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Jul
07
2010
Crisis Communication Maranda Gibson

I think we can all agree that the BP created a PR disaster with their handling of the crisis shortly after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m sure if the PR team could hop in a time machine and go back, they would find a way to handle things a little better from the very start. (One would hope right?) The thing about communication in a crisis is that sometimes, we come across situations that are unprecedented, things that have never happened before, and it isn’t until later that we can get down into the nitty gritty of a company response and learn from mistakes as well as triumphs. This kind of communication can be especially different when hosting a conference call to update everyone and when you have only your voice and the words you are using to convey the messages, here are some important things to keep in mind.

  • Express your emotions so there is no question on how you feel about a situation. Sometimes, situations call for condolences to be expressed to families. Be sure you say that out loud. In a crisis, loss happens, and you’re sorry for that. No one will be able to see that in your eyes, so you have to say it out loud.
  • Use the tone of your voice to convey the seriousness of the situation. There is a time and place for jokes and humor on a conference, but this is not one of those times. It’s not always appropriate to try to “lighten the mood”.
  • Use facts and refrain from judgment or blame. When presenting information in a crisis, the last thing you want to do is speculate when you shouldn’t be. Talk about or answer questions about what you know, not what you think.
  • Keep it simple and avoid using jargon. Word is going to travel fast once you hang up from the conference. Speak in simple terms to lessen the likelihood that your words and meaning could be twisted.
  • Be mindful of the words you are actually saying. For example, using a word like “promise” is going to stand out. Even when you say “I promise” or “we promise” and you don’t mean the literal meaning of promise, for many, that word binds you into stone. Remember that your words have so much power, even though you’re just trying to offer comfort.

I think in the end, what I’ve learned from BP as well as numerous other tragedies that we’ve had in the world is that when it comes to communicating in the crisis, most of what people want is reassurance, but as companies, we are also trying to give the public the facts. What have you learned from the BP oil spill?

Jun
30
2010
Communication Barriers Maranda Gibson

In the spirit of full disclosure, yes, I do have finger nails, and yes, they do make a tapping noise on the keys when I’m working. I apologize for that and I try to work as quietly as I can. I get lost in what I’m doing sometimes and forget that the sound of my keys does not make what I’m doing any better or worse.

With that being said, I was at a conference recently and sat next to someone who was using their laptop. Okay, fine, lots of people were. However, I have no idea how her keyboard has survived. She wasn’t just tapping against the plastic with her nails (again, like I do) but banging against the keys with her fingers so hard I could hear the plastic begging for help. Frankly, I was surprised she didn’t use her elbow to hit the space bar and just put the thing out of its misery. I wasn’t the only person who thought she was being disruptive, a few other people in the room were giving her sideways glances, and since I was at the perfect angle, I took a peek at her screen.

She wasn’t taking notes. She was working on something else completely. I can’t understand being that disruptive and not even paying attention. Not only was she disrupting some of the audience, but I can’t imagine how she wasn’t disrupting some of the guest speakers too. There are a lot of barriers in communication that can come up no matter if you’re speaking to one person or a thousand. Here are a few of the most common and how you can overcome them.

  1. Selves - Effective speakers know that a “me” focus turns off an audience. An audience wants to hear how what you know will benefit them. Sure, tell stories, but engage your audience with personal experience. Remember to always focus it back to them and how they can apply it in their business.
  2. Environment – One of the quickest ways to lose your excitement about speaking is to be in a bad set up or venue. Check out your set up before taking the stage to see if you’re comfortable. If there is something that doesn’t feel quite right, like the arrangement of the chairs in the room, you can go ahead and rearrange or prepare yourself for that.
  3. Noise – All noises can cause a distraction during a presentation. On a conference call you can easily mute the entire audience with a click of a button, but dealing with a face to face audience can offer more challenges. You can politely express that they turn off their laptops and communication devices, but we all know not everyone is going to do that. You have two choices when it comes to laptops and cell phones during a presentation – ignore it or embrace it.

