Crisis Communication

I think we can all agree that the BP created a PR disaster with their handling of the crisis shortly after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m sure if the PR team could hop in a time machine and go back, they would find a way to handle things a little better from the very start. (One would hope right?) The thing about communication in a crisis is that sometimes, we come across situations that are unprecedented, things that have never happened before, and it isn’t until later that we can get down into the nitty gritty of a company response and learn from mistakes as well as triumphs. This kind of communication can be especially different when hosting a conference call to update everyone and when you have only your voice and the words you are using to convey the messages, here are some important things to keep in mind.

  • Express your emotions so there is no question on how you feel about a situation. Sometimes, situations call for condolences to be expressed to families. Be sure you say that out loud. In a crisis, loss happens, and you’re sorry for that. No one will be able to see that in your eyes, so you have to say it out loud.
  • Use the tone of your voice to convey the seriousness of the situation. There is a time and place for jokes and humor on a conference, but this is not one of those times. It’s not always appropriate to try to “lighten the mood”.
  • Use facts and refrain from judgment or blame. When presenting information in a crisis, the last thing you want to do is speculate when you shouldn’t be. Talk about or answer questions about what you know, not what you think.
  • Keep it simple and avoid using jargon. Word is going to travel fast once you hang up from the conference. Speak in simple terms to lessen the likelihood that your words and meaning could be twisted.
  • Be mindful of the words you are actually saying. For example, using a word like “promise” is going to stand out. Even when you say “I promise” or “we promise” and you don’t mean the literal meaning of promise, for many, that word binds you into stone. Remember that your words have so much power, even though you’re just trying to offer comfort.

I think in the end, what I’ve learned from BP as well as numerous other tragedies that we’ve had in the world is that when it comes to communicating in the crisis, most of what people want is reassurance, but as companies, we are also trying to give the public the facts. What have you learned from the BP oil spill?

Public Speaking

Back in Junior High, I had a choir solo in front of the whole school. I got dressed up for my big debut and listened to the music intently for the musical queue. I was singing a solo from Sunset Boulevard and I was 12 years old and nervous as heck. Since I fidget when I’m nervous, I played on the ends of my skirt, rolling the ends a little between my fingers.

When my choir teacher (who looked a lot like the wicked witch of the west) played the video in front of the choir class, I realized that I was not “rolling my skirt” a little – instead it was rolling quite a bit and I thank God I managed not to flash anyone. Mortified, I’m pretty sure that was the moment I determined that my choir teacher hated me for letting the tape play, and it was also the moment that I realized that a socially awkward girl prone to fidgeting and embarrassment had no business putting herself on the line like that – despite my love of singing.

When I moved, I decided to build a new me, and my fear of speaking in front of a group of people was the first thing I wanted to tackle. Despite my introverted personality now, in high school and college no one would have ever applied that adjective to me. I got active in debate and by the time I graduated college in 2005, I majored in Communications. Not bad for a shy kid, don’t you think? As I worked (and continue to work through) my old fears of public speaking, here are the presentation skills that I know are going to help you rock some socks off.

Rule Number One: You should never read word for word from a printed out document or slide show. (Please never forget this one.)

  • Start strong – come out with a relevant story that ties everything together.
  • Let go of the podium and take down the last wall between you and the audience.
  • It’s a presentation – not a sales pitch.
  • Be passionate, exciting, and make people want to know more.
  • Be open for questions and if you run out of time, give the audience a way to get a hold of you after the presentation.

The people who taught me these things know way more about public speaking and presenting in front of live crowds than I do, but thanks to some of these things, the shy awkward kid from South Carolina moved to Arkansas and now has a career that she’s comfortable and happy in. Never saw that coming.

How did you make yourself a better public speaker? Who did you watch and what presentation skills did you try to emulate when it came to when you did your own presentations?

Really Anywhere, Anytime, Any Place.

While everyone might now be over excited about the appearance of two-way video calling on cell phones, I am. Since I work in an industry where we talk about how certain products and services allow you to take your office and meetings everywhere, being able to actually do that is a very cool change. Since Wi-Fi is everywhere you can take your laptop out and host or attend a conference without having to worry about being in the office.

Right now, if you’re stuck in traffic or on a train it’s not always an easy move to whip out your laptop and connect to a meeting. In the next year, we are going to be able to whip out our phones and see the person we’re talking to. Here are some of the companies that are making this happen.

Apple:  While official confirmation hasn’t come out yet, it’s a pretty good guess that the new iPhone 4G will support (at least) two way video conferencing, among many other things. More than likely, it will (with no big surprise here) support iChat or some other form of Apple based product, but I suspect with time, video conferencing providers and services will find a way to make their products compatible with that kind of video availability.

