Toddler Speaking Tips

I am going to ask very nicely that no one judge me. I have expressed my love of really horrible reality television a number of times, but today I’d like to share a secret shame with you. Toddlers & Tiaras is my favorite show to watch with my husband. Not because we’re taking notes on how to win against all these other glitzy pageant queens but because we like to play the “Is it appropriate” game. While we both have encountered outfits or parental decision making that makes us cringe on that show, there’s also something to be learned.

I know, I know – I sound like one of those clichéd mothers that puts their daughter in pageants to relive their own glory days, but tell the TLC crew it is so she can learn communication skills (these are often the women with the cringe-worthy parental decision making skills). Here’s the part where I need you not to judge me. These mothers who spend way too much money on bedazzled skirts and spray tans are gasp right. Being in front of judges is one of the greatest tests of your communication skills. Suddenly, all of your abilities are on display – can you walk without tripping? Can you smile? Can you make eye contact? Do you look like you know what you’re doing? Your audience, board members, presentation panel, or team is a lot like a panel of judges. So do what the toddlers do and remember “pretty feet” and these five tips.

  1. Eye Contact. Holding the audiences eye is important, but you don’t want to keep your focus only on the people who are front and center. Spread the love and constantly scan and make eye contact with as many people as you can, even the people in the back.
  2. Speaking Clearly. If I say “it’s because some people don’t have maps, everyone, like, such as” don’t deny that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Speaking clearly is one of the most important parts of your presentation. If you’re mumbling or speaking in circles your participants won’t learn anything from you. Speak up for the people in the back.
  3. Personality. Don’t be a dud! When you’re onstage in front of an audience, it’s imperative that you sparkle and stand out. You want to be remembered – and no, you don’t need the fake eyelashes and glitter, you just need to have a great time. Speak with cadence to your voice, don’t read off your PowerPoint slides, and always move around the stage.
  4. Dressing the Part. Sorry everyone, but how you look is very important up on stage. It’s a way for your audience to relate to you. You should know the kind of people who will be attending your conference. For example, the conferences I have been to have always been business casual, and the speakers dress on the same level.
  5. Confidence and Fun. The truth is that when you’re up in front of an audience it’s all about just having a good time. You need to enjoy yourself, be passionate about the topic you’re speaking about or what you’re doing on stage. If you don’t truly believe in what you’re saying, no one else will either.

The whole idea of making a presentation might seem overwhelming to you but I promise you, if a four year old wearing her body weight in sequins and fake hair can do it – so can you.

Customer Service Chat Tips

I sit behind a computer a lot, pretty much all day long. I check news sites, I write at work, I write at home, I send Tweets and update Facebook. Like many others, I am probably more likely to answer an email or a tweet than I am to answer a phone call. So when it comes to getting some help with a question or a need – I’m the person digging around on your website for a chat option, because I have too many things going on to try to wait 30 minutes for a rep to pick up the phone.

Not too long ago, I was on a chat with a company and felt like I was not being respected as the customer. I kept being told to hold on, there were long delays in getting any kind of response, and it seemed like the person wasn’t interested in dealing with my questions.

If you have read our post over on the AMEX Open Forum you know that we have very specific policies in regards to the way we handle customer service. When we decided to integrate a chat option, we kept many of the frustrations in mind and adopted five rules on how to responsibly use our customer chat feature.

  1. Take people chatting with customers off the phones. When we get notification of a chat, the person handling it immediately goes out of the phone queue. The chat customer deserves our full attention. We would never take two customer phone calls at the same time, so why try to juggle a chat and a phone call?
  2. No pop up window asking if someone wants to chat. We make our chat button visible and available on our website. We never “time” our customers and interrupt their browsing session in order to ask them if they need help. If they need us, they will let us know.
  3. We don’t ask our customers for feedback at the beginning of the chat. We feel like this can take advantage of the relationship we have with our clients. We believe that we shouldn’t ask our customers to “sell” our business for us, but if they want to talk to the manager or leave us great feedback, we will happily accept it.
  4. We let them know what’s going on. If a customer asks us something and we have to do some research on it, we always let them know to hold on for just a second and we’ll check everything out for them. If it takes us longer than we expect, we go back to the chat and update the customer. We would never leave a customer on the phone on hold for a long time and we don’t do that with our chat customers.
  5. Still no scripts. We have no phone scripts and we have no chat scripts. Just like over the phone, being able to operate without restrictions allows us to develop a friendly relationship with a client and better answer their questions. Copy and pasting is lame.

