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Jun
16
2008
How To Use Word More Effectively Maranda Gibson

Most people groan and complain about Word and how buggy it is and how it never does exactly what we want, when we want, and how we want.

C'mon people. Word is a powerful tool for business owners and once that power is harnessed to make your life easier, you'll be singing a different tune.

  1. Word has a spreadsheet feature built in. No need to run back out to your desktop to open a spreadsheet when with one click you can build a table right into the screen you're working on. Don't know how? Look on the menu for Table > Insert. Then choose Formula from that same menu. Voila. It's that easy.
  2. Track Changes isn't that scary. It's helpful, especially when multiple people are making changes on an important document. Just choose Tools in menu at the top of your Word screen and toggle it on. Now play with it on an old document. Delete a few words. Want to view the original text? There's a toolbar you can view (go to View > Toolbars > Reviewing) that has a dropdown menu. First choice is Final Showing Markup. But you can also view Final (which removes all the Track Changes marks), Original Showing Markup, and Original (with no Track Changes). To turn off Track Changes, toggle again in the Tools menu. Or to accept changes, make sure your Reviewing toolbar is still available and check out the buttons. Just press one! Again, play with it. You might be surprised how easy it really is.
  3. Add a custom dictionary. The Word spellchecker is worthless sometimes. It really only spellchecks certain words and for industry-specific terms, it misses them altogether (especially legal, medical/pharma, and science/tech). You can buy add-on spellchecking programs that will turn Word into a powerful editing machine. For medical, Stedman's sells a nice add on. For legal, check out Bouvier's Law Dictionary and Legal Speller, and for science/tech, try Spellex.
  4. Learn to master Word styles. It's easier than you think. For most of us users, Word applies its own formatting without being asked, which makes our blood boil. There is a way to conquer the automatic stylist in Word and to make it do what you want. For an overview (better than I could explain it), check Help > Styles and Reusing Formatting. (Also, if you go to Help > Microsoft Word Help and type in styles, you'll get more information than you need.) Once you learn a few things about styles, it's fun, very satisfying, and you'll wow clients and employers/employees.

May
22
2008
Tips on how best to run your business from home George Page

Work is work. Home is home. Running your business from home may be convenient, but you still have to keep home and work separate. Here are some tips to make this a bit easier.

  1. Find your own space. You need to have a place where the only activity permitted is work. A den, a spare room, your corner of the basement, or any place that gives you some measure of privacy, so you can do your work uninterrupted. A room with a door is best, especially when you have customer contact and conference calls.
  2. Have a business only phone line and separate office equipment. Your business shouldn't have to compete with the other activities in your household. Establish clear boundaries so that others know your priorities in these areas.
  3. Establish specific "office hours". Family and friends need to know that you may be at home, but you're still at work. Personal calls take a back seat and may be returned at a more appropriate time. You're not at home for their convenience.  This means you're not available for chores and helping with errands and other distractions.
  4. When the office is closed, leave it closed. Make an effort not to drift in and out of work once your business day has ended. The convenience of working from home means having your work available 24 hours.  Home and work both suffer when you ebb and flow between them.
  5. Don't overlook the "green" benefits of working from home. With no commutes, your stress level goes down. You're saving hundreds of hours of drive time, thousands of gallons of gas, and keeping tons of carbon from entering our atmosphere. Don't blow your good works by jetting off to meet a client. Consider a virtual meeting. The technology exists that allows you to meet with clients and coworkers without ever seeing an airport.

Running your business from home has its challenges. When considering the benefits to you, your family and the environment, the impact would seem to do us all a world of good.

May
19
2008
Out of Sight, Out of Touch? Maranda Gibson

Once the favorite alternative work option for many large companies, telecommuting was purported to be the savior of the burnt-out cubicle worker. Over the past year or so, telecommuting has received a critical eye. A series of articles from eWeek discusses the rise and fall of telecommuting.

"Only a few years since it was heralded as a newer, better way to work, studies began to emerge that put chinks in the armor of telecommuting.
Sixty-one percent of executives surveyed in January 2007 by Korn/Ferry International, a Los Angeles-based recruiting firm, said they saw career stagnancy among telecommuting workers.

Nearly half of CIOs felt that remote employees' quality of work suffered due to reduced in-person contact with colleagues, and one-third said that these employees were less productive due to a lack of supervision, in a study released last July by Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm in Menlo Park, Calif." 

But is telecommuting really all bad?

San Francisco’s Chronicle espouses the concept of telecommuting as a cure for conserving energy and reducing gasoline usage.