Evo 4G: A strong response to the iPhone, it’s got a similar layout and will provide a means for video chatting. The initial concerns to the Evo video chat was that there would be a charge for the service, but it seems like now, it will not require an additional fee to access, only an additional fee to access premium services (whatever those will be).

I guess the basic question comes down to if you see yourself using this kind of service, or if you will just try it out because you’re in the market for a new phone.  Are you more excited about Apple or Sprint being able to offer this kind of service and will it make your life easier, or harder?

How to Get and Use Feedback

Your conference call has been planned, executed, and now you’re sitting back, enjoying the endorphins that are flowing through your system after a successful presentation. It was successful, right? You think it was because you managed not to forget what you were talking about or get derailed, but did you remember to ask what participants thought? Here are five easy steps for asking for feedback and what to do once you get it.

1.) Ask for feedback.  If you’re not providing the channels for your attendees to give you feed back, you’re not going to get any. Make it easier on them by polling them throughout the web conference, providing an email to send feedback to, or encourage them to use social media by liking your company page on Facebook or a hashtag on Twitter.
2.) Respond to the feedback. Nothing sucks worse than feeling like you’re not heard. When you get feedback from someone, respond to them, thank them, or ask for more information. The more you know about how they developed an opinion, and compare it to your other feedback, the better you’re going to know what works and what doesn’t.
3.) Implement the suggestions. This is important especially when you have a repeat conference with repeat clients. What is the point of asking for feedback if you’re not going to make changes based on what your clients feel? Meet with the other conference organizers and see what the participants said and how you can make the changes – if you can at all. There will be some changes you can’t make, but you should evaluate all the suggestions.
4.) Invite the clients who gave you feedback to another conference. Once you’ve evaluated the changes you can make and implemented them, invite the people who had feedback to a session for free. Let them see how you took the suggestions they made and implemented it into further conferences.
5.) Follow up with the participants. Once the conference has ended, don’t be shy to send them an email and ask them how you did. If they have more suggestions, they’ll let you know. 

The most important thing to remember is that you can ask for feedback all day long, but unless you do something about what you’re given, it’s empty question. What’s your preferred way to ask for feedback and how are you responding?

Vacationers Guide to Conference Planning

When heading out the door for vacations, you have a very specific plan in mind when it comes to how to approach the trip. Where are we going? What are we doing when we get there? My mother planned every aspect of our road trips down to a “T” and I learned the guide to a great road trip. Most of us have a plan for things that are fun and if we could just apply that same dedication to our business, we might find that much of our daily stress will be gone.

Here's how my mama’s vacation planning guide can help you plan your next conference call:

1. Make a list to keep from forgetting anything. If you are an organization nerd like me, then you know that a packing list is one of the most important things you have for your trip, especially when traveling with kids. It serves as a “to-do” list for your upcoming trip. You should have the same approach to planning your conference. Can your provider handle the capacity needed? Do you need to schedule the call with them? Making a to-do list leading up to your conference will ensure that things work smoothly. We have a number of free eBooks available that can help you plan your conference and how to leverage conference calls to your advantage.

2. Get your business done before you lock the door. When we got buckled in, my brother and I both knew that we were not going to get to make a stop for at least two hours. So before we left the house, we were sure to have our bellies full and have used the restroom. Before a conference call, you should make sure that you’ve done these as well. When you’re body is happy, you’ll be able to pay attention and no one will be able to hear your stomach growling over the speaker phone.

3. Have a map – not just a GPS. GPS is a great tool until you’ve ventured off the beaten path enough where you don’t have the right map for your location. You know you’re on a road, but GPS doesn’t think that road exists. One second you know just where you are and then next, you’re completely lost. This is why you should always travel with an atlas. When you’re hosting a web conference, you should provide your participants with the hard copies for the presentation as well. If someone doesn’t have computer access or (horror of horrors) your power goes out or your internet dies in the middle of the presentation, you can keep right on going.

4. Keep the kiddos entertained. The greatest invention ever for a road trip family? The back seat DVD player. I remember traveling without those and peppering my parents with an endless stream of are we there yet? The last thing you want as a presenter is for participants to be thinking are you done yet? Be sure that while covering the topics and being knowledgeable, you are also entertaining. Remember that you have two minutes to get the audience’s attention at the beginning and after that, you might never get them to pay attention.

