Crisis Management Skills Learned in a Crisis

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?

Beat The Boring Meeting With Our Book

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

5 Myths that Make Meetings Unbearable

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.

Lost in Translation? 5 Keys to Being an Expert Communicator

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.

What Talking in Spanish Taught Me About Communicating in English

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.

Technology Ruined The Superbowl

Yard Line

UPDATE:Nielson Ratings on Most-Remembered and Best-Liked Ads.

The 2012 Superbowl between the NY Giants and the New England Patriots broke ratings history. The ratings make it not only the most watched sporting event, but the most watch television program of all time.

It probably helps that this year's match up pitted two teams with huge fan bases and huge populations against each other. It also helped that other stations abandoned regular programming because who is dumb enough to put their shows up against the biggest football game of the year?

The game was great and it was obvious that the two teams that were there deserved their places on the field. The game kept fans either biting their nails or screaming at the TV all night and, in short, was everything you would hope the Superbowl would be.

Well, everything you thought except for the commercials. While they were still broadcasted and many of them were as funny as expected, some of the most popular ones were released days in advance of the big game to social media audiences.

YouTube has become a big part of marketing and advertising. As someone who is in the business I get it. I am all about companies embracing new media and giving customers a glance behind the scenes to how a business operates or giving away a teaser trailer to entice them to watch for more. I'm just not sure how I feel about social media breaking the tradition of the Superbowl.

How many times have you heard someone say, "Oh, I only watch for the commercials" or chose to grab their refills when the actual game comes back on? I'm not saying that airing the commercials online was a bad idea from a marketing standpoint. I talk a lot about how companies need to be where their markets are, and most demographics are online now. It would make sense that the next logical step for advertising would be online.

It just makes me wonder why a company like Chevrolet would choose to spend the kind of cash for a Superbowl spot, only to post it on YouTube a couple of days in advance of the game. Isn’t that kind of like telling a kid what they are getting for their birthday?

Obviously, based on the ratings, releasing some of the commercials via YouTube days before the game started didn’t hurt the number of viewers for Sunday’s game, but I can't help but wonder if we lost the experience. Marketing is changing – which, it has always evolved as new ways of delivering messages has been in front of people. (Think of the evolution from radio to TV)

Did you feel like something was missing from the Superbowl experience? Were you disappointed that many of the most popular commercials were already seen or spoiled through social networking in the days before the game?

On a sidenote – here is one commercial that was a sweet surprise - the introduction of Ms. Brown for M&Ms.

Press Conference Management and Etiquette (For Everyone)

As a baseball fan, we recently had a very exciting thing happen for the Texas Rangers. Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish signed a six year deal to come to Texas and play with our Rangers. During the announcement press conference, I noticed something that was really pleasant - everyone involved did a great job of explaining the feelings of the baseball club, and speaking for the not present Darvish.

I've heard bad press conferences where everyone speaks over each other and it doesn't seem like there's any information, but this conference went very well. There were some things I noticed during the conference that stood out as some best practices for press conference management.

  • Define an overall message of the press conference and stick to it throughout the press conference. Press conferences are supposed to promote the idea of cohesive thoughts and show how different individuals, departments, or agencies are working together.
  • Everyone has a specific topic to discuss and they should stick to it. Let the people who are in charge of certain departments speak on those departments - it builds trust with the reporters and the audience.
  • Don't talk over each other. Commenting officials should answer the questions related to their topic.  If you speak up when someone else is talking {because pauses can get confusing} save your point until the first person is really finished.
  • Show some love to the reporters in the back. When taking questions, make sure you take some from the reporters in the back. Smaller publications usually don't receive top billing at these kinds of conferences, so it might be a good show of faith to show a little love to the reporters in the back. 
  • Be thorough but respectful of time limitations.  Yes you want to answer all of the questions but in a crisis, you're working against deadlines as well. While it's important to inform the public of a situation it is equally important to handle the situation. Set a time limit (usually 20 or 30 minutes) and stick to it.


What do you think makes for a good press conference? Are there any specifics like these that you'd want to add, or do many things depend on the nature of the conference itself?

Conference Call Services to Try in 2012

Teleconferences have changed since they were first introduced. They have come far beyond on the "audio meeting" to become a potentially integral part of your business and sales strategy. We put our heads together and thought of some other ways that conference call services could be used to interview employees, make new sales connections, and a lot of other really awesome things.