As a speaker, it’s important to remember the barriers of communication and how to break through them. What barriers have you come up against and how do you get through them? And remember – your keyboard never did anything to you. Try not to hurt it.

Jun
28
2010
Technology Turn Off Maranda Gibson

Things are busy. It’s the nature of the world we have created around us, we always have our emails on and this is truly an era of always being available. It’s good for business, but it’s not always good for your mental state. As much as I love what technology has done with always being able to communicate, sometimes, I just need everyone to shut up. There is too much noise – Facebook alerts going off, incoming texts and emails, and that annoying Twitter app I’ve been using. 

My need for silence has driven me to shut off all communication for one hour a night, but to be honest, I start getting the shakes after too long. For an entire hour, I have to ignore the temptation to scroll through my emails and make sure no one needs me right now, update my Twitter, send a text, or post to Facebook. When I first started, it was harder than I thought it would be. Then, I realized that I was trying to replace an activity with, well, nothing. Having my phone means always having an activity, and when I turn it off, I instantly have nothing that I can do to pass my time. With that in mind, I decided to make a list of the things that I can fill my hour of time with. 

Write. I don’t mean blog posts or working on comments, I mean writing something that is completely unrelated to my work life. This could be an entry for my personal blog or something fictionally related. It doesn’t matter; I just need to set some time for myself and the kind of writing that I do for pure fun. 

Clean. I admit that I am a bit of a clean freak. My husband would probably say I’m “crazy clean”. I wage daily battles against dust bunnies and coffee spots on the kitchen floor and counters. I actually find it very therapeutic and relaxing to clean. When I’m turning off my technology for an hour I like cleaning to relax – but if you hate to clean, I wouldn’t suggest this to you. 

Crap TV. I also admit that I have a deep love for the worst kinds of reality TV. The more out of control, the better for me, and I personally think it’s hilarious to watch people on reality TV struggle. Take all of these Housewives shows – they live in giant homes with all of this money, and the only things they have interesting in their lives it to sit around and pick at each other. I think it’s amusing – and we all need a good laugh. 

Read. I don’t read enough anymore. It’s one thing I’m aware of and I’m also a very picky reader. I’ve read things that have turned into movie franchises that when I see the words on the page, I want to stab my eyes out. People’s likes and dislikes are always different, but I can appreciate anything that is a good book.  (By the way, if you have any suggestions, I’m game. My book list has gotten shorter lately. I need new stuff.) 

There are some ways that I step back from my dominant need for my communication with others. It’s been really nice and if you’re not already turned off for a period of time each night, I suggest that you do. It’s been a great experience. The silence is actually very comforting. How are you shutting off and shutting everyone else up? 


Jun
24
2010
Listening Skills Maranda Gibson

When it comes down to communicating each other, there is nothing more important than listening to the other person. Since we are surrounded by things that are distracting, it’s hard not to look like you’re completely ignoring the person.  At home, my husband has this really bad habit of staring at the TV when I’m talking to him, replying with “uh-huh” a lot and then when I call him on it, he can repeat every word I say back to me. I still don’t feel like he’s listening, because he’s not engaged. At least, he doesn’t seem to be engaged. On a conference call or a phone call it is even harder to seem engaged, because no one can see you and your listening skills become even more important. Here are some listening skills you can use to show that you are engaged and interested in the conversation you’re having. 

Turn off email, IM, and even your phone. Even if you put everything on silent and turn the speakers on your computer down, people can see hear you typing. Unless the conversation you’re having online is directly related to the conversation you’re having on the phone, it won’t kill you to stop multitasking for 30 minutes to an hour. (No, seriously, it won’t.) 

When asked a question, try to repeat bits of it back in your answer. Let’s say I was asked a question about the changing climate of business travel. I would respond with, “That’s a great question. I think the changing climate of business travel is…” Or whatever would be appropriate. It lets the person who is asking the questions know you’re actively listening to the conversation. 

