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  • Ensure your recordings cannot be disputed. Feb 6, 2018

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    Occasionally audio recordings of interviews or meetings are made because there is the possibility they will be used in legal proceedings. When this is the case, you need to make sure that, as far as possible, the recording cannot be disputed.

    Therefore, when you hold the interview, here are seven tips to follow to ensure that the resultant recording cannot be discredited.

    1/ At the start of the interview and recording, state the date, time and, if important, the location of the interview. This means there will be definite time-line for the interview, which can be useful if there are any breaks or pauses.

    2/ Each person in the room should announce their own name, title and any other relevant information. It should go without saying that only those people who are involved in the interview should be in the room (believe it or not, we heard a recording of disciplinary meetings held in a cafe!).

    3/ Get the subject(s) of the interview to confirm that there is no one present who hasn't introduced themselves. You don't want anyone trying to suggest there was another person in the room, but who didn't speak.

    4/ Get the subject(s) to confirm that nothing about the topic of the meeting was discussed before the recording started. That way, no one can say at a later date, that certain verbal facts or evidence was provided, yet there was no record of them.

    5/ If there needs to be a break or pause in the meeting for any reason, make sure you give the time the interview was paused, and then the time it is was restarted. Again, get the subject(s) to confirm nothing was discussed during the break.

    6/ If anyone has to leave the room, then announce this. If they then re-enter, again state it. Similarly, if someone else joins the interview, announce their arrival and get them to introduce themselves. It is also good practice to ask the subject(s) to confirm only the only person who introduced themselves came in.

    7/ When the interview is finished, state the time again. This again gives an accurate indication of how long the interview was, preventing arguments of "Oh, they only interviewed me for five minutes."

    These seven tips take very little time, but could save a lot of problems later on. You don't want to be discredited and your interview(s) disputed in a legal case, which could then cost your company a lot of money in settlement.

    Ashley Price is the Proprietor of The Audio Typing Service, which, for over 21 years, has been providing a fast, accurate and confidential service to companies needing transcription services, both in the UK and round the world (including Australia, Abu Dhabi and the Netherlands).
  • Tips for recording telephone meeting or conference calls Jan 29, 2018

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    Although you need to hold a meeting with one, or more, people, sometimes getting together in the same location simply isn't possible, and you have to resort to the telephone (or Skype).

    You may be doing research and need to interview individuals, or you want to hold a conference call with multiple participants. So, you want to make you get the opinions and views of everyone and decide to make an audio recording of the call. However, there is more to it than just sticking your phone on hands-free and placing the recording device next to it.

    (And just to cover the legality of recording a telephone conversation, you don't have to inform the other parties you are recording the call if the recording it purely for your own use, and no one else will hear it. However, it is only polite and always good practice to inform everyone.)

    Here are my top five tips for recording telephone meetings or conference calls to ensure you get the best results possible.

    1/ Going hands-free makes things "echoy"

    While the simplest method for recording a call is to put the phone on hands-free and placing the microphone next to it, if the other participants are also on hands-free, this will make them very echoy, meaning they are much harder to understand. Ideally, it would be best if you could request the others don't go to hands-free, but this may not be possible, or may seem impolite.

    2/ Keep still and don't make a noise

    If you are recording the call, you need to make sure you sit as still as possible. It is tempting to do other things, or fiddle with an item while the other person is talking, but if that is picked up on the recording, it will lead to disappointment that vital and important information was missed. We have had recordings where the person has been making notes on their laptop while the discussion has been taking place and, unfortunately, the only sound we could hear for most of the one hour recording was the researcher tapping away at their keyboard (so, it's a good idea, to not use the laptop or PC for recording the conversation, unless you are not going to be using it for anything else at the time).

    I know with a long interview or meeting, you may want to have something to eat or drink, but again, the packaging or cup and saucer, etc., can make a lot of noise, so try to either hold off until after the meeting, or have the items placed some distance from the microphone. When you listen to the recording you want to hear what the other person said, not the scrunching of the packet of biscuits you were eating from, or the stirring of your tea.

    3/ Find a quiet environment

    Pretty obvious, but we have still transcribed telephone interviews where the person doing the recording was in a noisy environment, or was sat next to an open window which looked onto a busy main road, meaning the noise of the traffic and roadworks were picked up on the recording and making the other participants hard to hear.

    Try and find a quiet room and either close the windows, or sit as far from them as possible. It may also be a good idea if you have been able to find an empty room to use, that you put a note on the outside of the door saying you are recording a telephone conversation. This should stop people just wondering in and chatting without realising (again, something we have had to deal with on many occasions).

    4/ Don't interrupt or speak over the other participants

    Although we never intend to do it, it is all to easy to suddenly jump in with a comment or point about what someone is saying, while they are still speaking. Of course, with recording a telephone conversation, your voice is going to be louder, drowning out what is said by others.

    Let the person finish what they are saying, and give them an extra second or two, just in case they are only pausing before carrying on.

    5/ Make sure notification sounds are switched off on your PC, laptop and mobile phone

    This is especially important if you doing a Skype call and are using the PC/laptop/phone for recording the conversation. There are lots of audio alerts that can be set up to remind you of different events: when you receive a new email, if someone sends you a message on social media, reminders from your electronic calendar, someone texts you, etc. While the occasional beep isn't much of a problem, if you are someone who gets a lot of these, then you may find not only does it affect the recording of the conversation, but, if heard by the other participants, it puts them off what they are saying and interrupts their flow, as they wonder if there is a problem.

    So, where possible, switch your phone to silent, and turn off all other notifications on your PC or laptop. It will save you having to keep explaining every couple of minutes.

    Following the above tips will help to ensure that when you record a telephone conversation, what is said by the participants is recorded, and not drowned out by noises that would have avoided easily with a little forethought.

    Ashley Price is the Proprietor of The Audio Typing Service, which, for over 21 years, has been providing a fast, accurate and confidential service to companies needing transcription services, both in the UK and round the world (including Australia, Abu Dhabi and the Netherlands).
  • Voice Recognition for audio transcription Jan 22, 2018

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    When VR will work and when it won't...

