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Aug
21
2012
How to Better Manage Your Mandatory Meetings Maranda Gibson

Can you believe it’s almost September? Where has this month gone? Here in Texas, we’re looking forward to getting rid of the heat and bringing in the best season ever - fall. As exciting as the fall season is, one thing that is also on the way is your beginning and end of the month responsibilities. It could be something as simple as updating spreadsheets or it’s time for your monthly conference calls again.

Consider a registration page for your weekly and monthly status meetings. Registration pages do a lot more than simply creating a link for signing up. If you’ve found that your weekly or monthly meetings have been a bit out of control from people not attending or unwanted participants, a registration page adds the security and tracking abilities for your mandatory meetings.

Check attendance for those calls that can’t be missed. When company policy changes, it often requires a company-wide sign off and understanding from the employees affected by the changes, and using a registration page is a great way to keep track of compliance. When someone registers for a call, the host will be able to keep track of registrants along the way and be able to go back and see who dialed into the conference, and who didn’t.

Send reminders to your participants. Human beings are naturally forgetful and when it comes to important can’t be missed meetings you can set up registration pages to automatically send participants reminders to attend these compliance calls. This way even if they forget to put a call reminder on their own calendar, our system will send them an email up to one hour before the start of the call to remind them to attend.

Manually approve or deny registrations. In our March newsletter, we talked to the author of the Modern Meeting Standard and one of the suggestions in the book is to make sure that you are only inviting the people who have to attend the meeting. If there is no need for the CEO / VP / Marketing Manager to be on the call, then they shouldn’t attend and with a manual process you can deny their participation. It will also help to make sure that only employees are able to attend your conference and keep press or competitors off conferences with sensitive information.

Conference code security options. When using a registration page to boost security and check attendance, our recommendation is that you set up the conferences codes to fall under what’s called “one code at a time” so that the conference codes cannot be handed out to others to use. The first person to call into the conference will be the one that can use the code. While it’s not a perfect system of being able to validate who the person is when they join, it will help the conference from having lots of unexpected guests dialing in on one conference code.

These are just some things that can be done to increase security and hold participants accountable when it comes to attending mandatory meetings.

Aug
07
2012
Unwanted Conference Call Noise Maranda Gibson

Any type of noise on your conference call is a nuisance because it interrupts you and your customers trying to get business done. While conference call services do their best to try to design services that limit or remove static on your conference, there are some things that can cause conference feedback that you may not realize.

Check Your Equipment

Many times, feedback is caused by the phone or headset you might be using. Like a pair of headphones that are old and have lost connectivity in the wires, your phone cords and headset connections can do the same thing. If you hear feedback on your conference, start by listening to the conference on a handset and see if the feedback goes away. If it does, then you know that your headset should be replaced due to a short or some other problem in the equipment.

It Could Be Your Provider

Many of us don’t realize that the noise we hear on our phone line could be related to the company that provides your phone lines, like Qwest or AT&T. When your company is doing work on the phone lines or even having a technology issue miles away, those issues can affect the quality of your phone calls with or without being connected to a conference service.

While any phone service can have issues that may cause static on your line, we’ve found that one of the most common culprits of these issues is a VoIP service. We wrote a run down on some of the problems that you should consider when switching to VoIP and why it’s important to pick a VoIP provider that has a great reputation. If you’re using VoIP I would recommend that you go over and read that to ensure that you and your company have taken steps to choosing a VoIP provider with a lower instance of these occurrences.

Moderator Controls

If static is causing a problem in your conference call, use your live call screen feature to mute and unmute individual lines to see if the problem can be isolated. Don’t forget to test your own line just in case it’s your phone that is causing the noise. Once you identify the line you can keep it muted to prevent the noise from continuing to disrupt your conference call.

Bonus Tip:We recommend that if you will have more than five participants on a conference call that you go ahead and place the call into lecture mode to prevent static or background noises from interrupting your call.

Unwanted noises on a conference call are a nuisance and are incredibly frustrating when you’re trying to conduct business. If you’re in a situation where you can’t pause the conference to run through all of the troubleshooting steps, hop on chat with one of our operators (you can access it right from our website) and let us help you work through the problem.

