Situation Room: A Break Down of Non-Verbal Communication

Image from the Official White House Flickr

It’s the iconic photo that will wind up in history books. As President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and other members of the defense team watched the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound; this picture has quickly become the visual representation of a historic moment.

This picture can give us a lot of insight into what the senior members of the White House staff were thinking, as this photo is clearly an inside look into what the staff was thinking. When they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, it is true because a photo freezes a moment and gives you a chance to study the non-verbal cues of a moment.

Notice that no one in the room is standing close enough to touch each other and that the majority of the men in the room have their arms crossed over their chest. This is a sign of aggression. When we feel aggressive, we do not want anyone in our personal space, and we cross our arms over our chest as a way to protect ourselves against something we do not want to see or hear. It is a protective measure.

It’s obvious that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is feeling a very strong emotion to whatever it is that she is seeing on the screen. Perhaps it was the moment that Osama Bin Laden’s face first appeared on the screen. Perhaps it’s the moment that the “kill shot” was recorded. We may never know, but Hilary’s hand over her mouth, is an expression of disbelief. The images she sees unfolding in front of her are so unfathomable, that she feels uneasy and distrusting.

President Obama’s sitting position indicates that he clearly feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. His back is slouched, his arms on his knees, and the thin, grim lines of his face. There’s a lot going on here. His posture indicates that he feels the weight of whatever is going on, but his face is the most interesting to me. First of all, it’s obvious that he looks tired. I’m sure that making a national security decision like this could keep you up at night. For me, the most telling non-verbal cue for Barack Obama is the shape of his mouth.

His mouth is shaped in a thin line, nearly straight across. I can identify two emotions from such a non-verbal cue: anger and concern. Clearly whatever is going on will change the world, it’s a decision that was made with great care, and now, to watch it unfold, it simply brings concern. President Obama, like all Americans, was affected by the attacks of September 11, 2011, and to be in a position where you get to see the man who was responsible, brought to justice, in my opinion would bring nothing but the original anger back to the surface.

We may never know what scene was being observed of the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, but this picture will be an iconic and important moment.

In business and relationships, we often wish for the ability to read the minds of others. It’s not a thing that we can do, but what we can do is read someone’s body language to at least get an idea of what someone is thinking. This picture is a perfect representation of how much body language can indicate in any particular situation.

Non-verbal cues are important to communication and while the subject matter of your video conference or meeting is probably not going to be as intense as watching a raid on the Most Wanted Man in America, your body language will say a lot about the way you’re feeling.

Overcoming Fears & Have a Little Fun

Last year, I finally broke down and watched the original Nightmare on Elm Street. I have had a long time fear of Freddy Kruger and being able to watch that film was a big step in my growth. This weekend, one of the movie channels premiered the 2010 remake of the film and my friend and I decided to watch it – with one, fun little twist. We built a fort in the living room. Not just any fort, an old school dining room chairs and blankets fort. It dawned on me after I made it through the movie without hiding my face or screaming bloody murder that there was one very important reason why. I took something fearful and I made it fun.

While Freddy is just one kind of fear, there are a lot of other ones that people suffer through every day. By injecting a little fun into those moments, you can save yourself a lot of stress and turn a moment that is usually filled with nail biting anxiety into a moment of triumph. One of the biggest moments of stress for people is the idea of having to speak publically or do some sort of presentation. A little bit of humor can go a long way when you have a little mess up in your presentation.

  1. If you’ve ever tripped over your own feet walking out to the podium, instead of looking horrified, grab the microphone and declare that the clumsy portion of the day is over and everyone can stop waiting for you.
  2. If you’ve ever lost your place, admit it. When I was in New Orleans in March, I remember someone losing their train of thought and while the crickets filled the room, the presenter simply laughed and back up the slides, admitting to everyone, “Don’t know what happened there. Let’s try this again.”
  3. If you’ve ever stumbled over your words, just declare a new word thusly written and encourage everyone to tweet out the new word.

There’s not a person in that room that hasn’t experienced their own bad presentation so feeling bad over a simple stumble isn’t doing yourself any favors. Recover from it and create a fort in your brain where the things you’re afraid of don’t matter so much. Just remember that the fort is a safe place where humor is the thing that will beat back your fears.

How to Choose the Time to Host Your Conference Call

When sending out an invitation, you want to be clear on when your conference call will be held. You also want to be sure to schedule it during a time that you're likely to get the best attendance. That can be hard when you're dealing with participants from across the nation, or even across the world. How can you possibly schedule your conference call around the number of parties and where they are located to ensure the best attendance? Here are three things to remember when it comes time to schedule your conference call.

