Make the Things You Hate Suck Less

Confession: I hate cucumbers and tomatoes. There is just something about the texture and that jelly like seed pod thing in the center that just grosses me out. I am such a picky eater in the first place, but you start trying to fancy up my salad with crap like cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, that just became the garbage cans lunch and I'm going hungry.

Second confession (two in one post!): I love pickles and bruschetta.

What is that? I had this realization about myself and my food choices last week and I simply can't understand it. Throw a cucumber in some vinegar or toss some Roma tomatoes with basil and garlic and I will be the happiest girl in the world. Why? Simple - someone took something I dislike and added a lot of things that I do like (salt, garlic, warm and toasty bread). Those simple additions can take something that would make me walk away from a meal and chow down.

It's a principal you can apply to one of the most hated things in all the lands - public speaking. Figure out the things you don't like and add elements of things you really look forward to. Here's a couple of examples:

  1. You hate being the center of attention, but love a team atmosphere. Instead of the typical 'stand in front of a room' presentation try doing a collaboration type of presentation. Let people make comments, ask questions, and build off a main idea that you have presented. Instead of doing a thirty minute presentation and then taking brief Q&A, do a five minute presentation and spend the rest of time getting your audiences input.
  2. You hate using a podium, but love attending round table meetings. In this case, consider setting up something more like a town hall meeting and using limited visuals if possible. Try to put yourself on the eye level of your audience by sitting down on a stool and shifting around as you speak to make eye contact.
  3. You hate using PowerPoint, but love a visual element in presentations. Try a different kind of visual presentation -- like using a short video or even the old school white board. PowerPoint, strangely enough, can make a lot of people uncomfortable so even though it might be considered "old school" to not use one, you have to find what works for you. Just remember that it is never okay to read from your presentation slides.

Just like cucumbers and tomatoes, public speaking can be considered a hated part of every day society, but by adding in some things you like, you might never think about the bad things.

Tell Your Story

A couple of weeks ago, while catching up on some reading, I came across a post from Mack Collier (the leader and brains behind Sunday night #blogchat on Twitter) titled: Turning Failure into Success. I suggest that everyone check it out and read it, but if you can’t, here’s a quicker overview. Mack tells a story of his lack of preparedness in a college Business Communication presentation, his train of thought completely derailed, and even how he considered abandoning ship. Nine years later, at the B2B Forum, he found himself wishing he was presenting there – a far cry from the nervous kid who wanted to run nine years before.

I sent Mack a brief tweet and let him know how great I thought his post was and got an interesting comment back from him, stating that he hesitates to write personal stories because he doesn’t think anyone reads them.

I was absolutely surprised to read this. If you’ve never read Mack’s blog or followed him on Twitter, I’ve always found him to be very personal. His writing style is very open and honest, so I was surprised to hear that he doesn’t usually like to tell personal stories. I am the exact opposite and love to tell personal stories that somehow relate or lead into the points I am about to make.

I wonder why bloggers feel this way. Mack isn’t the first blogger I’ve corresponded with who feels like their personal stories are unwelcome in their posts. For those, like Mack, who feel like personal stories are often pushed to the wayside, I offer, as a reader, two thoughts on storytelling and blogging.

Everyone is a storyteller. No, not everyone is going to be able to sit down and hammer out a novel the likes of Stephen King or Tom Clancy, but everyone has experiences. We have all been in one place or another and had a moment resonate with us, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t have a story to tell.

Everything has a story. Look at this post – what’s the story here? The story is that Mack told me something surprising and it made me think, and this post was born. Those are the kind of things that I love to know when reading a post. Where did your inspiration come from? What made you think that this story was relevant to the topic that you wanted to write about? Those are the things I want to read about, the things I want to know.

What you’re saying about a certain subject is just as important as how you go the place where you had to sit down and write your thoughts out. I want to know that, I want to feel your passion and your feelings on the subject. What do you think? Are you like Mack and feel like no one wants to read your personal stories, or do you write more like me who believes that every story is worth telling?