5. Be sure to make stops along the way. Growing up, we were adept at taking really long road trips and my parents always made sure to plan about an hour long stop somewhere, so my brother and I could get out of the car and run around. While we were great travelers, we were also kids, and we still needed to stretch our legs and play. While your participants are still business people, they are also human and will want to get up and stretch their legs. Pad conferences that will last longer than an hour with a short break in the middle.

By applying the same rules to setting up a conference call that you would to hitting the road with the kiddos in tow, you can make things a little easier. Remember that, unfortunately, most people don’t look forward to conferences, much like small children who dread the backseat of the car. All they need is a little bit of entertainment and they will stay nice and happy. That’s my plan, what’s yours?

Five Ways Educators Can Use Conference Calls

In sixth grade, I remember our teacher telling my class about the importance of working in a team. It was the new thing when I was in elementary school – breaking into groups and doing projects together. We had to assign managers, reporters, and the like in order to get the best grade. She always told us that it would be the most important lesson we would learn, something we would appreciate when we got out of college and into work.

  1. Invite a Professor. Even in elementary school, kids are developing their likes and tastes. When I was in fifth grade, I realized I hated math and I liked learning about history. Elementary school was when I decided that I was going to go to college – without fail. It would have been one of the coolest things in the world to get to speak to someone who taught college so we could ask questions to someone who could be one of our teachers in the future.
  2. Authors.  When I was in elementary school, it was so different to have a student that likes to write. I was that kid who took writing assignments so seriously, turning in three pages when only a paragraph was required. I wanted to be a writer from a very young age and to have had the opportunity to speak to someone that did that for a living probably would have been the highlight of my life. (Up to that point, at least)
  3. Phone Pals. Remember having a pen pal? I wrote to a girl in Paris, and she never wrote me back. The point of having a pen pal is to learn about different cultures and when pen pals don’t write back there’s only discouragement. If a kid doesn’t get a response, they won’t be interested in the assignment. Instead of writing letters or emails, set up conferences with other teachers from around the world.  You don’t have to talk to people outside of the United States in order to be exposed to different cultures, and schools are full of kids who will already have different life experiences.
  4. Other Teachers. Set up a conference call with other teachers from your school or branch out to other states and countries to share lesson plans and things that have been happening in your class. If you had a student who had a great idea, you can share it with other teachers. Just because you’re not in college anymore, doesn’t mean you’re not learning something every day.
  5. Summer Reading Clubs. Okay, obviously I was that kid in elementary school. The one who was sneaking her book out of her desk and reading it intently when the teacher wasn’t watching (and sometimes when she was). It would have been fun though, since I wasn’t the only one who was a super book geek, to have been invited to a conference call once a week with other students who were reading, and our teacher advisor. You could even get with other teachers in you district, put together the same reading list and start the discussion.

Most conferencing services have some kind of discount for educational institutions (shameless plug: Get Connected) so if you’re interested in trying to incorporate something like this into your class room, be sure to give your provider a call and see what they can do for you. Are you an educator currently using conference calls? Let me know how you are using your conferences to make for a better classroom experience.

3 Ways To Set Tone With Invitations

A couple of weeks ago I (as the dutiful and wonderful daughter I am) went to my mother’s house to clean it for her while she was out of town. While cleaning up, I stumbled across these, beautiful “G” wax stamps that I used to seal my wedding invitations. It made me think about how when it’s something that we are excited about, that we put a lot of time into sending out an invitation. From birthday parties to wedding invitations, we put a lot of thought into the message these invites will send. We agonize about what the invitations look like and what we write on them. When it comes to inviting people to something that’s more “business” we forget that how we phrase the invitation is just as much a message as the invitation itself. When we send out an invitation, no matter what it is, what we send is going to affect the tone of the event you’re inviting people to.

Here are three ways that you can set the right tone with your conference call invitation.

1.) FlashCan Evites -These were cute and fun. It lets you create your own scenario using artist donated flash material. I played around for a few minutes and while they are a little on the campy side, it’s a great way to invite co-workers or close business partners to an informal or impromptu conference. The humorous tone of the invitation is going to let everyone invited know that they are joining a conference call among friends.

2.) Press Releases and Registration Page – To set a more formal tone with your invitations, publish a press release and include a registration link. The press release goes out online, or sent to individual agencies. The tone created is going to be a more serious tone, and may not be necessary if you’re hosting a training update or something with your co-workers.

3.) Handwritten Invitations – Yes, in this crazy technical world where everything can be sent out via email we should never discount the handwritten invitation. Handwritten invitations set the tone to the invitees that you are willing to invest time in them. There is a great deal of time spent handwriting and stamping individual notes, and as soon as that invitation reaches the client, they know instantly that you are willing to spend that time.

