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Oct
24
2011
Laura Interns at AccuConference {Week 3} Maranda Gibson

By: Laura

I'm officially in the swing of things at AccuConference. Each day I come to work, I know my duties and report to Maranda to see what is on my agenda. The awkward "new person" feeling has faded. I have learned a few more things about myself and work as well.

One of the assignments I was asked to do was to edit blogs from the past year. Usually, when I have projects for school or work, I like to work on it till it's done, even if it takes hours. I get distracted if I'm working on multiple projects simultaneously and feel like I'm not accomplishing anything, even though I am. When Maranda and Byrd found out I had been working on editing these blogs all day, they looked at me like I was crazy. I didn't see what was so crazy about it, because I had gotten a lot done.

Now I realize that it's best to break up your projects into sessions, and not to work on one thing for 6 straight hours. Not only can the monotony make you go cross-eyed, but the work you do is less efficient. I have no idea why I have always done things this way, but this is a lesson I need to carry over to my schoolwork. If I would have been breaking up assignments and readings instead of working only on what is due the next day, I would probably be better prepared for my test I have to take this evening and gotten more sleep last night.

I attended my first weekly meeting. They usually have their meetings on Thursdays while I'm in class, so they moved it to Wednesday so I could join. (Aren’t they sweet?) Although it was short, it caught me up on what's going on and what needs to be done.

My next big assignment is to write an article for the newsletter, including interviewing the client. I didn't know this would be the type of work I would be doing during my internship, but I'm glad they are trusting me with more and more responsibilities. This must mean I’m doing something right!


Oct
20
2011
Tips for Self-Improvement & Evaluation Maranda Gibson

One of the first parts of improving something is determining what you need to improve and what you don't. You have to know where you excel and where you fall short of your own personal expectations. The problem with evaluating yourself is that humans tend to be self-critical. We have a tendency to look at something with the critical eye and see nothing that is worth saving.

Remember when you were in school and you would hand in a paper? You worked your tail off on a paper or assignment and when it comes back, you have a shiny red B on the top of the page. You thought to yourself awesome - a B! but once you started to scan the paper you realized that there were far more red marks and notes than you had expected. The back of your brain would start first, telling you how poorly you did on the paper, even though there is a B on the front page. We get lost in criticism and don't see it for what it really is - help.

You made a speech and now you're going back to listen to your conference call recording or watch the video tape. You're ready to see what went well and what didn't, but you feel like that was an A+ performance. The problem is once your mind is open to evaluation it can quickly become judgmental and critical. Your A+ feeling can drop to an F- never do it again feeling. Before you give up completely - here are some things you need to remember about self-evaluation.

We Don't See The Big Picture

You had a B on your paper. That's a pretty amazing grade for something you worked incredibly hard on. When you scan the pages all you can see are the notes and suggestions. They are seen as an immediate negative and take over the space in our mind that was occupied by a feeling of success and happiness. We do the same thing to ourselves now when it comes to making improvements. Being overly critical is a difficult beast to defeat.

You'll Never Know Everything

You will never be the best . Athletes who get paid millions of dollars report to practice and have to make sure their skills are at the best level they can be. They still drop pop flys in center field and throw wild pitches. They still fumble the ball and get their passes picked off from the opposing team. You will never be in a position where you don't need to improve something so if that's your hold up, you need to let it go.

What Did You Like

When you get done with a speech and you feel like a million bucks, it has to be a good sign. When we mess up or let ourselves down, we know it as soon as we hang up the phone or step off the stage. When you get done with your presentation and feel awesome - you should be able to find some things that you did very well. When evaluating your speech, stop about halfway through and look down at your notes. How many negatives have you found? How many positives? If there's nothing positive on your page you're probably being a bit of a jerk to yourself.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Someone you trust can give you great insight. When you don't trust yourself to see what's good and what isn't a close friend or a co-worker is probably willing to take an hour or so of their afternoon and give you some thoughts.

Bonus Tip

In the mood for some raw feedback? Send out a survey to participants when your presentation is over. Ask them to tell you one place you can improve and one place where you did pretty well. (Positive reinforcement is a joy to improvement)

The next time you sit down to do some personal improvement be easier on yourself. Think about the grade that is actually on the page, rather than the notes for improvement. Those notes are places where you can become an even better speaker, writer, or employee. How do you evaluate yourself and take something away from it that is going to help you improve and not feel bad about yourself?

