How To Prepare For Your First Conference Call George Page

If you've only attended a conference call, but never actually hosted or presented on a call before, we've collected our best tips to help make your first conference call a success.

Make sure everyone has the correct time, date, dial-in number, and pin.
Prepare to have to provide this again to those who may lose it or forget or panic before they arrive to the conference call (usually those who are new to attending conference calls).

Hand out agenda or presentation printouts before the call.
Some presenters prefer not to give hand-outs before a call, but it's much easier to track the presentation when you have something to look at. Those who don't give hand-outs before risk getting a lot of questions about whether or not there will be printouts, so just save yourself some time and hand them out before, so everyone has something to look at.

Prepare yourself with back-up notes and reminders to speak clearly and calmly.
Have notes or index cards with your main points and remind yourself to speak slowly. Remember that the faster you go through your material, the more confusion and questions there will be. Plus, as you force yourself to speak slowly, you'll calm yourself down automatically. Not that we're encouraging you to be boring! Nothing wrong with talking animatedly! People love that.

Don't be too hard on yourself when you make a mistake.
You might stumble over words or mispronounce a name, but don't worry about it. Everyone makes mistakes. If you make a mistake, just keep right on going, or chuckle a bit, if that helps smooth it over. Be gracious if someone points out your mistake, and say thanks. People will remember that more than the mistake.

End on time and don't keep people for more than ten extra minutes.
Don't go over by much. If you state your call will be an hour, try to stick to that time. Nothing is worse than sitting for another twenty minutes waiting for the presenter to attempt to wrap it up. People will drop off the call if you keep going for too long. Once you've delivered your message and taken appropriate questions, feel free to sign off.

See, you did it! You're now a pro! A conference call is actually really fun. It's a great way to feel connected on a project, inspire a group of people, or to feel as if you're in the same room and not a long ways away.

Conferencing with Twitter George Page


Let's say we're having one of those quick conference calls that turns into a big deal.  We're outdialing to get others in the loop, shooting emails back and forth, instant messaging, and switching between lecture mode and open conference to get ideas while maintaining order.  That's a lot of information flying around.

Now let's say we setup a private Twitter account.  We'll call it, "CompanyXconference," and since its private, only our conference "friends" can see what's on it.  Think of it as a virtual whiteboard that never runs out of space, and we hold the dry erase marker.

As the meeting progresses, we tweet questions- and answers - people's ideas, what's being talked about, and whatever else we want to record and share.  Then after the meeting, instead of sending an email of the minutes of the meeting to everyone, people can just look at their CompanyXconference friend.

Audio conferencing and Twitter don't always have to be private.  If we're hosting a large conference for customers and potential customers, a public Twitter board might work better.  We could tweet what part of the agenda we're on and what's coming next.  Any websites we want attendees to check out can be linked in a tweet.  And presentation materials can be distributed/downloaded with tweeted links as well.

Perhaps the best part of a conference call with customers, potential customers, and Twitter is the networking possibilities.  If you're getting people to watch your tweets during a conference, it's an easy step to have them "follow" you and be "followed."  And once they're following you, they'll see your updates and announcements, and you can keep in touch with them; formally or informally.

These are just a few ideas, how have you used Twitter with your business?  Leave a comment and tell us all about it!

Child's Play Maranda Gibson

Child's Play

Top Five Common Courtesies on a Conference Call Maranda Gibson

In line with last week's post on reducing background noise on a teleconference, we know of some common courtesies that help conference calls go better. These are simple, easy to remember tips that improve time management, team building, tolerance, and communication while on a weekly or even daily call.

1. Try not to hog the speaking time. We all know that one person who just has a lot to say (either from too much coffee or too much solitude; one can't be sure of exactly what is the cause) and they just go on and on about little details (or perhaps even needless gossip) that everyone feels is a waste of time. Try giving speakers time limits—say for presentations, ten minutes, for adding something to a conversation, two minutes - and then it is someone else's turn. This usually is only necessary when you have multiple talkers on a call. I know some non-talkative teams using conferences that would love to get anyone to talk for more than ten minutes!

2. Don't react rashly. Sometimes hot topics come up while on conference and the responsibility of everyone on the call is to not get offended and react. True, some jokes are really quite tasteless and some political comments are uncalled for (and quite out of place) but reacting to such things only escalates the drama. Let the team lead handle it or be decisive and gracious if it falls on you to reroute the conversation back to the right topic. Reacting is really not even fair; on a call, you can't see how the comments were said and you can't see body language of the person making the comments.