Why a Follow-Up Email Works

I have done business with a particular insurance company for about seven years now. I’ve never shopped around and I know that there are probably other companies out there who could give me similar coverage for a better rate. With two vehicles and a renter’s policy, our insurance each month is probably on the higher end of average, but I write them a check with a smile on my face.

The other day I was reminded why I stay with that company. I checked my email, just to see this note:

Subj:Hey Girl:

Hey Miss Maranda, {A recent referral to them} name just popped up on my screen and it made me think of you. I hope all is well with you!! We just don’t email and talk like we used to when you were {with another company} so I’m just stopping in to make sure everything is going okay.

Quick, simple, to the point, and it made me smile. She didn’t ask me for additional business, nor did she try to include any additional services or sell me products through this email. She simply asked me how I was doing. This is an excellent follow up email simply because there was no reason for it except that she was reminded of me.

Are you doing that? We all have memorable customers (I know I have) and the human brain will remind us of these people on occasion. When a customer pops into your brain, are you doing anything about it or simply asking yourself Hey, I wonder how they are doing up there? It’s not to sell anything; it’s to establish a relationship with your customer because it’s important to do so. I know that I’m not the only customer my insurance agent deals with, but with this wonderful member of the agents team thinking of me, it makes me feel like I really have made the best choice in my auto and renters insurance.

What does work for them is that the email reminded me I need to get my homeowners insurance quotes from them. So even though she didn’t mean to, she just generated some more business for her company. Are you sending your customers follow up emails when they cross your mind? Do you use them as an opportunity to pitch new ideas or simply as a way to reach out to them and see how they are?

What I Wish People Knew About Me

Going through my reader last week, I came across this post from Brass Tack thinking by Amber Naslund titled "What I Wish More People Knew About Me". I thought it was wonderful to see a little bit more into someone that I respect and I found out some things we have in common... and some things we don't. (Creamy peanut butter FTW)

Like many others who read Amber's blog, I've decided to compile my own list of things that I wish people knew about me. Maybe the next time you see a tweet or a Facebook update from me, you'll be inclined to send me a hello or engage in some healthy debate. (I say again, healthy). Without further ado here are some things I wish you knew about me.

I know small town life. I graduated from one of those areas that no one has ever heard of. In fact, the closest "big" city is also a place that a lot of people might not have heard of. I have a lot of wonderful memories of driving around on dirt roads as my Friday night activity and going to a high school where you knew everyone. It created an environment that I wanted to be a part of and made me one of those people who loved high school.

Music can do anything to my mood. If I'm feeling happy, mad, sad, and angry, it doesn't really matter what emotion I feel - there's a song out there to keep me there or pull me out of it.

Here's a really fun and random one: I am obsessed with Maroon 5. Not in the giggly fan girl "they are so hot" kind of way, but in the way that their music has spoken to me in such a way that it has the power to bring me to tears and I will always be one of their biggest fans.

My parents knew each other two weeks before getting married. (31 years in August) It's important because it really shaped my opinion of love and relationships. I've always believed there is a "spark" - that sometimes, be it in relationships, love, or work -- I have always believed that there's something to the way you feel about something right away.

I'm far too self-critical. One failure or mistake is sometimes all it takes to make me feel defeated. It can take me a day or two to get over that. It's a flaw, I admit it, but once upon a time, it was much worse. I can at least go back and reevaluate something now where before, I would have just abandoned it all together.

I met my best friend on the Internet. No, seriously - we met on a writer’s forum and we just clicked. Ten years ago, I never would have expected that the girl from Philadelphia would be living practically next door to me, but she and her husband are now my next door neighbors. Just goes to show you that the relationships you chose to cultivate on line can end up changing your life.

I have very strong opinions and cultivated those in college into a successful stint on my college debate team. I tend to keep them quiet though, because I do get very passionate and thus, outside of the IPDA judging system, I admit to getting very defensive. I take issue with some of the things I've been called, so most of the time, I just keep my mouth shut.

