Useful Debate and an Open Mind

Have you ever fallen into a conversation you didn’t really want to have? I have a friend who is incredibly smart, open, and kind, but we disagree on 99.99% of everything socially and politically. There isn’t anything wrong with that since she and I obey the rules for civil debate. Sorry to tell you, but not everyone is going to be able to have these kinds of open conversations. There is a fine line between openly sharing ideas and wanting to bang your head against the wall.

Enter Gini Dietrich over on the Spin Sucks blog and echoes the sentiments I have felt since my years participating in intercollegiate debate – your mom tells you what you want to hear. (Doesn’t she though? Moms are the best people to talk to when you need a little confidence boost.) In her post, Gini challenged us all to reach out to a blogger or co-worker that we find ourselves disagreeing with and talk to them.

Like Gini says, we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people, so how do we step out of that comfort zone to gain a greater perspective on the opinions of others around us. How do we introduce ourselves to new ideas and new opinions?

  1. Attend an event outside of your comfort zone. Sign up to go to a networking event or conference that you wouldn’t usually see yourself attending. If you’re into social media marketing sign up to attend a conference that focuses on more traditional marketing ventures.
  2. Befriend someone who is interested in something you are not. The old adage of opposites attract can be very helpful when it comes to expanding your horizons. Making a new friend who loves comic books might show you that you don’t have to be surrounded with the people who love and think the way you do.
  3. Educate yourself on new things. Set a goal to learn about one new opinion each month. Think about the things you are passionate about; educate yourself on the origins of the “opposing sides” opinion. Why do they feel the way they do? How were their thoughts and opinions shaped by the changes in the world? Just remember to read with an open mind instead of a defensive one.

Learning another’s opinion is an important part of success and just because you may not agree, it doesn’t mean their opinions should be discounted. How will you be reaching out to a new thought or idea? What can we do to be more open minded when it comes to all parts of life – not just in business?

Twitter Emergency Management

A huge winter storm moved across the Midwest this week, leaving areas from Dallas/Fort Worth to Chicago and over to the Northeast covered with ice and snow. With blizzard conditions reported in areas of Missouri, Oklahoma, and Illinois, driving conditions got worse and drivers found themselves stranded along major thoroughfares. Conditions were so bad that a number of interstates were closed from Oklahoma to Missouri to Kansas.

Tuesday night, the Department of Emergency Management in Oklahoma issued to Civil Emergency Message to stranded drivers along Oklahoma highways, advising motorists to stay warm, conserve fuel, and to dial 911 if they are stranded. I’ve seen these messages before but the message issued last night contained something new.

If you are on Twitter, you can tweet your information to @OKEM.

Twitter has increasingly become a form of media to express weather conditions or traffic. Follow any media personality from a local news station, emergency management location, or even a school district account and you’ll find that more of these are embracing Twitter as a means to get information out to the public. School closings, road conditions, and even National Weather Service warnings are becoming something that is seen often on various Twitter accounts.

This means that Twitter is being seen more and more as a legitimate means of communication and not just a way to update the world on what you’re reading or having for lunch. If the OKEM is accepting Twitter as a preferred means of communication – and I’m sure other agencies will follow. I thought of some ways we may see agencies using Twitter in the future.

Police & fire departments can send out Twitter updates for extreme situations – like hostage events or even terrorist threats or DM the police department with tips about unsolved crimes.

School districts can use twitter to update on a number of different issues. Since a lot of students are on Twitter, you can send @ replies to students or even DMs to notify students and parents about impending weather service warnings or any dangerous situations in the area that could affect your children.

National Weather Service could take advantage of Twitter’s growing popularity by actively finding users in locations that have imminent warnings. Imagine being at a movie with friends and getting a text notification that there is a tornado warning – instead of being completely unaware.

Twitter, long seen as just a marketing or “friending” trend, does have the potential to keep us up to date. While Twitter will never replace traditional 911 services how do you see other types of emergency management or alert systems being used to update citizens on potential problems?