3. Try to speak to everyone. Sometimes a conference takes place in a conference room full of people while several members dial in. In those occasions, it is really hard for those on the phone to hear if a conversation goes on far away from the speaker. If you're ever in a conference room with people on the phone, try to make sure everyone can hear the person speaking. If that just isn't possible, have someone repeat what was said or send transcripts so that those dialing in are not left in the dark.

4. Communicate conference changes and updates. I can't tell you how many times I've dialed into a conference only to find the room had changed or the time had changed or even the day had changed. Make sure everyone attending the conference knows ahead of time if changes have been made. Sometimes it may become necessary to get replies from team members agreeing to the changed time, just to make sure. Also, if you're sending out relevant handouts that are needed during the conference, make sure to do this well enough in advance that everyone can access them easily for the call.

5. End when you promised. Employees appreciate respect for their time (even if they're on the clock working for you) as much as you appreciate them showing up to work on time each day. As much as you need the conference to begin on time, your team needs it to end on time. Days are busy and people plan other work, out of office appointments, and other calls around these conference calls. The ability to stick to a timed schedule is appreciated and a sign that you take everyone's participation in the call seriously.

These common courtesies are really simple (shows a little can go a long way), but as a manager, nothing is simple (probably because human beings are involved). Managers appreciate employees who are courteous and employees love managers who return the favor.

How To Prepare Your Team For A Conference Call Maranda Gibson

As a manager, you can do a lot to get your team ready for its annual, semi-annual, bimonthly, monthly or weekly conference call (there are all kinds out there, trust me). Or you can assign these tasks out equally among your team. Either way, using these tips to ensure everyone is ready to be at their best while on conference may help you to make your teleconferences the best that they can be.

1. Confirm the day, time, and length of a conference at least three times. Most people just send it out once, and several advocate twice, but we think three times is a charm. Once when you send it for their calendars and schedules, once about a week before (of course this doesn't work if it is every week), and then again the day before. Some folks even send out the morning of the call. Choose whatever seems reasonable to you.

2. Send out handouts a few days before or the day before. This way, attendees have time to look them over, formulate their ideas and thoughts, and are able to prepare effectively. Sending out handouts just before a conference really defeats the purpose of the conference. Of course, it does depend on how much you intend to accomplish during your call, how often you meet, and how difficult the issues are. I advocate the day before or at least four hours in advance of the call.

3. Send out an agenda the morning of the call. Prepare an agenda so that attendees can see for themselves what will be discussed and what they should be prepared to respond to. Another helpful tip is to ask for other items when you send out the agenda. That way, everyone has a chance to take part in the call and the most pressing issues are all included.

4. Start on time, but if folks are running late, be flexible. People get delayed all the time. If most of your group is there, go ahead and start, but if a lot are late, be patient, encourage present participants to review the handouts and agenda while they wait, and hold off for a few minutes. 

5. Be open for questions. No matter how much of an effort you make to get the handouts and agenda to attendees in order to communicate what is to be discussed, be open if some folks are still a little lost. It happens. Life is stressful. Be courteous and helpful, offer to send them the handouts or agenda again, and try to honestly answer questions as the conference progresses. It's really all about attitude when preparing for a conference. The more easygoing you are (not lackadaisical, but laid back and approachable), the better things will go.

Above all, remember that conferences are made up of human beings with many faults and foibles and that the best laid plans can always go awry. If you're prepared and have prepared your attendees, the worst thing that can happen is if the power goes out (and it will), the phone line picks up static (it might), and no one shows up (just reschedule). No matter what happens, it helps to be prepared.

Conference Call Features that Never Quite Made It. Maranda Gibson

Features that didn't make it.

The Leader of a Brainstorm Maranda Gibson

A good brainstorming session has ideas flying all over the place.  Sometimes it's tough to keep up while writing gems down.  Everyone is contributing, jumping in as soon as someone else finishes, and talking as fast as possible.  Unfortunately, most sessions aren't like this.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a brainstorm session is only as good as its leader.  To help us make sure we're good leaders, the Heart of Innovation blog over at IdeaChampions lists ten traits of a good brainstorm leader.  Here are my four favorites:

Number one on their list is to be a brainstorm leader, you must be a conductor.  A lot of times there are multiple personalities and multiple disciplines in the room and you have to be able to manage the ebb and flow between them.  Not to mention keeping the whole idea-train on track.

A big part of a good brainstorm is wading through the okay ideas to get to the gems.  And even then, a leader needs to be a good gem cutter.  Even the best ideas don't emerge fully polished and ready to go.  No, they must be cut and shaped to fit exactly what is needed and what the goals are.

With all the chaos of a brainstorm, there still must be order.  It's your job as officer of the law – or as I call it: sergeant-at-arms - to keep the peace.  This could be as easy as being a traffic cop for whose turn it is to speak, or even stepping in to halt an argument of opposing ideas.