Let the natural flow of conversation take you over. Keep a note pad in front of you and if someone is speaking for a long time, you can jot down notes of things you might want to ask them about, good points in the conversation, or things you’d like to comment on. This way, you’re not interrupting the speaker (which is good), you’re keeping your thoughts organized, and you’re writing things down – which is a way of improving comprehension when listening. 

Is being knowledgeable of the subject matter being discussed important? Yes, absolutely, but conversations are nothing without active listeners. Take the example with my husband – sure he can repeat what I’m saying, but did he really comprehend anything I said? Maybe – I’ll probably never know. What listening skills are you bringing to the table to improve your communication on a conference call? 


Jun
23
2010
Presentation Exercises Maranda Gibson

It’s just common sense that before taking a run, you should stretch out your muscles, and before attempting to tackle a novel, you should try to get yourself a general outline for your plot. There are just some things that you should do before you try something else. If you’ve seen 8 Mile you know that Eminem’s character B. Rabbit’s way of warming up before getting in front of a large group is to stare intently at himself in the mirror before throwing up a little. Then he is ready to face the crowd. I suggest not doing that – but here are some things I do suggest doing before you have to present.

  • Find a quiet place to park yourself and pre-game. Do you have any notes for your presentation? How about a print out of slides? Review your notes and slides and go ahead to make any last minute notes about things you want to cover.
  • Finish up your pre-game 30 minutes before the start time. While it might seem like a good idea to keep going over your notes until you walk in the door, I’d like to take a second to remind you of college and high school. Reading your notes again before the start of your test isn’t going to help you. If you don’t know it by now, you won’t, so give yourself a break.
  • Pump yourself up with some music before the presentation. Stick in your headphones and jam, or if you’re in front of a live audience, pipe it out to them too. You’d be surprised how much a couple of your favorite songs can get you ready to go.

I realize you’re not about to battle for the title of marathon winner or best freestyle rapper in Detroit, but no matter what, it’s still just as important to you that you do well. What presentation exercises are you doing? Do you have specific songs you listen to that get you pumped and ready to go?

Jun
22
2010
Communication Icebreakers Maranda Gibson

"No pressure, Bridge, but your whole future happiness now depends on how you behave on this one social occasion." "Right. What should I do?"  -Bridget Jones’s Diary

Have you ever found yourself preparing for a networking event and asking your friends for advice? How do you break the ice in a room full of people that you may not know or might not have anything in common with? In the film, Bridget Jones has to attend a networking event where she wants to impress the famous authors she was going to surround herself with. In the end, she only made a fool of herself, but in a completely theatrical and amusing way.

Breaking the ice isn’t always easy, but you can get through it. Here are five communication icebreakers that can help you on your next networking event to break through the introvert and make a splash.

  1. Arrive at an event a little early. This will give you a chance to find a place you feel comfortable and go ahead and get an order. When someone comes in, they might be more likely to approach you, or find a empty seat near you, and let’s be honest – it’s always easier when you don’t have to make the first move.
  2. Be confident, not arrogant. When introducing yourself to people, remember that there’s a fine line between knowing what you’re talking about and sounding like a pompous jerk. Know the line and stick to it.
  3. Have a drink. I’m not a big fan of drinking outside of my house in the first place, but limiting yourself to one or two drinks, at the most. Above all, you should know your limits and not over do it.
  4. Stick your hand out and introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to walk up to someone and introduce yourself. They probably want to meet people too.
  5. Try to join conversations with your peers. Trying to join a conversation about a subject you’re not interested in or don’t have any experience with will translate into you being unconfident. Find people talking about something you know a little about and have passion for.

Those are five really easy ways to break the ice at your next networking event.These kinds of events are made for meeting people and making connections – everyone is there for the same reason. How do you break the ice when you’re meeting new people?