Jul
30
2012
NBC Olympics Coverage Inspires Thoughts on Customer Service Maranda Gibson

Image Credit to Dave Catchpole

On a fateful summer evening in 1996, my mom and I were cuddled up on the couch, eating popcorn, and alternating between crying and screaming in joy at the TV as the United States Women won Olympic team gold in gymnastics. For those of you who remember that moment, let us all close our eyes and remember the power of “You can do it, Kerri!” and the one-legged flamingo landing that was just epic. (For those of you too young to remember this moment, I’m so sorry – Go watch it on YouTube, immediately.)

Here we are in 2012 and the world has changed drastically. Technology has improved giving us the power to have news feeds and up to date information. There was a lot of talk on Twitter and other networks about the failures of NBC in providing the kind of Olympic coverage that people want. The general response from the folks at NBC has been (in paraphrase) “deal with it”. However, for the Olympic audience it’s not that simple and some lessons can be learned from this attitude.

It’s about giving your customers what they want and not what you think “matters”.

For the next two days, people who want to watch the events of the gymnastics finals will have to avoid the Internet in its totality, and for some, that’s a really difficult thing to do. While you can stream the coverage live on NBC websites, there are a couple of problems with that option – which are not limited to the fact that events are interrupted every three minutes with commercials.

When a customer contacts your company, you have to think about what you are doing for them and not just for yourself. Especially in the case like NBC, where they are the only people broadcasting the Olympic coverage, there seems to be an attitude of “we will show you what you want when you want it”. While NBC will probably win because they don’t have any competition, I don’t know how many of us will continue tuning into NBC when the Olympics are all said and done.

Create an experience.

Okay, picture this – there’s one event left in the team final and there’s a tenth of a point separating gold and silver. You know you have to go to sleep soon because it’s getting late, but you’ve got time to stay up and see who wins gold. Cut to Bob Costas announcing that they are going to switch over to swimming coverage and “will return to the gym shortly”.

You want a customer to feel involved and like the voice they have in your company matters. The parallel to draw here is that the folks over at NBC are you going to make you watch the events they think you should watch, when they think you should watch them. Could you imagine if we modeled our businesses like that and shaped customer service around the ideas that “we will do what we think you need”?

It’s really in NBC’s best interests.

Maybe it’s just the child in me who remembers the feeling and thrill of watching the Magnificent Seven in 1996, but I want to see it live. If I know the US isn’t going to win gold the likelihood that I just DVR or watch the highlights increases. I want to feel every nail biting second. It’s in NBC’s best interests to show me the most popular events when they air instead of a patch work of events that they scatter over six hours.

When it comes to customers, doing what you can to give them what they really want always holds a benefit to your company. While you can’t make every little change that a customer requests, you have to listen to them in a collective fashion. It could be something that is genuinely broken on your site. Recently, we realized that we had a lot of information on our site and that it could be a bit overwhelming for customers trying to find us, so we cut it down and streamlined it.

Other Networks Should Help

While NBC doesn’t need the help with broadcasting, it would be nice to see other news networks (local and nationally) try to quell the information that is no doubt going to infiltrate you. Yesterday, before NBC aired the swimming finals, our local station spoiled that a local swimmer set a world record and took gold in the 100M butterfly.

If they want to run the story, I’m ok with that, but at least don’t put the result in the headline where I’m completely spoiled if I even open the application. It’s a matter of balancing what the customer wants and what you want to give them.

For the next two days, I will do my best to avoid the entirety of the internet so that I can watch my finals in the evenings, even if it will be spread out over a matter of six hours. What do you think about the overall feeling around NBC’s coverage of the Olympics? Are we overreacting or is there something to be said for the lack of live coverage?

Jul
16
2012
Two Responses That Kill Communication Maranda Gibson

No matter if you’re having a conversation with your best friend or an entire boardroom, sometimes, things are said that cause a complete halt in conversation. When the "awkward pause" is created there is usually a moment where no one is sure when it’s okay to start laughing or to move on from whatever caused the pause. Those kinds of interruptions in communication are usually easy enough to recover from but what happens when someone stalls communication?

What kinds of responses usually end all communication and how do you prepare yourself to keep those responses from making an appearance on your next conference call?