    It sounds so simple: get some voice recognition (or, more accurately, voice-to-text) software, get it set up, then play your audio recordings of dictation, interviews, meetings, focus groups, seminars, etc., into the microphone and let the computer do all the hard work of the actual transcription...

    Ah, if only life were that simple.

    Sadly, computers aren't at the stage where they can do all the typing for you. Yes, there are instances where they can be a big help, but we are still a long way off before you can let the computer do all the hard work.

    Dictation is probably the one area where using voice recognition software will save you a lot of time, but you still have to dictate direct into the computer, or if recording the dictation in advance, make sure you do all the punctuation, layout commands etc.

    If you have a modern smart phone, with either Android or Apple operating systems, then you may already have played around with voice recognition with their respective virtual assistants ("Ok Google" for Android and "Siri" for Apple), however, you may not have yet tried dictating using your phone. Now, when I send texts or post messages to social media, most of the time I have dictated what I want to say instead of tapping away at a virtual keyboard. And this same technology can be used for dictation of letters, reports, etc.

    Admittedly, it takes some getting used to if you have never done dictation before (and not everyone is comfortable with it), remembering to say "comma", "full stop" (or "period"), "new paragraph", and so on, takes time. Admittedly, these could be inserted after you have dictated the text, but that only works for relatively short pieces. If you had a 10-page report, that you had to go back through and put in all the punctuation, layout etc., then it will become time-consuming and may have been quicker to type it manually in the first place.

    You also have to understand that the software won't be 100% accurate, and does take some training. Although you can speak at pretty much your normal speed, it does help to say the words clearly. And it may still get punctuation wrong, e.g. you want a comma inserted and instead the software puts the word "comma" in. But, aside from these problems, it can save a lot of time.

    However, where voice recognition doesn't work is when it comes to recordings of interviews, meetings, focus groups, etc. Even the producer of the top-selling voice recognition software, Dragon Naturally Speaking, admit their software isn't designed for multiple participant recordings.

    Voice recognition software isn't trained to recognise more than one voice for dictation and, even if it could, the resulting document would be very hard to read. There'd be no punctuation or formatting either, so a simple piece like:

    John: Hello, Jane, how are you? I hear you won a big contract yesterday. Well done!

    Jane: Hi, John. I am very well thank you. Yes, I did. I was surprised the contract came in to be honest, but I had been working on it for months...

    If you played that into voice recognition software and it could understand what was being said, it will come out as:

    Hello Jane how are you I hear you won a big contract yesterday well done hi John I am very well thank you yes I did I was surprised the contract came in to be honest but I had been working on it for months...

    Again, this isn't so much of a problem with the above, but imagine if that interview had gone on for an hour. You'd have lots of pages made up of one long sentence, which would then need extensive work to get the formatting and punctuation correct. Now think how much worse it would be if it was a five-person focus group?

    So, if you have recordings of interviews, focus groups, etc., you are still going to have to transcribe them manually for now. Or, better still, save your time (and tired fingers), and hire someone else to do the transcription work for you.

    Ashley Price is the Proprietor of The Audio Typing Service, which, for over 21 years, has been providing a fast, accurate and confidential service to companies needing transcription services, both in the UK and round the world (including Australia, Abu Dhabi and the Netherlands).
  • 5 Tips when recording meetings Jan 15, 2018

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    Having someone taking Minutes during a meeting is fine, however, sometimes the meeting is far too important to rely on the notes or memory of the Minute-taker. For more on this, see my previous article: Why You Should No Longer Takes Minutes During Meetings.

    This is where an audio (or, even better, video) recording can be far more beneficial, but how do you ensure you get the best recording possible?

    You need to do more than just stick the recording device or microphone on the table. A little forethought and preparation will make the difference between being able to hear every word, or finding people were too quiet or drowned out by background noise.

    Follow these tips and you won't need any specialist equipment, even a smartphone with a decent audio recording app (check it's not one that only records for a few minutes) will be fine.

    1/ CHOOSE THE ENVIRONMENT CAREFULLY

    The first rule is to try and ensure you have a quiet atmosphere to hold the meeting. Obviously, an empty room is going to be better than a busy café, but, whatever the location, there are things to take note of.

    You have booked an empty room, but at the time of the meeting you find it is really warm, so windows are opened meaning the noise from the road floods in. Heavy traffic, blaring horns, roadworks, people shouting all may be picked up by the recorder and possibly drown out what is being said by participants.

    If possible do some tests in the room beforehand. Rather than opening windows, get a couple of fans in the room (but place them far from the position of the interview). If windows are likely to be open, arrange the seating so it is the other side of the room. Even then, some higher pitched noises (like a pneumatic drills) can carry quite a distance so still may be picked up.

    If the interviewee has decided the venue, for example, a café or tea-room, arrive at least 15 minutes early, so you can check out the location before they turn up. Almost all cafés have the coffee machines that make a lot of noise, especially when the server (or "barista") bangs out the old coffee from the filter. Find seating as far from the counter or bar. The same goes for other venues serving food, etc., you don't want the recording drowned out by the clinking of plates as they are stacked up, or the clash of cutlery and its thrown into a tray.

    Another tip for a bar, café, etc.: pick seating up against the wall (and away from the doors leading to the kitchen or toilets). This will lessen the chances of other customers or the staff needing to get past you regularly and ensures interruptions are kept to a minimum.

    2/ CHECK YOUR EQUIPMENT (AND CARRY SPARES)

    There can't be anything more embarrassing as when your equipment stops functioning (oo-er).

    You need to be certain you will be ready for anything - especially if the interview runs for significantly longer than planned. Up to now, interviews have lasted 30 minutes to an hour, but what if the next one goes for twice as long? You don't want to miss the last 15 minutes, which also turns out to be all the most important information.

    Make sure you carry spare batteries, and maybe even a spare recording device. Most smart phones have voice recorder apps so, if you have a smart phone, download one of these and perhaps have it recording as well as the main device, just in case there's a problem. If using rechargeable batteries then ensure they are at 100% charge just before the interview. (We did have one recording to transcribe where the final 20 minutes got ever s.l..o...w....e.....r as the last bit of charge seeped away.)

