Learning Success Through Failure

It’s October which brings about the winds of change. The air is turning cooler, the leaves will begin to change color, and budding authors around the globe are about to change into energy drink consuming plunderers of the keyboard.

That’s right novelists, it’s almost NaNoWriMo time. I’ve partaken in the grueling marathon of 50,000 words in thirty days since 2009 - but I’ve only won once. That’s almost 1400 words a day at the minimum in order to succeed and get your shiny badge and bragging rights.

Success is not guaranteed though. In fact, it feels like failure is.  NaNo seems easy for anyone who considers themselves able to string a couple of stories together, but when the euphoria of “It’s time for NaNo!” wears off and you’re left with the idea of actually having 45K more to go, it’s pretty easy to turn around and run away. In fact, I admit that in 2011 I completely imploded. About four days in, I threw my hands up and walked away.

This article from Psychology Today suggests that failures might actually shape us in a more definite way than success does. The assertion actually makes a lot of sense. Think about your latest success - what did you learn from that specific success. 2011 NaNoWriMo showed me all of the things I needed to do in order to have a better chance in 2012.

When I won in 2012, I knew it was because of two very big changes I made in light of the previous year - I outlined the entire novel and did word games with friends to give big boosts to my word count in a short time. In 2011, I took a very solo approach to NaNoWriMo despite that my friends we were working hard on theirs as well.

I can't do it alone. 

Getting a 500 word boost in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes puts a huge dent in your daily goal. The task was less daunting when I had someone to work with.

Creating an outline meant I wasn’t going to get bogged down in the direction of plot or “what happened then” questions. I had every move that each character was going to make down on the page, so all I had to do was create the story around it.

I honestly think that without my utter and complete NaNo meltdown in 2011, I would not have been able to “win” 2012 NaNo. I learned a lot in 2011 and I applied all of those “well, I’m not going to do that this year” thoughts, which I think helped me succeed. One might even say that my failure was the reason I succeeded.

What’s going to be most interesting to me is competing again in 2013. Will the same drive push me to finish, or will I feel more complacent in succeeding? I wonder how much is to be said for being a back to back NaNoWriMo winner.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Active Listening Skills for Customer Service - Updated

Update:  After putting my head together with some of the other operators, we determined a couple of other things that can improve your active listening skills. 

When we bring on a new employee, the first thing they learn is customer service, and the most important skill we focus on is listening. Customer service is about being an active listener. You can't just "hear" what people are saying, you have to really be grabbing onto the words and turning them over in your head.

What does it take to be an active listener? There are a lot of rules to active listening but we break these skills down into basic steps. These steps have improved our customer service responses and our communication.

(NEW) Clarify The Message

One of the best tools when speaking to a customer is the ability to clarify the message they are trying to send.  You never want to make assumptions when trying to decide what a customer wants. Most of the time you will get that assumption wrong and have to go back to the customer. It's always better when you're not clear to make sure you understand. A lot of times a customer uses words or phrases that might not be what you would use. You can just repeat it back to them in another way. "It sounds like you need..." or "Let me make sure I understand..." are great ways to start.

(NEW) Test Your Listening Skills

The Active Empathetic Listening (AEL) measure has eleven key items that test how well you sense, process, and respond when you listen to someone else. Sensing is the way you indicate you are taking in the information, processing is how well you construct the narrative delivered, and responding is how you ask questions to make sure you understand.  Take the AEL test and find out where you stand as a great listener and how you can improve. 

Focus on Understanding

Engage in communication with the goal of "understanding" instead of "understood". When your customer is speaking, it's best to focus on what the customer is saying, rather than trying to get a head start on how you're going to respond. Once someone in a conversation goes on the defensive, you are less likely to come to a resolution.

Give Your Undivided Attention to the Person Speaking

This may seem like common sense but devices like cell phones and the constant access to email are roadblocks to active listening. When a customer calls, disengage from the emails you’re working on, the spreadsheet you are clicking through, or the text message that might be waiting on you. Engage fully in the conversation that is present and not the one that is waiting for you to type a response.