  1. Majority time zone rules. Where are most your participants located -- that should be the primary time zone for your call, even if it's not the time zone you are end. These are potential clients, customers, or colleagues and you want to make things easy on them.
  2. Avoid the lunch hours. Once you set your primary time zone for the conference call, remember that people who are trying to eat lunch are less likely to attend your conference call when it's going to happen during the lunch hour. Avoid scheduling the time for the conference call between 12 and 2 to give yourself the best shot at having a good turnout.
  3. Give yourself a time limit and stick to it. Do everything you can not to go over your set time limit. Not only will this make everyone very happy, but it will also help your image. Now, you'll be remembered as the person who remembers the importance of time limits, and not the guy who keeps talking when everyone is trying to move on to their next task.

It's not a perfect system, but it can help to get better attendance on your conference call. What are you doing to increase attendance on your conferences?

Have A Great Staff Conference Call

In business, we often find that things change rapidly and we have to keep our staff updated. One of the best ways to do that is with hosting a conference call with your employees. There are some important things to keep in mind when hosting these kinds of calls. Conference calls can get mundane quickly and when you don’t need to have one, there’s no reason to do so. Here are three tips for hosting a great staff conference call.

  1. Timely. Before sending out an invitation to participants for your next conference call, make sure you have planned it out. Studies have shown that there is only 23 minutes to get and keep your participants attention, so you need to operate within that time frame. Make an agenda and be sure to stick to it so that you can get on record with all your important information.
  2. Informative. It’s not always necessary to require a monthly meeting for your team or business if there’s no new information to present. When things haven’t changed and there is nothing new to announce, you might consider not holding the daily/weekly/monthly call just because it’s on the calendar. This will free up some time for your staff to work on other things, while also putting more importance on the conferences that you do need to have.
  3. Applicable. No matter what the subject your conference call is about, you should make sure that you give not only information, but how to apply that information once the call is over. Don’t just tell your participants what is new, but tell them how to apply it to their everyday business, and how it’s going to make a difference. If people can understand the changes, they are more likely to embrace them.

    When you follow these three simple tips, you can ensure that your conference calls have high attendance and you’re being the best host you can be. What kind of things do you do on your conferences to keep the attention of your staff?

Everyone Needs to Listen

On a hot summer day back in 1989, a group of five year old boys were on a field with one pig-tailed (and quite adorable, I might add) freckled face girl in a Pirate uniform.

Just like her dad taught her, the little girl wearing her new baseball glove leans down from her spot in right field, her hands on her knees, watching the little batter at the stand, just in case he was to knock that ball as hard as he could. She’s on the tip of her toes, she’s ready to make a play, and she glances around to see which way she can run. That’s when she spots the boy in centerfield sitting on his butt and picking flowers.

“Hey!” She yelled, “Get up and get ready for the ball!” This little girl did not have a soft or soothing voice. She was loud and when she yelled at this boy, every parent and player heard her.

This story is true – and it’s quite possibly one of my dad’s favorite stories about me. The thing about being on a team sport is that you all have to be in it 100% - -and it’s the same idea for working on a team in the office. If one person on your team is sitting down and playing with flowers, then you’re not all in it. We collaborate all the time in the work place and there are three essential parts of collaboration.

  1. Everyone has a voice. On a team, everyone is responsible for collecting information and helping out. Everyone should be communicating together and respecting each other’s viewpoints. You have to listen if you’re going to succeed. How many times have you seen the catcher go out to the mound to calm down a pitcher? The catcher isn’t the coach – but they are a team, and they have to listen to each other.
  2. Everyone is responsible. On a team, everyone has a job, and they are responsible for that position. A center fielder who is sitting on his rear end in the middle of a game is not doing his job, and if he misses a big play, everyone is going to feel it.
  3. Everyone listens. Not only do you have to listen to each other, you also have to listen to the team lead and respect them as such. Think of a short stop and a third baseman both going after the same pop fly. If you don’t communicate and listen, then you’re going to slam into each other while trying to make a play.

I’m sure none of us realized, while playing sports as a kid that we were being trained for life in the business world, but we were. The principals we learned working together on that team, we should be carrying them with us into our lives every day. How are you applying team sport principals to life in the office?

