What's Your Superpower?

I am five feet tall, and my husband is a man who is well over the six foot mark. Now, as adorable as we look together, he’s also quite handy to have around. Whenever I need something that’s on a shelf, I just ask him to come get it for me, and since I’m pretty dang short, I am often calling for his help. I do it so much, in fact, that he has determined that he has the worst super power in the world.

He’s naturally good at getting things off tall shelves because he’s a tall person. For him, it’s nothing, but for me it’s the greatest thing in the world.

Have you ever considered what your super power might be?

I was reading the latest Escaping Mediocrity and watching on Twitter as @SaraRobinson struggled with this post. As part of her coaching she is supposed to name ten ways that she can be a rock star for her clients. It’s easy right? Not so much. She ran into a couple of roadblocks while trying to figure out what her super powers are – mainly, she didn’t want to brag and she mostly just considers herself to be a normal hardworking person. It’s so hard for us to admit what our super powers might be. What matters is if we can identify them and how we are using them.

If I look at myself, I realize that I have been writing ever since I could pick up a pen and make letters. Somewhere in my Papa’s attic is a box of composition books that contains some of the worst stories ever. I always liked to write and I just thought it was something that made me special. Writing has always been something that I was good at. I’ve taken that skill and turned it into my career (which is pretty sweet).

You superpower is something that simply sets you apart from everyone else and when you are trying to get clients to come to you – it can be the thing that makes you the one to do business with. Everyone is trying to find a competitive edge and yours can be as simple as a talent or personality trait you’ve had all your life.

Sit down and think about something that just seems to come naturally to you. Are you a great speaker? Are you comfortable in social situations that might drive someone like me to the brink of a nervous breakdown? Once you’ve identified your super power, how are you using it to set yourself apart from the others?

Think about that, and then comment below or find me on Twitter and tell me what your super power is and how you’re using it.

Facing Your Fear

This past Friday night, I did something very out of character for me. I turned off all the lights and watched a scary movie. Not just any scary movie – the original Nightmare on Elm Street. Since I was five, I have been deathly afraid of Freddy Krueger. As a child, I couldn’t see Robert Englund or I would burst into tears. My brother wasn’t allowed to wear his striped sweater because it made me cry. When you’re five, you rationalize things in a very strange way. For me, it was about a man who came in your dreams, and I would have nightmares about him. It was very real for me.

What I found after watching Nightmare was that Freddy was lame. Maybe it was the cheap 1980s graphics and special effects, or perhaps it was Johnny’s Depp’s hair, but I am no longer scared. I don’t plan on going out and renting all of the Nightmare films, but I won’t need to hide my face from him anymore.

Did you know the number one fear of the average person is public speaking? The old school of thought would tell you to picture everyone in their underwear to kick this fear, but I have to be honest – that just tends to make things seem more awkward. Here are a couple of ways you can approach facing your fear – and everyone can keep their pants on.

  1. Don’t try to ignore the fear – it never makes it any better. You’ll be much more productive stepping up and facing the fear.
  2. Take small steps. If you have stage fright, it’s a bad idea to throw yourself into the running for speaking at something like SXSW. Start smaller, like a chapter of a local business group or even your church. Get used to being in front of people before you really put the pressure on.
  3. Remember that nervous people will sweat. Sounds gross right? Tough luck – sometimes, nerves can overshadow the power of your deodorant, and there’s nothing quite as embarrassing as being “un-sure”. You might think about wearing dark colors, just to lessen your worries by one.
  4. Eat something! It’s easy to not eat before you do something you’re afraid of, because you’re a tightly wound ball of nerves, but if you don’t eat, I promise you won’t be happy. Don’t pass out on stage.
  5. Think positive thoughts about yourself. Don’t just focus on your speech contents, but on yourself – are you having a good hair day? Are your shoes amazing? Did you buy a new outfit that you really love? It’s all about confidence and giving yourself a little boost will help you get out there and face your fear.

When I was watching Nightmare, I had a five year old part of me screaming into a blanket and hiding her chubby little face. I recognized her, I respect that scared little girl, but I was determined to conquer my fear. It paid off for me and Freddy is just a movie character. If you can overcome your fear of public speaking you can open all kinds of doors for yourself. Have you already battled your stage fight and overcome it? What did you do that first time to help ease your nerves?

Where Does Communication Go Bad?

Communication is tricky. Having developed a friendship with someone over the internet, I learned over time that I would have to ask if there was a hidden meaning to the word because I can’t hear her say them, so I’m not sure what she meant. We do a lot with our tone of voice when communicating with others so taking that out of things, it can cause confusion.