  1. Operator Assistance - An operator will take over all of the technical aspects of the call. They will also prepare a unique introduction to your conference call. Not only is this a great way to create some formality on the call, it's also a great way to relieve some of the stress from the moderator.
  2. Host a Sales Presentation via Web Conference - Instead of driving across town or hopping on a plane to pitch your next client, try using a simple web conference. Put together a PowerPoint presentation and stay in your office. You can still field questions and show growth potential, you're just doing it from the comfort of your favorite chair.
  3. Don't Travel for One Month - In the same vein as the previous tip, plan on keeping the wheels down for an entire month. Limiting travel will not only save you money but grant a different perspective on how you can manage your business. A lot of companies don't realize how easy it is to use conferencing and limit the travel.
  4. Host a Job Interview via Conference Call - Typically, the beginning of the year is when companies start bringing in new employees. Instead of the typical face to face interview, have the initial interview over the phone. You'll hear how the potential employee handles themselves when all they have are their words and tone of voice to back them up.
  5. Interview a Leader From Your Industry - Use a conference service to record the interview and then turn it into a podcast and host it on your blog. Simple as that.
  6. Telecommuter Friday - This may sound crazy but it could be a good experience for you and your employees. If your businesses allows (some won't, like retail) pick one Friday as a test and let your employees telecommute. Many companies successfully operate in a virtual office environment and end up saving money without the need for office space, phone lines, etc.
  7. Invite Your Customers to a Q&A Session - Try a monthly or quarterly call with your customers to see what they think of any changes or updates you've made to your products. This is an exceptionally great idea for start ups that usually make a lot of changes right away and rely on feedback from the public to know what is working and what isn't.
  8. Add a PowerPoint to a Status Meeting - Punch up your next boring old status meeting by adding in a PowerPoint. Suddenly, an audible list of sales numbers, increases, and projections become colorful and memorable graphs and charts. Using visuals reaches out and grabs the audience’s attention to keep the focus on the meeting and nothing else.
  9. Use a Registration Page - Trying to see who is attending a status meeting? Want to know what potential client attended one of your web conferences? Set up registration pages and collect information like name, email, or phone number. It gives you the ability to see who joined the conference, who didn't, and once you download the registration list, it's a marketing contact sheet that immediately lets you see who is interested in learning more about your products.
  10. Invite the Press to Your Company Announcement - We recommend that you use this tip in conjunction with the operator assistance suggestion. Inviting the press to an announcement is a good way to generate buzz, get a little excitement about a project, or gain a little extra news coverage.

In 2012, we highly encourage you to try one (or more) of these uses of your conferencing services. You might be surprised that a lot of people use conference calls for these very reasons and that it works very well.

Verbal Communication Styles

It is generally accepted that there are four different kinds of verbal communication styles. Each person will have their own way of approaching projects and while one particular communication style will stand out among the different attributes, most of us will have a combination of both. The kind of communicator affects the way they see different aspects of their job, how they react to change, and how they may interact with their co-workers. While reading over these I also realized that the type you relate most with could have some bearing on your presentations. Here's a brief overview of the communication styles and some things you can improve once you know your type.

Relator - The relator is the team player in the office. They dislike conflict and are hesitant towards change (but not necessarily against) because it will throw off their daily routine. They are easy to work with, take direction well, and are always willing to listen to others. While they always have the best interests of their co-workers at heart their work can sometimes be affected by the need for their co-workers to be happy.

When planning a presentation as a Relator keep in mind that you have no ability to please everyone who is listening to you. There will be someone in the audience who has heard what you're saying before or won't "get it". Instead, focus on the audience as a whole and encourage them to participate throughout the presentation.

Socializers - These employees are energetic motivators in the office. They enjoy brainstorming meetings and look ahead to the bigger picture. They are excited about where a company can end up but might lose some of the small details along the way.

The Socializer should take care when planning a presentation to include the small details. If you're going through a long and complicated process of how to make a particular change with in an organization, be sure that you document everything that you did to achieve success.

Thinkers - They value logic and details. They can approach a problem and provide a lot of solutions and contingency plans. While they are not opposed to change, it will take some time for them to get used to.

Where the socializer needs to include more details, if you're the thinker you should include a little less in your presentations. It's your nature to include every step along the way, but maybe you need to simplify your presentations a bit and give the option to contact you if they need more information.

Directors - These are the "no-nonsense" folks in the office. They get right down to business and can sometimes be blinded by their own personal goals. While their eyes are on the "bigger picture" they may have unrealistic expectations of how to get there.

If you're a director work on your presentation opening. Sure you desire getting down to business but take a couple of extra minutes to open with a good morning and some polite chatting with your audience. It will make them more receptive to what you have to say.

After reading these, I'm pretty sure that I'm a mixture of the Relator, the Socializer, and the Thinker - with my standout category being the Relator. I am not opposed to change and, in fact, welcome it, but I do require some time to adjust to it. I love to brainstorm with a group and I enjoy conversations that lay out different opinions and thoughts. The thing that stands out the most about me is that I am a "team player". I am strongly opposed to conflict and, in the past, my work has been affected by the need for everyone to be happy and satisfied in their job. What combination are you and which one stands out the most?

Best Blog Posts of 2011 - AccuConference Edition

Since 2012 is just around the corner I thought I would take a look to see the most popular posts on the AccuConference blog in 2011. These gems always bear another looking at and stay close in 2012 as we celebrate our 10 year anniversary. There will be lots of cool things happening around AccuConference so I hope you enjoy celebrating with us. Have a Happy New Year everyone and I hope 2012 brings you great things.

  1. Cell Phone Statistics - Looking for information about cell phone usage? We compiled much of the available data to show you the breakdown.
  2. Breaking Communication Boundaries - Is your company getting the most out of your conference call services? You'd be surprised at the statistics of companies who aren't.
  3. Cell Phone Safety - Companies are evaluating and changing their policies on cell phone use while driving company vehicles.
  4. In-N-Out Fort Worth - One of the most exciting things that happened this year was the opening of the In-N-Out burger in downtown Fort Worth. This was a process that was documented by our fearless leaders and their enthusiasm earned them a feature quote in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
  5. Types of Presentations - When asked to present on a conference, the first thing you have to decide is what kind of speech you're going to be making.

Honorable Mentions