.

So when it comes to presentations where people can only hear your voice and see a carefully crafted slide presentation, what are some things that you can do to ensure that your communication skills (and not just your keen knack for slide design) are noticed? Preparation is the heart and soul of any good presentation. Here are some helpful hints that will help create long lasting presentations that are not only informative but can help you keep your participants' attention.

  1. Anticipate Questions:The core of any good communicator is to provide information with a confident voice. There is no crystal ball that's going to tell you what your participants might ask, but you can anticipate certain questions. For example, if you're hosting a call regarding revenue growth or decline, it's a pretty good guess that someone might ask about numbers for a particular location. Have those numbers ready on a print out or up on the computer so that you don't have to keep that question on hold. Being prepared is the cornerstone of a good presentation.
  2. Brainstorm:Brainstorming is pivotal to any presentation, and building slides should not be the only brainstorming process. When you use the slides to brainstorm your ideas, the presentation often comes out looking messy or disorganized. Grab a legal pad and take notes. Define who your audience is, what idea are you trying to convey with this conference, and so forth. Get that down on paper and it will help to keep your flow moving smoothly and will allow you to have a confident and organized presentation.
  3. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse.According to Nancy Duarte, author of slide:ology: The Art of Science Creating Great Presentations, this is key to any good presentation. You should always rehearse in front of a group that is familiar with the content as well as a group that is not. The reason for this is that the group who is unfamiliar with the presentation content is going to be more likely to pick up on any confusing phrases or terminology. The group who works with the content of the presentation is going to understand everything you are saying, so they are more likely to pick up on errors in the slide presentation itself, rather than the content. Always ask for feedback and find out what people were connecting with, ask what was easy to understand, what wasn't, and make sure those responses are turned to your audience. Nancy says "rehearse until you've NAILED it".
  4. Group presentations should be group developmentsGuest speakers and different departmental members can be valued contributors to any conference. When inviting other people to present on a conference it's important that everyone has a couple of brainstorming sessions together. It helps the flow of ideas moving smoothly. If everyone can put their opinions on how the presentation should move and change, then it will not only sound better, but it will look better too. Color schemes on the slide shows should be the same with each speaker. By doing this, you will ensure that your presentation looks uniform and professional.
  5. Slide text should only be used to keep everyone on task and not as a script.
    Presenters should never read verbatim from slide text. Not only would it look as though you were unprepared, it would be boring. No one wants to just be droned on to from direct readings on a page or slide. The text on the slides should be used more as headers, directing the participants from topic to topic. Keep your audience engaged by using the slides as the visual element of a great presentation and don’t rely on them to provide the substance.

Sep
18
2008
Forging a Powerful Team Maranda Gibson

The newest trend in team-building these days are team-building seminars, either hands-on or conference-style. Before you buy in to a spendy team-building event, why not run through a quick checklist to ensure your team will fully utilize the experience.

1. Ask your people. If you’re going to sign up all your employees or your entire department to a team-building event, ask them about the planning and design. People are really open and willing to try just about anything if given some advance warning. "Games can be trite or patronizing for many people - they want activities that will help them learn and develop in areas that interest them for life, beyond work stuff," writes Alan Chapman at BusinessBalls.com. Consider physical challenges, like an obstacle water course outdoors, or something more brainy, a complex puzzle at a science center. Or try something cultural near to your company. Your employees will guide you.

2. Consider the make-up of your team. Chapman also recommends that you track a few variables, including:

  • team mix (age, job type, department, gender, seniority, etc.)
  • team numbers (one to a hundred or more, pairs and threes, leadership issues)
  • exercise briefing and instructions – how difficult you make the task, how full the instructions and clues are
  • games or exercise duration
  • competitions and prizes
  • venue and logistics - room size and availability (for break-out sessions, etc.)
  • materials provided or available
  • stipulation of team member roles – e.g., team leader, time-keeper, scribe (note-taker), reviewer/presenter
  • scoring, and whether the exercise is part of an ongoing competition or team league"

3. Think about what you are trying to achieve. Are you hoping for improved productivity, trying to bridge differences between members, or training new members into the processes of your team? The end will guide the means, so consider carefully what you’d like to accomplish with the team-building activity.

