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Mar
11
2011
Businesses Continue to Benefit from Audio Conferencing Maranda Gibson

Despite a reported upswing of the economic recession, businesses are not flying more. Audio conferencing saw a large jump in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, but many people speculated that over time, business travel would increase again.

A recent study from WWF shows that is actually not true. The report shows that 85% of the businesses interviewed (among the top 500 in the UK) do not plan to return to their pre-recession levels of travel. Simply put – the benefits of audio conferencing are simply too great.

87% of these businesses have used audio conferencing to stay connected. Despite the bit of a bounce back in the economy, many businesses that still feel the sting in rising airfare, gas prices, and other fees are still very happy with their conference call providers.

In the US, business travel continues, but often without perks or points that were offered by companies previously. The business traveler who is used to first class may find themselves flying coach or not staying in a five star hotel. They may be asked to foot their own cab fare, rental car fees, or expense for food.

In response, hotels are starting to offer fully wired conference rooms to attract the local business who might be trying to connect virtually to a client or department. Instead of flying to China to meet with the manufacturing division, the hope is that you will come down to your local five star hotels and take advantage of renting out their conference room. (Personally I say why go to hotel when you have everything you need at your fingertips?)

Did you go back to business travel and make a move towards conference calls when the price of flying increased drastically? A lot of people did, but what I want to know is if you stuck to it, even when people started to travel again? Are you still enjoying the cost savings for conference calls or have you gone back to travelling, the TSA, and body scanners?

Mar
10
2011
Live Streaming Funerals – Great Idea or Inappropriate? Maranda Gibson

Last year when my friend got married, I wrote about broadcasting your wedding through a video conference. It wasn’t such a crazy idea – we use video conference services now all the time. Just like FaceTime, video conferencing is being used to connect families who are millions of miles away, and we’re fine with that.

Now imagine your feelings that if you’re going through the process of planning a service for a departed loved one, and a funeral employee asks you if you would be interested in the streaming package. Curiously, you inquire to know more and the director tells you that if you have family scattered about the country, instead of missing the opportunity to say their goodbyes – now, they can be conferenced in with the rest of the family and view the services from their home. Live streaming of the funeral services could include something like this:

  • Video stream of the entire procession, invocation, and eulogies.
  • Interaction with family members through chat.
  • Invitation only or password protected services.
  • Order a CD of the services when it’s over to keep or to send to family members who were unable to attend.

Now, I know you may seem a little creeped out. I was at first when the idea was brought to me. It seemed inappropriate, morbid, and just inconsiderate. But then I thought about it in a different way.

Do you remember when Ronald Reagan died? For days on end, we were glued to our television screens to watch the procession through the Capitol rotunda, and then to the television to watch the motorcade escort the former President to his final resting location. Most of us can remember the faces that two somber little boys wore as they escorted their mother, Princess Diana, to her funeral. In fact, Princess Diana’s funeral is the highest rated funeral of all time, followed by Michael Jackson and Ronald Reagan. 31 million people tuned in to watch Diana get laid to rest.

Since 1997, there’s a new technology that makes watching news coverage of events easy – live streaming. (PDF) MSNBC reports that their streaming of Michael Jackson’s funeral service was greater than that of the day President Barack Obama was inaugurated. So what does this say about how likely we might be to accept the streaming of funeral services?

We have no problem tuning in on our televisions or at our desks to watch an idol that we admire be laid to rest. Clearly, the numbers prove that. So why then does the thought of streaming a funeral of someone we truly knew and care about seem tasteless or wrong? Last year, my dear grandmother in South Carolina passed away very suddenly, and there was no way I was going to be able to afford to fly out with that short of notice. (Don’t let bereavement discounts fool you, folks, it’s not that much). Sadly, I had to miss her funeral and the opportunity to say goodbye, or see my family.

What if there would have been a way for me to join the services virtually? Would I have taken the opportunity? I’m not sure if I would have or not – despite the fact that I have watched the coverage of a number of funeral services of famous people, I’m still hesitant on if I would want to see that with someone who was personally near and dear to me. That’s probably just because it’s such a new idea and something that I don’t think we see a lot of. If we were to take part in the live stream of a video conference of a funeral once or twice, we might feel differently about the perceived inappropriateness.

Considering we watch funerals on mainstream media for people we don’t know, what drawbacks do you have to joining a funeral for a friend or loved one in a virtual set up, if you have any? Does this seem like a strange or outlandish idea to you? Let me know in the comments below – maybe we can figure out some situations in which this would work and some that it wouldn’t.

Thanks to Troy Claus for getting me thinking about this. I was a little surprised when he first mentioned it, but once I started to think about, I wondered what the difference between watching the funeral of a stranger on TV is between watching a friend or relatives services on your laptop.

Mar
01
2011
Five Brainstorming Tips for Better Conference Calls Maranda Gibson

One of the most awkward parts of a conference call is at the end when the host quickly interjects to speak now if you have any comments or questions. Many times, there is just the awkward silence filling the lines before the host disconnects the call. In my experience, this happens because no one has had any time to prepare for the possibility of having comments. They are expecting a “listen-only” call and then are thrown off when the host asks for your opinion. Here are some tips to avoid the awkward silence when it comes to that time and how to get people talking on your next conference.

