Identifying and Treating Speech Impediments

Growing up, my mother used to tell me to open my mouth to speak because I would never open my mouth to make certain words. I wasn't having any problems communicating and no one in school seemed to think it was an issue. I did a lot of exercises to try to enunciate but no matter what I did it just didn't help. So I just spoke at a higher volume, which my mother was equally not a fan of.

At thirteen, I went to the orthodontist and he discovered that I had a medical condition called Ankyloglossia. In non-medical terms it's called being tongue-tied. It's the presence of a small bit of membrane (called a frenulum) that attaches the tip of your tongue to your lower jaw. A quick little surgery removed it and I could speak clearly.

There are a lot of things that can cause a speech impediment. You may stutter or find yourself losing your train of thought when you speak. If you think you have a speech impediment, you can try to diagnose and correct it.

Start at the Doctor

There are lots of factors that can cause a speech impediment and you should start with a visit to your doctor. Your impediment could be medical or physical. A doctor would be able to refer you to someone that can help you. For me it was an oral surgeon but it might require a trip to an ENT, or even a neurologist. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and go from there.

Practice Your Speech

Once the cause of your impediment is determined, you can develop a plan of action to move beyond it. If your impediment isn't caused by a medical issue, you may be able to resolve some of the problems by making simple changes to your body language.

  • Good posture when speaking will help you maintain cadence and tone.
  • Reading out loud will help you maintain a good rhythm and can aid in treating a stutter.
  • Use tongue-twisters to help with a lisp. Lisps are especially prevalent with "s" and "r" sounds. Practicing with "Sue sells sea shells down by the sea shore" can get your lips and tongue used to making those sounds.

Find a Speech Therapist

Correcting an impediment in an adult is a difficult process because by the time we reach adulthood it becomes harder to change the habits of our brain, including speech. If you are truly concerned with improving your speech, you might need to find a therapist who can help you learn the mechanics of your speech patterns and make improvements to them. Your impediment might never be 100% gone but a therapist is trained to teach you how to manage it.

Having a speech impediment can be embarrassing, but more than anything, it's frustrating. Have you ever had a speech impediment? How did you address the issue?

Conference Call Services for After Your Call

So many times when I talk to customers after their conferences, they call in asking for information that they didn't realize was readily available to them. Is there a way to see who attended my conference? I think I missed some questions in the chat session; can I get a copy of that? Do you have the ability to send me my audio conference recording?

We do a lot of work with customers who are using conference call services to boost their business. These tools are a great way to reach out to potential clients, and while planning and hosting the webinar are two of the most important pieces – don’t forget what comes after the moderator terminates the call.

Is there a way to see who attended my conference?

Two options can make it easy for you to see who attended your conference. You can set up a registration page ahead of time and have participants sign-up for the call. This will assign each person a unique conference code which will help you identify who attended and who did not. It also stores specific information like name and email addresses. When your call is over you can go to your customer account and download your full registration details. Use the stored emails to send a thank you or reach out to the no-shows for your conference.

You can also sign up for an operator answered conference and we will greet your participants before taking their name and an additional piece of information, before placing them into your conference.

I missed some chat questions – can I download a transcription of chat?

If you're using web conferencing you can easily chat with participants and allow them to ask questions. When your call is over, download your chat history to make sure that everyone who submitted a question via chat was properly answered. If you see a great idea or suggestion floating around in the chat, reach out to the person directly and thank them for their participation or suggestion.

Can you send me my audio conference recording?

Set up your conference to automatically record when the moderator joins the conference. This recording is not only a great review tool for some of the information shared on the conference, but a great marketing piece for your company. Provide some of the bits and pieces of the conference on your website and encourage people to sign up for your next conference to hear more. Downloading your recording is easy and can be done by logging into your account and going to "Recordings". Find the date and time of the conference you need and click on "Save" to begin downloading the recording.

