Before Social Media There Were Virtual Groups

Back in 2004, before the word “social media” became main stream, I took a class about something called “virtual groups”. In all honesty, I took it because the professor said it was an online course and I assumed it would be pretty easy. As someone who had been a member of various online groups and organizations throughout the years, I was curious to see how people were starting to use those kinds of systems to their advantage.

Today, everyone knows what social media stands for, as well as what the use and benefits can be. Curious, I decided to go back into the Yahoo! Groups account we used for the “virtual groups” class to see what we were talking about and what was making huge strides towards popularity. Here are some of the things that were just starting to emerge in 2004.

  • Teleconferencing: In 2004 teleconferencing was a rising star. The market itself had been around for nearly 50 years, but the need for the use of service increased in demand after September 11, 2001, as airlines raised fees and travel became more expensive. With in-home video conferencing services and conference services changing the way business is done, it seems unlikely that anyone would go back to the pre-conference days of travel, long lines, and TSA agents.
  • Online Support Groups: 2004 showed the emergence of the online support group, with some groups even acting as “virtual interventionists”. These peer to peer networks encouraged the growth of relationships and the care for individuals that may never been seen in a face to face environment. Since then, social communities have popped up everywhere for a million different kinds of afflictions – parents with autistic children, addicts, even those who suffer from a number of phobias. While it’s certainly not a doctors advice, it can sometimes help to ease your mind to speak to someone who may be going through the same thing.
  • RFID: In 2004, the FDA approved the use of RFID chips in humans, the same kind of technology that is used in an animal for tracking. In 2004, there were a lot of concerns about storing your personal information on a chip, as well as some of the religious implications of such a device. Looking at the end of 2010, RFID is slowly starting to gain acceptance. Researchers at IBM are working on technology that will allow for personalized advertising, while Wal*Mart discusses the possibility of using RFID technology for tracking their merchandise and sales.

Those were some of the emerging stories that were “hot” topics in 2004. Some of these we’ve heard of since 2004, some we haven’t, and some I’m sure we’ll see more of in the future. One thing is for sure though; you can never tell what is right around the corner.

Five Things Every College Freshman Should Know

My cousin is going to college in the fall. Even better – she’s going to college where I graduated. Since she was six years old, I have always felt a kindred spirit to her. (Has it really been 11 years? I guess it has been.) She liked school, like I did, and dreamed of going to college, like I had, from a very young age. Like all kids, she has big dreams – she wants to do something amazing, be something great, and learn something new every single day.

When she announced she was going to my alma mater, I felt my chest swell up in pride. I remembered taking her to the campus and walking her around, showing her the different buildings telling her funny college stories. I remembered showing her my “hang out spot” on the quad and telling her that the professors were really amazing. Her eyes were bright, alive, and I could tell she was already picturing herself standing on the very campus that I called home. Now that’s she’ll be attending Henderson State University, it’s made me think of what I would tell high school graduates about their first year of college. What advice, thoughts, and warnings would I impart on those about to take that first step into adulthood?

  1. Learn a million things. Take advantage of your elective courses – they are there to encourage you to broaden your horizons and be introduced to things that you didn’t already know. It was through my elective courses that I discovered debate and found something I was truly passionate about.
  2. Make lots of friends. As a commuter for three out of my four years of college, I feel like this is the one thing I missed out on, but once I moved into the dorm, I was able to get some friends that have lasted a very long time.
  3. It’s not high school, most of the time. College courses are one of those places where you’re encouraged to raise your hand and get involved in the discussion. There’s no stigma of being a “nerd” or a “suck up” in college. It can lead to having a great mentor.
  4. Speaking of mentors. You will find professors who are willing to guide you and direct you along a path. There will be professors who will make the difference in your life, even if just for a split second, and will give you advice you will carry through your entire career. I can still remember mine – Dr. Daniel Kendie, the first professor to tell me I had great potential to do something amazing; Dr. Angela Boswell, my academic advisor who helped me see that just because I loved history didn’t mean I was meant to work in the subject; and Dr. Robert Steinmiller, affectionately known to his debate kids as “Dr. Bob”, who taught me everything I needed to know about public speaking and how I could be a mentor myself.
  5. Get involved in stuff.Don’t hesitate to get yourself into political or social groups on campus. Especially when being a commuter, it’s hard to get involved, because you’re often not on campus property when your school is hosting things. Check with your student services department to see if they offer special programs for commuters.

What would you tell those in your life heading off to college this year? If you could look at yourself, as a college freshman, and speak with all the wisdom and knowledge you have now, what would you tell yourself? Are you taking these tips and applying them to your business outlook?

Inspire by Just Being Yourself

There are a lot of very important things when it comes to public speaking and while the inspiration series has covered some of them, it definitely doesn’t even begin to touch on everything. This series has been about one thing – inspiring your audience and making them want to get up and embrace your ideas and practices.