Tone isn’t the only place that communication can go wrong. Communication is such a broad term that, to put it bluntly, there are a million different ways to mess it up. Here are some of the biggest offenders that can cause communication to fail – at least as far as I’m concerned.

Email / IM / Chat / Etc. -- They are, in my humble opinion, part of business. In this day and age, if you are not working with these kinds of services, then you’re falling behind. The problem is that when communicating through these forums, you lose all of your tone – and tone is so incredibly important. A good rule of thumb is the first time you have to ask yourself “I wonder what he/she means by that” during an email or chat conversation, it’s probably time to pick up the phone to finish the conversation.

Distractions – Things like the TV, your cell, or computer. At my house, I always forget that my hubby can look at the TV and listen, just like I can text and listen at the same time. It leads to a lot of those “You’re not even listening to me, are you?” moments. This is easily overcome by turning off whatever it is that is distraction.

Spelling / Grammar – Cruise on over to FailBlog and check out how quickly a spelling error or using the wrong context of a word can send a message spiraling out of control. Use your spell check or get someone to read over emails or newsletters before you send them out. Abbreviations – Once, a long time ago, I asked my boss a question in IM and his response was “Y”. I didn’t know if he meant yes or why, and it required me to get up to clarify, adding an extra step in our communication process. It’s best to just spell words out in their completion to avoid any kind of confusion.

Implied Meanings – Making someone guess what you mean is no fun when you’re on the other side of it. If you mean something, come right out and say it – don’t make people guess.

Those are just a few of the things that can make communication go wrong and how you can get around them. What kind of things have you experienced that has made communication go wrong and how do you fix them?


5 Ways to Avoid the Huh

One of the first experiences I had after moving to Arkansas from South Carolina was a total mis-communication. I was sitting at the lunch table with some good ole Southern boys who would end up becoming some of the most important people in my life, when one of them asked me a question. It was a very general question like, “So you’re from the city?” It was like someone punched him in the back of the throat and made him spit out all of those words in one breath, thus ruining a potential conversation.

I just stared at him until I admitted, “I have no idea what you just said. Can you slow it down for me?”

“So… You...Are…From…The…City?”

In South Carolina, we like to drag out our conversations, thick and slow, like hot air or molasses. In Arkansas, it was the complete opposite, and I had to keep up or I was going to be left behind. When opening up and speaking to people (especially when you’re the new girl) here are five things to keep in mind to keep yourself from talking at the speed of sound and causing those “huh” moments.

  1. Think about what you’re going to say it before you let it fall out.
  2. Rehearse when you can and when it’s appropriate.
  3. Don’t be nervous! Or… well, try not to be. At a networking event, everyone is there to meet people, try to keep that in mind.
  4. Skip the caffeine boost. Don’t drink anything that might send you into fast forward mode.
  5. Get someone you trust to help. When presenting in front of a group it can be really helpful to get a friend who will stand in the back and hold up their hands when you’re starting to babble or speak too fast.

When was the last time you got or gave a “huh” look after speaking to someone or a group? Have you been able to identify when you’re speaking too fast and what you can do in the future to keep it from happening too much?

Ten Tips for Turning Off Your Accent

I had an advantage when it came to me learning English and speaking – I learned how to speak in a foreign country, so my basis for language did not have the blanket of an accent. When I was f ive, I moved back to the states and to South Carolina, where my mother often reminds me of how she caught me trying to teach myself how to speak like my family did. The longer I have spent in the south, the more of an accent I have developed, but I feel like I speak eloquently.

With that being said, it is sometimes brought to my attention when I’m nervous, angry, or around friends and family that I do indeed have a bit of a southern twang. My biggest offender is the word “orange”, which I am constantly, reminded that I pronounce “are-gne.” I’m self-conscious of my accent, since nerves bring it out and social settings for me bring out nervousness, I feel like it’s prevented me from really being able to go to events and let myself shine. I’ve been working on my accent and how to reduce what I like to call Southern-Girl-itis.

Here are ten tips to toning down your accent – or getting rid of it completely.

  1. Remember that it won’t be easy; you’re basically teaching yourself how to speak again.
  2. Find words that give you a hard time and practice them in a mirror.
  3. Record yourself speaking to another person or read a passage from a book. Play it back so you can identify letter combinations that might be giving you trouble.
  4. Speak clearly by remembering to open your mouth.
  5. Say the word in your head before you say it out loud.
  6. Hold your fingers at the side of your throat when you speak to help “feel” what shapes you’re making when you say the words.
  7. Immerse yourself into speech that doesn’t showcase a regional accent.
  8. Speak to someone with a different dialect (like someone from above the Mason Dixon like if you’re combating a twang) and let them tell you what words sounded different.
  9. Learn new words and expand your vocabulary to introduce your brain to words without and accent.
  10. Remove colloquial phrases like “ya’ll” from your daily use.