Preparing For a Disaster

This morning, I came across this heartbreaking story about Blake Hobbs, an independent meeting planner, who was running a 250 person meeting at the Marriott World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. An uneventful day, Blake went to notify hotel security about someone taking ice from the machines on the plaza and felt the force of the first plane that struck. He made sure that his attendees were evacuated promptly from the area and spent the rest of the day walking uptown, and trying to get to his Lake Wily, South Carolina, home safely.

None of us like the idea of a disaster striking in any circumstance, but with stories of earthquakes in busy city centers and stories of severe weather striking at any time, the fact of the matter is that the world doesn’t stop when we are in a meeting or on a conference call. Here are some points to keep in mind when planning your next meeting or event.

  • Everyone has a role. If you’re hosting a conference, assign single individuals to be “in charge” of a particular task in the event of a severe circumstance. You could be moderating a conference call with all of your people scattered around the country, or you could be doing a live broadcast from a conference room filled with live attendees. Have someone call in on a cellular phone, just in case you have to evacuate the area or go to a safe area so that you can let the conference call attendees know.
  • Know the areas. Know the ins and outs of the building – including the fire escape routes, the tornado safety shelters, and the procedures. It’s important to know what you are supposed to do so that you can advise your people and your employees where to go. There are often different procedures depending on the emergency.
  • Have a coded system. When I worked in retail, I had to learn the different codes, that way if something happened I would know how to direct customers that were near me. As an employee it was partly my responsibility to make sure that shoppers were safe, but we didn’t want to cause panic. Instead, we used codes to announce potential dangers. Things like “Code Black” and “Code Red” meant different things so that we would know how to advise people to get safe, before we told them what was going on. Safety is the most important thing.

Planning, hosting, and attending a conference is supposed to be a fun and exciting experience, and statistically speaking, you will probably never need to know the procedures in the event of a tornado. It’s important to know and understand the procedures and have a plan in place. What steps do you take before a conference to plan for the possibility of a disaster?

Survey Finds Companies Not Getting the Most Out of Conferencing

IT global solutions and services provider Dimension Data announced the results of a wide spread survey of IT leaders across the US on their unified communications strategies. The study found that while many businesses in the United States have implemented strategies like conference calls and web conferencing, not every is utilizing them to the best advantage. Many companies who are trying to make the switch from travel to conferencing to get their business done, have no long term plan for adoption.

Here are some of the stats:

89% of organizations have employees that work from home but 74% of conferencing solutions are offered “in-house”, leaving many telecommuters with no way to collaborate with those in the office.

While 70% of the organizations studied report having video conference capabilities, 70% of business leaders still travel at least once a month.

Mitchell Hershkowitz, National Practice Director of Dimension Data says, “Successfully implementing unified communications within an organization requires more than technology. Developing a roadmap and strategic plan is essential to demonstrating how the technology aligns to corporate goals and creating a clear plan and requirements that translate to enabling business groups and end users.”

The tragic part of being a new user to conferencing or other systems is that you may not always know when the “right time” is to initiate a conference call with another party. It’s often seen as “easier” to travel to a face to face meeting, which defeats the purpose of trying to implement this kind of strategy. If using a conference service is all about saving money and being more efficient, why are some continuing to do things the “old-fashioned” way?

They just don’t understand the savings potential. A lot of people can wrap their mind around why conference systems are important, but they can’t see how their bottom line going to be affected. Show them in hard number exactly how much it costs, on average, to travel for business meetings, and how much the average conference call will cost them.

No clue how to use a service. When you’ve never been exposed to something like conference calling or something other than the standard “old-fashioned” means of communication, it’s overwhelming to just be expected to change. Be sure you give your people detailed information about how to use the service, who the new provider is, and how to get ahold of someone at customer service if they have questions.

If you’ve recently introduced a new conferencing strategy to your team but find yourself frustrated as to why they aren’t using it more, it could be because they simply don’t understand how it works, or why they should. Send out an email letting them know you’re available for questions and anything you can’t answer, you’ll get from the service provider. How did you give your team the heads up when implementing a unified communications strategy?

Headphone Recommendations from a Music Addict

If you walk by my desk at any given hour of the day, you’ll find me rocking out to whatever music the shuffle served up to me. I focus so much better when I have a good song blaring in my ears, but I have to have a very specific kind of headphones. My ears are very small and things made like the standard Apple headphones simply won’t fit in my ears. I’ve tried a lot of different brands and designs to find the best fit for my teeny ears. Here are my top three recommendations when it comes to in-ear headphones.