Methods, figured, charts, whatever, sure they are help to show an audience how your practices can be incredibly useful, but if you’re night lighting a fire under them to make them get up and want to go and do something, it’s not going to do any good for you to stand up in front of them and lecture.

I saved this inspiration tip for the last because without doing the other four things then “being yourself” is pretty much pointless. We all have different quirks, things we enjoy, and how they have affected out business experiences. While “be yourself” is a great tip, it’s another one of those things that doesn’t really tell you anything.

What qualifies as “being yourself”? If it’s getting up in front of your audience and acting like a clown because you enjoy playing pranks and making jokes, you’re not going to be perceived as much of a serious business person. It’s a careful balance between showing your personality and airing all your dirty laundry.

  1. Tell stories that have personal meaning, but keep your stories appropriate for your audience.
  2. Connect with your audience in a way that makes you comfortable – and doesn’t cross boundaries. Walking up to a stranger and wrapping them in a bear hug is probably not a great idea. Best connection strategies? Good solid eye contact and a firm handshake.
  3. Let your personality shine! There is something special about you that everyone should get to have a little taste of. If I was in front of an audience, I’d be making short jokes and confessing silly mistakes that I’ve made. Why? Because I’m short and I know how to laugh at myself.

Before your next presentation, think about what sets you apart from the rest of the people that could have been invited to speak, and incorporate those parts of yourself into the presentation. Don’t forget to be honest, kick your fear to the curb, and just have a good time.

Inspire by Overcoming Fear

There is a big difference between being “fearful” and being “nervous”. When it comes to public speaking, someone who has stage fright might sweat profusely or revisit their breakfast before it’s time for them to go on stage. I’ve even heard stories about people who stand too straight with their knees locked and just fall over passed out.

Personally, I’m a nervous speaker, probably borderline on the whole “stage fright” bit. It takes me a few minutes to get warmed up in front of a crowd, but once I do, I start feeling some confidence and am able to shake off the nerves. As important as it is to inspire your audience, you have to have some of that inspiration too; otherwise your speech won’t have the same excitement-boosting factor.

Here are some tips on how to draw a little inspiration for yourself before you go out in front of the waiting fans.

  1. You’re out there aren’t you? There are a lot of people who would be too scared of even agreeing to speak at an engagement, let alone being able to take that stage.
  2. Say some good things about yourself. You are your greatest critic after all, so shut up the negative inside of you that wants you to fall off the stage or rip the seam in your pants and pump yourself up with some positive things – even if you only end up complementing yourself on your hair.
  3. The night before your speech do a dramatic reading of your speech. No, maybe your speech isn’t MacBeth or Romeo & Juliet, but doing something really over the top can help you shake off some of those ‘pre-speech’ nerves. Plus – it would be really fun.
  4. Stop second guessing yourself. You’ve been preparing for this speech for weeks, or even months. So put down the notes, stop making changes, and trust yourself. You’re not so bad you know?

What kind of things do you do in your preparation to give yourself an extra boost of confidence? Remember that you have to believe in what you’re saying if you expect a room full of people to believe along with you.

Get Connected to Your Staff, Students, and Speakers.

Tis the season for … snow, ice, and roads that you can’t even look at without spinning wildly out of control. In most parts of the country there is one constant in every winter season – winter weather, and it causes a headache. Seattle, WA and Buffalo, NY have already experienced a snow storm, one that snarls traffic, and makes getting to work nearly impossible.

Earlier this week, there were reports that we were going to get some “record-breaking snowfall” here in DFW. That report has since started to fade from the forecast, but if the early season computer models are already starting to predict snowfalls, I can only imagine what will happen come January.

Not only is this the beginning of the winter weather season but it’s also the holidays – a time of year when non-profit organizations are hosting fundraisers. What happens when an event you planned has to be cancelled or if your guests cannot safely arrive? As an educator, how do you prepare when a crucial lecture must be rescheduled? In government, you can’t run a country without being able to get people in the same place – so how do you continue when you can’t get to work, school, or your event?

Check with your conference call provider to see what their capacity is for last minute / large events. Get everyone on your conference call and let business continue as usual. Even if you’re in sunny California with a speaker who’s stranded in their hometown, you can get a phone hooked up to the loudspeakers and have your speaker call in. Their presentation still happens and your guests are still happy. Your event happens, despite Mother Nature’s disagreement with you.

Where was the worst place you were stranded during snow or ice? How did you continue conducting your business or did you crawl under a blanket and come out after everything thawed out?

Great Communicators In History

History is full of people who have inspired audiences to move their feet or even brought a room full of people to tears. One of the best speeches I have ever seen was from Radio and Coach Jones , the real life inspiration behind the Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ed Harris film, Radio. I got to meet them both and they were charming and kind (even to a girl wearing a Go Greenwaves shirt), and when they got onto the stage together, it brought tears to my eyes. The message I took away from the speech was to never give up and it's something I've carried with me to this day.