 

Jun
21
2010
Public Speaking Maranda Gibson

Back in Junior High, I had a choir solo in front of the whole school. I got dressed up for my big debut and listened to the music intently for the musical queue. I was singing a solo from Sunset Boulevard and I was 12 years old and nervous as heck. Since I fidget when I’m nervous, I played on the ends of my skirt, rolling the ends a little between my fingers.

When my choir teacher (who looked a lot like the wicked witch of the west) played the video in front of the choir class, I realized that I was not “rolling my skirt” a little – instead it was rolling quite a bit and I thank God I managed not to flash anyone. Mortified, I’m pretty sure that was the moment I determined that my choir teacher hated me for letting the tape play, and it was also the moment that I realized that a socially awkward girl prone to fidgeting and embarrassment had no business putting herself on the line like that – despite my love of singing.

When I moved, I decided to build a new me, and my fear of speaking in front of a group of people was the first thing I wanted to tackle. Despite my introverted personality now, in high school and college no one would have ever applied that adjective to me. I got active in debate and by the time I graduated college in 2005, I majored in Communications. Not bad for a shy kid, don’t you think? As I worked (and continue to work through) my old fears of public speaking, here are the presentation skills that I know are going to help you rock some socks off.

Rule Number One: You should never read word for word from a printed out document or slide show. (Please never forget this one.)

  • Start strong – come out with a relevant story that ties everything together.
  • Let go of the podium and take down the last wall between you and the audience.
  • It’s a presentation – not a sales pitch.
  • Be passionate, exciting, and make people want to know more.
  • Be open for questions and if you run out of time, give the audience a way to get a hold of you after the presentation.

The people who taught me these things know way more about public speaking and presenting in front of live crowds than I do, but thanks to some of these things, the shy awkward kid from South Carolina moved to Arkansas and now has a career that she’s comfortable and happy in. Never saw that coming.

How did you make yourself a better public speaker? Who did you watch and what presentation skills did you try to emulate when it came to when you did your own presentations?

Jun
14
2010
Small Community Social Media Maranda Gibson

If you’ve been following the news at all, then you know about the flooding in a little town by the name of Caddo Gap, Arkansas. Before this weekend, it was never a town that was on the news, and it wasn’t exactly listed on any of the local maps. Before Friday, this part of Arkansas has never gotten a bit of national news coverage, and suddenly, it’s a town inundated with CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News. While for many of you, it’s just a sad news story that you see, but for me, it smacks me right in the heart, because that’s home.

Through all the sadness I can’t help but find an interesting study in community here. We talk about social media and how it’s a community, how we are all connected and how we help out when we need to, no matter what the cost. Twitter campaigns have been successful in events like the Nashville flood and the earthquakes in Haiti, and through communication, we have created sub-communities that stretch across oceans. What I’ve come to realize this weekend, is we treat Twitter like a small town community, not a large social network.

I truly believe that each of us, even if we can’t send money, we can send thoughts – we watch a news program and a story can touch us in a way that we didn’t expect. What you heard all weekend were rescue/recovery attempts and survivor stories – but what you didn’t hear about was how a small community pulled together to help out total strangers. I know this because I know people that were involved in the rescue as well as some who were affected personally by the tragedy. In a small community, the ties run deep.

Think about someone you might talk to a lot on Twitter, even if just about mundane things. Recently, a woman in my friend’s list daughter went missing, and though I didn’t know her, I found myself retweeting her “Missing” posters and joining the Facebook page for her daughter. Could I help? Probably not, but may someone who reads my Twitter would see it, and forward it to someone who could. It’s the small community idea – one person picks something up and runs with it and soon, everyone is pitching in. That is how Twitter is like a small community – we help strangers like we would family.

How do you treat Twitter like a small community? Do you reach out when someone needs help?

Jun
10
2010
Know Your Strengths Maranda Gibson

I read a great blog over at Outspoken Media by the great Lisa Barone on how the power of competition can be a great motivator to start laying out a game plan. Lisa freely admits that she is a fierce competitor, but not in the crazy way – in a way that has made her a better business woman.  In order to win on the web, you must be competitive. 