    Do a test run just before the meeting to ensure you have everything set up correctly. When you come to play back the recording, you don't want to find nothing had been recorded because the microphone plug has been put into the speaker socket by mistake.

    3/ KEEP BACKGROUND NOISE TO A MINIMUM

    Similar to the first tip, but you want to make sure you do not unwittingly introduce any noises that could drown out what is being said.

    It's a warm day and you put a fan on half way through the meeting. Although positioned a short distance away, you don't realise every few seconds the fan blows air across the microphone.

    Perhaps you have decided to lay on drinks and maybe even a snack. There will be the sound of cups scraping on saucers, the stirring of teaspoons in the cups, knives and forks clinking on cutlery, even the scrunching or rustling of a biscuit packet. All of these noises, even if not that close to the microphone, will drown out what is being said. If you are using the clip-on microphones, they can pick up the sound of the wearer chewing their food (not a pleasant sound to listen to).

    It is far better to ensure everything is kept far from the microphones. Perhaps have the food and drink set up at a different table. You can get the drink and snack before the start, or put the biscuits on a plate. If the interview is going to be long, perhaps have a scheduled break.

    If you have gone to someone's office or other area to record them, try and make sure that device is kept away from computer fans, telephones etc. (although, admittedly, the "tower" unit of a PC is far less likely to be on the person's desk these days). Just do a quick test before you start the interview proper to ensure the recorder isn't picking up a noise that you're not aware of.

    Remember, our brains are amazing at filtering out noises we don't need to be aware - but a microphone will pick them all up. The last thing you want it to find the recording is useless because of a sound you hadn't even noticed.

    4/ PUT THE MICROPHONE CLOSE TO THE PARTICIPANT(S)

    Obviously, the most important information is going to come from the interviewee(s), so you want to make sure what they say is picked up. You don't need to worry about recording the questions you ask, as you probably have a note of them anyway. It sounds obvious, but you will be surprised at the number of people who, when recording a meeting, click the "record" button on their device and then place it in front of them - sometimes several feet from the person they're interviewing!

    Therefore, especially if in a noisy environment, make sure you get the microphone as close to the interviewee as possible. Perhaps invest in clip-on microphones.

    Don't assume that because the microphone is sensitive, it doesn't matter if the interviewee is a little far away, remember Tip 3. For example, what if you're in a café and the waitress, asking the people at the table next to yours, what they would like to order, is closer to the microphone than the interviewee? How will you feel if, when you play the recording back, you find yourself listening to someone ordering "the full English with extra toast and a mug of tea" rather than the information you had been waiting to hear for months?

    So, make sure the microphone is as close to the interviewee as possible.

    5/ LAY DOWN GROUND RULES - ESPECIALLY FOR MULTIPLE-PARTICIPANT INTERVIEWS

    If several people are involved in the meeting, then it will be best if you lay down some ground rules for everyone to follow from the start. Otherwise, it is far too easy for the loud participants to dominate, and the quieter, shyer ones get missed, or even some members of the group start having separate conversations.

    When taking part in a meeting, some participants are so eager to have their say they will interrupt and speak over the top of others. This means it will be their voice dominating the recording, and any thoughts, opinions or views of the others will get lost. (And, with over 21 years' experience transcribing focus groups and brain storming sessions, we know that, if the quieter participants keep being interrupted. they will soon stop bothering to contribute at all.)

    In larger groups you may even find occasions where participants will have conversations between themselves while the main meeting still goes on. If these "side conversations" are happening close to the microphone they can drown out what is being said by others. These conversations may have nothing to do with the point of the interview and so will be completely useless. (We transcribed a focus group where all that could be heard on part of the recording were two people discussing how they had travelled to the venue that morning!)

    Depending on the subject of the meeting, you may find two (or more) participants vehemently disagree with each other and start arguing. Again, this can then dominate the recording, so should be stopped quickly. (In one meeting about the effect of climate change, an older male disagreed completely with a young woman's ascertain that trees "take in" carbon dioxide and "give out" oxygen - which is true. The older male kept referring to it several times during the focus group, with sarcastic statements like "If we are to believe that trees..." )

    So, before the start, it is probably a good idea to state something like "Obviously, we want to hear from all of you and everyone's opinions are important to this interview. Therefore, please respect each other, do not interrupt or talk over people, let people finish what they are saying." If you then find people are starting to forget the rules, it doesn't hurt to remind them.

    Finally, again, do your best to have the microphone in the middle of the group, so you have the best chance of picking up what the quiet ones say. If you are involved in doing a lot of focus groups, or interviews with a large number of participants, it might be worth investing in more expensive recording equipment, which can handle two microphones.

    REMEMBER: If it is important enough to be recorded, then it's important to ensure that what is said is picked up on the recording. A few minutes following the above tips will give you the best opportunity to ensure that happens.

    Ashley Price is the Proprietor of The Audio Typing Service, which, for over 21 years, has been providing a fast, accurate and confidential service to companies needing transcription services, both in the UK and round the world (including Australia, Abu Dhabi and the Netherlands).
    JEREMY HAWKE likes this.
  • Why you should no longer take Minutes in a meeting Jan 8, 2018

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    For some interviews or meetings, taking Minutes (or making notes) is fine. However, there are certain times when having an audio recording would be far more beneficial. It ensures accuracy and, should the need arise, it can be used to ascertain exactly who said what. And you don't have to find someone who will take on the onerous task of taking Minutes.

    The main types of interviews to consider recording are:
    • Work/performance related meetings
    • Disciplinary and grievance interviews
    • Termination of Employment interviews
    • Focus groups
    • Brain-storming sessions
    If you, or someone else, is taking handwritten notes of what is said and by whom, there is the chance information can be missed, especially if there are several participants or the interview becomes heated. If the note-taker is also involved in the meeting, then the task becomes even harder.

    It is far better to have an audio recording of the interview ensuring that every word that is spoken (and by whom) is picked up. This means all participants are involved fully and can forget about needing to capture any salient points. If the plan is to have a transcript, then the recording also ensures the resulting document will be accurate.