Five years ago this August, one of my bridesmaids died suddenly and tragically. I won't go into details, but two months after my wedding, she was no longer with us. I think I mention that because a lot of times her death drives my passion and focus. I think there are a lot of times that I work so hard on something because she can't. She was there for me in my last year of college and helped me stay sane enough to graduate, so I feel like I owe it to her to go far in life.

I'm still pretty young and I have a lot of things to learn, about business and myself. It's like every day there's something new, but it's exciting. Even though I've been in the work force for a while now, I feel like I'm just getting started. I'm happy to have you all following me along my journey.

So -- what do you wish I knew about you?

Social Background Checks Okayed by the FTC

Searching for employment is a stressful task – never mind if there is a great or poor economy and job market. It can take a long time to find the jobs you think you could be qualified for, send off the resumes, never mind the waiting game you have to play once you’ve sent off your resumes for qualified positions.

Then the phone call or email comes, inviting you into the office or to hop on a conference call for an interview. You fix your hair, put on your best outfit, go to the interview, and thirty minutes to an hour you walk out of the office building or hang up the phone feeling like you’re on top of the world. Deciding that you need to celebrate, you go home, make a sandwich, and open up your Facebook page.

There they are – those pictures from Spring Break in Mexico, staring back at you like a black thumb on your otherwise perfect record. It was just one night and you were celebrating your recent accomplishments. Surely your potential employer won’t look at this page to make a judgment on your ability to perform the job.

Actually, there is a very good chance that your potential employer might just do that in your background checks. The US Federal Trade Commission has given the OK to Social Intelligence Corporation to archive up to seven years of your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube movements to be used as part of their background investigation services. The FTC has also ruled that this information can be used as part of a potential employer’s determination to hire you for a job or not.

According to the ruling, if your employer uses Social Intelligence to perform the background checks and one of your social media updates (or, well, many) is the reason for you not getting a job, you must be notified as to why. You are then allowed to dispute the records if you feel the social faux paus was through “no fault of your own” (whatever that means)

The ruling means that not only do you need to be aware of what you’re putting on social networks; it also means that you need to be aware of your privacy settings. Facebook, in recent months, has been in the spotlight about changing their privacy settings and the access that third party advertisers have to your profiles and pictures.

We talk a lot about online reputation management and how to protect yourself against websites that are created to make your business look bad or reviews that are left on products and services that are designed to paint your business in a bad light. This ruling from the FTC means that we all have to step back and take a look at our personal reputation management, and know what is out there about us as individuals. Do you know what photos are tagged with your name? How about Twitter or YouTube? When was the last time you did a Google search for yourself and what did you do about it?

Think Twice … Then Think Again

There are a hundred blogs out there that talk about using Twitter for business and what an effective tool it is for customer service. I think that sometimes, we often fail to draw the correlation between using Twitter for business and using Twitter for ourselves. Personally, I have separate Twitter accounts for business and me, and I’ve been known to tweet a certain cable company a time or two for assistance. Why? Because I can get better service from their Twitter account than I can over the phone (which is another blog for another day) but sometimes, I let my fingers fly before I really think about it. I’ve seen people just lose it on businesses before and I try not to do that. I’m learning, as I go along, how to think before I tweet… and then how to think again. Next time, before you tweet, ask yourself:

  1. If this were sent to my business Twitter account, how would I feel? Would I feel attacked – like I haven’t been given a chance to correct the issue, before finding some nasty @ replies to me? I know you’re upset and you feel like you haven’t gotten outstanding service, but if it’s the first time you’ve contacted the business about the issue, give them a chance to fix your problem, before you get upset.
  2. What am I really upset about? Is this a problem that you are continuing to have with the business that never seems to get fixed correctly? Take my cable company issue – it’s the same and only problem that I ever seem to have. The same problem over and over again leads me to Tweet.