"Yes" or "No"

When a question is posed in what’s called a "closed question" the exchange of ideas can be killed with a single word. To keep communication open, adopt opened ended questions to pose to your co-workers and conference participants. Instead of "Is that report finished?" phrase your question in a way that "yes" or "no" would not be appropriate answers. In the sales world, these kinds of questions are imperative to building rapport and closing the deal.

Silence

Silence as a response in communication shows a lack of trust between the participants and the moderators. If you get a response of, well, nothing, it’s usually a couple of things. No one wants to answer, no one wants to be first, or no one knows who is supposed to speak. To combat silence, you can do a few things. Call on someone specifically that you know will have a good response or provide your participants with an alternate way to respond. Consider making the Q&A portion something you do through chat that way participants don’t have to "speak up". Many times, people are more embarrassed to talk on an audio conference than they would be to respond in writing.

In order to keep communication open you have to anticipate the kinds of responses that will be communication killers and do your best to prevent them from making their appearance, but that doesn’t mean they won’t, so you need to be prepared to response appropriately. What kinds of responses have you received that have killed communication?

Jul
02
2012
Should I Switch to VoIP? Maranda Gibson

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a popular phone service that is currently implemented across businesses and homes. In 2011, the revenue for VoIP services was up 16% to $58 billion, and the growth is expected to continue. While VoIP is a cost effective means of phone communications, it might not always be the best choice when it comes to making a change.

Am I On VoIP?

Popular communication services like Vonage and MagicJack are some of the most obvious providers of VoIP services, but the migration and acceptance of VoIP providers has occurred across the board. If you’ve signed up for phone services through your cable company, you can tell if you have VoIP by looking at your modem and identifying a phone line plugged in. If you use a dialing pad on your computer or must be connected to an Internet connection to make your call, you have a VoIP service.

What’s a Packet?

Think of a packet like a tweet. You have a limited amount of space (140 characters) to send at a time, so with a longer message, you have to send multiple tweets. In order to adequately communicate, all of the tweets must be received / read in order. A VoIP package is a small piece of your message that is broken out from your communications.

Why Do Packets Matter?

The proper delivery of these packets is essential to communicating with VoIP. When the packets aren’t delivered correctly you get interference on your call like voices that cut in and out, or sound like they are under water. Some VoIP providers do a practice called “redundancy” where they create duplicates of the same package to safeguard against lost pieces of the message.

Internet Speeds Matter

Because your phone call is broken down into these packages and travel across the Internet transmission lines when the transmission speed is slow or clogged by other transmissions it can affect the quality of your call. Imagine you have opened ten YouTube videos and they are all loading at the same time, each new video that you are trying to load slows the time of the first one. It’s the same thing when your phone calls are traveling across data lines. As you try to do more on the web while trying to make a call over VoIP, the lower the quality will be. When making a call using a VoIP provider, limit your internet activity to ensure that your line is dedicated to transmitting your call.

Is VoIP Bad?

The answer to this question is not a clear cut yes or no. The best way to answer is to say that it really depends on what kind of VoIP system you are using. The major names in the phone industry (AT&T, Qwest) typically provide pretty reliable services, where the “plug in to your computer” devices may cause more problems than the money worth in what you’re saving. We’ve provided an in depth break down of what constitutes Good VoIP and Bad VoIP.

So should you switch to VoIP? The honest answer is that it really depends on who you are choosing as your service provider and what kind of speed you have with the Internet.

Jun
25
2012
Crisis Management Skills Learned in a Crisis Maranda Gibson

Have you ever hit anything on the interstate? Of course you have! Until last week, running over something in the highway was always one of those moments where you pray that it’s nothing awful and you hope that whatever it is won’t cause a major accident.

Last week, I got to know what it’s like to hit something that isn’t “nothing awful”. While traveling at 65MPH, I hit a gas can the size of a propane tank. To make a long story short, it flew out from under a concrete mixer along with some other debris that caught my eye. The gas can flew into the air and slammed back down into the world and I had two choices: hit it or swerve into traffic.