Oct
17
2011
Are We Afraid of Language Maranda Gibson

I just have to ask a question. When did we become afraid to speak? I've noticed it lately - we tiptoe around things that are controversial, even if that's not the speakers intent. I feel like a lot of people who have made headlines for something they have said probably didn't mean it the way it sounded. Everyone is guilty of making a mistake in the way they use language and usually it's not that big of a deal. Even the people surrounded by talking heads that are coaching the speaker on what and how to say something make mistakes. I feel like we've gotten to a point where we fear language. We fear discussing ideas or sharing different opinions. We are terrified of offending someone - and because of it, we keep our mouths shut.

The Problem

When we become afraid to speak out and declare that there is something that could be changed we kill the free exchange of ideas. Yes, there are some subjects and words that over time and historical changes have fallen out of our lexicon. There are some words that, like many of diseases, have been eradicated from our daily life. These words (which I won't list) are the kinds of words that only people who are ignorant or just downright hateful still use in their everyday language.

Who's At Fault?

Everyone. That's the truth. History is littered with people who have opened their mouths and caused the world to be completely flipped on its head. These are people who have flipped the world in both good and bad directions. Intent with language is just as important as the words that are said. Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are just a few examples of people who have flipped the world. So are Hitler, Stalin, and Castro.

The difference? Intent. The people who speak with hate are doing so because that is exactly what they want to do. For them, it's not about creating healthy debate and exchanging ideas.

 

When it comes to debate, we apply it on an emotional level. This is a part of human nature but when we become afraid of expressing opinions and our thoughts, we stop progress. We stop understanding. We stop the idea that you can walk a mile in someone’s shoes . Having a debate is not the same as standing on a street corner with signs and screaming obscenities.

 

Debate is the exchanging of ideas - an understanding of two people who come from different backgrounds, were raised under different circumstances, and have different values.

 

Debate is not about changing someone's mind, proving yourself right , or hurting someone’s feelings.

You want to have an effective debate?

  • Listen & Learn - Do not discount someone else’s opinion simply because you disagree. There's a lot you can learn from another person.
  • (Try to)Keep Your Emotions Out of It - Easier said than done, I know, as heated debates are often based on things that get people pretty fired up, like politics and religion. In friendly company, these are subjects that people are comfortable enough to bring up and discuss. Try to think of things in a logical manner rather than a personal one.
  • Avoid The Okay, Whatever factor. - When someone says something you disagree with there is no need to snort laugh and say okay buddy, whatever . If you do this, you are only proving that you're closed minded and not open to another person's perspective.

Debate is a touchy thing but it is where some of the greatest ideas are born. I'm concerned about the state of communication to see that more and more people are growing afraid of language and how it can be used to discuss the things that are happening around them. Don't be afraid to speak and to voice your opinions. The problem with language is that it can be twisted to serve someone's needs. Stop twisting the ideas - stop twisting the language. Listen to someone else and open your mind to the fact that there could be other opinions besides your own out there.

Are you afraid of language? Why? Do you feel it stops you from gaining a different perspective because you're afraid to ask a question?

 

 

Oct
06
2011
Are Your Emails Clear? Maranda Gibson

Email, texting, and chatting are very popular forms of communication but these written forms of communication do something that we weren't expecting when we embraced them with open arms.

They are hurting our ability to deliver clear messages

In our company, email is a very popular form of communication - we email customers and each other to get follow ups on accounts or answer inquiries. It's important that everyone in our company knows how to write a great email, but I've noticed lately that some messages are getting lost in translation. When you remove elements from communication like tone and non-verbal signs things become more open to emotional interpretation. Since how someone says something is just as important as what they actually say, email can cause more problems than it means to.

To make sure that you're communicating effectively when using email be sure to embrace these suggestions and start applying to your emails immediately.

When In Doubt...

Have you been emailing with a co-worker or customer a couple of times and there are still questions? Make your last email say something like Is there a good time that I can call you to go over this? Like I said we communicate with our customers through email and many times they need instructions on how to use some of our different features. If a customer has to email us twice to get the answers to their questions, we pick up the phone and give them a call. Simple as that.

Get a Second Opinion

There may be a chance that your email needs to send a stern message. Most often this occurs when you are the customer and you're trying to make your point clear. Just be sure to have a friend or someone else check the message over before you hit that send button. Being stern is one thing - being a jerk is another.

Ask for Confirmation

When setting up plans to meet or set up a conference call if you initiate the contact, be sure to ask the other party to confirm the date and time selected. A simple Just let me know if that works for you and I'll look forward to seeing / speaking with you then can cut down a lot of confusion on who is going to start the call or if it's even a good time for all the people involved.