    Certain meetings, like disciplinary or grievance interviews can be highly emotional and people do forget what they have said. With handwritten notes there's no proof as to accuracy. If a recording is made, it can be played back to check.

    In a follow up meeting we transcribed, the subject of the disciplinary action complained that the transcript of the previous meeting hadn't recorded accurately what they had said. They were determined to prove the process was biased and even the typist of the transcript was against them. The interviewer was able to access the audio recording of the previous meeting and the relevant sections were played back to the person. The interviewer also went on to explain the transcripts were typed up by an outside agency, not connected with the company, precisely to ensure there was no bias. Had the company not been able to do this, it could have led to a lot of time and money being used to redo the relevant meeting.

    Focus groups and brain-storming sessions should also be recorded. You have a large number of participants who will, at times, interrupt and speak over each other. While, admittedly, listening to the recording and trying to hear all that was said in these situations would be hard, attempting to take handwritten notes at the time of the meeting would be almost impossible.

    So, making an audio recording ensures you have the best chance of capturing all the ideas that come out of the brain-storming or focus group.

    So, don't rely on notes or Minutes, have the meeting recorded to ensure you capture everything you need.

    Ashley Price is the Proprietor of The Audio Typing Service, which, for over 21 years, has been providing a fast, accurate and confidential service to companies needing transcription services, both in the UK and round the world (including Australia, Abu Dhabi and the Netherlands).
  • Starting a business? Don't expect friends to buy from you Dec 9, 2015

    So you decide you're going to start a firm that does a B2B product or service. You get all set up and decide you should let all your business friends and associates know. They've known you for a long time, so are likely to put some work your way and possibly refer others.

    So, you call, or send a personalised email, to each of them and let them know about your new venture and... you get little more than a trickle of interest. Most will say they'll have your information, but few actually start to buy from or hire you.

    After a month or so, you think "Hmm, some friends they are."

    But in business there's no such thing as "friends"

    Those people you meet up with regularly, maybe put work or sales their way, always find time to chat with them, etc., become a different person once business is involved. Even offering them "mates rates" or other incentives won't necessarily work.

    As soon as you start a new business you should consider yourself back to square one with everyone.

    Anyone in business is only interested in what a product or service will do for them, how it will help them, get them more profits, lower their outgoings, reduce waste, cut down on completion times, etc. They are very unlikely to start using your business just because it's you, you still need to show them how your business will help them.

    However, as these people know you, they are more likely to meet up with you and give you time to present your service or product.

    So, if you start a business, by all means let everyone know about it, but don't expect all your friends to immediately switch over to using you. It is down to you to show why they should use you.
  • Ink and toner cartridges: Which you should use and why it matters Oct 28, 2015

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    Original, compatible, imitation, re-manufactured...

    There are so many different types of cartridge out there for both ink and laser printers that it can all become confusing. So here's some definitions:

    Original
    As it sounds, this is the genuine, original brand from the maker of the printer (e.g. HP, Epson, Brother, Canon) and is guaranteed to work in the relevant printer. If there is a problem with the cartridge then you should be able to speak to your supplier or the maker of the cartridge for assistance and advice.

    One complaint often made about original cartridges is how expensive they are. However, this is like many products where the main unit uses consumables (e.g. razors with replaceable blades). The unit itself was very cheap, but the consumables are expensive to replace. Often the unit is made at a loss and the company gets the profit from the replaceable parts.

    However, be aware and look out for the term "remanufactured original" or similar. These are not the same. See below for more detail

    Compatible
    Compatible cartridges have been made by a third party for printers and are often much cheaper than the originals while, at the same time, having little noticeable difference in print quality.

    You can save a significant amount of money by purchasing these compatibles as long as you buy from a respectable company or dealer.

    At Pavilion our two compatible brands are guaranteed to work in the printers they are designed for. Therefore, if a customer has a problem they can just contact us and it will be dealt with.

    Imitation
    This sounds similar to "compatible" and some use the two terms interchangeably, but there is a big difference.

    Imitation cartridges are usually very cheap (even compared to compatibles) and poor quality. At best you will not get the same print quality as an original or compatible, at worst they can damage the print head or even the whole printer if they leak!

    Some of these are also illegal as they break copyright laws of the original manufacturer.

    If you have any problems it is very unlikely you will have anyone to complain to, as many places that sell these have no proper (any?) customer service.

    Remanufactured Original
    Some retailers offer these and occasionally people fall into the trap of seeing the word "original" and not realising that these are not.

    Basically, a remanfactured cartridge has had the original casing replaced or refilled (possibly with third party ink or toner).

    They should work in the relevant printer, but you will need to check what the terms and conditions are if there is a problem.

    "Which should I use?"
    From the above definitions, it should be clear that you should stick to either original or compatible (if buying from a respectable source), especially if you care about your printer being damaged.

    Unfortunately, there is still a big trade in the imitation cartridges, especially on auction websites and similar. You might be saving yourself a few pounds by purchasing the cheapest cartridges possible, but what happens if the print quality is below what you would expect, or, a month later, a cartridge leaks and you have to replace the printer?

    If you would like a price comparison on ink and toner cartridges, do not hesitate to contact me direct, or see the Pavilion Office Products website.
  • The best day to cold call Sep 28, 2015

    So when is it? Which day is the best day to ring a prospective customer? When are you most likely to find the contact in, get their attention and arrange an appointment or make a sale?

    There are those people out there who hate cold calling and they will find any excuse to not do it, including saying which days are the worst. But if you listen to them, you'll notice that by the time they've finished their list, there's no days left...

    Those who hate cold calling say "Don't call on a..."

    Monday: People have just come back from the weekend. They will be fed up and tired, they will have all their emails and post that has come in over the weekend, to catch up on. If I phone them on that day they'll be angry and probably won't even talk to me.

    Tuesday: You know, I read somewhere that Tuesday is the most productive day of the week. So, who wants to disturb people then? They'll be wanting to get on with their work, they're not going to want to speak to me.

    Wednesday: I would never think of calling on a Wednesday. It's the worst day, people are going to be depressed about it being half way between the two weekends. Best to let them just get on with their work.