If you can’t give yourself solid answers to these two questions, then you should probably walk away from your computer. Blasting a business for the sake of blasting them isn’t going to get you very far and it’s not going to do you any favors. I think we have all been guilty of saying something that we didn’t mean to say and Twitter is a really powerful tool for connecting with the people we do business with – but that doesn’t mean that sometimes, we don’t say things that we shouldn’t. Do you think before you Tweet?

Kaitlyn Interns At AccuConference: Week 2

Week Two of our blog series from another one of our interns.

Post Written by: Kaitlyn

It is my fourth week at AccuConference. I am slowly adjusting to the whole 9-5 grown-up schedule. It hasn’t been bad; I’m just not a morning person. Other than that everything is great. One aspect of the office that I definitely have begun taking advantage of is the shelves and shelves of snacks in the break room. They don’t have some dinky vending machine where I have to pay 75¢ for a tiny bag of chips. It is literally three tall shelves, as well as the refrigerator, completely stocked with granola bars, chips, candy, popcorn, mac’n’cheese, water, cokes, energy drinks…and it’s all free. These people know how to keep their workers happy.

Aside from constantly stuffing my face, I’ve learned a number of things during my few weeks here. In terms of myself, I have learned that I am better at business writing than I thought I would be. I think it still surprises me when I email one of my writings to Byrd and he tells me he likes it. I just never imagined myself being decent at anything like that and it turns out I have a bit of a knack for it. I have learned a multitude about search engine optimization, linking, and keyword search. I have also learned the importance of continuous discovery. As soon as Laura and I got here, Byrd had us log in to Google Reader and subscribe to a number of blogs belonging to marketing specialists with innovative ideas. These people talk about new marketing strategies and tools, link building, SEO, important communication news and announcements, and everything in between. Books are recommended to us many times a week, and we watch videos of popular speakers who make presentations on new ways to look at things. I have learned that no matter how old a company may be, there is always room for improvement and we should always be open to learning how to change things up.

On new office developments, Laura and I got our own desks last week. I have a sweet corner desk facing two windows. Being the first set of interns, there wasn’t an established spot for us to sit, so we had been working in the conference room. Everyone was glad to do some rearranging and get some desks set up for us. My thought was, “We’re the interns, shouldn’t we be the ones doing the grunt work?” But everyone had stopped what they were doing and jumped up to move furniture around. This evidence of everyone’s great desire to help each other out becomes more obvious to me each day that I’m here.

In the meantime, I am kept busy typing out content for the website, writing articles, and composing marketing messages to be viewed by customers. The best part is that the things I write are actually being used for the business. It’s exciting to see my work portfolio growing and to know that I already have so much to show potential employers when I begin job-hunting for my future career.

Laura Lee Interns at AccuConference: Week 2



Week two of our blog post series.  This one is written, produced, and directed by our very own Laura Lee. 

Things at Accuconference are good these summer days. I’ve been moving up in the world of telecommunication, having been recently upgraded from the conference room table that I shared with fellow intern Kaitlyn to my own desk, complete with lamp, monitor, and a great third floor view of the parking lot baking in this 100+ degree weather. Things are great. I am learning my way around the building, with the bank being on the main floor and the the deli housed up on the sixth floor. I am pretty much set, and if they would allow me to I would set up camp right under my desk. That would save me the gas money! Rumor has it that the building management here gives out free hot dogs around the fourth of July, and to a cheap college student who’s survived finals week on Ramen and yogurt, this is heaven. I’m learning a lot about what I would like to do for my own career by being in a professional environment day in and day out this summer. I’m realizing that the environment here at Accuconference is dissimilar than anything else I’ve experienced. (You might have guessed that after you read about the free hot dogs). The culture here is different. Of course, the setting is professional, but the atmosphere is implausibly laid back. Whether its people playing practical jokes or ordering lunch together, this place is thriving with goodwill.