Boom! The tank lodges under my SUV and I have no choice but to stop in the middle of the interstate or risk a spark that could, considering the fact that it’s a gas can, cause a giant explosion. So there I am at rush hour, hazard lights blinking, on the phone with the emergency operators, telling them I can smell gas and staring into my rearview mirror as cars and 18-wheelers go whizzing around me at 70 MPH. I’m waiting on the police to respond when a man pulls up and stops in front of me, aiding in getting the can free and sending me on my way.

Now that I’ve had some time to breathe, cry, and think about my response, I realized a couple of very key points of crisis management.

Know How to Respond

Large businesses have a coding system to let employees know of an issue and have pre-planned responses. For example, a “code blue” in a hospital situation refers to a patient that needs immediate medical attention. Knowing how to respond to a crisis is vital to ensure that staff members know proper protocol to project the livelihood of themselves and the people around them. After coming to a stop on the highway, my brain just went into action – I put on my hazards, kept my seat belt on, called 911, knew where I was so that I could get help, and knowing what to do helped keep me calm.

Understand Some Things Are Out of Your Control

When it comes to managing a business in times of crises, there is only so much that you can do. There are some things that you won’t be able to prevent – media leaks, rumors, speculation, and those kinds of things. Combat these types of occurrences by limiting the number of people that know the true ins and outs of what is going on, at least until you can fully assess the situation.

Don’t Make Things a Bigger Crisis

When you sit down to lay out the response plan don’t make any knee-jerk reactions. These kinds of reactions can make things worse when they don’t need to be. The last thing you want to do in the middle of crisis situation is create a larger problem by responding in an inappropriate manner. Make sure the response plan is distributed to the people who know what to do with it. There may be a crisis where you have to choose between unattractive options and you don’t want that decision to make it worse. Sitting in my car and waiting for the police wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was better than trying to play Frogger across the interstate.

Nothing will prepare you for when a crisis actually comes up and I now believe it’s a little bit of planning and a lot of instinct. But it’s that plan that will have you ready to trust your instincts. What’s your crisis management plan? Do you have one?

Jun
20
2012
Beat The Boring Meeting With Our Book Maranda Gibson

No one is born a pro speaker. It takes a lot of practice and preparation to nail it. Conferences and meetings can be downright boring causing participants to lose focus and not pay attention. So how do you avoid the drab and the dull?

Our first book Lessons from the Bored Room is now available.This collection of short articles shows you:

  • How to break the ice before a meeting
  • What makes a good PowerPoint presentation
  • How to effectively plan for a conference call
  • Many other helpful tips that will give your meeting a boost 

It's a quick, informative read that will give you an insight on perfecting your conferences and meetings.

Whether you are trying to inspire or just inform, issues like monotony in your voice and how long the conference should last are important.

With practice, preparation, and a little help from our book you will be able to improve your meetings across the board.

And more than likely, you will receive positive responses from your participants as well.

Purchase a copy of our book, Lessons from the Bored Room, and we will credit your account $10.00. Just email your receipt and account number to accuinfo@accuconference.com.

Order the paperback from Amazon.

Also available on the Kindle

Jun
18
2012
5 Myths that Make Meetings Unbearable Maranda Gibson

Were you told to set up a conference call today? Did you groan, roll your eyes, or curl up in the fetal position on the floor? That’s a shame – meetings aren’t bad, it is the way that we think they should be conducted that are.

Here are six myths about meetings that mean participants will be bored and as the presenter, you can’t wait for it to be over with a tip to bust the myth and get your participants engaged.

  1. The more people that attend the better your meeting will be.
  2. Wrong. If you’re putting a meeting together to follow up with a development project, you may not need to invite the sales department. The Modern Meeting Standard suggests asking if the presence of one person would dramatically shift a decision making vote. If yes, they need to attend, if no, then they can probably skip this one. (Al Pittampalli put together a great book and you can check out a more in depth interview with him in our April Newsletter)

  3. Everyone is paying attention.
  4. A lot of presenters think that once they send out the invitation and conference call information that their work is done. The truth is that it takes a lot of work to keep participants engaged during the conference call. Many participants just put their phone on mute so that the rest of the conference doesn’t hear them working or playing games on their phone. Things like Q&A sessions, polling, or even getting interactive on social networks during your presentation are great ways to keep participants engaged.