Play Pretend

The more I can act like I'm face to face with a customer, the better our conversation goes. Imagine the customer across from you and nod when you understand. Responding to the customer as you would if you were face to face, you will be an even better listener. I will smile while I speak and even nod my head as the customer tells me what’s going on. It makes me feel like I truly understand the customer's needs.

It's not always easy to listen and even more so when we are immediately trying to figure out what we are going to say or have too many things going on at once. If we can just stop for a moment and become a more active listener, it will improve our communication with everyone.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Your Body Language and Confidence

A few years ago, I was hanging out with some of my younger cousins and surprised the “country girls” by wearing a snazzy pair of zebra print purple heels. They asked me how I managed to walk in those shoes and I informed them that I “walk with authority.”

It’s amazing how a clothing change or a new pair of shoes can make you feel more confident. I wrote about success on the debate team being somewhat wrapped into my power shoes, but what are some other changes you can make in how you walk and move that can boost your confidence?

Carry Yourself Well

How you hold yourself plays a role in how you see yourself. So the first place to start in making changes to your body language is to hold yourself a little higher. To appear more confident, you need to act more confident.

  • Posture is the most imperative part of carrying yourself. Put your shoulders back and keep your spine straight.
  • Hold your chin up when you walk. Looking down at the ground while walking is an indicator of unhappiness.
  • Make eye contact and smile to strangers. Not only is this a sign of confidence, but it also makes you feel better when you smile.

Movements Send A Message

Any movement you make can send a message. These messages can be positive or negative, so one of the most important body language changes you can make is to be aware of how you’re moving.

  • Putting your hands on your hips is an indication of being mad or having lost patience. Even if you feel like you’re just in a resting position, the message sent is one of disapproval.
  • Try not to make fidgeting gestures like shaking your legs or tapping your nails against the table. Not only will your nails create an annoying sound, but it indicates impatience.

Your Hands and Arms Serve as a Door

The movements made with arms in communicating tells a lot about the openness of a speaker. Those who cross their arms “close the door” to others feeling welcome to chime in or discuss.

  • You can make gestures open by holding your hands apart with your palms pointing upward.
  • Clasping or wringing your hands in front of you or touching your hair or face is a sign of anxiety or being unsure.

The good news - you can control your own body language. Remember you have complete control over the way you carry yourself which translates into the way you are perceived. How will you walk with authority today?


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Will Reading Fiction Make You More Empathetic?

David Kidd and Emanuele Castano released a study regarding fiction and how we experience empathy in others. David and Emanuele show a link between better empathetic skills and "literary" fiction. I can easily see how 'literary' fiction provides different perspectives on people than mainstream fiction. More research is needed to be conclusive, however I do believe as readers we should mix up the genres we read.

Reading is like working out for my brain. When I read non-fiction, I think. When I read business books, I get creative. When I read fiction, I relax (unless it's a tense scene). This is like changing which weights or exercise machine I'm on. I wouldn't stick to just dumbbells for my entire workout. Switch it up.

I also think it is important to pace yourself. Besides the fact that I get heavy lidded after reading for an hour, unless it's a story that I get sucked into, information overload can happen around 60 minutes of straight reading. You need to let that information percolate in your brain for a bit.

Maranda Gibson recently came to the realization that she hasn't learned anything in a long time. "I went to the bookstore and bought three different historical nonfiction novels about the founding of the United States and the Civil War. One is the published diary of a Baton Rouge girl that begins just as Louisiana succeeded from the Union and ends six years later."

"That’s a lot of time to see such a historical event from the perspective of an insider. We often get the watered down, text book history version of slavery and states’ rights. Reading a book like that helps you to remember and understand that for as long as there have been conflicts – there have been two sides of every story."

Social skills are derived from the way we interpret events and in reading any kind of book, whether it be your favorite romance novel or something like a diary of a Civil War survivor, you have to practice the interpretation of events to understand the story.

