Secrets to Successful Conference Calls: Part One – Setup and Testing

Everyone knows that the first step to hosting a conference call is finding the best conference call provider. After you know who you’re going to use as your conference host, you can turn your attention to planning and executing your event. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some of the best tips that we’ve learned in our own experiences, as well as some of the impressively smart things our customers have been doing.

Here are the first two secrets to successful conferences.

Conference Size Estimation

Let me just be blunt with you – if this is your first conference call, you’re likely to overestimate. Let’s say you send out 300 invitations to a conference, my experience tells me that your turn out is going to be around 150. Because you’re going to pay based on how many lines you reserve, you want your estimate to be as accurate as possible. In addition, different kinds of conferences will yield varying results.

Here are three of the most popular kinds of conference and the kinds of attendance results we see.

First Time / Sales Types of Conferences

We have a client who hosts conference calls that are advertised on infomercials - you might have seen them if you’re up at two in the morning. They have three thousand people sign up for one conference call and in the end only about six hundred show up. Make sure the provider you’ve chosen will allow you to make changes 24 hours in advance of your call; you don’t want to pay for over estimations.

Mandatory Events

We have another customer who hosts conferences that are state mandated classes. People sign up for them and her attendance runs around 85%. Anything that is a mandatory meeting will have a higher than average attendance because, well, people have to attend the conference.

Pay to Attend

A conference that requires people to pay to attend will yield close to 99% attendance. No one is going to waste good money to pay for a conference they don’t attend. One of our customers sets up classes they teach through our conference calls. We know if they ask for 150 lines, they will have 150 people show up.

Considerations For Last Minute Events

Remember that the more last minute your conferences, the lower your attendance will be. More than once, we’ve had people set up last minute operated calls where they invite fifty or sixty people and only end up getting ten or eleven total attendees.

If you’re an AccuConference customer, we always suggest using registration pages on conferences where you’ll be sending fifty or more invitations. This will help you to know exactly how many of your invitations have been accepted and filled out.

Testing and Quality

Sound quality is one of the biggest issues we hear about on conference calls. Not all phone systems are created equally and your method can cause any number of poor connection issues. There are two things that can drastically affect your conference sound quality – like feedback, cut outs, and general disruptions to your conference.

  1. Phone Equipment
  2. Phone Provider

Before you start your conference, you need to run down some basic testing steps both before your call begins and while in pre-conference with your speakers.

  1. Get a co-worker and dial into a test conference the day before your conference. Testing is all about creating a dress-rehearsal, so mimic the same set up that you will have when it’s time for the live conference. Use the same phone, put yourself in the same room, and let your co-worker tell you about any sound issues like echo or feedback.
  2. On the day of the call, use a pre-conference to check the same things with your other speakers. Make sure that everyone can be heard and that the lines aren't cutting out.

Correct estimates of conference attendees and testing your equipment before the call are very important parts of your conference planning session. If you need some help planning your next event, give us a call and let us take it from there.

Distracted on a Conference Call – It’s Probably Your Brain’s Fault

If you find yourself distracted on conference calls, you might feel like you have a case of Monday’s – Friday’s. While that may be true, your distraction could be due to your brain feeling out of its element.

Your brain likes to sort out patterns and enjoys when things are predictable. When talking to another person face to face, your brain is able to draw conclusions about what the other person is saying to you and conversation will flow smoothly. It’s like a little computer, taking everything, processing it, and then spitting out answers to questions or making decisions. The problem is that your brain is always looking for data and there are some situations, like an audio conference that can be very hard on your brain.

Why Can Audio Conferences Be So Distracting?

When you and your brain walk into a physical meeting, your brain begins to break down the people in the room.

Cool – there is the speaker and her name is Judy. I can tell because she’ll be in front of the room so I won’t be trying to figure out who is speaking when I heard a voice.

On an audio conference call, your brain is severely limited on the data at hand. You only have voices to go by and since your brain wants to know everything, it starts to feel a bit like scrambled eggs. You’re trying to listen, but someone has a bad connection – which breaks up the predictability of speech your brain is loves.

While you are trying to listen and absorb the information being said, the different parts of your brain are trying to figure out who is speaking and if there is background noise that you can’t recognize, pieces of your thoughts will then be allocated to trying to figure out what that noise was.

