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Remote Control

8 Tips and Tricks for Conducting Stronger Conference Calls and Virtual Meetings

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-meetings

Despite large advances in technology, few people look forward to participating in remote meetings. When fellow participants fail to mute their lines, don’t give the interaction their full attention, or commit some other virtual-get-together sin, the mood of the group quickly deteriorates. So is there no hope for the countless teams who must connect through broadband instead of boardrooms? Of course not. By taking eight simple steps and following some proven guidelines, almost anyone’s virtual gathering can improve.

Tip One: Keep the meeting’s focus narrow. The more specific your agenda, the less likely you will find your conversations jumping off-topic. For example, instead of discussing office security training, narrow the focus to non-technology-related office security for customer-facing employees. By shrinking the field of discussion, you may realize you need less time and fewer people to arrive at a satisfactory decision.

No matter what kind of remote meeting you run, you can make it better by increasing your planning, tightening your delivery, leveraging technology and people, and taking stock of what works at what doesn’t. Click To Tweet

Tip Two: State the goal of the meeting at the beginning, end, and several times throughout to remind people why they are there and how they are expected to contribute. 

Before we begin, I would like to thank Ted, Rhonda, Nel, Jerome, and Fred for joining the discussion today. Each of you comes from a different area of the business and can offer a perspective the rest of us may not readily see. As we move through the discussion, I’m going to call on you to offer your point of view. Our goal today is to come up with some preliminary topics for training our customer-facing employees on security measures they need to take to keep themselves, the company data, and our customers safe. When we’re done, we should have a robust list of non-technology ideas. We’re going to deal with technology during a separate meeting.

Tip Three: Think like a newscaster. Newscasters plan in segments or blocks. Your agenda should do the same, and your language should advertise what’s happened previously and what’s coming next. 

First, we’re going to talk about our current occupancy rates, next we’ll look at forecasts for the next quarter, and finally, we’ll review plans to ensure we make our forecast.

Tip Four: Steal a few more ideas from the news. Dialing your energy up by 10 percent to 15 percent and editing your content should help you increase engagement. Edits might include such activities as removing weak or uncertain language. “I’m not sure, I don’t know, and this may be dumb” have no place in any meeting—especially a remote one. After all, if you don’t believe in or know about what you’re discussing, why should anyone else?

Tip Five: If possible, use a platform that allows people to use cameras, chat, and screen sharing.

Cameras allow people to use their faces and bodies to supplement their verbal messages. Cameras also keep people honest, as it’s difficult for most of us to multitask or go on mental vacation when you’re doing it in plain sight.

Chat engages people’s fingers. If you are typing in a chatbox, you aren’t checking email, texting a client, or doing anything else unrelated to the meeting. Furthermore, chat levels the playing field and allows opportunities for both extroverts and introverts to weigh in at essentially the same rate.

Screensharing focuses people’s attention on the topic at hand. It’s human nature to want to look at something. If you can, do yourself a favor and provide visuals. One word of caution: do not read from your slides. If you put slides in front of a team, they’re going to read them. They don’t need you to insult the repeat what they’ve seen verbatim.

Tip Six: Assign roles. You don’t have to be the leader, timekeeper, notetaker, and so forth. Delegation engages people and allows the leader to lead the meeting. Of course, role delegation will work best if you model what’s expected. 

For instance, provide a notes template and an example of notes to the notetaker and provide the timekeeper with some instructions, “Ted, I’d like you to serve as our timekeeper and agenda monitor today. If we wander off-topic, please poll the group to ascertain whether we should deviate from the agenda or take the topic offline.”

Tip Seven: Be prepared to do a little warm-up as you are waiting for people to join in. That means jumping on a call early and giving people something to do before the start of the meeting. If people are regularly late to your organization’s meetings, this is especially important. If you are using technology beyond the telephone, this is particularly easy. For example, you might set up a poll with everyone’s name listed and take attendance by asking them to select their names from the list. You could also show reminders (e.g. how to mute your line) and the notes from the last meeting and request people take a minute to review them. The possibilities are endless. The main idea, however, is to ensure that you don’t lose people who come early or on time to your remote meeting and that you can absorb people who join late with little disruption.

Tip Eight: View your remote meetings as works in progress. Ask those who participate what’s working for them and what isn’t. As teams change, technology evolves, and workplace demands vary, what works now might not work in the future.