4. Make sure the instructions for the event are clear. This includes the time, the place, the activity, how long the activity will take place, and the goal for the activity. If you can make sure every single member is aware of the details for the event, you’ll end up with a group of willing participants, and maybe even an improved team experience before the event itself.

5. Chapman also recommends that you "ensure that team-building activities and all corporate events comply with equality and discrimination policy and law in respect of gender, race, disability, age, etc."

Once you’ve worked out these issues, your team-building event, whether popular or controversial, will be a greater success and will facilitate a stronger, more cohesive team.

Sep
08
2008
Maintain Trust with Consumers While Still Getting Feedback Maranda Gibson

When registration for the National Do Not Call list was opened on July 27, 2003, the Federal Trade Commission was praised for trying to limit the amount of telemarketing and fundraising calls that consumers received.   The FTC's decision to allow consumers a way to control what comes through their phone lines has been a welcome change, since it's a service that's paid for, and why should a phone company get to sell your information out to some marketing company that wants to ask you if you've been reading magazines? They shouldn't.

Much the same is said for the ongoing battle concerning the "do not track" list. Ultimately, it works the same as the Do Not Call registry.  Instead of preventing unwanted calls, it prevents marketing and advertising firms from tracking your cookies while you browse the internet. The reason marketers do this is to streamline advertising to a more personalized client base. If someone were to spend a lot of time looking at surfboards or reading about surfing, a marketing company could assign popup ads to that specific IP address or set of cookies, to ensure that the user receives ‘special offers' from companies that provide surfing equipment and facilities. Advertisers see it as an online version of Nielsen ratings, just tracking what people are looking at the same way they follow what people are watching on TV.  Consumers see it as an invasion of privacy and that ‘big brother' is watching. The difference to consumers is that families are chosen to be Nielsen families but when cookies are tracked, there's really no way to keep someone from looking.

This puts marketing and advertising firms in a tough spot. How do they keep a trusting relationship with their consumers  without invading their privacy, while still  determining where business is being generated? Most advertising and marketing firms will run multiple types of campaigns at once -  direct mail pieces, emails, various publishing ads, and website updates. What can be done to track responses without invading customer privacy and keeping those consumers loyal?

One  solution that is growing in popularity is  assigning custom toll-free numbers to each marketing campaign. The cost of maintaining each number per month is very low and it's a great way to know which campaigns are generating the most excitement. If a firm has a magazine and an email campaign going on at the same time, then using distinguishing  toll-free numbers  is a great way to track the response from the consumers. This way the firm isn't really invading anyone's privacy or making their consumers uncomfortable, but  they are still able to track the information they need.

Not only is this a low cost option, these calls can also be recorded.  What better way to know what campaign is generating the most business AND what consumers ask about most?  By using a toll-free service that offers recording, companies can go back and revisit calls that might have had good suggestions or numerous questions to make sure that campaigns are not causing confusion. If a consumer would like to provide a testimonial for you to host on your website, they can use the toll-free recording service. The file is then provided on a customer website and available for the firm to download and move to a website.

There's always a fine line when it comes to keeping consumers and clients happy while being able to conduct your business and get feedback. Consumers don't want to feel like their privacy is invaded, but advertisers and marketing firms want to be able to gather information so they can tailor campaigns to groups of targeted consumers. Using a custom toll-free number is the perfect way to track interest while helping your consumers to feel safe and secure.

Sep
05
2008
How to Strengthen Your Business’s Social Media Platform Maranda Gibson

So how does a small business deal with their social media platform? You ventured online and tried out a few. You stuck with two: Facebook and Twitter. What do you do now?

It's truly the "Wild West of social media," and while many businesses have blogs, use Twitter to post newsy articles or to announce a play by play of their teleseminars, and have profiles and pages on Facebook (with discussion related to a recent companywide conference call), unfortunately, they're making a lot of mistakes.

Before you shrug off social media as something your business doesn't need to keep up with, think about how your business is perceived in the Web 2.0 world and how it will affect your reputation and your ability to connect with customers, associates, and potential customers. Will potential clients be impressed by a business owner who barely blogs, rarely posts to Twitter, or refuses to really use Facebook? Do you know how much you can do with Facebook for your business? Read on. It does depends on who you are attempting to reach, but if you are going to utilize social media and really make it work, your business needs to translate to the Internet very well. More than likely, your business does look better online.  All nice and shiny. How do you keep it that way?