So How Do We Combat Scrambled Egg Brain?

Add a visual element to your presentation. A simple PowerPoint will do the trick. Visual aids enhance a speaker’s word and provide positive impacts to your conference calls. Nearly 85% of information is retained when a visual aid is paired with an oral presentation.

Use conference features to limit the noise. Using things like lecture mode or muting your line when you’re just listening on a conference will lower the background noise and give all the participant’s brains less to focus on and figure out.

Have an operator host your next call. While not exactly a “visual” element, putting an operator on your call can signal to the cognitive areas of your brain that the particular event is “special” and deserves some extra attention. Operator calls can also take the names of your participants so that they can be announced by name if they ask a question. This will relieve the brain of some of that “who is speaking” pressure and allow them to focus on the question.

Remember that for as much as we like to say we can “multitask”, our brains do not function like little computers. For every task you add while focusing on another, you take away the available capacity for your brain to fully work on another task. You may be doing ten things at once but each task is only being filled at 5% capacity.

10 Things You Hate About Conference Calls

For the most part, our users see conference calls as a necessity to any business. They save you from traveling long distances to have meetings and get things done without having to congregate into a large conference room.

However, that doesn't mean there aren't things that people don’t like about conference calls. I did some fun little searches like “I hate conference calls!” and here are some of the things I've found people dislike the most about their conference calls.

  1. Open conferences with more than 10 people.
  2. Confusion over “hold” versus “mute” on telephones.
  3. Conferences that begin or end late.
  4. Reading directly from presentation slides.
  5. The sound of someone typing an email (or beating their keyboard with a baseball bat, sometimes it’s hard to tell).
  6. Intro tones
  7. Dogs, babies, and the cashier at 7-11.
  8. Poor sound quality.
  9. Calls that happen during lunch hours.
  10. A ten minute conversation about what the conference call will cover.

The good news is that these kinds of things are easily managed within a conference call provider’s features or just by preparing your meetings in advance.

Send out an agenda to set in advance what the call will be about and how long it will take, so that there’s less worry over running over at the end, and eliminate the need to discuss what the call is about.

Use lecture mode with any conferences over ten people. You’d be surprised the difference in the amount of background between five participants and ten. You should also turn off intro tones on calls this large, because nine people coming onto a conference at once is a lot of noise.

For smaller calls, let everyone know they can use *6 to toggle mute on and off for their own line so that background noise is at a minimum. This will also prevent the hold button from being used, which many times will deliver some sweet hold music or even a company announcement into the conference line.

Sound quality can be affected on your conference by a number of things from using a cell phone with a poor connection down to the kind of speaker phone you are using. Using a VoIP phone could be affecting the quality of your connection depending on the kind of service you have.

It’s always a good time to review your conference call etiquette and contact us if you have any questions about feedback, noise, or just want to learn more about what you can do with your conference call.

Solving Invalid Code Messages

Invalid code messages are one of the biggest topics we get calls about. Getting an invalid code message happens to all of us and no matter what the reason; the most important thing is being able to get you into your conference. If you are getting an invalid code message, please call us right away and we can look to see why and advise you on what to do there.

Of course, the solution to all of your invalid code messages is to set up QuicklinQ conference lines. With a QuicklinQ conference no code is needed to enter the conference. Just dial a phone number and you’re placed into the conference.

Call us to find out more – 800.977.4607.

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post…..

Here are the three biggest culprits to invalid code messages.

Closed Accounts

When you call us, we’ll check to see if your account is closed for any reason and then let you know what we need to reactivate or who we need to talk to. This is an easy one to fix and once we get an administrators approval the account can be reopened in a matter of seconds.

Technical Issues

Anything that interrupts the transmission of data can cause us to not get the right conference code. These things range from using VOIP phones or even background noise.

Wrong Code / Wrong Phone Number

Sometimes it’s just a matter of using or entering the wrong code.

If you’re getting an invalid code message give us a call right away. We can even call you and join you to the conference if we need to.

How to Introduce Your Company In Presentations

This week, I've been working closely with a new customer about setting up a large event. He’s never done an event like this before and wasn't entirely sure where he should begin his conference. Introducing your company is likely high on your list of things to cover on your conference call, and here is the approach I suggested to my customer. You only have two minutes to get the attention of an audience, so you want to give an overview of yourself in quick, yet succinct manner.