No matter what kind of remote meeting you run, you can make it better by increasing your planning, tightening your delivery, leveraging technology and people, and taking stock of what works at what doesn’t. The key is trying, assessing, learning, and repeating the cycle. Happy meeting!

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

7 Common Communication Blunders

By Greg Alcorn

Greg Alcon-communication

Have you ever said something at work you wish you hadn’t? Sometimes the wrong words just blurt out to employees or with the client. The first step in fixing common communication blunders on the job is to know what those blunders are. Then you can say something the smart way and not the dumb way. 

Here are the seven biggest blunders you may not have used, but have definitely come across:

1. Using Bad Bookends

The biggest blunder is starting and ending what you say with the wrong phrasing. Conversation bookends are the small comments or questions just before or right after a full statement or request for action. Be better with your starting and ending bookends. Pre-sentence bookends as a tool can be engaging, demeaning, or distracting. Names are great bookends. Starting a sentence with the name of the person you are talking to warms that person up. “Mary, may I put you on hold?” Saying your name last in your introduction makes it easy for the person you are talking with remember your name. “This is the helpline; my name is Jack.” 

2. Starting with Wrong First Words

Are you familiar with the adage, “Getting off on the wrong foot”? Conversations have first impressions, and they begin with your first three words. Hint: one of the words should be the other person’s name. Using names is important when speaking on the phone, especially conference calls. Conference call principle number one is if you’re going to call on somebody, start with the name. Instead of saying, “What were the metrics on our operations yesterday, Frank?” ask the right way: “Frank, what were the metrics on our operation yesterday?” If you don’t start with the name, you might catch the person by surprise. It certainly catches people’s attention when you say their name first.

The first step towards reducing the number of dumb things you say is to know what the dumb things are. Then don’t say that, say something smarter. Click To Tweet

3. Not Choosing Your Words Well

The words you choose paints a picture for the listener. Your words express your attitude and your personality. Keep it positive. Don’t start a sentence with the word “no.” Even in introductions, you can’t go wrong with saying the person’s name first. A person’s name followed by the four words “I need your help” is a winner. “Rachel, I need your help.” This is especially powerful when it’s in a situation in which you might be the boss and the other person might be a manager, or you might be in a perceived superior position.

4. Poor Questions and Bad Listening

Meaningful questions always stay on subject, keep a conversation moving forward, and ensure the other person feels heard and understood. Becoming a better listener is easier than you might think. It starts by committing to be a great listener and making an active choice to listen. Ask good questions and really listen. This is the “You have two ears and one mouth” principle.

5. Focus-on-Me Attitude

Making it all about you is a turn off for them.  This is not a technique; this is an attitude. The best way to describe a benefit is to describe the feeling received. “I came by as soon as I heard you lost the sale; I’m sad.” The fellow employee can recognize the extra effort and surely appreciates the sentiment. It’s a powerful sentence. A special visit, a sense of urgency, and a sincere feeling (sad). Empathy shows feelings.

6. Wrong Tone

People feel more comfortable with pleasant, variable tone quality. Voice tone is made up of rate, pitch, and volume. Think tone and don’t drone. The tone of our voice helps others to hear our empathy. The rate, pitch, and volume of our statements of empathy help express feelings. Usually, but not always, we hear implied empathy when somebody slows down speech and lowers the pitch and volume. Say, “I am sad to hear that you lost the supermarket account,” and I’ll bet you will automatically say it slow and low. The same with excitement at the opposite end of the spectrum. Say “Team, we won the hotel account!” You can’t help but say it fast, high, and loud. Tone expresses empathy.

7. Not Diffusing Difficult Drama

Stressful conversations, or drama, can be avoided by mastering word selection, listening, and questioning skills. Drama can be inevitable, however. Most stressful situations can be defused when you apply the three Rs: recognize, restate, and reassure. Ask others: “What would you like to see happen?” Those are seven magic words that can defuse difficult drama: Words are just a tool like electricity is a tool. And like any tool, they can be used for helping or for harm. Electricity can cook a person’s dinner, or it can burn a person’s dinner. Words can turn people on or turn people off.

Here is the bottom line

Nobody wants to say dumb things. But we all do. The first step towards reducing the number of dumb things you say is to know what the dumb things are. Then don’t say that, say something smarter.