  1. When you send out your agenda, make special note of the topics you want to get feedback or ideas for. Tell all of your attendees that you want them to come with ideas about some of the different projects going on in your company.
  2. Don’t be afraid to throw anything on the table. We have brainstorming meetings here when sometimes, where we throw out crazy ideas. In an open setting, you can encourage everyone to toss out any idea they might have, and you can always go back later and refine them.
  3. As the host of the call or the boss you have to be okay with taking all of the suggestions. Even if one of the off the wall suggestions might not be something that you can (or want to) implement, there is the potential that it will spur another great idea.
  4. Bring in new people when you get stuck. This is a great place to use outdial to call in someone from a different department or someone who might have a different perspective. Sometimes, they can help the group see things in a different way.
  5. At the end of the conference call, put all of the suggestions to a vote and narrow down the options to three to five different ideas.

We don’t always have conference calls in order to update staff or co-workers on the latest changes or company policies. There are plenty of times when we’re trying to get an idea off the ground or come up with something new and exciting. Schedule a brainstorming session with your co-workers, give them some topics to think about, and then see what happens.

Feb
18
2011
Five Tips for a Happier Home Worker Maranda Gibson

A few weeks ago, we had an ice storm and record breaking cold weather that trapped most people in their homes for four days. I personally went a little crazy after two days and was ready to return to the office. I couldn’t imagine how people do that kind of thing every day – then I realized they probably weren’t thrown in to the middle of it like I was, nor are they sitting in front of their lap top in their living room because they don’t own a desk.

That week taught me a lot about what it takes to work from home and the things that would have made my four days in my living room a little more productive and a little less crazy. Here are five tips to being a little more productive at home and a little less distracted.

  1. Make a written schedule and include breaks. Plan out your day on paper and stick to it, but schedule yourself to have breaks away from your desk. I know you want to go change out a load of laundry – so put it on your schedule so it gets done and you can get back to work.
  2. Have a daily conference call to check in with your employees or co-workers. When you’re away from your desk and away from everyone, it can be hard to keep track of those that you work with. Check in with them daily and remind yourself of the people you work with.
  3. If you have an office to go to, schedule a day in the middle of the week to spend the day there. If not, grab your laptop or iPad so you can get out of the house for a little while.
  4. Shut the door when “work time” is over. Keep a separation between your work and home life by creating a work space that you can close the door to, that way, you won’t see the stack of papers on your desk that need to be finished. Out of sight and out of mind – enjoy time at home!
  5. Work with background noise that makes you comfortable. Some people work better with complete silence. Personally, I need some background tunes. In the office, you’ll rarely find me without my headphones on, and at home, I love the sound of the TV in the background. Take advantage of being at home and watch a violent slasher flick, if that’s what motivates you – just turn it off before you take a call or have a video conference.

I know a lot of you work from home – it’s a trend that we’ve seen on the increase over the last few years, and as someone who probably wouldn’t like it very much, I’m wondering if any of you ever felt the same. What did you do to make your day more productive at home? Did you hate it at first and now you love it? What happened to make you change your mind?

Feb
16
2011
Webinars Can Promote Your Business…If Done Correctly Accuconference

Here's another in our guest post series, coming from Gini Dietrich. Thank you for taking the time Gini!

When I speak to business owners and leaders, I always have at least one person say to me, “I get that everyone is moving online to communicate, and I want to get on the bandwagon, but my customers don’t use the Internet.”

I call baloney.

American adults spend four hours every day online — which means your customers are on the Internet, and it’s your job to figure out how to reach them there.

Webinars are a great way to do just that. You can do paid webinars or free webinars, depending on your budget and what you’re trying to achieve, but it’s an easy way to market to new audiences without leaving the comfort of your home or your office.

But do webinars make sense for you? Maybe you run a kid’s fitness company. You’re probably thinking, “I don’t have time to also do webinars.” I always say that making time to do just one more thing is pretty difficult, but when you see the return you get on your investment, it’s pretty easy to make the time.

There are a lot of opportunities to use webinars in your own sales and marketing efforts. Think about it this way–how do you sell your product or services now? Is it one-on-one in an office setting? Wouldn’t it be easier to sell one-to-many in that same office setting? Or maybe you attract customers through promotions and coupons. Webinars offer another way to extend that message to more than just the people in your surrounding ZIP codes.

Let’s talk about what types of things you could include in the presentation.

  • Demonstrate how your product or service works.
  • Showcase your culture or what it’s like to work at your company.
  • Do you have a passion around something business-focused, such as leadership, finances, or human resources? Create a webinar around your passion.
  • Host a webinar that showcases your technical expertise.

Keep in mind, though, that webinars are about the customer, not about you or your business. So showcase what you’re about by making it valuable to the customer. Tips, tools, how-tos, and demonstrations work really well.