"An estimated 1.35 billion gallons of gasoline could be conserved annually if every U.S. worker with the ability to telecommute did so 1.6 days per week, according to a report released today by the American Electronics Association.

‘Fewer commuters on the roads means reduced fuel consumption, traffic congestion and air pollution,’ said Christopher Hansen, president of the association, the nation's largest high-tech trade group.

And, he said, 'It is a win for workers, who can reduce long commute times and strike a better life-work balance.'"

And this article from CNN points out that for a better life-work balance, 43% of working moms would jump at the chance to telecommute.

"‘More than 25 percent of working moms are dissatisfied with their work/life balance," said Mary Delaney, chief sales officer at CareerBuilder.com and mother of three. ‘As companies continue to experience a tighter labor market, the importance of retaining star employees is requiring them to implement benefits that actually encourage workers to improve the balance between their professional and family lives. From flexible work schedules to job sharing to telecommuting, company-wide work/life initiatives are becoming much more universal.’"

As gas prices increase this year, perhaps companies should endeavor to make telecommuting more effective: encouraging in-house workers to coordinate more fully with telecommuting staff, pursuing online collaboration that encourages teamwork, and rewarding loyal and productive clients with a flexible work schedule.

May
16
2008
The Lost Art of Thank You Maranda Gibson

Lost Art of Thank YouFew things are as powerful or as simple as saying thank you. Looking someone in the eye, a genuine smile, a firm handshake; each has meaning beyond words. They touch people. They communicate sincerity and integrity. They earn trust and respect. These are powerful tools and are opportunities easily missed.

Letter writing is a dying art. The need to write letters is fading quickly, overtaken by the speed and efficiency of email, cell phones, and the fast-paced lifestyle. There just isn't time in the day to sit down and compose a long, detailed essay like long ago.  We used to tell the details of our lives, our innermost thoughts and experiences, in our letters. Now it just takes too long. There just isn't time. 

It isn't necessary to write these long letters anymore. We should, however, make the time for quick notes. Keeping a stock of blank cards on hand is a great way to "knock off" a quick thank you when dealing with a customer or a business acquaintance.  Do you remember the last time you received a thank you card or note from anyone? If you've gotten one, I'll bet you remember it. If not, then you know how rare it is. It's a powerful moment when somebody opens their mail to see you took the time to sit down, right a note, stamp it, and drop it in the mail. Your contact with that person just became so much more than average. Your ability to be remembered has increased dramatically. You touched them and made them feel appreciated. This quiet gesture is powerful.

The greatest communicators know the effect of letter writing, especially of the thank you. Former President Ronald Reagan was a great believer in the letter. He spent many of his quiet moments composing thoughtful letters to friends, loved ones, and politicians from both sides of the aisle. He knew the letter could accomplish great things and do it in a personal and one -on-one way.  All you need is a thank you note and you can accomplish the same thing with great results. So little effort. So much reward. 

Apr
28
2008
Team-Building Ain't For the Faint of Heart Maranda Gibson

Team building is seen as an essential part of a successful company because it encourages employees to interact with each other and to solve problems. Many companies rely on these activities and exercises to remove barriers to communication and to improve efficiency. And yet some managers pooh-pooh team-building exercises as a waste of time. A Workforce Management article discusses team building in light of a recent court case.

And the Los Angeles Times discusses an exotic, albeit more expensive approach to team building.

But what can companies do to encourage team building on a smaller scale?

A recent book, 365 Low or No Cost Workplace Teambuilding Activities: Games and Exercises Designed to Build Trust & Encourage Teamwork Among Employees by John N. Peragine, highlights simple and easy team-building activities and exercises that can be adapted for use right now and for little to no cost.

The book includes step-by-step instructions and hints on what to do and what not to do. Whether you’re interested in eliminating stress and burn out with humor, helping your team get to know each other better, or attempting to establish a corporate identity, a book of team-building exercises might be what just you’re looking for.

However, if you’re looking for a more enjoyable type of team-building environment, skip water boarding or other forms of semi-torture and go for something laidback, like cooking.

Kgomotso Mathe writes in the Financial Mail about the growing trend overseas to stage team-building exercises in a common venue: a kitchen.

"The uShef Cooking School is gaining fame not only among corporates, but also food fundis wishing to sharpen their cooking skills. It is absolutely a place where good food and fun meet. It is owned by Gill Ostrowski, a qualified chef who has been in the hospitality industry for nearly 19 years. The place operates like a restaurant, except in this case you'll have to cook your own dinner."