    Thursday: No, you must not call people today. They're really busy now, the weekend is coming into view and they're starting to realise how much they have still to do for the next two days. They're not going to speak to anyone.

    Friday: Almost as bad as Monday, people are going to be super busy in the run up to the weekend, they simply won't take calls, and they won't be interested even if they do speak to you...

    I know these excuses because I used to use them myself. Now, however, I have got over my fear of cold calling. Okay, I'm not going to say I enjoy it, I don't, but I don't find excuses for not doing it. I simply take a deep breath, put on a smile, grab the handset and get on with it. I phone from 9:30am until my list of calls is done and that's Monday to Friday inclusive.

    So the answer is...

    The best day to cold call is ANY DAY!

    As long as you are polite, not pushy and accept that if the person says "No", you should get off the phone quickly, then you'll be fine no matter what day or time (although, I almost guarantee you won't get a good response at 3am on a Sunday).

    And rarely does "no" mean "never" - it just means "not at this time". People are busy, they won't remember your call a day, a week or a month later. If you get a "no" today, leave it a month and try again. However, people will remember you and vow never to buy from you if you keep phoning and being aggressive, and that's when "no" will mean "never".

    Don't bother referencing your previous call, by saying something like "You may remember I called you back in..." almost certainly they won't remember. Treat them as a brand new call. Leave it to them, if they do remember you, all well and good, but don't assume they will.
  • Recording a Meeting? Here's 5 tips Jan 22, 2014

    Recording an important meeting or interview can be the best way to ensure you capture what is said and by whom.

    There are certain meetings that should always be recorded. If you are not sure which ones, see the blog post When to record & transcribe a meeting for more information.

    However, there is no point recording the meeting or interview (I will just use "meeting" from now on) if no one can be heard on the resultant audio file.

    So here's five tips to ensure you get the best quality recording.

    Before the meeting
    Check all your equipment works and have spares to hand. Try to have time to set up the recorder and do a test run in advance, you want to iron out any problems. Ten minutes of testing now can save a lot of anger and disappointment later if it's only after the meeting you find out the microphone wasn't switched on.

    Have a quiet environment
    Obviously a meeting that is important enough to be recorded, should be held in a quiet area - a separate room for example. But noise from machinery or from outside (if windows are open) should also be considered, all of which can be picked up by the microphone if it is particularly sensitive. You don't want to end up with half of what's said drowned out by the workmen digging up the pavement.

    Position of microphone and other objects

    Our brains are remarkable at filtering out noise that we don't want or need to hear. We quickly get used to the hum of the fan, the chink of cups on saucers, the shuffling of paper, the crinkling of the packet as someone takes another biscuit. Soon, we don't even notice these background noises. Yet a microphone will pick up all of them.

    Make sure there is nothing near the microphone that makes a noise loud enough to drown out people on the resultant recording. Some microphones are so sensitive they can even pick up the sounds of someone chewing and swallowing (which, while it may not be too loud, is, nevertheless, very unpleasant to listen to).

    While you cannot dictate what participants wear, someone with a lot of metal bangles or bracelets can affect the quality of the recording if they move their hands a lot in front of the mic, the jingling from the bangles will again make it hard to hear what was said.

    So try to keep everything that may make a noise away from microphones. If it is to be a long meeting then why not schedule a break period for people to have drinks and a bite to eat.

    One more thing, even silenced or switched off mobiles can cause interference on the recording. Ask people to make sure their phones are kept some distance from the equipment.

    Set some "ground rules"

    At the start of the meeting ask people not to interrupt or speak over each other, otherwise what is said by both participants will be difficult to hear. This is especially useful if you have a dominant, loud speaker, and other, quieter people. Some people are shy and don't like to be interrupted and, if it keeps happening, will eventually just stop contributing to the conversation. Everyone's views are important (or why else would they be there?) and you want to capture what they all say.

    If it starts to happen, don't let it go on too much. Maybe even stop the people and ask who was speaking first to finish what they were saying. Doing this a couple of times, will remind people not to interrupt.

    Make sure you follow the same ground rules. We've done recordings where the person conducting the interview or chairing the meeting, seems to think the "no interruption" rule was for everyone else, but not themselves.

    Get everyone to introduce themselves

    If you are going to get a third party (someone not involved in the meeting) to transcribe the recording, then help them out by getting all the participants to do a brief introduction. They should state their name, job title, and any other information that maybe relevant to the meeting (length of service, number of staff under them, etc.) This is especially useful if there are several in the meeting. It allows the transcriber to get used to each person's voice and makes for easier identification when typing.

    Following the above tips will ensure the recording of the meeting or interview is the best it can be. You don't need to have high-end, expensive kit to get a good result. We've had very poor digital recordings, but excellent, very clear ones on audio tape.

    If you are on Twitter, you can follow @AudioRecordingTip for regular tips and advice on getting better recordings.
  • Recording an Interview? Quiet Please! Sep 10, 2013

    You've finally got the interview you've been trying to arrange for months. You've sat the person down, set the recorder going and hold the interview.

    You rush back to your computer to transcribe what was said. You hit PLAY and... your face drops as you realise the recording is useless.

    So many things can seriously affect the quality of the recording. The biggest one being background noise.

    Obviously, it's best to hold the interview in a quiet room rather than a noisy cafe, but even small noises, if they happen near the microphone, can drown out what is said. Someone stirring their tea, taking a biscuit from a packet, shuffling papers, picking up or putting down a cup on its saucer, the clatter of cutlery... all can make it very difficult, if not impossible, to hear the participants in a recording (and possibly temporarily deafen the typist if they are wearing headphones).

    If the interview is really important It is worthwhile doing a test run for a minute before properly starting the interview, then you can playback the recording and check everything is clear. You might pick up the fact that the fan, that is slowly moving side to side, blows air straight into the microphone every few seconds drowning out everything that is said.

    Very good quality microphones can even pick up the sound of someone eating or drinking. Not only can this make what is spoken difficult to hear, it's not very pleasant for the typist having to listen to someone chewing and swallowing.