Don't Forget to Schedule Your Next Conference

Every time I've attended an event, once it’s complete, I get an email telling me 'thanks' and the bottom is always an opportunity to get an early-bird sign up discount for the next one. This is a great idea for participants who are "flying high" on the great information provided on the conference. When your conference is over, set up your next one, and send out the invitation while people have you at the front of their brain.

What do you do after your conferences to help retain people’s interest and excitement? Attention spans are fleeting so capitalizing while you have the chance might help your next conference call too.

Have no clue what a registration page is? No worries. Check out our registration page information and video & web conferencing to find ways to encourage more interaction with your participants.

Speaking Tips for Shy Speakers

I love to talk to people. It wasn't always like that for me but now, if you end up in line with me, I will at least issue you a 'hello'. Being naturally inquisitive is part of the reason that public speaking has always been easy for me. Like all speakers, there are initial nerves but once I find a comfortable groove, it’s pretty easy to interact with an audience.

It’s not like that for everyone. In fact, I’m often surprised at the number of people who are successful speakers, but call themselves introverts. It’s not an easy thing to "break out your shell" in front of a group of people that you don’t know.

Shy speakers need to gain a bit of ground before they get comfortable and it will take them a bit longer to find their groove when giving a presentation. Here are some other tips for shy speakers.

  1. If you’re making hand written notes for your presentation, use an ink color that is calming. Stress-reducing colors will help bring you a sense of calm. Using an ink color like red will trigger your brain to make "stress-inducing" decisions and when you’re nervous about speaking, you don’t want to add additional stress to your brain.
  2. Encourage yourself. On your index cards or speech notes, include little words of encouragement. Put a note in the margin that says you’re doing a great job or that you've reached your favorite part of the presentation. It may be just what you need to read right when you need to read it
  3. Avoid "off the cuff" speeches when you can. Shy speakers are calmed by the ability to prepare and practice. Even if you’re doing a quick thirty second introduction of yourself, the sky speaker will need a moment or two to prepare. When asked to give remarks on the fly, don’t be hesitant to ask for those preparation moments. Those moments will give you some calm.
  4. Don’t be afraid to use a comfort item. I cannot speak properly without a pen in my hand (never the clicky-top kind though). A lot of speech preparations tell you to "use your arms and hands" which is a great tip, but those movements can sometimes come out looking jerky or robotic. Holding something in your hand, like a pen, can help your hands feel balanced and aid in letting you make more natural movements when you speak.

Of course, the biggest weapon for the shy speaker is to practice, practice, and practice.

Are you a former "shy speaker"? How did you kick the habit? What tips would you give someone looking to improve in their speaking confidence? Are those tips different when you're making a speech over a conference call or do you think the same delivery techniques can apply?

What's Your Content WAR?

I'm a big baseball fan and recently I’ve gotten interested in Sabremetrics. It's a lot of math but the interesting thing about it is how Sabremetrics is being used to determine a player's value in terms of their on-field contributions. Did you ever see Moneyball? Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s patched together a team using the values within Sabremetrics. One of the most interesting metric is that of WAR.

WAR stands for "wins above replacement" and is used to determine a player's value based on their total contributions. Let's say there is a player who never commits errors, hits doubles on a consistent basis, but doesn't hit a lot of homeruns – WAR is a statistic that helps the front office determine if that player contributes more than a replacement player (someone on the bench or in the minor leagues). There is much more to the WAR stat than that, but the important thing to remember is that WAR paints a clear picture of a player's ability based on all of their field abilities.

What is Your Content WAR?

Look at your content in terms of WAR. You want to see something that is providing an overall value. Content doesn’t need to hit a home run every time it comes up to the plate. You want consistent and shareable content.

Look beyond links to see the full picture of what your website is doing for you. A page that gets a lot of traffic but not a lot of conversions may not be ready to DFA (designate for assignment) when the traffic is going to another page. Use your analytic tools to see where that traffic goes next and then use all of the numbers to determine if that content still has value. Inbound links is not the only metric to determining what content performs well.