Here's a few tips to enlarge your presence in the social media frenzy online (more particularly, Facebook and Twitter).

1. Bare bones won't fly. If you are on Facebook with little more than your name, business name, and location, people just won't care. Social media is a way to interact with others online. Add a picture of you, your team, or your company's logo, add web site urls, link your Facebook page to your blog, or start a group for your employees or clients and initiate conversations in that group. You can create a business network (a la Acme Consulting) and within your network, you can update everyone on a company conference call, or for some silly fun, you can challenge your employees to a game of PackRat (seriously, the hottest Facebook game out there).

2. Don't bore your Twitter feed to tears. Post interesting urls on news, gossip, or articles that will help your employees or clients (do they want to read about oil consumption or new cell phone gadgets?) Make sure your content fits. Announce new products or services on Twitter, or publicize a teleseminar. Don't just say how the weather looks outside, use your status to get people interested in your business.

3. Don't be afraid to start the conversation. Accept and invite friends from all over and update often, either using the status updater or by imbedding a note into your profile. Ask questions to stimulate discussion, for instance, "What was the worst experience you've ever had on a conference call?" The new comment feature on everything in the Facebook profile allows conversations that were once confined to specific sections.

4. Twitter is even easier to use to start chatting. Try following leaders and innovators in your industry and in other industries. Respond to their tweets with your own comments (@JSmith Did you see this article? and then link to the article). That will get more people coming to your Twitter feed to find out information you have that might be useful to them.

5. Above all, give new content and often. The number one mistake businesses make with social media is thinking that a static web page or Facebook profile or Twitter feed will do the trick. If you last posted six months (even three months) ago, it's time to fire up your social media engine. Go to it!

Aug
29
2008
The Facebook and Twitter Usage at Work Debate Continues George Page

Facebook | Twitter

Facebook and Twitter's impact on your job and your ability to keep it is back in the spotlight. Eweek.com reports on the ongoing argument about allowing it at work.
"Gartner analysts Anthony Bradley and Nikos Drakos say corporations should not ban social applications such as Twitter or social networks such as Facebook and MySpace in the enterprise.

"Their arguments come after banks such as Credit Suisse Group have stopped their employees from using such tools.

"Web collaboration tools are software applications that help users connect with each other to work on projects or to share information. They are key ways for users to leverage the Internet in the enterprise, allowing users to e-mail, send instant messages, set up Web conferences or create shared wiki sites.

"Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Lotus Connections are examples of these tools tailored for the enterprise. But with 90 million-plus users leveraging Facebook, businesses are increasingly looking at the social network as a business networking tool, the way professionals leverage LinkedIn.

"Partly because of this utility in the workplace, Bradley argued that organizations should not shun Web participation for fear of bad behavior.

"Instead, they should create a trust model and policies that dictate fair use of Facebook and its cousins, as well as microblogging tools such as Twitter and Plurk. This trust model would include a definition of community and its characteristics, the likelihood of positive and negative behaviors, and a framework for guiding behaviors."

The Tri-CityHerald.com talks about how a Facebook profile can either land you the job or land you in hot water.

"Want a job?

"Forget about getting together all the usual stuff. You know, that booooring list of education, references, experience, previous jobs, blah, blah, blah ....

"First, you better take a hard look at your Facebook profile.

"Scour it for ‘inappropriate' content, suggests new research published by Katherine Karl of Marshall University and Joy Peluchette of the University of Southern Indiana.

"And what exactly might that content be? Well, this won't surprise folks who are 40 or more, but it must be a revelation to many twentysomethings. Otherwise, they probably wouldn't post it for millions to see.

"Among the ‘inappropriate' materials for your Facebook page are comments about sexual activity, alcohol abuse, drug use, profanity and negative attitudes about work.

"That's according to Megan Childs, a marketing communications coordinator for IGI Global in Hershey, Pa.

"The researchers studied 148 graduate students taking human resources and organizational behavior courses. The students played the role of hiring manager and were provided access to five job applicants' Facebook profiles."