    So, if at all possible, try to ensure that noise is reduced to a minimum. Sometimes a quiet atmosphere can change quickly. What was a quiet room suddenly becomes noisy because a door or window is opened and the microphone then picks up all the new noises.

    Just a few simple checks can mean the difference between an accurate transcript and one that has lots of gaps because of noise on the recording.
  • Treat everyone with the same respect Jun 18, 2013

    Just because someone isn't the decision maker, it doesn't mean you shouldn't treat them with respect.

    There's the dreaded "gate-keeper", the secretary that is hired to keep sales callers etc., away from their busy boss. There's also those you meet at networking events who cannot say "Yes" to having a further meeting, to listen to your sales pitch.

    It's amazing how many people treat non decision-makers as "nobodies" and give them very little respect, then wonder why they don't make the sale.

    It doesn't matter whether you're talking to the front desk receptionist, the secretary to the Chairman, or people at networking events - you should treat everyone with the same politeness and respect that you would give to the decision maker you want to speak to.

    Why?

    In some businesses the proprietor, CEO, Chairman, etc., ask their staff how the sales person treated them. I have done that and I have refused to use firms that have been rude to the people who work with/for me.

    And it's just the same at networking. Just because you're talking to the "accountant" from a certain company, vwho's not the decision-maker, doesn't mean they're not important. Treat every contact you have with company as an extra stepping stone or "in" to eventually selling to the company.

    Imagine the scenario. The accountant goes to a networking event, she gets talking to someone who is rude to her and not listening to what she says. Can you imagine what will happen when she gets back to the office? One of her colleagues, or maybe even the boss, will ask "How did the networking go? Meet anyone interesting?" The accountant will probably respond with something like "It was really good. I had a great time. Oh, except for the idiot from this stationery firm", she says, as she flings the business card down, "He was a right prat. He seemed more interested in trying to look down my top than hear what I had to say." What's going to happen when that chap then contacts the firm to try and sell them stationery?

    So, remember, most people have l.o.n.g memories when someone has been rude to them. Why make yourself unlikable? It takes no more effort to get everyone to like you.

    You also don't know the future of that "nobody". Today's receptionist could be tomorrow's CEO or, at least, the CEO's PA. If you had been rude to them, they'll remember and you'll have a very difficult time trying to get to speak to the decision-maker, let alone selling to them.

    And if you think the "today's receptionist is tomorrow's CEO" may be be an exaggeration, I can give an example of something similar. APA Secretarial did some work for a company back in 2011. We hadn't heard from them since, so last week I sent an email to our contact from 2011. Back then they were an assistant in one of the departments, dealing with payment of invoices. When they replied to our email yesterday, they are now the Personal Assistant to the Vice-Chairman of the whole company. I am so glad we were polite to them when we were having a few initial problems getting payment in 2011. That PA is now passing APA's details to all the assistants to the Executive Directors and Heads of Departments. They are a company that operates in 17 countries!

    So, it pays to be polite to eveyone you meet. Remember: Today's receptionist could be tommorrow's Chairman (or the Chairman's PA).
  • When Minutes of meetings aren't enough... Jun 14, 2013

    For some meetings having someone take notes or "Minutes" is fine, but there are occasions when it would be far more beneficial to have a more accurate account, especially when it comes to certain meetings like:

    • Grievance
    • Job reviews
    • Disciplinary
    • Termination of employment
    • Appeals
    In all of the above it is far better to ensure a recording is made of the meeting. This way there can be no confusion over what was said, or just relying on someone's notes or, worse, mental recollection.

    Having an audio recording is also a good idea if there are several people present. Despite everyone's best intentions, participants will interrupt or speak over each other to get their point across. This can lead to the person making notes having to keep asking people to repeat what they have said. It could also mean particular points are missed.With an audio recording there is no confusion or doubt over who said what, or even what they said. It is there, on the recording for everyone to hear. Copies of the recording can be given to everyone concerned or, a transcript of the recording can be made for future reference.

    People's memories cannot always be relied on. I was at a meeting recently and when the Chair asked if everyone agreed the Minutes of the previous meeting, one person said they couldn't as what they had said had been recorded incorrectly by the Secretary. Fortunately, as this was an important meeting, an audio recording had been made and so what they had said was played back to them. They had no recollection of making the comments. Without that recording, it would have been very difficult to persuade them that the Minutes had accurately reported their remarks.

    So, don't rely purely on notes or people's recollections, get into the habit - especially for extremely important meetings - of recording them.

    If transcribing the recording, consider getting a third party (someone outside of the company or organisation) to do the typing. This way the work is completed by someone completely independent and there cannot be complaints that the typist was biased.

    Also, keep the audio file until you have a signed agreement from everyone concerned that the typed transcript is an accurate word-for-word copy of the audio recording. Once you have these agreements the recording can be deleted (a typed document takes up a lot less room on a computer and is easier to copy and forward to any necessary third party, compared to audio files).

    Digital recording equipment isn't expensive nowadays and even the cheaper "dictaphones" are good enough if you just need an occasional recording to be made.

    So, to ensure a complete and accurate record is made of any important meetings, ensure they are recorded and a transcript is made.
  • Networking Tips: The P Word... Mar 27, 2013

    One word!

    That's it. This one word will do more for your networking than any tips or advice you can get from me or any other networking expert, coach, trainer, book, seminar, etc.

    In fact it's the same word that, if you use it properly, will give you more success in every area of your life. If you truly have this then there's no stopping you.

    What's the one word?

    PASSION!

    That's right, "passion". If you are truly passionate about what you do, then you will succeed.

    There is nothing like listening to someone who is passionate about what they do, be it their work, a hobby, a sport, whatever, their enthusiasm seeps through in their conversation and, more often than not, you cannot help being swept up by it. You find yourself listening, fascinated by a topic that, 30 minutes before, you'd probably hadn't got any interest in. There's a chap at my Rotary Club who has such a deep passion for steam engines, and old ships, etc. Normally, that sort of thing bores me, but to hear him talk about it, I can almost imagine being on the steam engine, with the sounds and the smells.