Now that you’ve decided what your webinar topic is, following are the top 10 things to consider when promoting to your customers and prospects.

  1. Define what attendees will get from attending the webinar. What’s in it for them? What kind of value are you giving them that they can’t get on their own?
  2. Create a line in your e-mail signature to allow people to click on, and sign up, from there.
  3. Promote via your newsletter/e-mail database by letting people know what’s in it for them and making it easy for them to register.
  4. Promote via social networks — post it to your LinkedIn profile, add it to your Facebook fan page, tweet about it, or blog about it.
  5. Include a line about your webinars on your invoices.
  6. If you have a retail location, post flyers at points of sale.
  7. Post to the home page of your Web site.
  8. Include a one-click Outlook reminder that people can add to their calendars as they register.
  9. Ask for questions in advance of the webinar in order to engage people early.
  10. Send a reminder e-mail one week, one day, and one hour prior to the webinar.

Once you’ve decided on your topic and you’ve promoted the heck out of it (don’t be shy about repeating yourself over and over again – people need to see/hear a message seven to 12 times before they act), following are some tips for having a great webinar the first time out.

  • Use guest speakers—not only to add a certain amount of credibility, but also so you can use their network in addition to yours
  • Hold rehearsals
  • Promote at least a month in advance
  • Consider having a moderator to engage the audience and field the questions
  • Limit to one hour — we recommend 40 minutes of presentation and 20 minutes of question-and-answer session
  • Ask for feedback after the webinar via a survey (SurveyMonkey is the easiest and most cost-efficient tool)
  • Don’t be afraid to follow-up after the webinar, even with those who registered, but didn’t attend
  • I’m not going to pretend that hosting a webinar is a walk in the park. They’re hard work and they take some serious project management skills, but if you use the tips included here, you’ll be halfway there and you’ll be able to drive some serious leads from your efforts.

    Once you’ve decided on your topic and you’ve promoted the heck out of it (don’t be shy about repeating yourself over and over again – people need to see/hear a message seven to 12 times before they act), following are some tips for having a great webinar the first time out.

    About the Author: Gini Dietrich is the founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc. and the author of Spin Sucks, the 2010 Readers Choice Blog of the Year, a Top 42 Content Marketing Blog from Junta42, a top 10 social media blog from Social Media Examiner, and an AdAge Power 150 blog.  You can connect with Gini on Twitter or on Facebook.

    Feb
    10
    2011
    Planning for Unforeseen Circumstances Maranda Gibson

    One of the biggest stories of last week was a massive winter storm that left drivers stranded on highways in Oklahoma and made travel to Dallas/Fort Worth locations nearly impossible. Usually, getting around town wouldn’t be a big deal, but it just so happened that the Superbowl and a myriad of events were in town. Last week was a once in a lifetime experience that brought with it a once in a lifetime winter storm.

    We get snow and ice in this area, but it usually only sticks around for a day, with the sun coming out and temps rebounding quickly. Four days of below freezing and not a peek of sunshine weather is not what we expect. The city froze – along with the roads and various events. Charity events were cancelled, celebrity appearances were cancelled, and when Saturday brought a sunny day, unexpected crowds left a lot of people waiting in line – myself included. Now, we can never anticipate something like the ice and snow that fell across our area last week, but we can try to plan for the unforeseen circumstances. Here are some things we can learn from living in the middle of the unexpected winter blast.

    Plan for more attendees than you need. On Saturday, more people showed up than there was space for, and the fire marshal had to close the doors. Get with your conference call provider and find out how many people you can have, what you need to make a reservation, and plan over what you expect so that if you do have additional people coming in, they won’t get turned away.

    Advertise One Start Time. The event I tried to attend was advertised on the bands site as beginning at 2:30. Those of us that showed up at 1:30 were an hour early for that event, but were still turned away due to the first event being full. If you’re going to have multiple presenters or speakers, send out one start time for the event as a whole, and then send out a detailed agenda about the events going on throughout the day.

    Communicate earliest start times. Even though your event starts at 10AM, can participants log in before that time? Are they able to call in five or fifteen minutes early? If so, communicate that message so that those who are anxious to join the conference are guaranteed a spot.

    In the end, I listened to the concert on TV later that night and realized that even though some things are seen as “once in a lifetime” events – like the biggest football game of the year or a monumental winter storm,  we can’t see the future to know everything that might be coming. We can only plan for the unexpected and give everyone a lot of information upfront so that there are no surprises.

    What are you doing to plan for the unexpected that might come across on your conference calls or events? What is your contingency plan in the event of a last minute change?

    Feb
    07
    2011
    Useful Debate and an Open Mind Maranda Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

    Jan
    26
    2011
    Speech Writing Tips Maranda Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jan
    25
    2011
    The Perfect Online Meeting Solution for Direct Sellers Accuconference

    Guest Post from Jennifer Fong, jenfongspeaks.com 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    About the author:

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

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

    Jan
    11
    2011
    Increase Attendance on 2011 Conference Calls Maranda Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

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