For the most part, customer chat seems to run smoothly, but recently, I’ve had some really annoying experiences and wondered why companies make things so difficult. Chatting is a great way for customers to contact us and we’ve had great success with it. Our customers are happy to have a lot of options if they want to get in touch with us. What are you doing to make chat customers feel as welcomed as those that call in on the phone?

The Man Who Talked Too Much

Dr. Bob is a legend at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, but if you go on campus to ask students where to find “Dr. Bob” the only people who will direct you to him will be those who are in the field of Communication. Dr. Bob, also known as Dr. Robert Steinmiller, presides over his class in a way that makes you think of Santa Claus. He looks like the jolly one, too – with a bright red nose, a round belly, and a full beard. He likes to laugh, tell stories, and is incredibly approachable.

Dr. Bob was my favorite teacher in college and as the debate coach he was a close mentor to me. Without debate and his encouragement, I probably would not have crawled out of my shell. Since I graduated from a small school, I took a lot of courses from the same professor – and Dr. Bob was always my choice. Dr. Bob was a story teller and a joke teller. For as wonderful and as amazing of a professor that he was, he had a tendency to get a little long winded – not that he wasn’t an amazing communicator, he just failed to miss the warning signs in his easily distracted college students.

Here are the warning signs that Dr. Bob should have been looking for:

  • Lots and lots of yawning.
  • No one is blinking (also known as “zoning out”)
  • Obviously working on something else.
  • Sleeping.

These are also warning signs you can look for in your next presentation to tell if you need to bring your points back into focus. Just like Dr. Bob, I bet you’re a great presenter, it’s just sometimes; we forget that when we are passionate about something, we might go on just a little bit too long. If you can recognize the warning signs early, you’ll be able to wrap up your story and get back on track.

Have you ever seen these signs when you’re in the middle of a presentation? Share in the comments and tell me what did to get everyone’s attention back. How did you get yourself back on track?

PS: Dr. Bob if you are reading this – you were always my favorite and you always will be.

How to Spin a Story from a Moment

If you’ve been keeping up with me lately, you’ll know that I recently purchased my first house and have been getting settled for about a month. One of the things that I enjoy the most about my new home is that we are in the flight path of DFW International airport. Whenever I’m outside, I love to watch the planes fly overhead. I know it sounds silly, but I really enjoy watching the jets climb over the tree tops and then make the slow turn that brings them directly over my house.

Since I’m a creative person, and a writer, I find myself thinking of who is on the plane, where is the plane going, and why. The plane flying overhead only lasts a moment and there is a lot of compelling story that could be told. Stories are essential for driving your point home, especially when presenting. Stories give you context, they show the audience a way to see a different perspective, and they also set up the punch line to any jokes you might be trying to tell. But even the best writer can get writers block and creating stories can be that much harder if you don’t do it on a regular basis. In order to create stories you have to see the world in a different way. Here’s an exercise you can do to start to open your eyes to seeing those stories.

Ask one question about everything that makes you take pause. Seeing something that makes you look again is a great way to start to see the stories. Whenever you see something like that ask yourself one question about what you saw. Write down your question and a brief description of the scene so you don’t forget.

Example: The other day, there were men in the building wearing sombreros and when asked about them; the response was “That’s top secret”. I asked myself why they were wearing the sombreros.

Answer the question with one sentence. When you get home or back to the office, answer the question in one sentence. Take my sombrero question – “Why were these men wearing sombreros?” and answer it very simply. My answer to the question as “Because it was someone’s birthday”.

In three paragraphs describe the events leading up to the moment that made you take pause. Why would someone want everyone to wear sombreros on their birthday? Did the boss rent a margarita machine? Does someone really like salsa dancing? The reason to this is because if you can “make up” a story you should have an easier time seeing the stories that are always around you.

Doing this isn’t going to turn you into an author, but what it will do is get your mind open to what could be going on around you, and give you more of the ability to see the world through open eyes. You never know where the inspiration for your next blog post might come from.

You Are Not A Bird, Stop Winging It

I went back a few weeks ago and watched my wedding video. We had a wonderful ceremony and like most weddings it wasn’t without its problems. The AC stopped working in the reception hall, which in the middle of June means everyone is going to sweat like mad. My friend from high school had to leave in an ambulance after accidentally putting her hand through the glass window pane and passing out in the bathroom – something I didn’t know until well after the wedding. (She’s a really great friend). Aside from those things, we were also the catalyst for what has become the worst best man speech of all time.

No, I’m not being mean, if you ask him, he will agree with you, and if you ask him what went wrong he will tell you.

“I was winging it.”

