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20 Fun Facts About Bennis Public Relations

20 fun factsI love sharing insights into the business I started more than seven years ago, Bennis Public Relations. At just 23 years old, I was well aware I didn’t have everything figured out. Actually I was pretty certain I knew nothing about the entrepreneurial journey I was about to embark upon, but I was certain I was passionate about following this calling and would do whatever it took to make this a successful career.

On a fun and light-hearted note, I want to share some of the little known facts about Bennis Public Relations, and me personally. Entrepreneurs are quarky people, and I am no exception. So as I draw back the curtain a little further, I hope you’ll get a kick out of these facts that are fun, interesting and maybe even a bit strange.

1. My business is named after my maiden name, and my son is also named Bennis. I love that when he gets a little older he’ll realize the business I started from ground up and poured a lot of passion into, also shares his name. Hey, maybe he’ll take it over someday?

2. Less than 2 months after I started this blog on WordPress (as a trial for my own blog building services) I was featured on WordPress’s homepage and as a result I got almost 7,000 views in 1 day. August 24, 2011 still holds my record for most views.

3. My only overhead expenses are $10 a month to Hootsuite and $40 per year to the PA Public Relations Society. Almost unbelievable I know, but it’s true. I don’t pay any other subscriptions, memberships, fees, payroll, rent, etc. (Taxes are a whole other story, of course). I love running a lean business!

4. I have no desire to have employees. I continue to grow every year without having to hire employees by raising my hourly rates, taking on new clients and finding ways to be more efficient with my time. It’s just me (and my network of vendors) and that’s how I like it.

5. One of my titles is the Executive Director of the Carwash Association of Pennsylvania. That’s right, CAP has been my client for several years and for the particular services I provide to them, I serve as the E.D.

6. I rarely work more than 6 hours per day. Again, I LOVE efficiency and I love that with my business model, the more efficient I am, the more time I have to devote to other passions and projects. Some days/weeks I work well over that! But I know those long hours every so often afford me short work days most every other day.

7. When I first started my business, I had just enough clients to pay the rent. I hadn’t figured out how to pay for other expenses or even taxes when I made the entrepreneurial leap to quit my former job. But I hustled hard and went into survival mode. That work ethic had afforded me what I have today.

8. I have successfully turned nearly all “competition” into partnerships and collaboration opportunities. I love meeting with other PR professionals because nearly every time I do I’m able to identify our unique differences and turn them into collaboration opportunities.

9. I started doing freelance public relations work when I was still in college. During my senior year at Penn State University, I met a professional speaker and best-selling author through one of the events I planned through an internship and he and I started doing work together that last for about 5 years. He’s how I bought my first car!

10. My husband is a serial entrepreneur too. Between the two of us, we run four businesses. His current and largest venture right now is a tech startup that provides performance-based fundraising – and it’s changing the world! Read the stories at http://www.pledgeit.org and you’ll see I’m not exaggerating.

11. Throughout running my business, we grew our family by two sons. As an entrepreneur, I can’t really take a maternity leave, so I literally never missed a day of work, even if it meant answering emails from the hospital (yes I packed my laptop in my hospital bag). It’s one of the hard truths of running our own business, but the payback is so worth it!

12. My dad is part owner of Bennis Public Relations. He gave me the money I needed to fully incorporate Bennis Inc. in 2011. He jokes that Jeff Bezos’s dad was the first to invest in Amazon. I don’t know if I’ll afford him quite that payback!

13. My cat, Pinot, has been the closest thing I’ve had to a colleague. She’s been with me since day 1 of starting Bennis Public Relations and lays by my side just about every time I open my lap top to write. She’s also been my most popular blog topic by far!

14. Most of my friends and family have no idea what I do. I’m not offended! Unless you’ve studied it or work in the industry, public relations doesn’t really fit in a standard “box” especially with how it’s evolved thanks to technology. I usually just say I do a lot of writing, and leave it at that.

15. As far as I am aware, I’ve never run into a roadblock for my gender. In the day and age when everyone is shouting “the future is female,” I’ve never found I needed to apologize or compensate for being a female business owner. I simply let my work ethic speak for itself. In fact, I’ve beat many male businesses for different jobs, not based on gender, but based on the ideas and follow-through I bring to the table.