  1. JVC Marshmallows – For a very affordable price, the Marshmallow is a great pair of ear buds. The sound quality is pretty good, though as they start getting towards the end of their life, you really have to struggle to get a louder sound. The biggest drawback of these headphones is that the foam is designed to get softer with heat and form to the shape of your ear. To me, they just end up feeling hard in my ear canals after wearing them for too long.
  2. iFrogz – If you’re looking for something slim and cheap, the iFrogz are the way to go. I picked up a pair for about ten dollars and they have worked out pretty well. I really like that the “stem” lays flat against my ear, so they don’t fall out as much. The design on these was really ingenious. The drawback with these is that they have a really short lifespan. I only had a pair for about two weeks before I lost the left ear.
  3. SkullCandy -- I have been using SkullCandy steadily for about four years now. These headphones have the best sound quality and great durability. A pair of their in-ear headphones last me for about three – six months, and I carry my headphones everywhere. I have dropped them into water on accident and dried them off and they still worked for another couple of months. If I could change anything about them, I would want a design that’s just a little slimmer. My ears are really small and sometimes, even with the smallest size, they feel too tight.

Of these three, I would have to recommend the Skullcandy, simply because of their long life. My headphones go with me everywhere (I can’t grocery shop without them) and they always seem to be the ones that can put up with a user’s abuse the best. While they are more expensive than the other two listed, they are definitely the best. What’s your favorite headphone?

(Disclaimer: While Skullcandy is a client of AccuConference’s – we’re receiving no compensation for writing this post. I was using Skullcandy well before I joined the AccuConference team and will always be a big fan.)

Reading PowerPoint Slides – You Should Know Better

I recently attended a conference and noticed something that was very disturbing. There was a plague sweeping all of the wonderful speakers that I had been looking forward to hear share their thoughts and ideas. It wasn’t the Black Death, nor was it some horrible unspeakable disease that was going to ravish us all – there were a number of really smart people who were reading word for word from their slides.

  1. Ad Lib. Don’t be afraid to throw in a story that might not have been planned. It’s okay to mention things you didn’t have written down in your notes; you just don’t want to travel off too far on a tangent.
  2. Give more visual ques. Instead of trying to cram a lot of text on your slides, use some carefully chosen graphics to let your audience know what’s in store, as well as keeping track of your place during your presentation.
  3. Invite Participants to Give Feedback. This is a great idea, especially if it is your first time making a presentation in front of a crowd. Your participants can really help you figure out where you did great and where you could use improvement. Don’t be afraid to ask.

There is a level of concern that crops up when we realize that we must do two things at once, like speaking and advancing slides, and things become a little easier when we realize that it’s possible to combine the two things together and just put all of the things we want to say on the presentations slides. Doing that does break rule number one about giving presentations and it won’t help you to get over any nerves or anxiety you fear. Have you ever been guilty of this? How did you get over this?

The 23 Minute Conference Rule

A UK study reveals that the average attention span on a conference call is 23 minutes. After 23 minutes on a conference call, the participants on your call start to tune out and do other things. This is the part where they start checking their email, sending text messages, or playing Angry Birds. In fact, some people in the study admitted to falling asleep all together. When it comes to a face to face meeting, the attention span is increased to 35 minutes.

Whether you use conference calling services to have meetings, or you are still doing things in the traditional face to face way, this study is important to you and if you take nothing else away you should take away this – you have to get to the point. Here are three quick tips that you can apply to your next meeting so that you can say what you need to say while most people are going to be paying attention.

  1. Keep it short and sweet. A long drawn out introduction is only going to eat into the time that you have to keep everyone’s full attention. Instead of planning on a long introduction about the conference topic, send out an agenda ahead of time so that everyone already has a heads up. This way you can get right into the content.
  2. Use less time than you need. According to the study you have 23 minutes to say everything you need to say. When it comes time to actually plan out your conference, give yourself a little less time than what you actually have. This way, if you run over, you won’t be extending the time too much. It’s always better to end a little early, rather than ending very late.
  3. Wandering minds will wander. No matter what you do to keep the attention of the group, there will still be people who are going to tune you out. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do about the Angry Bird addicts. Reach who you can because you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to make a point to those who aren’t paying attention.

When you only have 20-30 minutes to make an impression that is going to stay in someone’s mind, you have to do what you can with the time allowed. Send out an agenda, plan for less time than you have, and remember that those who are going to be distracted will do so – and there is little you can do about it. What are you doing to stay within in the 23 minute time limit on your conference calls?