Follow your keywords to see if you could make slight adjustments to you page to gather more of that traffic. When a baseball player has been doing well offensively the manager might decide to move him up in the batting order because he’s getting on base more than someone else. By following the long-tail keywords that is getting people to your content, you can discover ways to move that page up in the batting order.

Remember that WAR is about value and not about one stat or another. When we evaluate the progress and the success of our content we often want to look at it with the question of "where are my links?" but I don’t believe content marketing is that black and white. I think it's more about the value created.

So play on, content marketers, and in the words of Babe Ruth, "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run."

Keys to Being An Effective Listener

I have a bad habit of not looking up from my cell phone when someone is talking to me. I am listening, yes, but I am not giving that impression. When I keep my attention on my phone, I’m sending the non-verbal message that I am not listening.

In communication studies the person talking is called the “sender” and the person listening is called “the receiver”. When the receiver has their head down, looking at their phone, or doing something else, they are not as engaged in the conversation as the sender might like. I need to teach myself how to put down the phone and become a better receiver. Here are three keys to becoming an effective receiver.

  1. Take a moment to digest the sender’s body language. When a message is being delivered, a lot of it is going to be inferred through the non-verbal messages displayed by the speaker. Your job as the receiver is to make inferences to what is being said and how it is being displayed by the presenter. Your sender’s body language is going to tell you a lot of things that are "unsaid" in the presentation and it’s important to watch for those signals, and not just listen to the words with your head down in your laptop or your smartphone.
  2. Resist the urge to finish the sender’s thoughts or sentences. When listening, there is a temptation to try and think about how you are going to respond. The problem with this is that you develop preconceived notions of the message that is being sent and it’s not always an easy task to dismiss the assumptions you’ve made when you “think ahead” of the speaker. You don’t want to miss the message because you’re trying to figure it out. Bonus: One way to practice this is to wait 5 seconds after someone talks before you respond. We don’t recommend this as a permanent fix because it will feel awkward and you might look crazy.
  3. Give the sender some feedback. No, you don’t need to interrupt the sender to give them feedback. Much like how you will be watching their nonverbal movements to make sure you are also sending non-verbal signals. Make eye contact or nod along with your speaker to show you’re actively engaged.

In order to be an effective receiver, you need to focus on your active listening skills. Beyond these tips there are plenty more things you can do to be an active listener.

What other keys necessary to be an effective receiver?

Best Inspirational Speeches

In most colleges, some form of oral communication or speech class is a requirement for graduation. These basic communication classes teach you a couple of things but the most prevalent are the types of speeches. One of these is an inspirational speech and its purpose is to make an impact on the audience. Most of the time, the inspirational speech gets caught up and mixed in with the motivational speech, which usually brings across memories of Matt Foley and the fear of living in a van down by the river.

An inspirational speech is so much more than just trying to motivate and when properly delivered, it can change the world. Some of the best speeches of all time have been nothing more than an inspirational speech in their mechanics.

Martin Luther King – "I Have a Dream"

The MLK speech is one of the most highly recognized and historically significant speeches in the world. The speech was written to call to reform the legal system, but something amazing happened. Where the written words should have concluded, King improvised, in the moment, adding some of the most powerful words of the entire speech – "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Like any speech, this one was written and crafted for the moment, but King found himself inspired by the thousands that listened intently and hung to his every word. He connected to his audience and felt their common emotions and translated what they felt into words that he had the power to deliver. Truly great inspirational speeches do not just repeat words already on the page – they feel the emotions of the crowd and give a voice to the movement.

Abraham Lincoln – "Gettysburg Address"

When your country is torn apart in a vicious civil war and 51,000 men just lost their lives, the task of inspiring a nation to unite could be the most daunting of all. When Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, less than half of the Union soldiers had been properly buried. It sounds like such a somber moment in history – so why is this one of the greatest inspirational speeches of all time?