Verbal communication expert Greg Alcorn, CEO of Global Contact Services (GCS) of Salisbury, NC, is the author of 7 Dumb Things We All Say and speaks to thousands of people each year on improving verbal communication at work. His company has 1,000 employees and averages 30,000 customer service conversations every day. GCS, which Alcorn founded in 2001, serves retail, insurance, financial and government clients. Learn more at www.gcsagents.com.

Casting Your Confidence Net

Four Strategies to Manage Self-Doubt

By Dr. David Chinsky

confidence net

Even when leaders are clear about where they want to take their teams, pushback from colleagues, combined with self-doubts, can cause them to become paralyzed at the point of action. Clarity without confidence is an ineffective formula for success.

All leaders are subject to resisters and critics—some external and some internal. Let’s look at some examples of external pushback that some of the world’s biggest innovators needed to overcome to achieve their dreams.

When Akio Morita, then chairman of Sony, proposed manufacturing a tape player that didn’t record, he was met with a tremendous amount of resistance. His critics questioned why someone would purchase a recorder that didn’t record. Sony was known for tape recorders that recorded and played.

Despite the heavy criticism, Morita pushed ahead, resulting in the Sony Walkman, a product that met with universal acclaim and ended up being a precursor to the iPod and other mp3 players that came later. Had it not been for Morita’s persistence in the face of opposition, who knows if we would have seen the iPod as early as we did.

Another example of a leader with a vision was Fred Smith, founder of FedEx. When Smith was selling his idea of delivering packages “absolutely, positively overnight”, critics were quick to point out that major airlines would already be doing this if there was a market for this service. We all know the phenomenal success of FedEx, and its several competitors that emerged later, and this success is due largely to the willingness of Smith to go against the mainstream thinking of the time that this was not likely to be a profitable venture.

Leaders, at times, need to take leaps of faith, particularly when they have thought through their ideas and believe passionately in what they are pursuing. There will always be naysayers, and when we vest too much authority in their claims, we risk missing out on the tangible benefits that result when decisive actions are pursued despite the strong pushback that pioneers often confront.

While external pushback can be powerful, it is often your own self-doubt that prevents you from moving forward. You may have noticed that the bolder your vision is, and the bigger your plans are, the louder these inner critics often become. In reality, the presence of these saboteurs often serves as confirmation that you are not playing small.

Some of the common “inner voices” we hear, if we are honest with ourselves, include:

“You Don’t Know What You’re Doing”

“You’re Not Up to This”

“You Won’t Succeed”

“You’ll Look Like a Fool”

“No one Will Support You”

These self-doubts are normal and come with the territory of leading others into the future. Instead of focusing on eliminating these doubts, a better approach is to simply manage them. Here are four strategies that you will find helpful in managing self-doubt:

  • Be aware of negative self-talk, and get good at recognizing it as distinct from your true intent. Recognize these voices as “normal” for successful people taking on big projects.
  • Consider alternative perspectives or different ways of looking at the same situation. Acknowledge and act on your power to choose how you will think. If you are thinking, “I will fail at this”, consider how the alternative “I will succeed at this”, might cause you to choose a different path. Often, we can’t know whether we will succeed or fail before trying. Henry Ford was correct when he said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”
  • Ignore your self-doubts once they have been exposed for the imposters they are.
  • Don’t panic, and know that everything can look like a failure in the middle.

Keeping our doubts in check will naturally contribute to greater confidence. A way to reinforce that confidence is to construct a Confidence Net comprising a repertoire of positive habits that buffer you from the onslaught of both external and internal pushbacks. These habits, when performed consistently, feed our confidence, and provide us with the ability to remain focused on our plans, despite the noise all around us.

When asked what personal habits contribute to greater confidence, many leaders point to regular exercise, daily prayer or meditation, positive affirmations and even a power outfit.

Like safety nets, designed as insurance to help people through life’s shocks and stresses, such as those created by illness, unemployment or job displacement, a Confidence Net is your very own personal structure to mitigate the effect, and lower the volume, of your inner voices or self-doubts.

Dr. David Chinsky is the Founder of the Institute for Leadership Fitness, a celebrated speaker, and author of The Fit Leader’s Companion: A Down-to-Earth Guide for Sustainable Leadership Success. After spending nearly twenty years in executive leadership positions at the Ford Motor Company, Nestle and Thomson Reuters, he now focuses on preparing leaders to achieve their highest level of professional effectiveness and leadership fitness. For more information on Dr. David Chinsky, please visit: www.FitLeadersAcademy.com.