Speech Writing Tips

When the State of the Union address opened, I was reminded that the President of the United States is a powerful and engaging public speaker, and he opened his address the way that I have advised public speakers to do for a long time.

He opened with an engaging and thought provoking story about the birth of the United States, and how our country was built on the backs of pilgrims and critical thinkers.

“That's why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It's why our students don't just memorize equations, but answer questions like "What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?"”

Now, say whatever about his political platform and his political beliefs, but the above mentioned are powerful words. Considering he spent a good amount of time on the subject of education, it was a great way to tie in the whole speech and express a common theme.

When dealing with a powerful public speaker, we are sometimes so enamored by their presence; we forget that the words have to come from somewhere. In the White House, the President is surrounded by talented speech writers. We give tips on speaking in front of a crowd but how do we make sure to express the right message with our words? Here are some tips for speechwriting.

  1. Select a main idea and define the purpose of your speech. When your audience walks out once your speech is complete – what is the central thought that you want rolling around in their head?
  2. Keep it conversational – this is a speech, not a graded paper. You only have an opportunity to make your speech once, and there is no ability for your participants to go back and reread the way you said something, so write the speech the way you talk.
  3. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Cut out all the fat, read it out loud to someone, let them tell you what doesn’t make sense, then reword or cut it all together. A speech is just like any other thing you’ve written – it’s not going to be right the first time out.

Preparing a speech is long, hard work, no matter if you’re making a speech like the State of the Union or if you’re going to talk about something more specific to your industry or focus. You still need to be prepared and be sure you have a clear, concise message for your audience.

The Perfect Online Meeting Solution for Direct Sellers

Guest Post from Jennifer Fong, jenfongspeaks.com 

I’ve been involved with webinar technology from close to its very inception. Back in my instructional design days, I remember working with trainers employed by the corporation I was working with, trying to create an instructional script format that would make it easy for them to deliver training using this new technology.

Since then, I’ve watched the providers of this technology move in and out of prominence, and watched the pricing structure largely favor corporations with big budgets. This has troubled me a bit, because I’ve lately had the opportunity to work with a lot of direct sellers (think Tupperware or Mary Kay ladies) and see the online meeting tool provider market largely ignore this key demographic (which is a mistake, since at last count there were 15.1 million people involved in direct selling in the US alone, and more than 59 million worldwide.)

You see, direct sellers make a lot of presentations, but often they are moms (or dads) living on a family budget, and 50 bucks a month or more can often be a big hit. Add to that the fact that, until recently, all you could really do was PowerPoint, and these providers really didn’t do what we needed them to.

There are a few reasons why direct sellers need a good online meeting tool:

  1. Online group sales events (“online parties”)
  2. Online events to present the business opportunity
  3. Sales force training
  4. New product roll-outs

As part of these meetings, we typically need to share information, possibly a live demo or two, and often do some group browsing of websites.

In order to really effectively do these things, here are some of the features that direct sellers have said they would find incredibly useful in an online meeting tool.

  1. Reasonable pricing.
  2. Video. In the direct selling business, face to face communication is a must. It would also be great to enable web cams of anyone participating.
  3. Embedded chat. Chat can be a great way to share websites, as well as facilitate discussion with participants.
  4. PowerPoint/Presentation capabilities. This is a no-brainer for any kind of presentation.
  5. Live browsing that enables each viewer to independently interact with the website being shared. Especially when doing group sales presentations, we need to be able to take people to a specific website and then allow them to shop independently.
  6. Easy recording, with the ability to download that recording (not tied to a specific provider to keep/reuse the recording.) Our training libraries are a huge asset for our businesses, and it’s useful for folks who couldn’t make, for example, a live product rollout to still be able to see it.
  7. Polls to keep participants engaged.
  8. Viewable attendee list that captures contact info and makes it available to the moderator after the event.

Direct sales provide such an incredible opportunity for online meeting tool providers. We’re typically a loyal bunch, we are the poster child of word of mouth (we’re constantly sharing great resources with one another), and our use of certain technologies can put those tools in front of millions. It’s time for the online meeting industry to take a closer look at this demographic. There’s a world of opportunity just waiting for them.