No matter what you are inviting someone too, it’s always important to remember how to set the tone. Since a conference call can be considering something that’s a business “annoyance” sending out creative invitations is one way to make your next conference call less of a bore and more of an event, without a dress code.

How are you setting the tone for your conference calls?

Presentation Power

The story that’s been circulating for the last couple of days is from the New York Times about General James Mattis saying that “PowerPoint makes us stupid”. As someone who deals a lot with presenters, I have to say that I, very respectfully, sir, disagree.

Simply using a PowerPoint doesn’t make us stupid, but it does run the risk of making presenters boring and making audiences complacent.  How many times have you been attending a web conference and you find yourself staring off into space or working on something else because you’re busy and you can “always look at the presentation slides later.”

It’s because a lot of presenters “abuse the power” of the PowerPoint. When you attend a conference or view a webinar, you often come up against the fact that speakers are reading off the slides. Just because you put your sentences into short bullet points doesn’t mean you’re not breaking one of the cardinal rules of presenting. PowerPoint presentations should be used as a guide, never as the meat of your presentation – that should be you.

With that being said, let’s talk about some of the other important things to keep in mind when putting together a presentation for a group.

Pictures should enhance a story, not tell it. I think the biggest “what were they thinking” moment comes from the presentation slide that’s been circulating the internet. Who can read that? It says nothing. If you’re relying on your slides to tell the story, you’re going to lose your audience almost instantly. It’s better to use them to support a story that you tell.

Not all subjects need slide presentations. Sure, the US Military has a lot of ground to cover and probably a short amount of time to do it in, but the everyday company doesn’t always need to have a presentation. There are some subjects that can be fully discussed just with a conference call. If you over saturate your audience with slides, they simply won’t mean anything anymore. For more presentation tips and tricks, check out some of my previous posts.

Presentations, like most things in the US, are all about the balance of power – when to use them, when to not, and how to use them in the right way. How do you determine when to use a presentation and when not to?

Express Yourself

Ever wondered why saying “goo-goo-ga-ga” in a high pitched voice really seems to get a baby going with the kicks and giggles?

According to Science Daily, new research suggests that infants as young as seven months can be as sensitive to the tone of voice of a parent or loved one as another adult would be. Since infants don’t understand words they relate to the tone of a voice.  It’s easy to forget that the tone of voice you take on a subject is just as important, if not more, than your body movements.

Conveying your emotions on a conference call is not nearly as easy as a game of peek-a-boo, but it can be if you’re aware of your tone. Here are some quick adjustments you can make to your tone so that you can make it a little more clear what you want your audience to understand, beyond saying, “I feel –this way-.”

Soft tones.  Using a soft tone, while it might seem like it would be translated as a soothing sound, in public speaking, it’s one of the worst things you can do. Not only does it bore everyone, but it also doesn’t convey any confidence in the speaker. Instead, use a clear tone while speaking, speak loudly, and don’t be afraid to be excited.

The wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable. You need to use inflection to help your audience understand the topics you’re discussing are very important to you. Just be careful of what you’re emphasizing and why you’re emphasizing that word.  Have a game plan in mind when it comes to what you might be asked and how to express yourself.

It’s not impossible to share your emotions with people when all they have to gauge is with your voice.  Try out these suggestions on your next conference call or tell me what you do to convey your emotions on your conferences.

Veggies Without Salt Or Butter

 

If you’ve read any of my posts, you know I consider myself to be a bit of an amateur chef. There is nothing like throwing some stuff together and making something great. With every success in the kitchen there are always failures. Things get burned, the flavors don’t come out right, and, what I consider to be worst of all, and things are just bland. There is nothing like cooking a meal and then tasting nothing. You stare at the plate and you wonder if you even put salt and pepper in the pan. Maybe you actually forgot – which, has been done before, and will be done again. You have to ask yourself, what’s missing?

Consider your last conference call.  Are you looking at the history and wondering what went wrong? Sure it was okay but there was something missing. You expected more of a turn out or more feedback, and you didn’t get what you thought. You can’t do anything about it now, but you can think about what to do next time. What do you add to spice it up a bit?

Try adding a pinch of social media. Facebook and Twitter are huge and are the most likely responses for feedback. Since setting up accounts on both social networks are free, set up a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page for the conference. Give them out and the beginning of the conference and let participants know they should give you feedback there. On top of that add a layer of the visual element and let it melt. By melt, I mean sink into the other elements of your presentation. Use a PowerPoint or share your desktop to help show people all the delicious details of your conference.

If nothing else, always remember to never serve your veggies without butter and salt – and pepper, if you’re me. Lots of it.