Email is not a perfect form of communication and when you're communicating in writing, you lose a lot of the other clues in your communication strategy. Be sure you're writing clear and effective emails to your customers, co-workers, or even your friends. What are your must have rules for writing emails?

Oct
03
2011
Laura Interns At AccuConference {Week 2} Maranda Gibson

By: Laura

It’s week 2 at AccuConference and I’m still learning. I got a taste of link building this week. Although the process is simpler than I expected, it’s definitely more tedious than I realized. So far it may not be my favorite thing to do, but I did stumble across some interesting websites and blogs. I like that I’m learning how to do everything by trying it myself, instead of sitting in a classroom and being told how it’s done. I’m only on the first step though. Maranda told me my work so far was “perfect,” and in my opinion, that’s better than receiving an A+. I still have a lot more to learn, but it’s good to know that I’m doing things right.

I have also been working on an SEO project this week. This includes a lot of writing, which has been much more enjoyable for me. I’m learning about conference calling in the process. I think it’s great that AccuConference not only provides a conference calling service for their customers, but they offer advice, tips, and even eBooks on how to have a successful conference call. I believe that customer relationships are something that a lot of businesses don’t put enough effort into, but for AccuConference it’s something they emphasize.

I was also asked to edit a book they are about to publish about public speaking skills. (The book I half-way named) This is where the stuff I learned in school comes in handy, and makes me thankful that the Mayborn School of Journalism required me to take the hardest test I’ve ever taken in my life in order to register for classes. (GSP Test) I will be putting my copy of this book to good use, as public speaking is an area for which I need to improve.

I started drinking coffee. I have always been a caffeine-addict, but never a coffee drinker. I don’t know if it’s because the coffee here is really good (and free) or because I never get out of bed early enough to buy my usual energy drink. Either way, it makes me feel older!

Waking up early isn’t an adjustment for me, but the days seem to go by much quicker than I anticipated. When I think of people working the 9-5 schedule, I think of the staff anxiously waiting 5:00 p.m. because the days drag on slowly. That is not the case here. I usually don’t even realize the time till my stomach starts growling.

It’s only been two weeks and I already have something to show potential employers. In the end, I know my internship at AccuConference will give me the experience I longed for and help me land my first big girl job.

Sep
26
2011
Improving Communication Skills {Part One} Maranda Gibson

Part One: Define Exactly What You Want to Improve

The umbrella of “communication skills” encompasses quite a bit. It can come down to every aspect of how another person receives a message from you and this can be everything from your nonverbal cues to the tone in which you use to speak to someone. For me a skill is something that can always be improved and should be evaluated periodically. For example, I’m a good writer, but I just started a writing improvement course, because writing is a skill. I need to practice, define some strengths, identify weaknesses, and work to improve them in a practical way that I can incorporate to my daily life.

Communication skills are the same. Even the seasoned and experienced public speaker or presenter can find things that they can improve on. A lot of speakers chose to tape their events and much like a coach or player on a sports team, will go back after the game and see where they could use improvement. No one is going to be 100% perfect every single time and professionals know that.

So if you’re looking to improve your communication skills you have to first be able to define exactly what needs to be improved, otherwise you’re simply going to be all over the place. A pitcher will work on getting his fast ball perfected, then his slider, and so forth. He won’t try to perfect all of his pitches at once and any skill that needs to be improved needs to be approached in the same way.

I recommend recording your recent speeches or presentations and then reviewing them so that you can spot areas of improvement. Some things to be on the lookout for when you’re watching your video:

  • Are you reading the text from your PowerPoint slides? This should be avoided because it doesn’t encourage the audience to listen to your every word. There’s no fear that they might miss something amazing because you’re just reading something they could read on their own. Use your slides to enhance your presentation but don’t let it steal the show from you.
  • Watch to see if you’re standing in one place or dancing around like an extra from The Nutcracker. If you’re not moving enough then you’re not doing enough to visually stimulate your participant’s brain. If you’re moving around too much then you make it difficult for the audience members to keep up with you. There needs to be a happy medium between the two.
  • On a conference call or a webinar the power to stimulate your audience visually is almost completely gone. If you’re lucky you have your PowerPoint slides to back you up, but it could all come down to the way you sound when you speak. Do you speak too fast and make it difficult for participants to understand you? Are you speaking in a monotone and boring voice that almost always guarantees your audience is going to do something else? When the audience can’t see you, you have to use your voice to mimic the same kinds of movements they would be exposed to – and too much or too little of a good thing is never a good idea.
  • What’s going on non-verbally? The way your body looks on stage or on a video conference can be a huge factor in how much your audience retains. You want your body to be open to the audience and you want your arms to move in a comfortable fashion. If you are standing in front of the audience with your arms crossed over your chest, you’re basically throwing up a wall between you and them and indicating that you don’t care if they listen or not.