Do you do online sales that involve live presentations? How do you use online meeting technology to facilitate those presentations? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.


About the author:

Jennifer Fong is a social media speaker and consultant who helps direct selling companies and individual direct sellers use social media effectively as a business building tool. A former direct sales company CEO, Jennifer built her company from the ground up, and understands what it takes to build, lead, and train a team, as well as the underlying principles of any direct selling business: network, sell, and recruit. She combines her expertise in direct sales with her passion for social media marketing to provide direct sellers with the knowledge they need to put social media to work for their businesses in a strategic and profitable way.

Jennifer offers free information about social media and how to use it for direct sales on her blog at http://jenfongspeaks.com. Find her on Facebook at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks, and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jenfongspeaks.

Tips From A King

I have written about the great communicators in the past, Presidents and world leaders who have made their mark on society through economic or political changes. People have taken note of their speeches and dissected them at length to see what made these speeches so powerful.

The thing that is so interesting about being a public speaker is that there are a million different reasons why you can end up in the position to make a speech and different barriers you can come up against when you get there. It’s why I’ve been intrigued by the story of The King’s Speech staring Colin Firth. A brief history about the film – Colin Firth stars as King George VI, a man who was never supposed to be king. When Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry an American woman, George was unexpectedly thrust at the throne.

George suffered from a terrible stutter and as a monarch, who is often in front of the English public, it simply wouldn’t do. The King’s Speech is the story of George’s speech therapist, named Lionel, and the King himself as they work on improving his speech skills.

I stumbled across this great set of presentation tips from @JesseDee through Lifehacker yesterday, all about what you can learn from the movie and apply to your own presentations. It’s a great set of tips and I really recommend you check out the full slideshow, but here were two of my favorite tips.

Admit You Need Help.

Bottom line – we all have flaws. Let go of your ego and find an expert in the field you might be struggling with. It could be something as simple as reaching out to a scientist to help you word a phrase or getting a speech therapist to help you over a stammer.

Put the Hours In.

You want to be a great public speaker? It’s a lofty goal but you have to be willing to focus and hone your craft. As @JesseDee put it, there is no substitute for hard work. You want to be great at something you’re going to have to break your back in order to get it. That’s the bottom line.

I highly recommend that you check out the full set of tips here and that you give The King’s Speech a fighting chance when it comes to your next film. It’s on my list of things to watch. What orators do you know that have struggled with their speech and what have they done to change things?

Curiosity Can Be a Good Thing

Picture credit to Milo Gasagrande.

Growing up, my dad was a gadget fan – he used to want to have all the latest computer chips and software, he wanted the latest video cards, and he wanted to be a part of this thing called the “world wide web”. My brother and I were one of the first kids in our elementary school to know how to “log on” to the Internet, how to send an email, and how to add RAM to a computer tower. In the late 80’s and early 90s, the quality of electronic devices didn’t stand the test of time – or the test of two children. Things would break and would need to be replaced – personally, I admit to helping keep VCR’s off the shelf. When a VCR would break, my dad, instead of throwing it away, would announce the electronics killer had struck again, and then let me have it.

What did I do with it? I tore it apart – every screw, every chip, every piece of metal. I broke apart the machine and I examined the parts that made it. What made the tape in the VCR turn? How did it project from the thin film through a wire, and onto my TV. Was there a tiny Ariel and Sebastian hiding in front of a teeny tiny lens and acting out The Little Mermaid five and six times a week? No, there wasn’t, but I liked pulling things apart and looking at them.

As an adult, I have the same inclinations – when I see something I don’t understand, or something that is new, I want to learn everything I can about how it works, what makes it tick, how to pull it apart and put it back together. I’ve performed very careful surgeries on laptops that have saved me a lot of money and fixed wires and sound systems, helped remove viruses from computers on the other side of the United States, and saved myself lots of money on tech assistance because I can do a lot of things on my own.

I stumbled upon an old study from the University of Buffalo that found that curiosity is very good for people. The study found that people who are curious tend to experience more positive interpersonal outcomes than the less curious. Basically, those who are curious want to learn more about people, ask more questions, and are personally satisfied when they find out new or surprising information.