Answering three simple questions will help you introduce your company without taking up a lot of time.

What’s Your History?

Remember those two minutes? Start by giving your participants a brief understanding of who you are. Tell your audience about your beginnings. How was your company formed? What was the idea? Your company story is the key to getting an audience to understand who you are, where you came from, and what you faced to build.

What Do You Solve?

If I were to tell you what we do, it would be that we help people communicate. It’s not about web conferencing, audio conferences, and the other products we sell when introducing ourselves – it’s about how we make things easier for you. Instead of telling your participants that you sell something, tell them what you do. People will be more receptive to this approach rather than feeling like the entire conference was an opportunity for a sales pitch.

What Sets You Apart?

When you’re introducing you’re company, be sure to mention what sets you apart. Whenever I have the chance to introduce AccuConference to someone new, I mention our customer service philosophy, because that is the center of what we do differently. In order to memorable, you need to define the company’s special qualities so that you can be the first thought when your services are needed.

You can tailor these questions to introduce your company whether it’s your next large conference call or a cocktail party. By setting up your company and explaining how you solve problems for your customer will peak the interest of anyone who needs a company like yours.

How do you introduce your company in a presentation?

How Much to Charge for a Webinar

Webinars and conference calls can be a great way to reach more consumers and make connections for sales. More and more it's becoming a viable strategy to educational institutions and companies and before we start to talk about deciding how much to charge, there’s another question you have to answer first.

Should You Charge For Your Webinar?

Deciding to charge comes down to what kind of content you'll be presenting. Not all webinars are created equally and fall within one of two categories: premium or marketing content. Marketing content tends to be the kind that is designed for gaining exposure to a product or brand. Premium content is information that you can’t get anywhere else.

Let me give you an example – we have a customer in the banking industry that offers webinars on recent changes, updates, or new regulations in that field. The information is not available anywhere else and it's education in nature, which makes it acceptable to expect a small payment for attendance.

Now that you've decided if you want to charge for your webinar, you should do a bit of research before you choose an amount.

Start With a Google Search

The truth is that a webinar is online content and a lot of people have the expectation that it should be free. Start with a Google search in reference to the topic that you want to host a webinar about. Even if your webinar is "premium" content, if you see a lot of free content already out there it might not be the best idea to charge.

Ask Yourself What Makes Yours Exclusive

If you decide you still want to charge for your webinar, you need to determine what makes yours exclusive and special. Is there a very popular speaker on the conference? Are you getting insider information that participants usually can’t get unless they attend a conference or pay a membership fee? If you’re going to ask people to pay to attend something make sure that they are paying for something worthwhile. Before people choose to spend money on something they are going to want to decide what's in it for them – so make sure you have the answer to that question ready.

Check the Industry Cost

Do a quick search and see how much it would cost to attend a class at a local university for this information and include any potential travel costs like airfare or hotel. Beating that cost should be easy considering everything you need is online, including materials. Now, find out if your competitors are providing any webinar content like this? Can you beat their costs? Starts there and then adjust your cost as needed to cover any expenses.

The truth is that when it comes to 'what to charge for your webinar' there isn't a perfect answer. There may be times when you feel that charging wouldn’t be the best idea so I say you should always go with your gut. Just remember that your webinar attendance cost should come down to the value and not the money you want to make.

Recording Consent Laws – What to Know

One of the questions we get often is about the legality of recording conference calls. Recent events have raised the question of when is it legal to record a call and, most important, how do you know?

There are two kinds of recording laws – one party and all party consent.

One party consent means there must be at least one person being recorded to agree and everyone else does not need to be notified. Generally speaking this means that a person can record their own phone calls without letting the other person know about the recording.

All party consent means exactly what it sounds like – if you're going to record a conference call or meeting, you must have the consent of anyone who is in attendance. References to two-party consent makes an assumption that there are only two people on the conference, but be advised if you're in a state that is referred to as two-party, and you have three people on the conference, everyone must know about the recording.

Most states have adopted the federal policy of one-party consent, but there are a number of states that require all party consent (California being one of them) and I came across this recording resource for journalists that break down the requirements by state.

Federal law prohibits recording any conversation outside of one-party consent. So if you had an idea of setting up a microphone to hear what people are saying about you – think again, it's not legal.