What else can you learn from speakers who have historically made a deep impact on the world? The right speech at the right time can turn a national crisis into an incident, or pour sand on the flames of injustice. What have some of the most memorable leaders taught us about public speaking?

Winston Churchill -- Winston knew how to make an impression on a large audience, even in times of great turmoil. Churchill's speeches inspired a country in the time of World War Two, eventually leading to a win by the Allies against Nazi Germany. Winston was known for his direct, straight-shooting manner on a variety of subjects. One of my favorite quotes from him is History will be kind to me for I intend to write it. And he did, through his success in the WW2 theater and his amazing skill at public speaking.

What should you take away? Winston commanded the respect of an audience even in tough times because he was confident and got right to the point. Different situations (like WW2) might call for you to dive right into the subject matter at hand, with no time to warm them up. Be confident in front of your crowd.

Abraham Lincoln -- With the 147th anniversary of The Gettysburg Address, one of the greatest speeches of all time, it's safe to say than when you think of "great communicators" Abe has to come to mind. In his speeches, Abe was known for saying the things we were all thinking. Take the Gettysburg Address as one example and it's well known opening line, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." With that one statement, Abe grabbed attention and changed the course of a nation that was spinning wildly out of control.

What should you take away? Even when the situation calls for you to leave out the jokes and get right into things, you still have to deliver that powerful, opening statement. You have to make everyone in a room look up from their phones and laptops, and listen only to you.


Ronald Reagan -- Considered "The Great Communicator" Reagan proved that keeping it simple in public speaking is the way to get your audience on board. While he often was given a hard time for his lack of detail, he was able to take things that a public might not understand otherwise and simplify it down to a way that everyone could understand, including solutions to the Cold War.

What should you take away? Like Reagan, you should speak in a language that your audience can understand. Sure, you may have some IT people scattered in the room, but you might also have PR, sales, customer service, and they aren't all going to understand the same jargon. Bring your speech and vocabulary down to an "average" level for everyone, so that everyone can get something great out of your speech.

Bill Clinton -- Clinton was able to connect with a crowd. He knew how to break down the walls of protocol and procedure in order to connect with his audience. Clinton's speech writer, Josh Gottheimer, says that Clinton would make notes in the margins of the speeches and go mostly off those notes, rather than following the speech line by line.

What should you take away? Find a way to break down the barriers with your audience. Sure, you may not be big enough to need Secret Service to usher you in and out of the building, but you may be in a set up that will make your participants feel like you're standing on the other side of the wall. Find a way to greet people before or after the speech, shake some hands, and always make eye contact with audience members throughout the room.

Researching and learning from histories most amazing speakers can help you to figure out different ways you can approach your next engagement. The most important thing to remember is that your own style will develop the more you speak in front of a group. You just have to be able to acknowledge where your strengths are and hone those skills. What are your skills when you speak?

If you've fine tuned your skills and want to make an impact with your next speech, try hosting a webinar or conference call. Sign up for an account with AccuConference and host your next speaking event today.

What’s Good About Bad Meetings?

A meeting can educate, allow collaboration, and build cohesiveness. For more benefits, check out Part One: What’s Good About Meetings? There are even more ways a meeting can be detrimental rather than helpful, but can a bad meeting be a good thing? And as the Harvard Business Review also asks, can a good meeting be bad?

If the purpose of a meeting was simply to have a meeting, then “we had a great meeting” would always be a good thing. But what is the point to have a great meeting? Shouldn’t we rather have a bad meeting with good results? After all, what we desire is the collaboration, choosing the best ideas, and the swaying of opinions that a meeting can produce. And that can’t happen if everything is nice and good.

In a meeting atmosphere, participants need to be able to vocalize their thoughts, share ideas, agree and disagree... you know, participate. The very best course, thought, or idea is not the first uttered, or the last, or even the most popular. The best comes from the culling of all other candidates, and can be a painful process. If everyone simply agrees with everyone else--or just the boss--then the true potential of a meeting is wasted.

But don’t judge a meeting by the state of mind it creates. Conflict and disagreement can create the best crucible. The length of a meeting doesn’t matter, only what progress was made, (and how much).

It’s okay if a meeting creates more work, as most good things don’t come easy. And if a meeting creates more meetings, it just means the subject is more complex than originally believed. We will always have a place for meetings in business. Remember though, a meeting is merely transportation, and not the destination.

What's Good About Meetings

As soon as two cavemen decided to sell round-rocks together, the first business meeting was born. Since then, meetings have transformed in many ways, such as in protocol, etiquette, time, place, medium, and so on. What hasn’t changed is the need for meetings, and as long as there is business, there will be meetings.