Those are just some of the communication improvements that you might notice you need to address. The next part of this series will talk about identifying your strengths and weaknesses within what you want to change so that you’ll know exactly what needs to be fixed. And I’ll tell you what I’m going to work on improving.

What are you going to work on?

{Image Credit to West Point Public Affairs on Flickr}

Sep
22
2011
Communication Relationship: How Social Media Can Affect Our Skills Maranda Gibson

And What We Can Do To Get Back to the Basics.

Something horrible happened this weekend. I was downtown with a friend having a great time and when she said something funny, I responded by saying, “L-O-L!” My hand clapped over my mouth in shame. What was this? I’m a communications professional and I write about presenting in front of large audiences and now, here I am, busting out “chat speak” in the middle of my conversations. This is an unacceptable influence that texting and social media are having on my communication skills.

I’m almost certain this same influence is bleeding over into my written communication as well. Email correspondence and written letters (yes – I still send things that way) have been effected not only by the dominance of Twitter, SMS messaging, and Facebook in my life, but also in general by my proximity to the computer and smart phone. Things like spelling and punctuation are suddenly less of a concern because something with an artificial brain will now think for me.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln studied a similar phenomenon in regards to the use of calculators in the classroom. A teacher working on their MAT noticed that assessment scores were low for sections on the tests that did not allow the use of calculators and decided to test the theory that technology was taking the students too far from the “basics”. In the end, the teacher found that there was an increase in non-calculator related sections of tests. (It should be noted that her findings were small and didn’t move her to abdicate removal of calculators from the classroom).

Now, I don’t care about math because I’ve never been very good at it, with or without the calculator, but I do care that technology can have detrimental effects on both communication and social skills. And while I support and love the growth of social media – the fact remains that when you find a “new” way of doing things, you forget the “old” ways. (Do you think a five year old would know what to do with a record or an 8-track?) So while you’re Tweeting and texting, take a few moments to keep your communication skills fresh.

  • Write something on paper. Step away from the keyboard. Sometimes, I just can’t help but go old school and write things out on paper. I feel like it helps me to get a better flow when I’m writing and I can always go back and type it later.
  • Make a phone call. If you are at the point where the same question has been asked twice, it’s time to pick up the phone and give your friend a call. There’s a pretty good chance that the person on the other end of the conversation is now inferring your responses with emotions and confusion. It’s time to let your voice take over the communication – a little bit of inflection goes a long way in clearing up the confusion.
  • Read a book. Personally, I prefer the bound with glue and paper kind to unwind and step away from technology, but if you’re going to use an e-reader, make sure it’s a dedicated device (we like the Kindle from Amazon). The reason for this is because you don’t want anything to disrupt you while you’re reading. Using a device like the iPad keeps you exposed to email, Words with Friends updates, and Facebook notifications.

Do you think your communication has been affected by technology? Are you trying to get back to having those basic skills of writing and speaking to others without the technology buffer zone? What kind of tips do you have?

Image Credit to scubasteveo on Flickr.

Sep
19
2011
Meet Our New Intern - Laura Maranda Gibson

I am happy to present to you our latest intern Laura. (We kind of like that name) Laura is a student at the University of North Texas and is majoring in Advertising. I love the opportunity to mentor - so I personally am super excited to have her around.

By: Laura

Excited. Relieved. Nervous. That sums up how I felt when I found out that I got the internship at AccuConference. I was about to start my last semester EVER, with no real experience in the marketing world. Although my degree plan doesn’t require me to have an internship, I feel that is necessary if I want to find a decent job when I graduate. There is only so much you can learn sitting behind a desk in a classroom. So thank you AccuConference for hiring me!

I googled AccuConference when I applied for the fall internship to learn more about the company and to make sure it wasn’t a pyramid scheme or some company using fancy words like “marketing” or “advertising agency” to sucker in naïve students like me into selling their product door to door. (Yes, this has happened to me more than once.) This has taught me to research every company before I apply. After my phone interview I did a little more research and found the blog. I kept up with the blog while awaiting the response from Mr. Byrd about a second interview and I was happy to see that the current interns wrote about their experiences. This gave me a little insight so I somewhat knew what to expect out of an internship at AccuConference.