    On the other hand, I've listened to people who talk and I've practically had to keep pinching myself to stay awake, they've been so b...o...r...i...n...g. If they don't have any enthusiasm for what they do, how can they expect me to buy from them? Have you listened to presentations where the clock appears to have stopped, the speaker is droning on, and everyone is in a semi-comatose state? It's painful isn't it? All you want is for it to finish. Your mind wanders and you think about anything other than what is being talked about. And it doesn't matter if it's a one-to-one situation, it still happens.

    So, from this point on, become passionate about what you do. If you've been doing the same thing for a while, you may have become jaded, so remind yourself why you started it in the first place, what you hoped to achieve, look at how far you have come. You might just need a few days break to clear your mind and refocus. More than likely you'll feel the old fire burning bright again. However, if, after doing this, your passion is still not re-ignited, then perhaps it's time to stop and do something else. Don't be embarrassed, it happens to lots of us (even me), it's best to move on and do something that really drives you and gives you that passion again.

    Passion, a real love for what you're doing, can drive you beyond all goals or expectations. You find you'll work for longer hours, days will fly by, because you don't feel like you're working. They say find a job you love and never work again, and it's true.

    There are lots of techniques and tips in this blog, but nothing will work as much as having passion. Don't be false, don't pretend as people will pick up on this. You have to be truly passionate for it to radiate through in everything you do and say.

    However, be aware there's a huge difference between passion and aggression. You are not trying to force your information on to other people, you shouldn't be dominating the conversation, stopping them get a word in, bulldozing over what they say and constantly interrupting them. All the other rules of good networking apply, but when you are talking about what you do, your natural enthusiasm shines through.

    I've read advice that tells you to speak and act the same was as the person you're talking to. I've seen stuff that says you should copy their gestures, and even their breathing. Use words they can relate to, dress as they do, etc. But, it seems to me that if you have a natural passion then any human being will pick up on this, no matter how they or you speak, and they will quickly begin to like and trust you. And anyway, I don't know about you, but I don't necessarily agree with the "do as they do, dress as they dress". If I were a motor mechanic, I'd still expect my accountant, legal advisor, bank manager, etc. to be smart and professional. If they turned up in dirty clothes and a battered old car, I wouldn't think much of them.

    So, forget all the stuff about trying to copy the person you're talking to and just remember one thing, be passionate! It will do more for you than anything else you will ever learn (but keep reading the tips on my site: www.bananaoffice-networking.com).
  • What Sport Can Teach the Entrepreneur Aug 30, 2012

    Anyone who watches sport, even casually, will have seen matches where a team or sports person has come back from almost certain defeat to win. I bet many people probably say to each other "Wow, they sure were lucky!"

    But luck has nothing (or very little)to do with it.

    "Luck" is just an excuse used by unsuccessful people for other person's success. They cannot bring themselves to admit that the other person just worked harder, smarter, researched more, practised more and persisted, where the unsuccessful person probably rushed or gave up.

    An often quoted anecdote about luck involves the golfer, Gary Player. The story goes that he had hit his ball into the rough and he had the crowd of spectators surrounding him as he took his next shot. He swung his club, the ball shot out of the rough and landed perfectly. Someone in the crowd called out "Gee, you sure are lucky, Gary". Gary is reported to have turned to the spectator and replied "I am lucky... and the more I practice, the luckier I get!".

    There is something within every sports person or team that comes back from almost insurmountable odds to win a match... and it's something that entrepreneurs should learn from and use.

    That "thing" is SELF BELIEF.

    Having the confidence in yourself that, no matter what the situation, you are going to do the very best you can, is what turns a seemingly lost position into something more positive - maybe even leading to success.

    On the other side of the coin, if that same sports person had no confidence, or no self belief then they would have lost (in fact with that mindset they would have lost before they had even started the match).

    For tennis fans, there are two matches in the current (2012) US Open that show this point:

    • Janko Tipsarevic vs Guillaume Rufin. Tipsarevic lost the first two sets 4/6 3/6, leaving Rufin just needing one set to win. Many players may have crumbled under this and Rufin would have been on his way through to the next round. However, Tipsarevic had great mental strength to not let his opponent run away with the match. He had the self belief to get stuck in and do what he can to improve the situation. Tipsarevic went on to win the next three sets: 6/2 6/3 6/2

      There didn't appear to be anything wrong with Rufin, health-wise; he hadn't gotten an injury, in fact he seemed to playing as well as he had in the first two sets. Tipsarevic came from so far behind come back and win those sets so comprehensively because he had great self belief and confidence.

    • Alexandr Dolgopolov vs Jesse Levine. This match is an even more impressive example of self belief and confidence. Dolgopolov was 2 sets and 0/4 down (for non-tennis fans - Levine just needed to win 8 more points to win the match)! You can only imagine the mental pressure that Dolgopolov felt as he started the 5th game, knowing he was only a few minutes away from potentially going out in the first round of the US Open!

      But, by refusing not to give up and instead doing his best, Dolgopolov came storming back to win the last three sets: 6/4 6/1 6/2.

      Again, how could that win have happened if Dolgopolov hadn't had the mental strength and belief in his own abilities?
    So, you have two amazing examples where the player, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds came back to win.

    Now there are probably many of you (tennis fans) who are thinking "Hang on, both Tipsarevic and Dolgopolov were playing lower ranked players, so of course they could come back." In answer to this I would mention that last night Britain's own Laura Robson beat Kim Clijsters in two straight sets! Clijsters took Robson to tie breaks, but the young woman's mental strength and self belief (remember she had also given Sharapova a shock - nearly beating her in one of their recent matches) that has taken her through to the next round.

    "The above is all well and good but what if they are already successful? Here they are on to certain victory, what can that teach me?"

    Simple - sport can teach you not to be complacent. Don't think just because you're successful at the moment it will last. You have to keep working at the basic things to ensure that you stay successful.

    An example from the last day of the 2012 Golf Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

    Ernie Els tees off at the start of his round 6 shots behind the leading score. Whereas Adam Scott was so far ahead that, short of something disastrous happening to him, he was practically guaranteed to lift the Claret Jug.