So what’s good about meetings? What purpose do they have? Why risk all the bad meetings--that we’ve all experienced--and waste all that time? The Harvard Business Review makes this defense for meetings:

The Social Aspect - For most individuals, working with others is a necessity. Social interaction is decreasing with the rise of remote workspaces and home offices, but even an office building can be a lonely place, especially in larger corporations. Meetings, quick chats, conference calls, etc. do away with the solitary aspect of business, prevent the stagnation of ideas, and increase the communication necessary to achieving goals.

Everyone in the Loop - More and more there is a decentralization to the business structure. There’s also more specialization, delegation, and delocalization. All this adds up to many people doing many different things from a myriad of places, all towards one common goal. Without meetings, it simply wouldn’t be possible. We need to spread valuable info on progress, changing needs and directions, as well as allow the input and contributions of everyone involved.

Status Symbols - As much as we might deny it, being invited to a meeting is much like being anointed. Inclusion means you are worthy of being informed, or of contributing. There is a danger of meeting abuse inherent as a status symbol though. We should never have a meeting because it’s a Monday, or to socialize, or simply because we can. Not only is it a waste of time, but can destroy morale.

Stay tuned for part two: What’s Good About Bad Meetings

Writing Effective Emails

Image credit to doobybrain on Flickr

Since many things are done via email now, thanks to smartphones and iPads, we’re never too far away from our emails, and more of us are choosing to communicate via that method.

When it comes to writing an effective email, it’s all about being aware of what you’re doing and what you could potentially be saying. Here’s a quick list of Do’s and Don’ts for writing emails, whether you are communicating with a customer or another business associate.

Do use language appropriate for the person you’re speaking to. If the person you’re emailing doesn’t work in IT, don’t use technical jargon to respond to their emails. Speak on a level that is appropriate for who you’re emailing.

Don’t be afraid to sound like you know what you’re talking about. If you’re asked a specific question, answer it to the best of your abilities, but keep the language you use appropriate for who you are speaking to.

Do keep in mind that things get lost in translation. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a friend then you know that there is sometimes a question on what the person on the other end meant, keep that in mind when sending an email. Sarcasm and humor can get lost quickly in an email.

Don’t forget to read the email out loud before you send. Not only will this help you to proofread any grammar or spelling errors you can hear how your brain is inferring the speech in the email so that you can take out anything that might not translate.

Do answer all the questions presented to you in an email.

Don’t write a novel when a sentence would do.

Do use a canned email when appropriate. Sometimes, it’s okay to have emails on “stand by” to send back. A perfect example of this would be if you’re sending someone steps to walk them through how to do something. It’s okay to have that email ready to send so that you don’t have to type out all of the steps over and over again.

Don’t get so caught up in a canned response that you miss what the person is asking. Read the email thoroughly and used a canned email only when appropriate. You still need to be sure you’re answering inquires posed to you.

Do ask for greater clarification in order to understand what the person needs. It’s perfectly okay to make sure that someone means X rather than Y and most would rather clarify then have you misunderstand and respond anyway.

Don’t feel like an email conversation cannot become a phone conversation. For me, the rule is more than three emails back and forth and it’s time to pick up the phone and make the call.

Failures and Success

*This is part two of my series about how to inspire your audience when doing a presentation. Part one was about honesty and you can read it here

When it comes to failure, it’s not usually the first topic to come to mind when invited to make a business presentation. Many times you’re going to be presenting to a group of people who have paid to see you talk about your chosen subject, and when someone pays you to speak, it’s doubtful that they want to hear anything else other than the moment that you succeeded.

History would disagree with that line of thinking. History would show you that failure is just another step towards success. History tells you to stand up and admit your failures, and then tell your audience how it lead you down the path towards the reasons you’ve been asked to stand up in front of everyone. Here are three other people that would tell you failures matter and why.

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”Woody Allen

Failure makes for progressive thought and actions. With failure, we learn how to create and push the boundaries of what is commonly accepted as normal and how to push the boundaries of what can make things great. If we refuse to fail then we refuse to grow.

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” - Henry Ford

Believe it or not, failing at something can be a light at the end of a tunnel. Whether it’s a business venture or something you tried personally it’s not about always about being perfect.Sometimes, it’s about taking small steps, sometimes in the wrong ones, to make you wake up and realize that you need a change or to try something different.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison

Getting a good idea to a great idea sometimes means you have to look back at a failure and see what you can do differently. There can be a very simple piece of the puzzle missing that can turn your failure into success. Apple is the perfect example of a company that used a failure to find a better plan. Remember the MessagePad (AKA The Newton)? Without that failed device it’s possible that we would have never had the iPhone.

Not all failures are bad, just like not all successes are great. You can inspire an audience with admitting your failures just as quickly as you can by expressing your successes. Failures are truth and human, and when we try something, it’s not always the outcome we want at first. The inspiration is in the story and how you learned.