Lincoln marked a tragic occasion with an address that honored the dead but challenged the living, and he delivered the speech in under three minutes. In many ways he placed the task of honoring the dead on the grounds into the hands of those that lived – asking and wanting to know what they would do now. "It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on."

John F. Kennedy – “Man on the Moon”

In the shadow of the Cold War, John F. Kennedy knew that the United States had to do something about keeping up with the Soviet Union. He announced in front of a special joint session of Congress that by the end of the decade, the United States would put a man on the surface of the moon.

Kennedy’s words set a direct and specific date for anyone who was listening. When a deadline is given for something, people are more likely to respond to the call to action – even for something as challenging as putting a man on the moon. Kennedy would later address Rice University on the same subject and utter the famous quote, "We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

Kennedy made his speech on May 25, 1961 and Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.

Do something you’re never done before. Be a voice to someone who doesn’t have one. Turn a moment into an opportunity for strength. Challenge yourself to do something that may not even be possible.

That is what makes a great inspirational speech.

Image credit to Smithsonian online.

Four Somewhat Forgotten but Beneficial Leadership Qualities

I've been lucky to experience leadership from a vast group of people who handle leadership in different ways. I've had the young and hip boss, the sales driven, goal-oriented, no-nonsense boss, and everything in between. When I was fresh out of college, I realized quickly what I would respond to and what wouldn't motivate me.

I've realized that some of the most important skills in leadership are some of the ones that you don’t see a lot of.

Communication Skills - The end goal of communicating with employees is to get a positive response. No matter if it’s a one-on-one situation where the employees behavior needs to change or it’s to a group in the hopes of brainstorming the next great thing, you want the talk to motivate employees to take action.

Representation - Our bosses would never ask us to do something that they wouldn't be willing to do themselves. This is why they will help with calls if we’re really busy or will pitch in to make things go smoother. You are the leader for a reason and showing your employees that you remember what it was like to be where they were, or be willing to pitch in goes a long way with a great office environment.

Approachability - I never feel like I have to hesitate if I see something that could be worded better or something that we can change to make the experience better for the customer. Since we deal with the customers all of the time, it works for us to be able to go to our bosses and explain what we see. For example, I just suggested to my boss we change one of our email templates, and now, I need to work on the text for it.

Sense of Humor - We have a great relationship with each other and our bosses and we laugh a lot together. We've been able to cultivate a positive team environment that leads to an open sharing of ideas and it just makes approachability easier to come by when we can work and laugh together.

My experience is that the best leaders will be the ones that can incorporate all of the things that make us better leaders.

What do you think are forgotten but important leadership qualities? What makes a great leader?

International Conference Call Options

Not too long ago one of my favorite customers sent me an email inquiring about international conference calls. If you need to provide a way for participants outside of the United States or Canada to join your conference call we have three different options for international dialing.

Option One: Participant Pays Long Distance / International Fees. This option requires no changes on how you use or are billed for your services. Anywhere in the world, a participant can call into a direct access number and be joined to the conference. You’re billed whatever is standard for your account and they are billed on their phone bill what their provider will charge. This option is best for those who rarely have a need for international conferences or are one of our flat rate customers.

Option Two: International Toll Free. From Argentina to Venezuela on this list of rates these countries can be provided their own toll free access into our conference bridges. You rates for domestic callers (US / Canada) stay the same and the rate for international depends on the country that connects. There is usually no charge to participants in these countries and requires a new conference line on your account.

Option Three: Most countries can be dialed to from within in our system and brought into the conference line without any additional charges to them. For many of the countries there is little to no change in your per minute per person rate. Some countries are not available for outdial and we can either add a new conference line or activate this option on a conference existing on your account.

Depending on what option you choose or how your account is set up, we might ask for you for an additional form to be sent back to us. International can be activated for specific users of your account in order to limit cost and availability for the services. If you need international conferencing added to your account or have any questions about how it works or the pricing for outdial rates, just give us a call and we can help.