For Mary Williams, "Reading helps me take a break from my personal life. I like to read anything from suspense novels to science fiction. If I can place myself in the character’s shoes, then it becomes hard for me to put the book down. A good book will allow me to become enveloped in the story and with the characters; almost as if for a moment their life becomes my own. After I'm done reading, I sometimes find myself thinking about situations the character was in and how I might have handled them. And of course, it helps ignite my imagination for my own creative writing."

Reading helps us to learn things, understand people, and escape. Not all genres are alike, and some may be more helpful than others. Do you read only one type of genre? What's your favorite genre to read?

{Image credit to The New Yorker}

To Better Assist You, Please Hold

I am amazed how often our customers are surprised to reach a real person on the first ring when calling AccuConference.

In this automatic world we live in, the "To better assist you, press 1 for billing, press 2 for account information, press 3 for sales, etc." is fooling no one. If you have to think about what button you fall into, your needs have already been minimized. It is especially cumbersome when you have to press * to repeat the options again.

Technology upgraded and offered us voice recognition "to better assist you." Well my mother was born and raised in Portugal. She does not have the ability to form the T-H (THA) sound. Voice recognition technology "assists" her into eventually yelling, with her heavy accent, the number TREE, TREE, TREE and then hearing "We’re sorry, but we did not recognize your response."

When a customer reaches out by phone, having an automated system that does not guide them properly can make the first, second, third…impression one that is remembered, but remembered poorly.

With most automated systems, if you continuously press 0 enough you may get lucky and get an operator to assist. But, those systems are catching on to this workaround and now you hear, "We’re sorry, but that is not a number we recognize." And worse, is when you choose a number that is not recognized and you hear the words "Goodbye"!

Unless you are the only game in town, then keeping the human spirit as your greeting is still a priority. At least it is here. When the company started in 2002, answering the phone on the first ring with a real human was a top priority, and it still is. At AccuConference, we answer the phone without making you wait.

This post was written by Debbie Vaught, an account manager here at AccuConference. 

Writing a Meeting Agenda

An agenda is an important part of any large meeting running smoothly. When dealing with multiple speakers or parties on a conference call, assigning specific time increments to each speaker or Q&A session will keep everyone on track.

When I think of something that needs an agenda, I think of a large event that has multiple speakers and subject matters. An agenda, in my opinion, is to let me know who's speaking, how long they will have the floor, and give the main idea of what information they are going to present.

What makes an effective agenda?

Pick a type of agenda. Did you know there is more than one kind of agenda? I didn't until I started doing research for this post. The most popular agenda is called a "common agenda". This kind of agenda will call the meeting to order, offering a reading of the agenda, and then call for business matters to begin. The second most popular is a "priority agenda". This agenda places items of business in order of importance so that the highest priority items are sure to be addressed. Those are just two of the most popular ones, but there are a lot of different ways to arrange an agenda.

How detailed will your agenda need to be? First, consider if your agenda is going to be sent to just speakers or if all attendees will get a copy. You also need to decide just how deeply you will break out the agenda. Do you need to list every speaker or subject matter? A good rule is to break out the agenda when you will have two (or more) speakers and / or two (or more) subject matters. If you’re doing a town hall type of conference where multiple speakers will weigh in on one topic, listing the speakers should be sufficient.

Have someone else look at it. Get a second pair of eyes on the agenda to make sure you didn't leave anything out or get your timezones mixed up. Since you’ll be sending out your agenda with your invitation (right?) you don’t want to have to update this document multiple times. Limit changes as much as you can, and letting a second person read over it will help.

Like most things when it comes to having successful conference and webinar events, the amount of time you spend planning will have a great effect on how attendees respond before, during, and after your conference is over.

Five Ways Working Out Can Make You Feel Better

A couple months ago I won free personal training sessions. Well, my husband was actually the winner, but he graciously gave the personal training package to me because I’ve been wanting to get back in shape. Before I could even start my sessions, I had an initial interview with the personal trainer as well as a fitness assessment test. Talk about an eye opener. One part of the test was to jump rope for a minute. Seems easy enough, right? Well, if it’s been a few years since you’ve really done any exercise, it’s not as easy as you might think. I could only go 45 seconds before I had to stop. My heart was racing, my legs were burning, and I thought I was going to pass out. The fitness assessment gave me a reality check. I was really out of shape.