16. A lot of people confuse me with a publicist. Frankly, I think I’d make an awful publicist. While I have worked with people to enhance their personal brand, I most commonly work to enhance the communications and branding for businesses and organizations.

17. In high school I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” I thought it was silly at the time – and my mom thought it was pretentious and borderline offensive. Now looking back, I think that title may have subliminally inspired me. And though I didn’t get “Best Dressed,” I think this one has served me a lot better.

18. Though I have a dedicated home office (behind a hidden door to boot) and several office locations in downtown Harrisburg I can use as I wish, I prefer to work from our home living room. I’m a creature of habit!

19. I still have my very first client on retainer – that’s been 7 years now! The work has ebbed and flowed over the years, but I love being able to say I have the consistency of working with clients for many years, some even from the start.

20. And for #20 the fun fact I want to end with is that I’m proud to say I have had the privileged to serve 100+ clients from coast to coast in just seven short years. It may sound crazy, but I serve 25 different client accounts monthly, with many more one-time projects scattered throughout. Entrepreneurship has been a crazy one, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!

So now that you know a little but more about what shapes me, and as a result by public relations business, what fact do you find more interesting? Or maybe you’d like to share your own quarky and random fact.

Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

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Posted by on September 10, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Create the Job You Want

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


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Now entering my seventh year of managing my own Public Relations firm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I’ve learned quite a few things about creating the job you want.

I was fortunate to have the realization early on in my career that my dream job didn’t exist. If I wanted it, I had to create it. So I did. That sounds simple enough, but I will be the first to tell you it was anything but simple or easy. That’s not a reason to continue with a job you dislike, if anything it should be motivation to buckle up for the wild ride of entrepreneurship, if you feel this is your calling.

Maybe you’re ready to take the leap, or maybe you’ve only just begun to wonder what being an entrepreneur could look like for you. No matter where you are on the journey, let me offer you some advice on how to begin creating the job you want.

Confirm it doesn’t already exist

Do your research! Does the job you want already exist? It’s possible your current company or another company offer a role that’s close to exactly what you want, but you just need to work to get there. That’s great! Establish a plan for how you you’re going to move toward this role. There’s no need to take on the added stress and complication of trying to recreate your dream job if it already exists.

In contrast, your research might confirm that your dream job is something so unique you must forge ahead as an entrepreneur to create it. Knowing that no other job currently out there matches the job you want should give you inspiration and drive to move forward with the career of self-employment, because not doing so would mean compromising your dreams.

Get real about what you want

Okay, so you have a clear understanding of whether the job you want already exists or whether you need to create it. Now it’s time to be honest with yourself about what makes this job so appealing to you. Is it the expected pay, flexible work schedule, power, purpose, fulfillment or something else? If in this process you discover the job you want is really centered on a perceived salary or title, this should be a red flag that maybe your priorities are a bit skewed.

Entering entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, or the mildly committed. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must want it with every fiber of your being. You will never stick with it long term, through the highs and lows, if you’re only in it for the pay or power – those don’t come for many years, if at all. Get real about what you want out of your dream job and check your priorities again and again.

Then, get real about why you want it

Similar to the point above, once you know what it is you want out of the job you’re going to create, take it one step further. Ask yourself “Why do I want it?” If you can’t confidently answer this question, that’s another red flag that maybe you’re not cut out to forge your own career path outside of the corporate box.

While there are no “correct” answers to this question, the following answers are often good indicators that you’re entering entrepreneurship for the right reasons: I want to make a difference; I want to control my own destiny; I want to apply my passion toward a purpose; I want to maintain a better work-life balance. Be crystal clear about what you want out of your dream job and why you want it.

Talk with someone who has already done it

Next, I urge you to talk to someone who has created the job they wanted and have progressed along this career path for five years or more. They are going to be a wealth of knowledge to you as you consider creating the job you want. They can also help assess your business model, motives and drive to help determine if this is the right choice for you at this time in your life. If you find someone who really inspires you, ask them to mentor you on your entrepreneurial journey!