    Golf is a game where you don't play your opponent, they cannot directly affect your game. It is you against the course and your own mental strength.

    Ernie Els played his own game, he is quoted that at best he hoped there might be a play off. He kept himself in check, his mental strength and self belief was evident as he picked up four shots with birdies on the 10, 12, 14 and 18th holes.

    Els's opponent Adam Scott, in contrast, must have felt on top of the world. He was starting the day with a huge lead, what could go wrong? There can sometimes be a false sense of security when you have such a big lead over others. You think to yourself you have a such a big cushion between you and the player in second place, that your mind can wander (maybe even to getting your hands on the prize). This is a mistake. You need to focus on the here and now. Just because you have that cushion doesn't mean you can rest of your laurels.

    Adam Scott started his final round... with a bogey (dropping a shot) on the first hole. "Not to worry," he may have thought to himself, "I'm still several ahead". And that may have calmed him temporarily because he went to get a shot back at the very next hole. "See, I'm fine". But immediately on the 3rd hole, he dropped a shot again. This must have shook his confidence slightly, because he played the next two holes solidly. But the 6th hole he dropped another shot.

    At this point he must have done something to try and sort himself out mentally, because the next 6 holes he played without dropping another shot (but also not getting any back). Then on the 14th it looked like he was getting back to form, he picked up another shot.

    Perhaps that raised his confidence too high again, and he became complacent because the final four holes he suffered a complete meltdown, dropping at shot at every one... meaning he ended the competition in second place.

    In post-match interviews Scott says he felt calm on the last day and wasn't nervous. But perhaps he wasn't nervous enough. If he had concentrated on the basics of his game he could have gone home with the Claret Jug and £900,000 in prize money.

    So, all of the above shows you that you need to have the self belief and confidence that, no matter what you face, you can make the situation better... and maybe even succeed. However, just concentrate on "your game" and doing the best you can.

    And if you are successful and beating your opponents, don't be complacent. Don't think to yourself I'm so far ahead, I can relax a bit... your competitors maybe closer than you think, especially if you start to make mistakes because you're not concentrating on the basics.
  • Networking Tips: The Business Card Mar 20, 2012

    The most important tool for any networker is the business card. This is one item that is worth taking a lot of time and thought over, and then purchasing the best quality you can afford. Remember, the card will remain with the people long after they met you.

    However, having a great card isn't just enough, you need to know how to treat both your own and others. Here, therefore, are some tips:

    1/
    Address or Not?
    It is becoming a popular trend to not put a proper “postal” address on cards. It seems that with email addresses, mobile phone numbers, possibly landline number, website, etc., the address of the premises is not bothered with. However, I think this is a mistake.

    Even in the modern business world with different types of communication, an address goes a long way to giving additional security that your business is legitimate and not “fly by night” or “here today and gone tomorrow”. Anyone can set up an email and website account, as well as get a mobile phone, for very little money. So give your prospective customers that extra reassurance that you are a reliable, trust-worthy business.

    There is an argument that you might not want to advertise the address if you trade from home as you don't want people to turn up unannounced; but if this is the case why not add to the card “(visitors by appointment)”?

    2/
    Keep your cards up to date
    If any of your contact details change then get new business cards printed – do not make the changes by hand. Doing so will indicate that your business is doing so poorly you cannot afford new cards. I was actually given a business card by someone where every contact detail had been changed except the email address. The original details had been scribbled out and the new information written in blue ink, it looked terrible – and this was a chap who was supposedly a business advisor!

    3/
    Treat your business cards like confetti
    Don't be stingy with your cards, keep a good supply with you at all times and hand them out like sweets. If you only have a few then get some more printed, as many as you can afford. You don't want to be in a situation where you meet your ideal client and find you have no cards left and are reduced to scribbling your details down on a piece of paper (or, worse, someone else's card – yes I have seen this happen).

    Your card should be handed to everyone you meet (unless they specifically say they don't want it), even if they don't offer you theirs. Remember, while the person you might be handing your card to might not need your services, they may know or meet someone who does. An example was a chap who dealt in short-notice removals, turned up to an event I was at. I got chatting with him, but he never offered me his card (in fact, he didn't even talk to me for long). Just a few days later I met a couple at another event I was attending. During the discussion they mentioned that they needed to move at short-notice for some legal reason. If only I had had that chap's card and he had been a bit more polite.

    The one caveat to this is don't go to a networking meeting and, a few minutes before you leave, rush round trying to push your card onto people. I saw someone do this at an event. He butted into conversations, saying “I'm about to go, but I thought I'd leave you my card,” and be off to the next group before people could reply. I saw quite a number of people leave his card on the table after he had gone.

    4/
    Treat other people's business cards as priceless
    When you take a card from someone else, don't just immediately stuff it in your pocket, or add it to the pile you already have, with nothing more than a cursory glance. Instead, take time to study it as it could contain the answers to questions you are about to ask. I never ceased to be amazed at the people who ask me where we are based, after they've taken my card (it has our address on).

    The card might also give you information for additional questions to ask, which will help keep the conversation flowing.

    If you receive a card you really like, mention it to the person, this will warm them to you and indicates you have looked at it properly (it should go without saying that you shouldn't mention mistakes, etc., or that you don't like their card). Why not ask them about how they chose the design, etc. They will happily tell you and you continue to build a friendly relationship while not talking “business”.

    Never, ever, write on someone else's card – at least not in front of them. If you want to scribble down information for later referral, then carry a pocket notebook. After you have finished talking with them, pop the notes down and put the card on that page as well. If you really must write on the business card, wait until the person is out of view. They might have spent a lot of money on their cards and will feel it rude that you appear to be defacing it. On the other hand, never be precious about your cards, if someone wants to scribble down information on it, let them.

    If you are at a more formal event where someone's business cards are handed round from person to person, only take one from the pile if you really want it and, if you do take one, file it away as soon as you have studied it. Never leave other people's cards on the table at the end, to be thrown away. I make a point of always being the last to leave events where cards are handed round in this way. I often pick up several of my cards that people have probably either forgotten to take with them; or only took them from the pile out of politeness and had no intention of taking them.