Lisa talked about many aspects that your competitive sprit can help you come out swinging and kick some butt, but the two that I think are the most important are to know your strength and know your team. Since I’ve never been competitive in the traditional sense, I’ll give you a different scenario – Intercollegiate Debate. We fought with words and quick wit, thinking on our toes. So, with Lisa’s thoughts in mind, how can I define my strengths and my team in terms of what I learned in debate. 

Strengths

In debate, everyone you could go up against more than likely has the exact same facts and words ready to twist the tables around on your argument. (Remember 8Mile when B-Rabbit said all the things the other rapper could say about him and completely threw him off – yeah, it’s a lot like that.) We all had words – we couldn’t use those right out of the gate, and what I learned was my strength was to wait for the right time.  I knew when to make those twists and I have been told that I never looked like I was that “fierce” of a debater.  Many of them ignored the pant suit clad, glasses wearing nerdy looking girl who was sitting at her desk, prepping. By being surprising, I knew I had an edge. 

Here I like to keep the element of surprise in how I do things. I’m dealing in another world where everyone has the same words, and it’s just going to take something to flip it around. I always liked being that something.

My Team 

Before rounds, there were piles of college students with laptops and books (yes books) looking up information regarding various topics. Those who were seasoned debaters were with the novice kids, teaching them how to prep fast and go into what could be their first ever round to compete. Our team never had any drama and we always had a great time on tournaments. There was always something to celebrate, even if we didn’t break out into out rounds, we were proud of the work we had done that day. 

Now, in the working world, I feel like our team does the same thing. If I have a question, there are a number of people I can ask, and if there’s something I can’t fully explain, someone will teach me how to explain it. And when that doesn’t work, I can transfer the customer to speak to the person who handles the question. Not only will the customer be happy, but he will also come out and show me what he sent to the customer, so I can understand it better, should the issue ever arise again. 

That’s back up right there. For me, that’s the strongest part of any company – your people know their strengths, and the higher ups are willing to get involved in order to have our backs. So now I ask you – are you putting your own strengths and teams to work to get the best out of them and the best out of business?


Jun
09
2010
Innovator and Didn’t Know It Maranda Gibson

I love history. It’s one of the things that I am very passionate about. One of the reasons that I love history is because everything that is done, it can be traced back to something that happened many years ago. Thanks to the History Channel, I’ve been getting a reminder of some of these inventions that, when we look back now, seemed like child’s play, but they were the basis for many of the technological advances we have today. Here are some of my favorites:

Cotton Looms: The cotton mill is the birthplace of binary code. In the 1800’s the machine was plugged with punch cards that told the machine when to turn “on” certain colors and when to turn them “off”. As the machine read the holes in the card, it knew what color to use in the fabric. This is the basis for binary code, which changed the way the world operated.

Fun Fact: A laptop computer of today, to have the same computing power, would have had to be the size of a passenger bus in the 70s to have that kind of output.

Oil Drilling (Naturally): The United States first mined oil in the early 1900’s, and it caused a shift in the way everything was done. The price of gasoline plummeted, making cars and electric lighting wildly available to the masses. Steam power was long forgotten and traded for gasoline and oil powered machinery.

Fun Fact: In the 1920’s, more money was spent on advertising than education.

Hoover Dam: Frank Crowe’s massive undertaking to block the Colorado River not only gave jobs at a time after the Great Depression to men who were willing to work, but it also provides power to the states out west; AZ, CA, NV, etc. The Hoover Dam also serves as a connector over the Colorado River, continuing the merger between east and west.

There are a lot of things in our past, both in the United States, and across the world that has changed the world. I bet the first person to use the cotton loom didn’t think that they were using what was, in essence, a basic computer system. Stories like this are the reason why I am passionate about history in the first place. You never can tell what’s going to change the world. What are some of your favorite stories in history and what did you learn from them?

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