Develop your model

To create the job you want, you need a clear business model for how you’re going to make a profit. Are you selling a product or a service? Who are your target customers? How will you promote your business? What is your expected overhead? How can you minimize this, especially in the first few years? Work to clearly outline your business model, because you’re going to need it for the next critical step.

Test your model

Yes, you have to first test your business model to prove it works. A lot of business opportunities seem great in theory, but what if you’re answering a problem that doesn’t exist? Or what if you’re pricing model sucks? Fully commit to creating the job you want by fist doing a soft launch of your business to test the market. Is your marketing strategy attracting new customers? Can your friends or family offer constructive feedback? First testing your business model, and further refining it before your full rollout will help you present a more professional and polished first impression of your business.

Commit fully

This is the most important step in creating the job you want, and the biggest determination of whether you will fail or succeed. Will you commit fully to your dream? I said it above and I’ll say it again, entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Daily you will experience, setbacks, uncertainties, crises, losses and criticism. If you are anything but fully committed, this will surely have you headed for the hills and back to the corporate world before you complete your first quarter.

Keep in mind that the first five years of running your own business is still its infancy. That seems like a long time, but if you’re in this for the long-haul it will be only a blip of the full history of your career. Don’t allow yourself to give up in those five years; push through. Think of it as a hike up a steep hill. Those first few miles really test your endurance. At times you will think it’s better to turn around before you’ve reached the top. But I promise you, if you can make it five years creating the job you want, you will see some magnificent views along the way and be rewarded with renewed strength and commitment to keep forging ahead, higher and higher.

What’s your dream job? How do you plan to pursue it? Share your personal career goals by leaving a comment.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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4 Tips for Taking Control of Your Monday Routine

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Mondays have such a bad reputation! I wish I could say it was completely unfounded, yet I too found myself fatigued and overwhelmed by the start of the new work week. That was until I noticed that by making a small series of changes to my workday, particularly my Mondays, I was able to regain control of my time and workflow and break through the mental barrier of Monday’s insurmountable task list.

Take a look at my four tried and true tips for taking control of your Monday routine so that you can dominate – not dread the start of your work week. Here they are!

 1. Wake Up Early

This doesn’t sound fun and frankly it’s not, at least for the first several times you try it as part of your new routine. So often we allow ourselves to come off the weekend feeling groggy and unfocused. Monday morning hits hard and it’s tempting to want to hit snooze up until the last minute. All this does is start you on a crazy cycle – a cycle where you’re waking up already feeling behind, and not really any more rested than if you hadn’t slept that extra hour.

My first tip is to commit to waking up one hour earlier than you normally do on Monday (and eventually every work day). The reason is that starting your day one hour earlier will help you stay ahead of your task list the rest of the day, and also better react to those unexpected and emergency tasks that might pile onto your schedule. In one hour you can take care of a ton of “little” tasks that can weigh on your mind. You’ll then be able to dig into your bigger tasks with a clear focus and less stress.

2. Take Care of the Easy/Little Tasks

Inevitably there will be a list of little tasks and emails that have piled up over the weekend. Start your day by getting these off your plate. Answer the emails that only take a minute or two to address. Knock off those tasks that require less than 10 minutes of your time. Check your voice mail and respond to phone calls. This may take an hour or two of your morning, but you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished so much. This encouragement will fuel you to carry on with other, bigger tasks.

3. Prioritize Your Big Tasks

Speaking of the “big” tasks that are on your to-do list, it’s so important to be realistic about what you can accomplish in one day, especially on Monday. You simply can’t do it all, nor should you have to. Instead focus on the most urgent and important tasks, particularly ones that help move other tasks forward for you. Even if this is just one thing, or one section of a larger project, a clearly defined to-do list for the day will help you to manage your own expectations. Additionally, it keeps you accountable to at least accomplishing at least one task. You can no longer fall back on the excuse of “I had so much to do I didn’t know where to start.” Give yourself a starting point, and an ending point for the day and aim for those bench marks.

4. Do Something for You

Finally and most importantly, be sure that you do at least one thing just for yourself on Monday. For me, this is getting to the gym for an exercise class I really enjoy. When my task list piles up for the day, I don’t allow myself to make an excuse for not going. The result isn’t that I necessarily get any more work done. Rather, I just feel cranky the whole day and like I’m working, working, working with no reward. That class is my reward and I try to never deprive myself of it! I can move other tasks, meetings and phone calls around this one piece of my day – and I’m always grateful I do! It’s my motivation to work hard and get my tasks done the rest of the day so I can accommodate this hour for myself.