  5. Reading from slides is the same thing as “making a presentation”.
  6. No. The golden rule of presentation is never read from your slides. Slides are a guide to prevent the speaker from losing their place and to visually stimulate your participants along the way. Instead of filling slide after slide with bullet points, use images and short statements to clue the participants into the information, but if you give it away on the slides – they will tune you out.

  7. Your agenda is a script.
  8. Much like the slides in Myth #3, the use of an agenda is sometimes distorted into being used as a script for the meeting. The agenda should be more of a guide to let participants know how the conference call time is going to be spent. For example, an agenda might say that from 9:00 – 9:30 will be Introduction, 9:30 – 10:30 Speaker, 10:30-11:00 Q&A. A meeting agenda works best when used as a short check list of how presenters plan on the time being used.

  9. Meetings that are blocked out for an hour must fill the whole hour.
  10. Don't fill time for the sake of taking up the entire hour. If you wrap up early or get through questions quicker than anticipated, go ahead and close out the conference. People will appreciate your effectiveness and be glad they have some extra time where they can get some other things taken care of. Nothing kills a meeting faster than when your participants feel like you're wasting their time.

Part of the thing that makes meetings and conferences a bit of a drag is the way the meeting is viewed. If we start small, dispelling some myths, and move on from there we are guaranteed to have more productive meetings and happy co-workers.

May
30
2012
Lost in Translation? 5 Keys to Being an Expert Communicator Chilton Tippin

If you step back and analyze the process of communication, you will realize that it’s actually a fairly difficult one, where a lot can get lost in translation. The upshot, however, is that the communication loop between one person and another can be decoded and improved upon. In pursuit of this improvement, we’ll take a look at what goes in to a communication loop—be it written, drawn, spoken, etc. And then we’ll go over five ways to make yourself better at simply getting your point across.

The Communication Process (Via Mindtools)

Source > Message > Encoding > Message > Channel > Message > Decoding > Message > Receiver > Feedback

The above communication process details each step that must occur for a piece of information to be communicated. It starts in your brain (the source), is put in some sort of message form, like the written or spoken word (encoded), and then passes it through a channel (blog, telephone, book, television), where the receiver interprets it (decodes), and then gives feedback.

Now that you see everything that occurs in the transaction between source and receiver, you can better understand the ways in which your communication often gets garbled, distilled, altered, or lost. The opportunity, as mentioned above, is understanding this loop. Part of this understanding is just seeing it fleshed out—like you just did. But here are five keys that can help you take advantage of the communication loop.

  1. Talk clearly, with fewer details rather than more. Seeing the communication loop, you now recognize that there are many stages along the path from source to receiver in which information can be skewed or lost. If, however, you articulate short, succinct chunks of information, the main ideas are less likely to fall through the tracks. This requires that you plan your communication out, which may take a bit more time. But doing this will pay off in the long run.
  2. Select the most appropriate channel for delivering your message. Nowadays, we’re inclined to email and text, sending our messages in short, quasi-written form. For many types of communication (rapid-fire, informal) these are appropriate mediums. Nonetheless, email and text simply cannot get to the bottom of things as effectively as a conversation. Talking face-to-face or over the phone, both people in the communication loop can ask questions, listen for tone of voice, explain and re-explain until the point is both made and taken. This works best in describing details or for items covered in meetings. On the other hand, certain types of communication may take more nuanced or structured arguments (think letters to attorneys, bosses, editors) and are best if composed and edited.
  3. Become adept at giving feedback. A big part of communicating is being the receiver of communication. To be good at this, you need to get good at showing the speaker that you’re understanding what they’re saying. For an example, I’d like to talk about my dad, who is a dentist and has a tendency to drill, not just teeth, but information, too. By that I mean, he wants so badly for the listener to understand what he’s saying that he will repeat and repeat the same piece of information over and over again. This can get frustrating over time. Being his son, and thus the receiver of a great deal of his information, has taught me how to convey very obviously that I understand what he’s saying. I do this first by taking what he’s told me and rephrasing it in my own words. This typically works. If it doesn’t, then, I literally repeat what he said word for word and say, “Dad, I get it.” There are other, more subtle methods to use as well: quickly nodding the head, saying things like “true,” “I see,” “that makes sense” and “uh-huh,” or asking questions that indicate your understand of points made.
  4. Train yourself to be an expert decoder. In other words, be a good listener. It seems simple, but failure to listen properly is the bane of the world’s information flow and the greatest creator of the world’s misinformation. In many conversations, we are so eager to weigh in or to give off the vibe that we understand—when, truly, we don’t—that we don’t take time to decode what’s actually being said. In order to listen, you must do all that is in your power to not lose concentration. Also, unless you are in a debate, do not try to formulate your response in the midst of their conversation. Our brains are good at switching tasks but not at multitasking, so you will undoubtedly lose some information if you try to formulate a response in the midst of another person’s talk.
  5. Step five is to practice the above four. It’s easy to think of these once or twice after reading a blog post, but to really get good, you must be a diligent steward of your communication. That is, you need to be conscious of these steps as you go about your day talking to friends, family, coworkers and whomever you may encounter.