Number four is important - even if it's last on the Idea Champions list.  You have to be a stand-up comic of sorts when leading a brainstorm.  When people share their ideas, even ones they just came up with, they invest parts of themselves.  Egos can be bruised, feelings hurt, and tempers flared.  But that's where humor comes in.  You can defuse tense situations and keep things light - and moving - with a little humor here and there.

Those are my four favorites of Idea Champion's list of ten.  Head over there and check out their list then come back here and leave a comment with your favorites and any other roles you know of necessary to lead a good brainstorming session.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Just One Maranda Gibson

I came across a short post on the SAMBA blog.  It's so short I'll put it here in full:

What if you only had one customer?
How closely would you listen to them?
How fast would you respond to them?
Would they be satisfied?  Happy?  Thrilled?
How special would they feel?
Would they recommend you?

My first reaction was this one customer would be the most important person in my world.  They would have to be – which I think is SAMBA's point.  So what about all of your customers… if you asked these questions about them individually, what would the answers be like?

In most cases, it's probably impossible to engineer your business to run and respond as if each customer was your only customer.  However, what can you do to make each customer feel like they are the only one?

I don't know about you, but I enjoy reading stories about companies doing innovative and creative things to impress or endear their customers.  Southwest Airlines has always done some crazy - and great - things for their customers.)  So what are your stories?  How do you "go above and beyond"?  Put them in the comments section.
Can't wait to read 'em!

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

How to Reduce Background Noise While On a Conference Call Maranda Gibson

I've been on many conference calls with technical difficulties. Either the PowerPoint presentation wouldn't load on the web conference, or the teleconference organizer put all of us on mute and then asked for questions (and couldn't figure out how to get everyone off of mute), or someone tried to stand outside by a freeway and listen to the call on their cell phone making the call practically inaudible. You know how it goes. We've all been there.

A few ways to reduce noise if you're facilitating or listening in on a conference call and the call will not be muted.

1. Call from a quiet location. Please don't try and join a teleconference from a room or place where there are televisions on, cars driving by, copiers running, folks typing on keyboards or talking on the phone, or in a public place with a lot of activity. This can be difficult if you work in a cubicle, so try to think about the best way to take part in a teleconference if that's your locale.

2. Avoid cell phones and speakerphones. If you have no choice, utilize the mute button. Unless you expect to talk through most of the meeting, it will be easier for other participants to hear if you take the responsibility of muting and unmuting yourself throughout the call. Usually this is not a complicated task, just a simple button on and off.

3. Use quality headsets to avoid a "tinny" sound. Avoid low-quality cordless phones as they sometimes create a buzzing background. Most offices provide quality headsets, but if you're attempting to call into a teleconference from your home or from another location, take care to find the best quality phone you can find.

4. Don't use the hold button if your phone system has built in background music or announcements. Just use the mute button instead. That way, you can hear what's going on, but no one can hear you. If you have to take another call, just leave the teleconference to do so. And of course, if you don't have to take the call right at that moment, just let it go to voicemail.

5. Avoid multitasking, such as paper rustling or answering emails, which are picked up by phone. It's hard to resist when the call seems to go on and on and you have many pressing things to finish before lunch. Once again, the mute button is our friend (I use it a lot when I answer email, eat food, or file papers while on certain teleconferences.)

Because audio quality is the most important aspect of most teleconferences, web conferences, and videoconferences, remember your fellow conference attendees the next time you all are on the phone line together.

Here's Your Change Maranda Gibson

Bill Sifflard has made a great point about customer relations… three of them in fact.  He points out that employees - no matter what size the company - have three places while dealing with customers where they can  increase goodwill, loyalty, and even sales.  Those points are the greeting, the follow-up, and the close.  

Using Sifflard's examples, they are "Next," "Anything else," and "Here's your change."

How often have you heard any or all of those phrases?  You probably don't even notice them anymore, except perhaps when they aren't used.  For example, how do you feel when a cashier says something different, like, "Hey, did you find everything you wanted?!"  Much better - I would think - than "Next."

How do you think sales would go in a store that got its employees to up-sell, or suggest compatible products with every item a customer wanted to buy?  How often do you think customers would return to a store that went out of its way to make them feel welcome when they arrived, and appreciated when they left?

Get some friends to walk into your store anonymously to find out what kind of experience your customers have.  Don't be too hard on your employees if they aren't making the most of the customer relationship opportunities.  Instead, bring it to their attention and talk about it.  Let them know why it's important and how sales are affected.  Then brainstorm together on possible things they can say.

Give them a chance to see the benefits of simple phrase and attitude changes.  They, and your customers, should be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

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