I swear to you: I have not made coffee once. (Okay, I made it one time, but it was for Kaitlyn and she’ll be getting the bill later). Instead of grinding beans in the office break room, I’ve been writing up news articles, like the one I wrote about a Fortune 500 company’s recent moves to becoming one of the first that relies solely on alternative, renewable energy. I have even tried my hand at writing a press release. (Epic, epic fail. Hey, practice makes perfect right?) I’ve also contributed to blog postings on the company’s website. Take that, world. It’s good to actually feel of value to people.

This company gets creative with their marketing strategy. Every business should, but when you deal in a market that sells conference call software, it’s either sink or swim when it comes to creativity. Therefore the people here strive to be up to date on the newest marketing ideas, especially on the internet, which has become the platform for everything. Ever counted how many times you hear the phrase “just Google it” in one day? I hear it about 20 times a day. And no, it’s not because I hang out with a bunch of unintelligent people. It’s amazing how quickly the internet changes- just last week the VP of Marketing at Accuconference let break with the news that we needed to change our tactics, because the way we were currently marketing was already outdated. As a Marketing major, I am seeing that in my own career I will be forced to be flexible and be ready to change my tactics at a moment’s notice if I choose to follow a path delving into search engine optimization. To be honest, that thought is a little unsettling. But it’s cool to see this kind of stuff come to life, off the boring print from my school text books.

Was Marketing the right major for me? Am I the type of person who can succeed at this? I have a hunch that I will get a pretty good idea this summer interning. As long as I don’t fry in the heat! And with the right amount of luck, I just might become the next marketing queen of the world. (That would take a lot of luck!)

Communication Pitfalls

I love to talk – and truthfully, sometimes I do it too much. It’s not that I can’t shut up it’s just that I love to be a part of conversations and I have a lot of opinions. Sometimes, it doesn’t always promote great communication between me and the people I am speaking with. I came across this really great set of tips of 10 mistakes we make in conversation and after reading through them, I feel pretty bad, because I’m guilty of all of these at one point or another. Truthfully, everyone is and we usually notice it at some point during the conversation. This is a really great compilation of the kinds of mistakes and communication pitfalls we can run into when we’re trying to talk to people, but what happens when you realize that you’re feet first into a conversation and you’ve been breaking all the rules?

When you feel the conversation breaking the rules, how can you refocus and gain control of yourself so that you can walk away feeling like everyone involved in the conversation was able to contribute instead of just listening to you? Here are three tips to correcting the mistakes you might be committing in polite conversation.

Let’s take the having to be right mistake that a lot of us make. We can easily mistake discussion for debate and feel like we have to win a conversation in order to sound convicted in our principals. Instead of defending your own position, try to understand the other person. Ask open ended questions about why they feel the way they do – you’ll gain another person’s perspective, you’ll be sharing information, and you might learn something about the other person in the process.

Many of us are guilty of not listening when engaged with others. It’s not necessarily that we are actively disengaged; rather, it could be something as simple as the human brain is guilty of being distracted by our own silly train of thought or something shiny. There is never any guarantee that you won’t lose listening to the other party, but there are some things you can do to keep your focus, like always keeping eye contact with the other party. If you don’t look at the shiny stuff, you’re less likely to get distracted by the shiny stuff.

Who hasn’t been boring a time or two in conversation? I’m certain I’ve bored the pants off people and I freely admit it (ask my husband). It comes from the need to speak, to seem engaged in conversation that there can be no such thing as a comfortable silence and we must speak. So with this need, we speak about anything we can think of from our cats to the state of our shoes and frankly – that can be painfully boring for some. If you find yourself talking to someone who is obviously bored out of their mind (falling asleep while standing up is a good indication) do one simple thing: be quiet. Finish up your story in one sentence and then immediately move to the next subject. Here’s a thought: ask the other party a question that would encourage them to contribute.

The truth is that when it comes to communications, we all make mistakes. Everyone who is reading this has been guilty at one time or another of one of Henrik Edberg’s wonderful list of mistakes. The difference is that people who don’t recognize the signs of these mistakes being committed, they usually keep making more. What communication mistakes are you guilty of making and how have you corrected the behavior in the middle of the conversation to get things back on track?