Better Writing Lessons from NaNoWriMo

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you know that I spent a lot of November talking about NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it has a very simple goal – write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Such a challenge written on paper may not seem like much but when you try to do it, you realize that it becomes a feat of writing at least 1,667 words a day. The standard blog post is about 350 – 600 words.

For four years, I have begun November by saying this is the year and I will complete this challenge and every year, it seems like something happens to derail my progress. This year, though, it’s different and I am proud to announce that I am a 2012 NaNoWriMo Winner.

Winning felt great and completing something that seemed like such a beast over the last few years was even more of an accomplishment. It honestly feels like I can do anything. I wanted to think about how I could translate that feeling into the creative energy I spend at work so that feeling of accomplishment will be in all of my work.

Outline. Before NaNo began, I had the idea, plot, and characters for my novel all lined out. I took each scene and moment step by step so that I didn’t get lost or forget the important points. I’d never done that before and I think that using outlines in blogging will help me to write more content that has a true outcome, instead of just mashing ideas together and hoping to end up with a great post.

It’s easier to get ahead than it is to fall behind. One of the things that always prevented me from completing NaNo was that I always seem to have family obligations in November. If you look at my progress chart below, I was 8,000 words ahead by day five which was a huge help for those days when I was out of town or during the holiday.

Turn off Your Inner Editor. Part of the goal of NaNoWriMo is to encourage writers to just write. In a lot of ways there is no rhyme or reason to the plot of a participant’s story. It’s about encouraging writers to turn off the need to “edit as they go” and instead just put the words down. You can always go back and correct the things that are wrong later.

Find Someone to Battle With. It was a big help to do “word wars” with a friend who was also trying to reach the 50,000 word goal and it was great to have someone that I could battle with. We would pick a time and then write as quickly as we could to see who could get the most words in a 20 or 30 minute period. Even if you battle with yourself you can set a timer to see how many words you can put down in a specific amount of time. On the next post, try to beat your personal best.

The best thing about completing something like this is feeling that pressure off. There really feels like there is nothing to stop me from taking on the world – okay, maybe not, but I did write 50,000 words in 30 days, and that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.

What will you accomplish today?

Preparing for Communications Failures

Superstorm Sandy has come and gone but the effect of the storm on communication remains. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the FCC reported that 25% of the operating cell towers were damaged during the storm and the ability to make calls, send, and receive messages would be temporarily affected.

When you know there’s an event that could interrupt your ability to communicate with your friends and family, prepare in advance for what could be a long time without your cell phone.

Have at least $5.00 in quarters in your first aid / emergency kit. I know that a lot of people under the age of eighteen have probably never seen a payphone, nor would they fully grasp the idea of calling collect. Gather some quarters before the weather event so that if you do lose service you can find a payphone and make a call.

Notify who you can when you can. A friend of mine was in a hard hit area of New Jersey and it was touch and go to get a hold of her for the first week. She asked me to be responsible for updating our mutual friends, as she could get one text message out much easier than she could twenty. She would text me how she was, and I would use social networks to update our friends.

Update Social Networks via text message instead of using an application. In my hometown in Arkansas, the cell phone service is pretty spotty, and most of the time is spent on the Edge network. This makes things like updating my Facebook and Twitter difficult because it can take so long for the application to load. Most social networks have a way to update your status by sending a text message and it’s a great way to update your friends and family.

Find Your Local Red Cross. Before a disaster strikes, find your local Red Cross and see if you can find out where they will be setting up emergency stations in the event of a serious event. You can view a list of Red Cross centers by your zip code and then you’ll have a good idea of where to start if you need help. You can even check in to Safe & Well to list yourself as OK or check on friends and family.

It’s hard when you lose your cell phone because it’s the way we connect with the world. In the event of a disaster, you have to stay connected in any way you can. Sometimes, that means that old technology might be the most reliable.

Image credit to NOAA.