Do you dread – or dominate Mondays? Do you plan to use these 4 tips for taking control of your day today? Or share some other tips that you’ve found helpful for time management, especially on Mondays!

 

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Overcoming Writer’s Block with Automatic Transcription

descriptIf you’re a writer — of books, essays, scripts, blog posts, whatever — you’re familiar with the phenomenon: the blank screen, a looming deadline, and a sinking feeling in your gut that pairs poorly with the jug of coffee you drank earlier.

If you know that rumble all too well: this post is for you. Maybe it’ll help you get out of a rut; at the very least, it’s good for a few minutes of procrastination.

Here’s the core idea: thinking out loud is often less arduous than writing. And it’s now easier than ever to combine the two, thanks to recent advances in speech recognition technology.

Of course, dictation is nothing new — and plenty of writers have taken advantage of it. Carl Sagan’s voluminous output was facilitated by his process of speaking into an audio recorder, to be transcribed later by an assistant (you can listen to some of his dictations in the Library of Congress!) And software like Dragon’s Naturally Speaking has offered automated transcription for people with the patience and budget to pursue it.

But it’s only in the last couple of years that automated transcription has reached a sweet spot — of convenience, affordability and accuracy—that makes it practical to use it more casually. And I’ve found it increasingly useful for generating a sort of proto-first draft: an alternative approach to the painful process of converting the nebulous wisps inside your head into something you can actually work with.

I call this process idea extraction (though these ideas may be more accurately dubbed brain droppings).

Part I: Extraction

Here’s how my process works. Borrow what works for you and forget the rest — and let me know how it goes!

  • Pick a voice recorder. Start talking. Try it with a topic you’ve been chewing on for weeks — or when an idea flits your head. Don’t overthink it. Just start blabbing.
  • The goal is to tug on as many threads as you come across, and to follow them as far as they go. These threads may lead to meandering tangents— and you may discover new ideas along the way.
  • A lot of those new ideas will probably be embarrassingly bad. That’s fine. You’re already talking about the next thing! And unlike with text, your bad ideas aren’t staring you in the face.
  • Consider leaving comments to yourself as you go — e.g. “Maybe that’d work for the intro”. These will come in handy later.
  • For me, these recordings run anywhere from 20–80 minutes. Sometimes they’re much shorter, in quick succession. Whatever works.

Part II: Transcription

Once I’ve finished recording, it’s time to harness ⚡️The Power of Technology⚡️

A little background: over the last couple of years there’s been an explosion of tools related to automatic speech recognition (ASR) thanks to huge steps forward in the underlying technologies.

Here’s how ASR works: you import your audio into the software, the software uses state-of-the-art machine learning to spit back a text transcript a few minutes later. That transcript won’t be perfect—the robots are currently in the ‘Write drunk’ phase of their careers. But for our purposes that’s fine: you just need it to be accurate enough that you can recognize your ideas.

Once you have your text transcript, your next step is up to you: maybe you’re exporting your transcript as a Word doc and revising from there. Maybe you’re firing up your voice recorder again to dictate a more polished take. Maybe only a few words in your audio journey are worth keeping — but that’s fine too. It probably didn’t cost you much (and good news: the price for this tech will continue to fall in the years ahead).

A few more tips:

  • Use a recorder/app that you trust. Losing a recording is painful — and the anxiety of losing another can derail your most exciting creative moments (“I hope this recorder is working. Good, it is… @#*! where was I?”)
  • Audio quality matters when it comes to automatic transcription. If your recording has a lot of background noise or you’re speaking far away from the mic, the accuracy is going to drop. Consider using earbuds (better yet: Airpods) so you can worry less about where you’re holding the recorder.
  • Find a comfortable space. Eventually you may get used to having people overhear your musings, but it’s a lot easier to let your mind “go for a walk” when you’re comfortable in your environment.
  • Speaking of walking: why not go for a stroll? The pains of writing can have just as much to do with being stationary and hunched over. Walking gets your blood flowing — and your ideas too.
  • I have a lot of ideas, good and bad, while I’m thinking out loud and playing music at the same time (in my case, guitar — but I suspect it applies more broadly). There’s something about playing the same four-chord song on auto pilot for the thousandth time that keeps my hands busy and leaves my mind free to wander.