I say, let Facebook help hiring managers and for those of us who use Facebook as a professional tool, why not let us network and socialize? What do you think?

Aug
14
2008
Communication 101 Maranda Gibson

We all communicate when we are around another human being, even if no one is saying anything. Body language can speak volumes. Even the fact that a person is at a place at a particular time can say it all. What isn't intrinsically clear to a lot of people is that we don't always communicate when we speak, or at least don't communicate well. Often and most especially in arguments, people are thinking they are speaking clearly, but the other person just won't get it… or won't shut up. Obviously there is no communication happening, but there are things you can do to make it happen.

Sarah Fenson in Inc.com wrote about several tips you can do to improve your communication. One is to keep your emotions out of the conversation. Often you simply cannot hear what the other person is saying simply for your frustration with the situation, or the indignity that you feel. Another tip is to acknowledge we have personal filters that sometimes make us hear what we want to hear. Asking for clarification, or repeating back the high points are good ways to bypass the filter. Two other great tips are to look for common ground with the other person and maintain a positive outlook. Both of which will help you go far to overcome miscommunications.

Some specific tips for good communication through speaking come from Bert Webb's blog, Open Loops. There are two that especially stand out. The first, making eye contact will not only let the other person know you are paying attention, but it will also pin their attention to what you are saying. The second tip is to make sure your facial expressions, body language, and words all deliver the same message. If you are smiling while delivering bad news, the mixed message will ensure mixed-up communications.

Aug
11
2008
Taming the Business Paper Tiger Maranda Gibson

So, a business like this creates paperwork: purchase orders, receipts, pay stubs, shipping invoices, shipping bills. I hate it all. There, I said it and I'm not sorry. Some of the time, filing these papers is habitual. Some receipts go in that file and the remaining receipts go in the other file and the rest are recycled or shredded. I wish I had that kind of organization all the time. If I had my way I'd just shred it all, but my accountant would surely have something to say about that, so I will digress.

As I tackle an office reorganization (every time a product launches, I go into organizational mode), I wanted a few tips on cutting down on paper piles. I found two ideas that really worked for me. See what you think!

Take pictures (or scans) of important documents and/or business receipts on your digital camera and then download the picture into a folder, say August 2008 (all those files get backed up on a nightly basis, right?). Put them on an online backup system or an external hard drive. That's a pretty good idea, actually. You've got the receipt and you can print it if you need it. You can then shred the paper copy. Less paper! The rule of thumb is to keep all business receipts for 7 years and each year, throw out the earliest year. It will be much easier to delete a year's folder from a backup drive than to dig through a storage room to find the 2001 box next year, I say.

If you don't already, you should have an in-house folder (my title for inbox), a read and learn folder, a GTD folder, and a toolkit folder (you can name your folders what you like, I change mine every six months or so to zany names that inspire me).

  1. The in-house folder should be reviewed at least once every 24 hours and items culled from it for immediate action or that go immediately (do not pass go and collect 200 dollars) to the read and learn file or the GTD folder.
  2. The read and learn folder is material to read at a later time. There is so much of this, especially nowadays, so when it gets too full for me, I either throw it out or hand it over to the GTD file. Don't let yourself be buried by required reading that wasn't that important anyway (if it is important, put it in the Toolkit file or the GTD file).
  3. The GTD (from David Allen's Getting Things Done system) folder (actually it's a couple of banker boxes high right now) is material that you need, but want organized. I use alphabetical filing: every folder has a label and is filed alphabetically (the label maker refill companies love me!) This includes receipts, invoices, shipping bills, and so on that can just go away (I love it!). I can find it again if you need it, but it doesn't clutter up my desk.
  4. The toolkit folder should hold the items you need every single day: phone numbers, your rate sheet, your schedule, and a checklist for clients, that sort of thing. I call it a toolkit, because it is. I can't live without it. This includes my paper organizer, a few tip sheets for a couple of clients, and a weekly to-do list that really never changes. Keeps me sane!

My rule of thumb: if it isn't in one of those four categories, it's going to get shredded. August is my filing month (and not a moment too soon) and these guidelines do work. It's fun too, once you get started.

Happy paper taming!

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