For conference calls that cross state lines, I want to issue a word of caution here. The law isn't really clear on this one. You are in Michigan, and you call into our conference lines (which are in Georgia), and are joined by people around the United States for a call. Some court cases have suggested that because the call crosses state lines these become federal jurisdiction and the one-party consent statute would apply. The best rule of thumb is to treat any conferences that involve parties from multiple states as “all-party” consent.

So where does the Federal Communications Commission come in? FCC rules state that you can gain consent in a few different ways: gain verbal consent from the parties involved, play a "beep" at various intervals, or announce that the call is being recorded at the beginning. If you've ever had an operator assisted call with us, you know that we always announce that calls are being recorded and it's to ensure that both your call and our company adhere to FCC regulations.

There are limited exceptions to state consent laws – like on conferences with investors, recording is mandatory. When legal warrants are in play for wiretapping, no one has to be notified that calls are being recorded by law enforcement.

While it’s always a great idea to record your conferences, we want to make sure you understand that there are varying laws out there on when you have to disclose. If you need to turn on recording announcements, you can do that through your customer account or give us a call and let us walk you through that.

Disclaimer:This blog post is not meant to give legal advice, but rather to inform you of the different laws that exist in regards to recording consent.

A Film Lovers Guide to Creating Stuff

I love movies. There is nothing more relaxing than finding a good flick on TV or Netflix, curling up, and enjoying it. Sometimes, I want something light-hearted and spend my weekend watching the Harry Potter series. I use my subscriptions to expose myself to movies that I used to love (Airplane!) and to find things that I can’t wait to watch again. What makes a film hold special places in your heart? How do the best filmmakers and directors speak in a way that sticks with you?

All creation starts in the same place – with an idea. No matter if we’re thinking of a new novel to write, a new piece of art, or a film, it’s all about the idea. What is it about a film that stays with us – that something we saw 20 years ago can make us feel just as amazing when we see it again? How do we apply the things that make films special to what we want to create?

Be Honest and Sincere

One of my favorite movies is Girl, Interrupted. I really enjoy the character study, but the film, for me, is sold at the end, when the main characters are finally having it out. (I know the film was made years ago but SPOILER ALERT ahead) When Winona’s character tells a young Angelina Jolie that she is “dead already” it is one of the most riveting moments of the film. It’s point blank honest where one character tells another exactly what the audience was thinking.

People tell stories at the beginning of presentations and webinars that are about the mistakes they have made along the way. The best characters that we encounter in books and movies are the ones that appear as a bit of a mess. Be honest in your creation – don’t be afraid to personally admit or create a character that is flawed. It’s the truth that people want to hear and enables you to be relatable.

Create to Entertain and Not to Sell

I watched this great documentary called Best Worst Film surrounding a little known 80’s flick known as Troll 2. Everyone, including the actors, freely admits that yes the movie was terrible, but the film still has this national cult following. People love both because and in spite of it being terrible. In the documentary the director was asked about how he felt about the critical review of his film and his response was that he wanted to entertain, and if he achieved that, he was happy.

Now I’m certain that the director of the “worst film ever made” didn’t set out to have that stigma on his film, but in the end, it made people happy, and he’s okay with that. When we start the creative process, I don’t think the primary of goal of making money should be where we begin; our goal should be to create things that entertain. When we start with the idea in our head that we’re going to be a best seller or a top grossing film I think we lose something in the creative process. We start to nit-pick our ideas when we see them through the lens of “well no one is going to buy this” when what we need to do is create something we can love, and if other people love it too, that’s great.

Emotional Reactions

I’ve often heard that when it comes to an audience’s reaction with a film, the filmmakers just want you to feel something. Obviously the preferred reaction would be for you to leave the theatre and say it was the “best film ever” but let’s be honest – the list of Oscar Winners is short. Movies like Schindler’s List do not create those kinds of happy emotions, but they do make you think, and for a film maker that’s a perfectly acceptable reaction.

When you start to create something, you should have an idea of what you want your audience to feel by the end of your creation. Do you want to write a book that will make people happy? Are you trying to create something that will stir controversy and conversation? Determine that in the beginning but don’t be afraid to let something change you along the way. Creation is kinetic.

Creativity begins in many of the same places and just because our end result isn’t that of the film maker, we can still learn a lot from the way they approach their craft, and apply it to the way we approach ours.