The old ways of doing things — whether it’s with a keyboard or pen — still have their advantages. Putting words to a page can force a sort of linear thinking that is otherwise difficult to maintain. And when it comes to editing, it’s no contest: QWERTY or bust.

But for getting those first crucial paragraphs down (and maybe a few keystone ideas to build towards)? Consider talking to yourself. Even if you wind up with a transcript full of nothing but profanity — well, have you ever seen a transcript full of profanity? You could do a lot worse.

This article is originally published by Descript.

 

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6 Ways to Grow Your Media Relationships

6 Ways to Grow Your Media Relationships

If you work in the field of public relations, advertising, even marketing, it’s inevitable that you will need to interact (i.e. get along) with the media to some degree. In fact, it’s absolutely to your advantage to forge real relationships – you know, the kind where you know a little bit about each other and try to help each other out, rather than just use one another.

But this can feel like a daunting task, especially if you are just beginning your career. The most critical thing you should remember is that members of the media are people, too. They’re not out to “get you” and hearing “no thanks” surely won’t kill you. So why not play nice and get something of mutual value out of it? Here are my six top tips for growing a meaningful relationship with media contacts.

  1. Become a (genuine) fan.

I’m not referring to Twitter (though following media contacts on social media isn’t the worst place to start). Rather, I’m talking about learning what beats each reporter regularly covers. Read their work, make note of topics that could relate to one or more of your clients, and most importantly give credit where credit is due. Recently a reporter used a press release I sent him to heavily and favorably cover one of my client’s issues. He included quotes I provided in the release, and he also sought out quotes from local individuals to fully flesh out the article. I truly appreciated his thoroughness. So I wrote him an email. I thanked him for using pieces of our press release and applauded him for seeking out additional quotes beyond a single source. He was flattered. As a result of this small step toward building a relationship, I feel like I can now reach out to him directly to pitch my next story.

  1. Take advantage of networking opportunities.

If you’re on the lookout for them, you will find that there are some very valuable networking opportunities to be had with members of the media. As a member of the Pennsylvania Public Relations Society (PPRS), I attended a recent meeting that was a “speed dating” mixer with just about every local media outlet represented. I was sure not to miss this event! As a result, I got great advice, lots of business cards and a handful of valuable invitations to “Pitch me anything you can think of!” I’ve already taken advantage of this for some of my clients. I can’t stress enough that meaningful media relationships, especially ones you can make face-to-face, will make your job easier, save you from the unknown and make you look like a rock star to your clients.

  1. Don’t hide your motives.

When you introduce yourself to a member of the media as a public relations professional, it’s pretty hard to hide your motives. After all, we are paid for our earned media placement and the gatekeepers to this are members of the media. Rather than being coy, I have found that being direct, honest and humble goes a lot further. I try to find a way to make light of the conversation, but also cut right to the chase. The media is hungry for quality content, and we have incentive to provide exactly that! Don’t hide your motives. Let the media know what you want, and they can then tell you what they need.

  1. Provide quality, ready-to-publish content.

Being friendly and professional with the media will help you make initial contact and get their attention, but what you do once they’re listening is the most important part of forming a lasting relationship. You must deliver quality, ready-to-publish content – or at least accurate and useful news tips that they can turn into their own story. If you prove to be anything but a reliable source, don’t wonder why members of the media stop answering your phone calls and emails. Proof and fact check your content, be responsive and go the extra mile to make yourself a valuable resource.

  1. Be proactive with your pitch.

When trying to get publicity for your clients, don’t wait for the opportunity to come knocking on your door. It reasonably won’t. Another piece of growing media relationships is to be proactive with your pitch. Reach out to them early and often. Sell them on the value of your idea. Help connect the dots so they can see how your story relates to their readership and their reporting style.