Becoming a courteous and coherent communicator can take you far in this world. Perfecting these steps will get you on the right path.

Apr
27
2012
What Talking in Spanish Taught Me About Communicating in English Chilton Tippin

When I was in college I spent a summer in Ecuador and a semester in Argentina. Though I spent most of my time just blundering around down there, looking back on the experience, I realize now that I learned quite a few things about communicating. You see, the problem was that I didn't speak Spanish. I didn't speak it at all when I went, and after a few months of study, I learned to speak it, but few would say I learned to speak it with fluency. Nonetheless, it is often those moments of confusion, the botched conversations, the wandering lost in unfamiliar neighborhoods—in short, the miscommunication—that teach a person his or her most lasting lessons.

So, with that, here are some lessons I learned while attempting to communicate in a foreign language. These lessons, I think, can be applied to any form of communication, because whether it's in Spanish, Chinese, English, or a lingua franca, the end-goal is to get your message across.

  1. Speak Slowly– Often while I was abroad, I would be afraid that people would think I was stupid if I did not get my sentences out quickly. In my own tongue, I can speak at a fairly rapid clip, but in Spanish it would sometimes take a moment to order the words in my head. I would blurt things out, which often came out garbled and nonsensical. If, however, I told myself to slow down, I found that my message would usually get through to whomever I spoke with. In many cases, too, I would find myself utterly confused by people who spoke Spanish as if they were auctioneers. In these instances, I would remind them that I was foreign and that they would need to pump the breaks a bit. In any case, communicating abroad taught me that slow articulation in conducive to clarity in communication.
  2. Lessons on Vocabulary Usage– I took Spanish classes while abroad, and thanks to some brilliant teachers, I was able to learn the grammar and mechanics of the language relatively quickly. But what was difficult was learning the vast and rich Spanish vocabulary (which is actually small compared to English). I often found that among native speakers in my dorm, there were colloquialisms that went over my head. Whenever I heard new words, I would make a note in my iPhone and look them up later. But for the most part, I was at a loss in understanding the slang and jargon. On the other hand, my Spanish teachers were aware that their students' vocabularies were limited, so they made sure to use words that we'd understand. What I took away from talking with these two groups of people is that communicators should always take into account the vocabulary and understanding of the people they're communicating with.
  3. Become a master body-language reader– I observed in Argentina that locals tended to gesture a lot more than most folks do back home in America. Certain gestures, from what I could tell, were universal, like shrugging shoulders to say, "I don’t know." One unique gesture that I picked up was when an Argentine would conjoin all their fingers in a point, turn their wrist upward, and bounce their hand, while simultaneously scowling and pursing their lips. This gesture was meant to say, "What the heck is this? Or what on earth is going on?" As a foreigner, I used this gesture from time to time to the delight of my local friends. It taught me just how much can be communicated by studying the gestures of others and applying those gestures yourself.

Communicating effectively can be like cutting through a fog. If the message is complex, or if it needs to be translated between unfamiliar languages, you'll need to bring as many skills to bear as possible in understanding and delivering the message. Being adept at using these same skills in English-English communication will make your message that much more clear.

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