After the test, my personal trainer drew up my work out schedule and food management program. He likes to call it a "food management program" because "diet" sounds too restrictive to him. Now I’m about a month and a half into my personal training, and I can honestly say that I feel so much better in so many ways.

I’m Sleeping Better – Before I started working out, getting a good night’s sleep was nearly impossible unless I took a sleeping aid like Unisom. But if I did that, I usually woke up groggy and tired. It was always a struggle to get out of bed. Now, I find myself not needing a sleep aid as often as I used to. Working out helps me burn the energy I get from the food I eat during the day. In turn, that helps me sleep much better than before.

I’m Stronger – Even after just 6 weeks, my strength has significantly improved. Just the other day I was lifting several 30 pound boxes and didn’t feel too winded. If it was 6 weeks ago, that would have been a different story.

I’m Smarter – Ok, maybe my IQ didn’t rocket to genius level, but I can tell that my thoughts are more clear and concise and I’m able to problem solve more efficiently. I’m sure it goes along with being able to sleep better, too.

I’m Eating Better – Yes, every now and then I’ll cheat and have a slice of pizza or a reasonably sized bowl of fettuccine Alfredo. But for the most part, I’m eating more salads and veggies and have cut the carbs back as much as I can. Of course, I’m also a Type 1 Diabetic so I can’t cut back too much.

I’m Losing Weight and Inches – So far I haven’t dropped a lot of pounds, but I have lost a lot of inches. This means one thing. I’m gaining more muscle and becoming more toned. It’s true when experts say you can’t rely just on how much you weigh. If you’re losing inches around your waist, your hips, and your arms then you are on the right path to becoming more fit.

Of course, not everyone likes going to the gym. Some may see it as a trivial routine or a chore. But there are different ways to get your exercise in. Maranda Gibson kills two birds with one stone. “Getting exercise doesn’t always mean you have to leave the house. You can easily get your heart rate up by putting on your favorite songs and dancing around. As someone who is a neat freak at home, you can burn a good amount of calories by tackling those chores you’ve been putting off.”

David Byrd takes a different approach with his personal fitness that keeps it interesting. “Since starting ballroom dance, I have lost 20 pounds and had to buy all new pants (my old ones were too big). In addition, I sleep better and think better. The nice thing about dance is that it's not like going to the gym and having to do repetitive exercises for an hour. It keeps me interested, especially since I get bored quickly.”

Whether you’re on the elliptical, vigorously cleaning house, or perfecting your dance moves, the most important thing is that you’re being active. Find an activity that you enjoy and run with it (pun intended). Most likely you’ll feel better, have more energy, and contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

How to Lead a Successful Conference Call

Leading a successful conference call isn’t just about getting a reliable conferencing service and calling into the conference. There are things that you have to do before it’s ever time to call into your conference to ensure that it will be successful. As a leader, it’s important that you do three things well before your next conference: pick a good date and time, get people to attend, and present compelling and thought provoking information.

Here are some tips from our e-book How to Plan, Setup, and Execute a Successful Webinar.

Pick the Right Date and Time

You’ll never be able to pick the perfect time for everyone but what we suggest is picking a time that is good for most of your participants. We’ve found that the most popular times are right before or after lunch (10 AM and 1 PM in respective timezones) and meetings held on Tuesdays or Thursdays get the best turnouts. Avoid Monday meetings unless you need to get everyone ready for the week.

Send a Better Email Invite

The easiest and most common method to achieve getting the word out about your meeting is to send an email blast or calendar item directly to participants. The problem with this is that your emails will often get buried in other requests and notifications. Make your subject lines quick and focus on the who, what, and when. A good example: Marketing Webinar Featuring Bob - The Greatest Marketer Ever.

Bonus: Use registration pages and know who is going to attend your event. You can also use the system to send out reminders so that people remember to attend your event.