What’s your accent? Are you like me with a country girl twang or do you have something like Boston or Minnesota seeping the edges of your tone? What have you done that’s worked to combat your accent?

Teacher and Speaker

One of the great things about being asked to present on a conference call is the joy of getting to educate people on something you’re passionate about or work hard gathering data for. When we work hard on something and we want to share it with the world and getting invited to speak on a conference call is a great way to do it. We log into the conference call with everything ready to go. We are ready to be teachers, even If only for about an hour and to talk about something that we have passion for. Here are some things to consider telling your participants before you dive into the meat of your conference.

  1. For conferences of 10 or more people, I recommend using the lecture mode feature to mute all. If you chose not to do that, be sure you instruct participants on how to use the system to mute their own lines.
  2. Advise everyone if you have an operator monitoring the call; even if just briefly troubleshoot.
  3. Let them know if their lines are in a muted state when you have the call in a lecture setting.Also let them know how you’ll be handling the Q&A. Will you open the lines up at the end? Will you be using the integrated Q&A system?
  4. In an open line conference call make sure that you let everyone know to use the conference muting feature to do so. Using “hold” on their phone might pipe music or beeps into the conference.
  5. Set your expectations and share your excitement about the topic with your guests.

As the host you want to make sure everything goes great, for the conference you are either the star in or you’ve gotten a great guest speaker to join your conference. Are you letting your participants in on how they can have a great conference?

5 Ways to Have Comfortable Presentations

There’s a reason why we all love going home. It’s comfortable and familiar. You know where everything is and you can stretch out in a chair that knows your form and weight. There is no second guessing in your home.

There also isn’t a group of people listening to some snappy conference call hold music while waiting for you to start a conference. It can be a little overwhelming, since conference calls are usually held away from your desk and you’re completely thrown off by the new surroundings. How many times have you been on a conference and heard, “Oh, one second, I don’t know where anything is in here.” Here are five very simple ways to be more comfortable in new surroundings.

  1. I suggest you stand up during your conference, but if you chose not to, make sure you sit in your own chair. Just like at home, your chair knows what you feel like and you’ll feel comfortable in your chair.
  2. Unless you’re “borrowing” someone’s space, choose your own room to hold the conference call. When you can, walk into each room and get a feel for it. I would hate to present in a room that didn’t have any windows, so I would never chose a room like that.
  3. Take at least 30 minutes before the call to poke around the room. I would even suggest planning on eating lunch in the office, the longer you sit in a room, and the more comfortable you’re going to be with it. You’ll know where the foot rests are for the conference table or where the table might squeak if you move too much.
  4. Use your own computer when you can. Out conference room computer set up is completely different from mine at my desk (my desk is Windows 7 and the conference room is Windows XP). Every time I go in there, it takes me like 15 minutes to get used to how things look. Use your own computer when it’s easy to take it into the conference room you selected – and if not, make logging in part of your 30 minutes of familiarizing.
  5. Always chose a room that has a door to close. Being able to shut the door will cut out any of the outside influences and you’ll be able to focus on what you’re doing without any interruptions.

Nothing is ever going to feel like your own desk and your own offices, but these are five very simple things that you can do in order to make yourself feel a little more at home in your conference room. What are you doing to get yourself ready for your next conference call?

Three Things Twitter Taught Me about Customer Service

When I first started to manage the Twitter account here, I tried to take it from the perspective of “all business”. I didn’t make jokes, laugh, or say snarky things. I wanted to be this little pillar of customer service and professionalism that would woo and wow the masses, and bring the flocks to me. I was wrong – but that’s okay. I guess I didn’t exactly get it at first. There’s a big difference between the old fashioned ways of customer service and what Twitter (or any social platform) can do for a company.

  1. It opens a dialogue with the customer, giving the customer an opportunity to make suggestions for ways that we can improve the product we’re offering.
  2. Monitoring social platforms gives you the ability to solve a problem quickly. I logged into Twitter once and had a customer who was unable to connect to his conference. I had him email me his account information and come to find out; there was an error in the code he was using. We caught his concerns before he had to call us and everything was fixed quickly.
  3. It makes us real people. When our customers can relate to us, when they know our likes and dislikes, it makes us easier to relate to. I’m more than just “that girl at AccuConference”. I’m Maranda. That makes a huge difference in customer relationships.