I was happy to see that the previous interns enjoyed their time at AccuConference and learned a lot about marketing, SEO, and the business world. It’s also always nice to know that the people you are about to work with aren’t monsters and will treat you with respect. Reading these blogs made me more excited about starting my internship.

I spent my first day training in order to learn more about the company. I knew AccuConference was a conference call service, but because I have never taken part in a conference call in my life, I wasn’t sure what it was all about. By the end of the day I was helping out with a conference call for a well known boxer. I had no idea who he was, but my boyfriend was pretty impressed.

My first assignment from Byrd was to think of a new title for the book they are about to publish. After our brainstorming session at Starbucks, I can now take credit for the first half of the title. It was nice being able to contribute and to know that my ideas could actually be used for a real business. I felt a little sense of accomplishment. I hope I will get many more of these opportunities in the next few months.

I was also introduced to SEO with Maranda. I quickly realized my 3 week summer course on online marketing has taught me nothing. Well, maybe a little but I still have a lot to learn. I’m a “hands on” learner, so I am eager to get started!

Sep
12
2011
How to Spoil Your Audience Maranda Gibson

I’m an addict for television spoilers for many of my favorite shows. (I’ve been doing confessions a lot lately, but they are fun). It makes me crazy to not know idea what is about to happen to my favorite couple or if the loner character will finally find love. I have to know everything – it gets me invested, it gives me something to look forward to. It makes me want to count down the days until the show premieres. It’s a reason why season finales are often filmed with cliffhangers – because it generates the “oh my God I can’t wait” factor for the audience. Take my brain candy show, Gossip Girl, for example: at the end of the last season, the final scene was a shot of a positive pregnancy test, but no clues as to who it might belong to. I have been biting my nails all summer and with spoilers coming out, I’ve been hoping for some clues. (Alas: there are none. This secret is locked up tighter than Fort Knox.)

Create that nail biting experience for your audience.

Take it from Alan Ball – it’s all about marketing. The Trueblood writer is a genius at cutting and editing his promos to get you excited about next Sunday. When you start planning the meeting, event, or conference call you have to give the potential attendees the highlights and move on. You want them to read a headline or a bullet point and wonder, “What’s that all about?” They need to want more.

Don’t be afraid to tell them why it’s worth their time.

Most shows start to advertise messy promos reminding you of the new season before the new season starts to film. The team over at the CW Networks will take the most delectable highlights from the recently concluded season and use them as a marketing tool so that you have the show on your mind. In your reminder emails, send out highlights from a previous event, the link to the old live blog stream, or a compilation of what other people said about your event.

Sneak peeks are the spoiler junkie’s favorite thing.

I love that Grey’s Anatomy releases a number of sneak peeks the week before an episode airs. A lot of times, for season premieres or finales you will get to see the first 5 to 8 minutes, but they always cut off at the part where I’m on the edge of my seat, about to scream at the screen. In invitations or reminders, include enough attention, but back it off. You want them to bite their nails, remember?

Above all – deliver.

If you’re going to promise me an “awesome” promo or an “unforgettable” episode – you better deliver; otherwise, I could be tempted to think twice about choosing to watch your show the next week. The same goes for your presentation – you can spin it, build it up, tease that it’s awesome all you want, but if you get in front of the audience and it isn’t exciting, then you’ve let the audience down and they will think twice about attending your next event.

As a spoiler addict I want – no I need – to prepare myself for what to expect on my favorite shows. I can’t stand watching most shows without something to look forward to. Your audience wants to look forward to something too, so give them that little something. What are you doing to spoil your audience?

Sep
09
2011
We Remember 9/11 Maranda Gibson

I like to think that I’m honest on this blog. I like to think that I give you all, you wonderful readers, an insight into what my real personality is. If I’ve represented my way in the hopes that I have then you will understand when I say that this post had to be written today.

As you know, Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks against the United States. In the aftermath of these attacks everything changed. Life as we knew it would never be the same. It was the same year that I graduated high school and over the course of a single summer the world would overwhelm me.

On the eve of the anniversary of the attacks, I’d like to just take a moment to ask that if you see a member of the fire department, police force, military, or an EMT out where you’re eating dinner or getting coffee, take a moment to thank them for what they do.

In fact, it’s something we should to a little more of.

With that being said, this post is dedicated in memory and honor to all civilians, first responders, Port Authority officers, and military members who lost their lives on such a day.

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