Are You Trustworthy?

There's a lot of rhetoric that surrounds the conversation of "great customer service". I've seen a hundred posts about what makes a company stand out and I've even written a few of those. A couple of weeks ago, a customer that I talk to on a regular basis told me that she trusted me. It resonated with me - what is knowledge about a product unless you're communicating with trust backing up your words.

What makes someone trustworthy? Are we immediately to be fighting against the stigma of negative customer service experiences that we've all had? What can we do to immediately create trust between us and our customers?

Know and Be Upfront About Limitations

If a potential customer calls me and says they need seven thousand lines on a live conference, I am honest about our limitations in that area. This practice doesn't mean that you have to turn the business away but you need to make sure you’re setting the expectations. "Well, no, I'm sorry, we can't do that but here are some other options that might work for you," is a perfect response. Just because you're letting the customer know what they can expect doesn't mean you can't find out more about their needs and try to work a solution into what you can do for them.

Demonstrate Knowledge about Your Products

One of my favorite discussions to have with a customer is to make suggestions that I think are useful for their needs. When someone calls with questions, the expectation is that I will know what I’m talking about and be able to help them navigate the full scope of our products. Doing this allows me to assist a customer in choosing what is going to work best for them. Simply understanding how your product bills, special rates, and additional features goes a huge way in establishing trust with customers.

Communicate Consistent Messages

Consistency is a huge key to being trustworthy to a customer. Chain restaurants are often designed and laid out in the same way so that no matter where you are, you are in a familiar setting. McDonalds is a great example of consistent layout, design, and menu. We have adopted the same philosophy here. No matter who you call and speak to, you will get the same answer for all of your questions. It’s a more challenging approach because we don’t use scripts and much of our success in consistency comes down to our hiring process, but it can be done. Delivering a consistent message on rates, technology, and even limitations will plant and grow the seeds of trust between you and your clients.

The truth about being trustworthy (heh) is that you have to earn it. You may not immediately get that relationship with a customer, but from the first time you interact with them, you should be doing everything you can to gain that trust. What do you do to foster trust between your staff and clients?

How to Manage Twitter During News Worthy Events

Social media networks like Twitter and Facebook have been a huge boost to information spreading. More than once, I've seen Twitter get ahead of the regular media channels like television when it comes to breaking events. This can be a great thing but there can be some drawbacks when it comes to sharing information on your social networks. Before you go to rush sending or retweeting something, here are three things to double check before you push out a notification to your followers.

Verify before you Retweet

One of the worst things about Twitter is the desire to be "first" on a breaking event. We all make mistakes when we RT things, but there are some people who will see buzz around a topic, go to a Google images search, and retweet an old or incorrect photo of something. Before you hit that send button, make sure that the image you are sharing isn’t from a prior event being incorrectly associated to something current. Additionally, make sure whatever tidbit you are about to send is true. The University of Washington recently published a study that showed the rapid spread of misinformation in the wake of 2013’s Boston Marathon Bombing.

Credit the Right Person

As images and updates start to make their way around, sometimes the image ends up not getting credited to the right person. Recently, a striking photo was taken from a Frisco Rough Riders game and was tweeted out by a local news organization. The picture gained traction quickly and even landed on the front page of the popular sports blog, Deadspin. The problem is that the image wasn’t sourced to the person who took the picture and originally posted it. When a photo is posted, unless otherwise stated, the rights to that photo are from the original person who sent it out and failing to properly credit could land you in copyright trouble with Twitter.

Check the Timestamp

It’s important when you’re sharing information during a newsworthy event that you are only sharing the most recent information. During severe weather awareness week, the National Weather Service conducted a test of retweets and Facebook shares with a “mock” tornado warning. The good news was that the message reached over 800,000 people on both networks – the bad part was that was over a time period of twelve hours, when the average advance notice on a tornado warning is 15 minutes. Before you hit the RT button, take an extra second to see how old it is. In terms of a tornado warning, if it’s older than thirty minutes, it’s out of date and doesn’t need to be sent. It’s the same with any other breaking news event – things change quickly and before you retweet, you need to ensure that you’re sending only the most recent updates.

Do you pause before you hit the send button? What do you do to make sure that being first doesn’t mean that you are sending out old or incorrect information?