Did you ever think that your curiosity as a child could start setting up your interests and strengths as an adult? We used to get scolded when we were children about getting into things that we weren’t supposed to get into, but we were just reacting to our natural curiosities. We weren’t supposed to put our fingers into light sockets, but there was a hole in the wall and wanted to see where it went.

Curiosity opens the door for people to learn more information and things about others and the way that things work. There is nothing that seems to work better than trying to learn how something works, instead of just accepting that it works. When you tear apart something, break it down to its pieces, maybe you’ll get a hint on how you can do it better, or what you can change to make it more efficient.

This weekend, I recommend everyone find an old VCR, or a DVD player – something that’s broken and has been sitting in your spare room or your attic for months, and tear it apart. Rediscover the natural curiosity you had as a child and think about what you can do the next time you’re in a position where you can learn more about someone with a couple of simple, curious questions.

Increase Attendance on 2011 Conference Calls

Since the first official week of 2011 has come and gone, hopefully we’re all back in the swing of things. With the second week of the year kicking off, you’re probably finally sitting down to review all those things you tried in 2010, make notes on what you found to be successful, and what you didn’t.

There was a sharp increase of teleconference use in 2010, with companies and individuals embracing conference call providers to drive fresh business and clients to their products and services. For those of you that had a teleconference series in 2010 for the first time and want to focus on increasing your attendance in 2011 – here are a couple of tips from one of our event planners.

  1. Schedule conference times in the time zone best suited for the highest number of people. Chances are a lot of the people you’re inviting will be scattered throughout all times zones, so find the highest concentration of folks, and set a time most convenient for them. If 90% of your invites are going out to those on the west coast, you won’t get a high turnout if the call is at 8AM eastern.
  2. Schedule the teleconference before lunch time. After lunch, when we’re all full and thinking that we’re half way to heading home, we may find that we’re less inclined to really have our focus set on a conference call. I recommend between 10 and 11 AM.
  3. Plan ahead and send reminders. The longer you wait to send out invitations the more likely it will be that people will have other plans. Sending out invitations at least two weeks in advance makes it more likely that people will have the time to attend your conference call. Send them a reminder the morning of the conference in case they have forgotten.
  4. Don’t invite everyone. If you want to get the best turn out for your conference, use discretion when choosing who to invite. Send you invitations to the people you think would be the most interested in the conference. For example, if you’re selling Apple products, you wouldn’t invite Steve Jobs to your conference call.
  5. Make Your Conferences Interactive. Create PowerPoint presentations and share them with your participants. A little visual stimulation can go a long way.

When it comes down to increasing attendees on a webinar or teleconference, there is no perfect formula for getting people to show up and be active on your conferences.

For those of you who are old hat at hosting teleconference, what are your tips for increasing attendance? Comment any suggestions you have for companies that might be taking their first steps below. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions!

Communications in a Small Community

If it’s not your first time stopping by, then you probably know I’m from small town Arkansas, where word travels fast. If you say something about another person, by the time you get to the other side of town (which is about a three minute drive) they have already heard everything about it and have made their own decisions.

When a crisis strikes, the only way you’re going to make it through is being prepared. No one wants to sit around and think about what might come along and cause pain or injury, but because there’s no way to see the future, everything has to be taken into consideration. In business and on our social networks, we can often be considered as little communities, so how can you prepare in advance for something you might never see coming? What happens when your small community faces a crisis?

Whatever message you have, write it down. This information will pass through a lot of hands and you don’t want anyone playing “telephone” with a message as important as this.

Ever played the game “telephone” where you whisper a secret and it travels down the line, only to come to the last person a mere skeleton of what the thought originally was? When news breaks in a small community, it can be hard to stop the flow of mis-information and personal judgments. Put your message on paper so what you’re passing around is going to be the same for everyone.

Contact the neighboring towns to find out what they could provide if your community is put into an unexpected tight spot.