I’m sure there’s more and there will always be more to learn. Using social media with customer service is one of those things that will be forever evolving. It’s completely different today than it was six months ago and then it will be six months from now. What have you learned about customer service from social media?

Where to Focus?

There are a lot of different reasons a company will host a conference call. It could be to announce a promotion, have a guest on the call, train, update company policy, you name it and a company can accomplish it with a conference call. One of the things that always have to be identified when planning a call is what approach you should take as the speaker. Should you take the “I” focus, or the “we” focus and what is the difference?

Some examples of I-Centric presenting will be when you say phrases that have a personal focus, like I have or I feel. In a We-Centric conference, you’ll be referring to a lot of things in the third person or using we. So how do you know what focus to take? As I’ve said before, on a conference call you only have the ability to use words and tone to set a mood.

Set the mood with an “I-Centric” presentation if you are:

Invited to speak on the conference call. You’re there because you have some information, and people want to hear how what you’ve done worked for you.

Accepting a promotion or a new position. You want to address that you’re excited and that you’re looking forward to working with everyone.

Presenting research you did. Sometimes, what you’re showing everyone is something that you’ve done on your own, so “I-Centric” words are completely okay.

Set the mood with “We-Centric” phrases when you are:

Accepting a promotion or a new position. Yes, I realize that I suggested you use I-Centric words for this situation also. The truth of the matter is anytime you accept a promotion or new position in your company is a time that you should enforce the ideas that you’re all going to be a team. It’s important that everyone walks away knowing you’re excited about your new position and that you look forward to collaborating with a new team.

Updating on company policy. When policy changes are made, it’s not just the employees who are affected. Everyone will be affected by changes in a company. When announcing them to a group of employees you need to make sure they understand that the management will not be immune to the changes.

Status meetings. When you’re just updating members of your company or group with where you stand on a project or just in general, you should take a We-Centric approach. Any good things that have stepped forward with the project, everyone has a small part of the success – as well as any failures.

The bottom line between using a We-Centric or I-Centric focus is that most of the time, you’ll want to use a mixture of both, and depending on what you have to say, it could affect the way you say it. How are you using “we” and “I” to set the mood on your conference call?

Share Your Knowledge

Since most of my love for public speaking comes from the love I had of debate, I can always think back on the things that I knew and learned from that time in my life. I’ve talked before about how it helped me grow and come out of my shell, but it taught me things that I didn’t realize until recently.

I went to a tournament where one of the debaters was a really cocky guy, and in truth their entire school was. They were the “ones to beat” and everyone knew it. So while our team and another team were sitting out by the hotel pool, hanging out, and having a good time, no one wants to speak to their team. Their team knew everything about debate, and didn’t offer any kind of help to novice debaters, or schools. It seemed like they took it too seriously, and didn’t use it as a learning experience. They were great, and everyone knew it, and we always want to learn from what is considered to be the best.

This one guy was the worst. You could hear him a mile away talking about how great he was. After his rounds, he would come into the community prep room and very loudly declare that he is the greatest thing ever. Naturally, he was really ticking me off. In one of my second rounds, I drew against him, and I dreaded it.

He beat me. He beat me so bad that I swear I think I still have a bruise. In fact, I think he might have won that tournament. It was the judging sheet that we got back weeks later that surprised me. He scored low on courtesy points. Courtesy points are usually the easiest things to get, because all you have to do is be nice to your opponent. Part of my beating was that he just verbally assaulted me (it was bad – I cried after) and the judge noticed that he was not as polite as he could have been.

Yes, he might have won, which a lot of people would argue that’s the point of being involved in a competitive event. I disagree – debate was a place for many of us to get introduced to networking and speaking under pressure. Most debate team members are involved in the Communications department somehow. That judging sheet taught me one thing very quickly – there is always someone observing you before you speak.

What you do and say before an event is going to be just as important as what you say during the event. Someone is going to be observing you and there’s a pretty good chance they are going to jump on the opportunity to pick you apart. We all know “that guy” is out there.

You don’t need to sell yourself. Why not just cut loose and have some fun? My debate colleague was good – everyone knew it – but we disliked him because he walked around talking about how great he was. I actually heard him say some pretty clever and witty things, so I’m sure he was a great person to be around, but no one (aside from the people on his team) wanted to be near him.

When it comes to being invited to speak somewhere, we have an obligation to share our knowledge with other people and not just talk about why we are so awesome. How are you inviting people to learn from you not only during the conference, but also before?