Cooking with colleagues may sound daunting, but it actually provides a safe place for people to get to know each other and to chatter over tasks that aren’t stressful, but fun.

John Hollon of Work Management writes, "Team-building exercises [sometimes] are more about getting people to follow along blindly - to engage in groupthink - than they are in really getting people to work as a team. A better approach might be what [successful companies do], bringing people from all around the company together to get to know one another, swap ideas and break down barriers to collaboration."

Whatever activity you choose to enhance team building in your company make it fun and make it meaningful.

Aug
13
2007
Meeting Ice Breakers: The Best of the Best Accuconference

Try these icebreakers out on your next conference call by setting up your next call with AccuConference.

As noted previously, it's one thing to talk about ice breakers in theory and quite another to think of them in practice. For most meetings in a business setting in which participants are professionals, ice breakers that require actions not normally associated with day-to-day behaviors in the office generally make people uncomfortable. Successful ice breakers for these groups generally consist of clustering people around a round table, if you have access to any, and having them share memorable information with each other, finding innovative ways to get them to introduce themselves to each other, or having them collectively work on a problem where everyone has to contribute.

Below are some of the most successful ice breakers we known.

  1. Fact or Fiction: Have everyone at the table write down three surprising things about themselves, two of which are true and one of which is made up. Each person, in turn, reads their list and then the rest of the group votes on which "fact" they feel is the "false" one. If the table does not correctly pick a person's made up "fact", then that person wins. A table can have more than one winner. If you have more than one table full of people, have a competition between the tables and have each table decide which of their "winners" they want to use to compete in the "finals". The selected finalists get up and present their "facts" to the whole group and each table, but the one the winner is from, has one vote to decide which of the "facts" is false. At the end, the whole group votes on which of the "winners" of the final round, had the most deceiving "fact". This helps people get to know and remember their colleagues.
  2. Same/Different: Divide the group into teams of 3 or 4 and give them a large sheet of paper and give each person a different colored marker. Have each person draw a large oval such that each oval overlaps with the other ovals in the center of the piece of paper. Give the group, or groups if there is more than one cluster, a theme that pertains to the meeting objectives. Tell people they have to write down at least five or more entries in the non-overlapping and mutually overlapping areas of their ovals. Give them five minutes, no more than that, to talk about their similarities and differences and write them in their ovals. If there is more than one group, compare results and identify common themes in both parts of the diagram and what light these similarities and differences shed on the purpose of the meeting. This helps team members develop an understanding of shared objectives and understand in a non-confrontational way how their views differ from others on the team.
  3. Brainstorm!: Break the group into teams of four or five. Give them a topic. Pick one that is fun and simple like, "What would you take on a trip to the jungle?" or "List things that are blue"). Give your teams 2 minutes, no more, and tell them "This is a contest and the team with the most items on their list wins." Tell the teams to write down as many things as they can and not to discuss anything, just list things. At the end of time, the team with the most items on their list wins! This helps people to share ideas without fearing what other people will think.
  4. Free Association: The object of this ice breaker is to have small groups or the team generate as many words or phrases as they can that are related to a particular topic that relates to the objective of your meeting. Give the group(s) a key word you want them to associate and then give them 2 minutes to list, as quickly as possible, as many words or thoughts that pop into their heads. For example, if your company is trying to decide on whether to reduce travel and increase the use of teleconferencing, you might use the word "teleconferencing" and have people list as many words/phrases as they can that they associate with the word. For example they might say: "saves money", "saves time", "impersonal", "need to see other people", "get distracted", "sound quality"…. This reveals what people are thinking, similarities in viewpoints, and possible problem areas/topics that need addressing or discussion.
  5. Nametags: Prepare nametags for each person and put them in a box. As people walk into the room, each person picks a nametag (not their own). When everyone is present, participants are told to find the person whose nametag they drew and introduce themselves and say a few interesting things about them. When everyone has their own nametag, they introduce the person whose nametag they were initially given. This helps people get to know and remember each other.
  6. Desert Island: Group people in teams of 5 or 6 and tell them they will be marooned on a desert island and give them 30 seconds to list all the things they think they want to take and each person has to contribute at least 3 things. At the end of the time, tell the teams they can only take three things. Have the person who suggested each item tell why they suggested it and defend why it should be chosen. This helps the team learn about how each of them thinks, get to know each other's values, and how they solve problems.

Aug
10
2007
"Breaking the Ice" Without Falling in the Water Accuconference

Good ice breakers not only get people to feel comfortable talking with one another they also get people familiar with what the meeting is all about and what it hopes to achieve. Ice breakers, if done right, reduce tension, fear, and discomfort. They get people more engaged, helping them contribute more effectively. A good ice breaker almost always leads to a more successful meeting.