One of the towns close to home has a small, all volunteer fire department with one engine that is top speed about 50 MPH (no, seriously, I’ve been behind this thing when it’s on the way to a fire). It just so happens to be in an area that is highly prone to wildfires. The city knows they are without the funds to purchase new and better equipment, so they made arrangements with nearby communities to pitch in when it’s needed. I’ve seen the fire departments from five different towns converge on this tiny community to help put out fires.

Prepare messages in advance and role play potential problems that could affect your community.

You can never know what’s coming with your community, business, organization, or even your best friend – but what you can do is make a plan, well in advance and be prepared in the event that something does happen. That way, when you need to respond right away, you’re not stuck on the stage where you are trying plan what to do when faced with a crisis.

Public Speaking Anxiety

With it being the first work day of 2011, I’m sure a lot of us have some resolutions we are trying to live up to and trying to make happen. Whether your resolution is to lose weight, stop smoking, or overcome something that held you up in the past, I’m sure you have a set of goals to make your resolution happen.

If your resolution this year is to be a better public speaker, it can be hard to set goals that will help you reach what is, more than likely, an end result of making a public speech. Like all resolutions, the best thing for you to do is to set smaller goals that will get you more comfortable with the idea of being in front of people, before you tackle the idea of a long speech.

If you suffer from public speaking anxiety and want to overcome that this year, try starting small and working your way up the ladder of challenges. Here are some easy (free!) suggestions to starting down the path of conquering the anxiety.

  1. Volunteer time reading books to an after school program. Not only is this a great way to spend your time, but you’ll get used to reading out loud. You will learn the importance of pace, tone, and not to do the annoying robot voice that will put us all to sleep. Small children are also forgiving – so it’s an audience that can be very easy to make happy.
  2. Join an Online Forum. Joining an online forum will help you learn how to articulate your thoughts into a speech-like format. The great thing about forums is that you’ll get connections with people you wouldn’t usually come in contact with and it will teach you how to speak up in a situation when you’re dealing with people you don’t know.
  3. Watch other speakers. Attend free events at your local community college or university and watch how other speakers use the stage to their advantage. Take notes about what you like and what you don’t, then practice at home.

If you want to overcome this kind of fear, you don’t have to run out and spend a lot of money on different kinds of books and DVD’s. You can find some ways to get a little bit of confidence in your abilities right in your own backyard and never have to spend a dime.

Using *6 on Your Conference Call

We are a community of multitaskers, like the supermen and women of technology, able to do one thousand things at once. Okay, maybe not a thousand, but we are usually involved in two things at once. Whether we are cooking dinner and kicking a cat out of the kitchen or answering the phone and email at the same time, we like to fill our time with two things at once.

When it comes to being on a conference call, it may seem like the perfect time to call in on your cell phone and head over to the local market to get a tube of toothpaste (that counts as still working right?). What you might forget about while checking out is that everyone (including a boss or a potential client) can hear the beeping as things slide across the scanner and the muffled cursing as you try to hold your phone, pick up your bags, and get your change from the cashier. (Three things at once have a tendency to throw us off balance).

This is the perfect time to mute your own line using the *6 command. *6 is a command that can be used in a lot of different ways. Here are just a few ways to use the *6 command on your next conference call.

  • If you’re hosting a conference with multiple moderators and speakers, remember that your line is always open to the attendees. If you’re waiting for your chance to speak or simply listening in, press *6 on your telephone keypad to mute your line. You can use *6 again when it’s your turn to speak to open your line back up.
  • On conferences with a small number of attendees, you can use the *6 command to go through Q&A sessions. Each participant can keep their line muted until they have a question or a comment on the conference. As the moderator, you can see on the live call screen when someone unmutes their line and know that they intend to speak.
  • During a moderated Q&A session, once your line is unmuted, it will stay open until the operator goes to the next question in line. When you’re just listening to the answer to your question, press *6 to mute your line so that the moderator won’t be interrupted.

*6 is just one of the conference call star commands we have available, and you can check out the list of all our star commands. But remember, even with these tips, you should never assume that mute is on, and always be aware of your surroundings when on a conference call.