  1. Ask how you can help.

Most important, be genuinely interested in learning how you can help a reporter out. Ask them what topics or beats they’re covering right now and what some upcoming topics might be. You may be in position to lend some expertise, or to hook them up with a contact who can. Build a relationship based on trust and reliability. The more your media contacts know they can turn to you as a “connector” to help piece a story together, the more opportunities you’ll have to plug clients into these key opportunities.

Do you have another point to add that has helped you grow your relationship with media contacts? Share your advice by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2018 in Business & Success

 

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The Number One Solution to All Communication Problems

The Number One Solution to All Communication Problems

At the root of all communication problems, there is essentially one thing that goes wrong that snowballs into every scenario you may have encountered. Whether you’re trying to communicate with a toddler or a CEO, someone of a different culture or someone of a different political viewpoint, effective communication hinges upon one thing.

And that is for parties to listen to and understand one another.

Throughout your life you may have heard people in authority say to you, “You don’t have to like me, but you have to respect me.” While I can see why a parent, teacher or boss might want to say this, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. As adults, there will be people we must interact with or who have authority over us that we don’t like. For any number of reasons they may irritate us or rub us the wrong way. Beyond merely showing respect to this person, we must foremost be sure we have taken every effort to listen to and understand them when they communicate with us.

It’s true. We won’t like everyone we meet in life, nor do we have to. But if you want to be an effective communicator who gets more of what you want, you must, must, must learn to listen – attentively, openly and willingly.

Not quite sold on this idea yet? Think back to the last communication problem you’ve dealt with. This may have been at home, or the office or with a friend. In hindsight, how did a lack of listening to one another play into the problem? I’m willing to guess a great deal. A lack of listening leads to a whole host of problems including misaligned expectations, unnecessary conflict, hurt feelings and frustration.

Not listening to one another the first time around usually leads to a lot more time spent trying to work through the miscommunication and repair the relationship. Simply put, investing in fully listening to one another in the very beginning of the conversation, and asking for clarity as often as needed, will save you from a lot of wasted time, headaches and strained relationships in the future.

I imagine I have your attention now. Great! But what does it really look like to be an effective listener? And how can you identify and address someone who may not be listening to you? Those are great questions that I intend to answer in the four points to follow.

  1. Treat listening like your job.

Listening is a critical skill for achieving success in every part of your life. Why then do we phone it in sometimes? I urge you to take listening seriously; treat it like you job. Challenge yourself to be able to repeat back, accurately, what the other person is saying to you. Take notes if you must. Recap what’s being said and put it into words. Which brings me to…

  1. Repeat back what you’re hearing.

In mediation, we learn to use the “I feel…” statements. This carries over into all forms of effective communication. When you’re having a critical discussion, instead of “I feel…” you should say “What I’m hearing you say is…” Then repeat back in your own words what you feel the other person is expressing. When they hear it repeated back they have the opportunity to confirm that is indeed accurate, or re-communicate a message that may have been lost in translation. Think of it like “proof-reading” each other’s thoughts before you hit “publish” and make decisions based upon this understanding.

  1. Ask to hear what they think you’re saying in their own words.

In return, you should ask the other people (or people) to express back to you, in their own words, what they feel you are saying to them. Again, you will have the opportunity to re-communicate or clarify something that might be getting misconstrued. Though the reaffirming what you’re hearing someone else say is an added step to the process, it is one that will save you an extreme about of time and frustration over your lifespan.

  1. Diffuse and table a conversation if you feel there are distractions.

While you may feel you are being an attentive and open listener in the conversation, you might pick up on some cues that this is not being returned by the other person. If you notice they seem distracted either by the environment, their thoughts or their emotions, it’s worth putting a pause on the conversation and coming back to it in a day or so when everyone can be fully present. Be sure to schedule a time and don’t let too many hours or days pass before re-addressing the conversation and putting it to bed. Most importantly, end the conversation on respectful terms and with the understanding that your intent is to re-enter the conversation when everyone has collected their thoughts (and their cool).

Do you agree that all effective communication is built on the foundation of listening and understanding one another? What other key components do you feel contribute to effective communication?