No, you didn’t read it wrong – my husband’s best friend made it up as he went along (for 30 minutes) about really nothing.

Personally, I think you should never wing it. Even if it’s a situation where you’re speech is something that everyone isn't looking forward to.

I understand that not every speech can be planned.

  1. Always have an idea of how you're going to introduce yourself. You should always have a standard greeting for yourself and your company, that way you're not stumbling through "umms" and "ahhs" as you try to think of things on the spot. This is also known as your "Elevator Pitch".
  2. Think about the subject being covered and what your knowledge of the subject matter is. If you were asked to "weigh in" for a brief moment, what would you say? You don't have to write this down, but at least give yourself an idea of what your take would be so you would be prepared if someone were to say, "Hey you, what do you think about blogging/social media/etc".
  3. Do some research. Learning more about a subject is always a great idea -- and if you think that you might end up having to weigh in on a subject you don't know much about it, take about ten minutes and Google it. It'll pay off in the end.

No matter what you're about to attend (wedding, graduation speech, networking event) you should always remember that you are not a bird, so stop winging it.

What do you do to get prepared when anticipating having to make a speech?

Interning at AccuConference: Saying Goodbye

Sadly, I have to annouce that our summer interns Kaitlyn and Laura Lee have left us to head back to college. It's been a big summer for them and I have to say they have been a pleasure to have around the office. Here is our interns last thoughts on their summer at AccuConference.

By: Laura Lee - Oklahoma State

Well everybody, the time has come. Time to pack up my bags, shove everything I own into my car, jump on I-35 and head north for the familiar 4 hours. The college term is starting soon and it’s time to get back to the hectic, crazy and fun life that accompanies every college student. This will be my last year as an undergrad on campus, and soon I will have to face the real world, go find a big girl job, and eventually, grow up. These past three months have served as a stepping stone for the rest of my future life. It’s helped me realize my options of growing up as well as the many facets of working in a business environment. I will sincerely miss the people of Accuconference along with their good humor and high level of efficiency.

What was great about this internship was that through it all I actually felt of use to the rest of the employees in the office. It was cool to be of help through the company’s website changes and creations, and help directly with customers through daily mail outs and monthly UPS boxes. From everything that our ‘mentor’, Maranda, taught Kaitlyn and I’d be happy to say that we gave back a little, by being responsible enough to help out with her projects as a team.

This summer, working with the Marketing team here at Accuconference has taught me that flexibility is key to success with SEO and Google. You also must know your game and know it well, so your flexibility isn’t tinged with surprise. I also have been introduced to the remarkable monster known to us as Google Reader, and I am sure that I will be reading through the blogs that have been recommended to me and blogs that I’ve found on my own for a very long time. It’s a whole different type of learning experience when you are actually able to witness firsthand what is being taught to you. It’s obviously a lot more interactive than a boring classroom setting, and because of this I’ve been able to learn even more.

I now have a far more expansive work portfolio leaving this internship than I did before. My plan is to impress my future employers through the roof and make them hire me on the spot with my beefed up resume from this summer. Internships are the best thing you can do for yourself if you are a college undergraduate. I know that during the time I spent searching for the right internship for me I was keenly aware that I would be setting myself at a serious disadvantage if I did not intern with a company that aligned with my interests (for example, marketing).

Overall, it’s been a great summer. I’ve learned a lot more about SEO, learned some office/business etiquette, and I’ve learned that in the Texas heat it really is possible to fry an egg on the sidewalk. I’ll be walking out of this office for the last time, and I’ll be walking out a more educated person.


By: Kaitlyn - Texas A&M

This week will mark a bittersweet occasion, my last week of interning at AccuConference. A couple more days and Laura Lee and I will be gone, back to our own schools. I know you all are devastated (riiight), but I want y’all to stay strong.

Someone in a movie once said, “Where is the good in goodbye?” While this may be a fitting question for many situations, I can find plenty of good in my goodbye from AccuConference. From the first day I set foot in the office, it has been nothing but a learning experience and I will be departing here with a brain full of new smarts. Not only that, I will be leaving with a larger work portfolio and a shiny new pin on my resume. In today’s economy, I am thankful to have even snagged an internship at all, let alone the valuable one I had this summer. I can’t help but feel a little silly when I think back to my first blog post and how torn I was when deciding which company to intern for. I might be a little biased, but I’m quite confident I picked the right one.