When It Comes to Communication, More Is More

By Elena Langdon

Elena Langdon

In our world of information overload, less is often more. This old adage still applies in the world of communications—think website or marketing copy that is best short and sweet. Yet context and preparation is needed when human interaction is involved. The more time and energy you invest upfront, the more time, money, and headaches you’ll save down the line.

Take the example of a Midwestern pharmaceutical company that contacted a local Spanish teacher to help with communication during a visit with South American physicians. All was going well until it came to the specific condition a new medication could treat: COLD, or chronic obstructive lung disease. The teacher, who hadn’t been briefed about the company’s specific focus, spent the day talking about the new “wonder drug” that could cure a common cold. The pulmonologists were not impressed and the company did not win any new business that day.

In your line of business you might not need to communicate with foreigners, but you will most likely work with some sort of communication expert at some point. Below are some guidelines to better prepare for working with any outside expert who specializes in communication, including copywriters, marketing and brand consultants, designers, and trainers.Clear communication depends on contextual knowledge. Click To Tweet

Know thy contractors: Before selecting an outside communications consultant, ask about expertise in your specific setting or field, not just years of experience. For example, if you hire a copywriter for a newsletter or website, look at her portfolio to see if she’s worked in your line of business before. Working directly with the contractor makes this easier, but if you are getting proposals through an agency, many will also provide information on the individual’s credentials and past work.

Explain your audience: Clue the contractor in as to whom they’ll be working with. For example, if you’re looking for a consultant to deliver a workshop on employee engagement, let them know what your corporate structure looks like. Names and roles are especially helpful, as are division, unit, and project names. This will help make the workshop relevant and personalized, even though an outsider is presenting it.

State your purpose: Your team and your counterparts across the table might know why you are discussing a contract, but an external expert brought in for the day won’t. What are everyone’s goals? Are the stakes high and the situation tense? Think of communication experts as extensions of your team and brief them accordingly. If they know your purpose(s), they can better understand you and transmit your message accurately.

Get it in writing: Perhaps this is obvious, but make sure you draw up a contract when working with an external contractor. Some important sections to include are confidentiality, deliverables, and duration of work. Think about licenses, certification, and insurance, too, if there is any risk involved in the work being supplied.

Provide context: Clear communication depends on contextual knowledge, so provide as much background information as possible. Let’s say you need an interpreter to help you sort out an HR problem with an employee who is more comfortable in another language. Inform the interpreter about any previous meetings, the main issues to be discussed, the type of work the employee does, and anything else you think is relevant.

Explain specific jargon and acronyms: Your internal jargon or acronyms might seem like second nature to you at this point, but they probably sound like alphabet soup to an outsider.  A short list or glossary can be helpful so that time isn’t wasted trying to decipher “the BPO merger” or the “quarterly up-queue.” And be especially careful with polysemous words like in the pharmaceutical example above.

Consider your space: If you will be working with someone who will need to speak to your employees or visitors, let them know what the physical space looks like. Will you be sitting, standing, or touring a facility? How many people need to hear the external contractor? Will you play a video or will participants join via Skype or speakerphone? Knowing this information will allow the external expert to better prepare for the situation or even suggest things you haven’t thought about. If working with foreign clients, for example, simultaneous interpreting equipment might be needed.

Make the most of their time: Whether it’s an hourly rate or a monthly quota of deliverables, you are paying for the contractor’s time. Think of ways to shorten meetings, including clear agenda items and committee work that does not involve the contractor. The more focused you are while the external consultant is on the clock, the better.

Send files ahead of time: Always send any documentation that will be discussed a few days in advance. Agendas, contracts, previous meeting minutes, presentation slides—anything that provides context and terminology will greatly enhance communication and save time during the actual meeting or event.

This all might seem daunting, but following these guidelines is the best way to ensure you are fully prepared to work with an outside communication expert. Share your goals, purpose, audience, and insider knowledge in advance and you will save time and money in the long run. Generally speaking, if you follow the rule of “more is more,” then everyone will be on the same page and you will reap the rewards.

Elena Langdon is a certified Portuguese-to-English translator and interpreter and an active member of the American Translators Association. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org

Mistakes to Avoid When Communicating Change

By Henry DeVries

Henry DeVriesGulp. Suppose the time has come to communicate a major change for your organization. Maybe it is a downsizing, a restructuring, or a switch to total quality management. The change is so important the future of the company depends on it.