You have to be careful though, not every meeting needs an ice breaker. And, if an ice breaker is not appropriately planned and tailored to its specific audience and goal, you can end up with an "ice breaker gone bad". This is a disaster. Bad ice breakers waste precious time and can embarrass you and meeting participants, intensifying the very thing you’re trying to overcome.

To avoid "bad icebreaking", design your "breaker" to focus on the goals of your event and on getting people to focus on and talk about their similarities, not their differences. Keep it simple and make sure what you have planned is something all participants will be comfortable with. Make sure that what you do creates a level playing field for sharing ideas, especially when you bring together people of different pay grades and/or status.

After you have designed your ice breaker, reflect on it and review it carefully. Ask yourself how you think each person will react and if they will feel comfortable. If you feel anyone might be uncomfortable, try another idea.

At a loss to know what to do or just don't have that "party planner" mentality? Anyone can come up with a great and appropriate icebreaker.

How? There is no end to ideas on the Internet for ice breakers that will suit whatever group you need to get interacting. Just type in "meeting+icebreakers" on any Internet search engine and a host of sites with many great (and not so great – so keep in mind your audience and meeting objectives) will come up.

Aug
09
2007
Testing the Ice: The Importance of Getting People Talking Accuconference

Having an active conversation where everyone weighs in is crucial to having a good meeting or brainstorming session, solving a problem, or just getting things done. This generally isn't too hard when participants have to talk with people they already know and are already comfortable talking to. It's something else again to get a good give-and-take going when you need to get people who are strangers together or who generally don't talk shop with one another because of their different job status.

Fortunately people who regularly face this problem have come up with some clever ways to help overcome these hurdles and get everyone talking as equals. These are called "ice breakers". A good ice breaker should be fun, but not take up a lot of time. And, most importantly, it should be specifically targeted at the "ice" you need to break.

"Ice" can come from any number of sources. It may be people at the same relative level and mindset that just haven't met each other yet. It may be because you have people of different cultures, backgrounds, or view points. It may be that you're mixing people from different pay grades and levels of responsibility or that have different perceptions about each other.

To have a successful ice breaker, look at the "ice" and then look at the goal of your meeting. Now assess what part of the ice you need to break in order to maximize the results of what has to get done. Focus the ice breaker on that. You can't, and shouldn't try to overcome every possible obstacle or type of "ice" that might exist between participants, just the one most likely to hamper you meeting from achieving its objectives.

We'll talk about effective ice breakers next.

Jul
25
2007
Strategic Communications: Tools – No Need to Reinvent the Wheel Accuconference

If you have never seen or put together a communications plan before, the uncertainty of not knowing what it should contain, how it should look, and what other people might be expecting to see can be paralyzing. As a result, a lot people stop after the exercise of identifying who should be on the list and what those people need to know, never actually completing an actual full blown plan. Because communication is so important to business and/or project success, don’t let this happen to you!

For almost anything in business or government, and that goes for communication plans too, there are books, tools, examples, freeware, and professional software packages for just about anything you want to do. The Internet has all kinds of sample communication plans that come with extensive descriptions of what they need to contain and what they look like that you can copy and download for free.

To find one of these, just use any major Internet search engine and type in: "project management, communications plan" and a host of sites will appear. Many of these have forms you can copy or download and use right away. Even if you have never written or even seen a communications plan before, within minutes you can be filling out a professional looking and organized communications plan.

Jul
23
2007
Strategic Communications: Who Needs To Know What When Part II Accuconference

When you forget or omit an important communications link and have a breakdown in communication, problems occur; and sometimes they are so big they take an entire project down; and everyone loses.

So how can you stop this from happening? Well, nothing can ever be completely avoided, but you can minimize the possibility of a major communications breakdown by generating a communications plan spreadsheet that lists all of the tasks and associated deliverables and who is responsible for them.

Your spreadsheet should also include who is to receive whatever product that task produces, whether that be an invoice generated by your accounting department, a status report for your upper management or a regulatory agency, a software tool to automate a piece of equipment in your company’s chemical plant, or a highway overpass for your customer.

In addition, your document should indicate who needs to approve the deliverable and how frequently along the way that person needs to be kept informed on its progress. Such a matrix of tasks, people, and frequencies of communication helps keep you focused and keeps you from forgetting who has to know what when and prevents you from tiring out your key people by spamming them unnecessarily.

Strategic communication will be your key to success!

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