Start a conversation by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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7 Tips for Productive Conference Calls

7 Tips for Productive Conference Calls

Conference calls sound like a great idea. For a lot of reasons, in-person meetings just don’t work. People’s schedules and locations can make it virtually impossible to get together face-to-face. However, conference calls are far from a perfect solution.

Having participated in countless conference calls, I can confirm that just about everything that happens in this following video has been my experience. Even if you’ve already seen this video, you know how good it is. Watch it (again).

So what is the solution to overcoming the many hurdles surrounding unproductive, awkward conference calls? Mostly it’s organization. When I’m tasked with leading a conference call, I follow these seven simple rules to make the most of everyone’s time – and accomplish the goal of the call.

  1. Create a calendar invitation.

Simple, yet so often forgotten. When a group of people agree on a conference call date and time, someone needs to take the lead to send a calendar invitation to everyone. Why? Because people can’t be trusted to take this step on their own. Inevitably, it will slip their mind and they’ll either forget the call entirely or be scrambling to find the phone number and passcode. Reduce the number of “Hey I can’t find the conference call information, can you resend it to me?” emails you’ll have to answer by letting your online calendar serve as a reminder.

  1. Send reminder emails.

Speaking of reminders, yes you’ll need to do this at least twice leading up to the call. I’ve found that I can greatly increase conference call attendance (especially for large groups of people) by combining the calendar invitation with reminder emails. Key times to remind people are a few days before the call. For example, if it’s a Monday morning conference call, send a reminder email on Friday before everyone mentally clocks out for the weekend. For an afternoon conference call, I’ll remind people that morning so they include this obligation on their list of to-do’s for the day. If you really have a busy/forgetful group, send a final reminder within the hour of the call taking place. That way the call information is right in front of them and they have time to wrap up that other work project that may have gotten in the way.

  1. Have an agenda.

I’ll say it again, organization is the key to running a productive conference call. This starts with a focused agenda. Make sure someone is tasked with creating an agenda for the call and circulate this agenda with each of your reminder emails. When participants can follow along with the discussion items, this keeps them engaged and prevents the conversation from drifting all over the place (mostly). Most importantly, you won’t forget to cover an important item, reducing the number of follow-up calls or emails you’ll need to have.

  1. Designate a note-taker.

With an agenda, note taking is easy. However, the biggest mistake people make is not designating who will take the notes and send these notes to the group after the conference call. The designated note-taker should not be the same person leading the agenda. You want to pick someone who doesn’t need to speak a lot during the call. Also, the note-taker should be someone who pays attention and is detail oriented. It’s easy to miss things on a conference call if you’re not paying close attention and asking for clarification, when needed.

  1. Be mindful of time.

Just because you have an agenda to follow doesn’t mean you can let discussions go on and on and on. Set an expectation for the duration of the conference call. Most commonly this is one hour. Schedule it as such on your calendar invitation so everyone blocks off the appropriate amount of time. Next, stick to that time. If you’re a half hour into the call but only on your first agenda item, you need to wrap up discussion or make the decision to quickly move through your other agenda items. Long, drawn-out conference calls are likely to have attendees drop off or find reasons to avoid future calls. Keep things short and focused.

  1. Set a date for your next call.

Before you adjourn the meeting, be sure to set the date and time of your next call (if needed). Not doing so while everyone is on the call is a huge missed opportunity. This way you can quickly get everyone’s input on availability and avoid the dreaded “reply all” emails of everyone hashing out their schedules. Additionally, you can prompt everyone to add the next conference call to their calendars and you can include the reminder in your meeting recap email.

  1. Email a meeting recap with action items.

Finally there is the meeting recap email. This is possibly the most critical piece of a productive conference call. It’s convenient for the note-taker to be the one responsible for sending out the meeting recap email. This should include a really boiled down summary of the call notes. I strongly recommend assigning names to action items and making this font bold and red. People will clearly see what’s assigned to them. Give these action items a deadline. Finally, remind people of the date and time of the next call.

By doing each of these seven things, you are far more likely to run a productive conference call in which people will willingly participate. Best of all, you’ll actually get things done, rather than spinning your wheels and wasting hours of your work day!

When you participate in a conference call, how highly would you rate productivity on average? Share your favorite tips for making business conference calls more efficient and productive by leaving a comment below!

 
 

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