Employees are mustered to the cafeteria where the CEO makes an impassioned speech worthy of a field marshal. Following the call to arms, the communications campaign launches an offensive on several fronts. All locations are bombarded with videos. Special editions of the employee newsletter sound the battle cry. Platoons of senior executives fan out to deliver the message on a more personalized basis to the troops.

But the war is already lost. Why? Because this approach is wrong, wrong, wrong. Not only will it fall flat, it is positively harmful.

Ask employees what information source they prefer. According to a study by the International Association of Business Communications, nine out of ten employees said they want to hear it directly from their supervisor. The mistake that dooms most campaigns seeking to win support for new business goals is the failure to let supervisors explain the change to front-line employees.

To achieve optimal results, campaigns to communicate potentially unpopular changes to employees should be viewed as an applied science. Unfortunately, this do not happen at most large companies. Case studies, surveys and research clearly show that the best practices for a major change are to communicate directly to supervisors and to use face-to-face communication, which includes storytelling.Workers want to work for someone who is connected and has a degree of power within the organization. Click To Tweet

The rate of major change is accelerating rapidly in business today, and many executives will be called upon to make major change communications decisions as part of a senior executive team. Knowing the four biggest mistakes of change communication will increase their chances of success.

Mistake 1—Many well-meaning CEOs attempt to improve change communications by going the direct route: These CEOs naturally want to talk directly to the front-line employees, usually supported by the advice of senior human resources executives and consultants. Unfortunately, it is a mistake that is wrong for two reasons.

First, it can be viewed as a mere symbolic move, and today’s disillusioned worker has little love for the empty gesture. Second, and more damaging, these campaigns can weaken the relationship between front-line workers and supervisors. Workers want to work for someone who is connected and has a degree of power within the organization. They want to know their supervisor has some pull, and is not viewed as powerless.

Mistake 2—Other well-intentioned senior executives push for equality in the workplace: They believe supervisors should sit shoulder-to-shoulder with front-line employees to hear the big news.

Again, a mistaken strategy because it is evidence of senior management’s failure to recognize the supervisor’s superior status. This reduces the supervisor’s perceived power and weakens his or her effectiveness as a force of change. What many senior executives fail to realize is that the only communications with the power to change behavior is the kind between a supervisor and a direct report.

Mistake 3—Applying the strategy that more must be better, executives in charge of change campaigns use ink by the barrel: They think the solution is more employee reports, posters, news bulletins, video scripts, team briefing outlines, brochures and guidebooks. This too is the wrong approach, because the critical communication is the type that happens face-to-face between a supervisor and front-line employees.

Energy and resources should be directed toward producing supervisor briefing cards which will arm them to answer the key questions that are in the minds of their staff.

Mistake 4—Not giving supervisors a persuasive story to tell can be a tactical error: Storytelling helps persuade on an emotional level. Stories are the building blocks of company culture.

If there is already a true story to tell about how the change will benefit the company, so much the better. If not, at least give supervisors a narrative to tell about how success can be achieved in the future. Every story starts with the name of a character who wants something. Make your main character likable or the victim of undeserved misfortune so the listeners will root for them. To make them likable, describe some of their good qualities or attributes.

Heroes need help on their journey. They need to work with a wise person. This is where your organization comes in. Be the voice of wisdom and experience. The hero does not succeed alone; they succeed because of the help you provided.

Finally, give the listeners the moral of the story. Take a cue from Aesop, the man who gave us fables like The Tortoise and the Hare (the moral: slow and steady wins the race). Don’t count on the listeners to get the message. The storyteller’s final job is to tell them what the story means.

The Bottom Line on Communicating Change: While other forms of communications should not be abolished, the emphasis should be on making supervisors privileged receivers of information. The strategy is to empower the supervisors.

When the future of the firm is on the line, ultimately it’s the CEO’s job to make sure change is communicated the best way possible. After the employees get the skinny from the supervisors, then the CEO can talk to all to reinforce the message.

The wise CEOs will use their supervisors, and properly arm them, to ensure success.

Henry DeVries, CEO of Indie Books International, works with consultants to attract high-paying clients by marketing with a book and speech. As a professional speaker, he teaches sales and business development professionals how to build an inventory of persuasive stories. He is the author of Marketing with a Book and Persuade with a Story! For more information, visit www.indiebooksintl.com

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