Create Great Presentations

You can pick the most popular time of day and send out the greatest invitation known to the invite world but if you aren’t presenting something of worth then you won’t get people to stick around for very long. Content is what your participants came to the presentation for, but there’s a fine line between too much and not enough information on your slides. Keep the text to display to a minimum and use visuals to make your points. Remember the 10 / 20 / 30 rule from Guy Kawasaki - no more than ten total slides, twenty minutes of presenting, and thirty point font for your slides(to keep you from cramming too much information on a slide.)

Leading a conference call is more than just using the mute button when you should and sticking to your agenda. It’s about what you do to plan the call, how you get people to participate, and presenting information your audience wants to hear.

You can get more great webinar tips by downloading and reading our ebook.

How to Make Conference Calls Fun

Okay, maybe "fun" is the wrong idea here. The words conference call are not exactly going to inspire anyone to think of a delightful day at the circus or spending a beautiful afternoon whirling around on your favorite roller coaster.

When people search for how to make a conference "fun", I think that they are looking for ways to make calls more effective. Implementing some of the rules on your next conference can help with the lack of effectiveness.

Rule #1 – Only Have Conferences When You Need To

This brings up a good question. What is "need to"? It’s going to vary for you but Al Pittampalli, the author of The Modern Meeting Standard, says you should only have a meeting when there is something to decide. This isn’t going to cover everything and it’s not going to apply for all circumstances, but it is a good benchmark to start from.

Rule #2 – Consider Including Video Conferencing

Even if you’re meeting with coworkers you’ve seen a number of times, integrating video conferencing can help increase the effectiveness of your meetings. A video element adds the ability to read non verbal communication to a meeting, as well as providing a way to keep everyone accountable. Not just for attendance, but for how well they are paying attention. If you see someone staring off into space or working on something else, you can call on them and bring them back to the topic at hand.

Rule #3 – Prepare for the Call

Finally, make sure you prepare for your meetings and conferences. No one wants to be in a meeting where the moderator is stumbling over their notes. When you prepare, you can get to the meet of the meeting quickly and efficiently. You don't want to waste anyone's time, and your participants will appreciate that. One way to prepare for your call is to write out your agenda and make sure you know what to say regarding each point.

Are you following these conference call rules? What rules can you contribute to make your conference calls more fun?

Censorship or Just Doing Business?

Book review site GoodReads has caused a stir recently in issuing their new enforcement of comments and reviews on their site. If you read their official statement, it’s clear that these are the policies they have had for a long time, but the announcement of what is tantamount to a crackdown sent cries of censorship into the air.

So the question becomes "is it censorship?"

If I don't like the way a certain business is acting, especially if it is "Corporate Policy", I just take my business elsewhere. With GoodReads, I see it as no different.

What I think GoodReads did wrong was to remove the reviews without warning. GoodReads should have informed the owners of the offending reviews that they would need to be changed or the review would be deleted by a certain date (say, 30 days). On a side note, I don't mind the GoodReads policy of removing reviews that just attack the author.

Show me the content that relates directly to the book. I don't care if the author is a jerk. I want GoodReads to be a place where I find out about books, not author personalities.

Maranda Gibson agrees that it’s the approach that is the problem, not the rules. "You can’t unring a bell and while I support their decision to enforce their rules, a part of managing a community is doing that from the beginning. Goodreads didn’t and now they are getting backlash from trying to clean up a mess they made."

Mary Williams adds, "GoodReads has been around since 2007, so they probably still have things to learn when it comes to community action. The resentment from some of their members about the way they handled removing reviews can be used by the company as a source of what not to do. Giving a fair notice to their members, and allowing their members to correct their reviews, would have been a better way to handle the situation. Hopefully, they will use this experience as a lesson learned and will give their members more notice the next time they make changes to their policy."

Bottom line, this is not a case of censorship. GoodReads, as a business, can create and enforce their policies as they see fit as long as no laws are being broken. It’s the same concept as if someone was walking around a mall with an offensive T-shirt on and asked to either turn the shirt inside-out or leave. It seems this is more of an issue with the way they have handled their policy enforcement. Those who don’t agree with their policy, well they can always go elsewhere.