Of all I have learned, one thing that sticks out to me is relearning how to write. In college, I submit a paper to the professor, they grade it, write some notes, give it back to me, and it’s done. It’s a one-time event. I hate to admit that I do not follow the traditional writing process of spending weeks writing multiple drafts for each paper that is due. Once it is submitted I am done, and I dump everything about that paper out of my head, never to return to it again. Here at work, the story is far from the same. I may submit five drafts of a writing piece to my bosses before it is approved. I receive critiques and edits to be made and I constantly revisit the same articles until they are up to par. I’ve realized this is how the real world works, so I’m glad I learned that this summer instead of later in the midst of my first real job.

Another is, of course, all the things I learned about Google and SEO, but anyone who has read my blog posts is probably fully aware of this by now. I was learning something new about it every single week. I feel like it deserves some mention in my very last blog post, considering it has been a recurring theme in each of them.

As the short time remaining before my last day of work is winding down, I am reminded of how pleasant it’s been working with this great bunch of people. The thoughtful gestures, friendly conversations, and welcoming faces will surely be missed. It’s been impressive watching them market an intangible product and give customer service to customers they will never meet. I hope each of them realize how valuable they are.

Sure, I will be saying goodbye to AccuConference, but I’m glad to say there is good in this one, and I’m certain all that “good” will come in handy for whatever I pursue in the future. I am excited for the new changes ahead of me and plan to take everything head-on, jump in with both feet, fly by the seat of my pants, put my best foot forward and all those other sayings about trying my best and moving onward. I think all that’s left to say is, “Look out, world, here I come.”

Down With Being Boring

Have you ever seen the movie Down With Love?

I have seen it so many times. You have to look beyond the fact that it didn't get great reviews and see it as what it really is -- it a satirical piece that pokes gentle, but loving, fun at the rom-coms of the 60's. It happened to be on a couple of weeks ago and I watched it with a friend. (Sidenote: Movies like this should always be watched with your best friend. It makes them way more fun.)

The movie was so flawless in its satire - even right down to the over the top, wild hand gestures. David Hyde Pierce really has those down pat. My friend and I determined that everything should have big, over the top hand gestures. It makes things more exciting. Simply reading your lines in a movie and expecting a reaction is not going to be effective. The reason Down With Love works is because the actors and directors took special steps to make sure they moved and spoke in a way that would make the audience feel a certain way. The hand movements and camera angle were supposed to look cheesy -- so that I would remember my love of 60s rom-coms and giggle.

The next time you host an event or a web conference, think about how you are using the tools at your disposal to evoke emotions in your participants. Much like an actor, your tools are limited to your voice, movements, and facial expression. When you're without one or more of these elements, like on a conference call, it makes it harder to get the reactions you want and you could end up failing. Think about when Hollywood made the move to "talking pictures" rather than silent films, many of the faces that people had grown to love were no longer a viable part of Hollywood because they had really unattractive voices.

It's not really a shock, then, that I am often suggesting that you are aware of the way you sound. Which is where this title comes into play -- Down With Love has inspired me to advise to be Down With Being Boring.

  • Stop writing out all of your notes on a page and reading them word for word.
  • Stop standing behind a podium.
  • Stop mumbling.
  • Stop leaving your audience out of the presentation.


  • Start making a bullet list so that you can follow a guide for your presentation instead of droning on and on. (People know when you're reading from a list)
  • Step out from behind the podium and walk around the stage during live presentations. Movements are natural.
  • Speak clearly and enunciate. Be sure you host a sound check with the conference call provider or the venue to have a sound check.
  • Leave plenty of time for a Q&A session. The information you're presenting will surely raise questions along the way -- questions that only you can answer.

On your next presentation or conference call, try taking the down with being boring approach and see how your feedback changes. What do you do to keep from being boring when you make presentations?

Interning at AccuConference: The Old School Way

Laura Lee brings us this look into how there are some people still holding onto the "old school" way of doing things in this weeks Intern Post.

There’s a saying out there that goes something like ‘old habits die hard’. In the business world, and especially the online marketing world, I’ve found that the key to survival is to be flexible and grossly up to date on new technologies and SEO. I guess the world is full of contradictions then, because merely 100 feet down the hallway from our SEO powerhouse and updating machine is an office, complete with a desk, a peppermint jar, and a typewriter. No, this is not meant to give the office an antique-y feel; the entire office literally belongs in a museum. Strolling down the hallway one morning on the way back from the building café, (great breakfast muffins- not so great chocolate chip cookies) my intern buddy and I encountered this completely foreign sight. An older gentleman, with suspenders and beard was bent over his typewriter hard at work. We couldn’t believe it – we had to go back for a second look.

Here I am thinking that a typewriter (the last time I saw one of those things was in Grandma’s basement) is completely useless. No email system? No Google? No FACEBOOK?? I wondered how that office managed to stay in business. But thinking back on it, our neighbor with his typewriter probably is the least distracted tenant in the building. (Maybe in the whole country- who knows how many more typewriters are out there). He’s got nothing to take his mind off of typing; no social media notifications popping up at him. He is a free man. So my question is: is newer actually better? There is no way that I can be reverted back to a typewriter; especially when all I know is the PC and the Mac both which are fully capable of spooning me up some Facebook, Twitter, and all the other distracting social media whenever my heart desires.

I know even though we at AccuConference are equipped with our high powered and internet-capable machines that keep us so wrapped up in what we are doing, it actually is possible to enjoy yourself when hard at work.

This hot summer weather is not letting up anytime soon- I’m pretty sure Texas is heading towards a consecutive heat record. So I plan to make the best of it by blasting my AC, frying eggs on the parking lot and spending as much time as close to bodies of water as I can. (Preferably IN the water). Other than that, I’ll be here, melting in the heat and learning as much as I can!

Are You Asking The Right Questions?

I’ve finally purchased a home and one of the (many) unexpected things I have to do involves transferring my utilities. My power company makes it very easy – all I have to do is go online and arrange for the start date at one address and the stop date at the other. (Thanks Reliant)

With my cable company, my husband and I have been considering switching to a different company, since my bill has gotten completely out of control. I joined the customer service chat with my current provider to get details on how to turn off the service, if we chose to do so. The person I chatted with was very helpful and I was very honest with her about what we were considering.

She gave me all of the information, let me know about when I would be billed again and how the bill would be prorated should we chose to disconnect our services. She forgot one very important thing – she never asked me why I was planning a switch of services. There’s a good chance that with the right price, I could have been persuaded to stay with them a little longer.

My reason for wanting to leave is the steady dollar or two rise of my bill over the last few cycles, which can add up fast. This representative failed to ask me one very simple question – Why is it that you are looking for a new service? It’s very important when a customer calls you to cancel or close their service you ask them why they are interested in discontinuing their services.

Even if you can’t retain the customer, they might be willing to give you some insight on how you can improve an aspect or two of your company. Are you asking questions when your clients call in to cancel services? Do you think it’s important to find out why they are leaving and going to another brand? What do you ask them instead?

Picking Up What You're Putting Down

I admit to loving the cliche I'm picking up what you're putting down. I think it’s hilarious – don’t judge me. But I heard it the other day and I wondered how we can apply a statement like this to things like writing. Writing a blog is all about catching someone’s attention and getting them to come back over and over again. What makes someone “pick up” what you’re “putting down”?

  1. Make it shiny. What makes you lean down and pick up a coin from the ground? The answer to that question is simple – because it’s metal and the light catches your eye. Natural curiosity has you stopping to study the item to see what it is. 1. For blogs you have to create the shiny effect by grabbing their attention right away. Many readers are “skimmers” so they’ll read the beginning and the end, so if those aren’t interesting, your readers are going to move on. You have to tell a story, or a joke, and create a moment that they will want to stick around for. Now, you’ve caught their eye, just like a shiny coin waiting on the sidewalk.
  2. Add some value. How many times has a penny grabbed your attention and you’ve walked right on by? Why? Because it’s a penny and many of us can’t see the value of a single penny. (Don’t try to tally up the number of times you have done this, it will only depress you – seriously.) If that penny magically becomes a dime, I know you’re going to pick it up and put it in your pocket. 1. You have to tell people how the heck they are supposed to take what you’re writing and make it work for them. It is one thing to say “hey this worked for me” but another to really show them. If you don’t want to give away your own secrets, that’s okay, but you need to show them how another company did something similar. This is so your readers will be inspired to do something about the idea you’re sharing.
  3. Save, save, save. That dime will end up in a change jar or hanging out in your purse with your lip gloss, until the day comes that you’ve had enough and you head down to turn that coin into cash and go shopping.
  4. It’s one thing to make your readers pick up the coin and it’s another to make them save it. When you’re writing you have to give them a reason to carry around the information. It’s not as simple as “great content” – it’s about showing readers how your post is going to affect their business or blog down the road. What happens in six months? What happens in twelve? Give them an idea so that they will put your post in their pocket and take it with them.

The next time you write a blog, plan a conference call, or start new campaigns think about how your attention is grabbed when you see that coin on the street. What makes you think it’s valuable and worth putting in your pocket? Ask yourself this – are your readers or atendees picking up what you’re putting down?