Modern technology can make holding a conference call or video conference a breeze. But there's still a fair amount of work and organization involved in planning and holding an effective conference. Before you decide to invest your time (and money), you should examine your reasons for wanting to schedule a conference call or video conference. If your reason is listed below, you're on the right track.
- You need the interaction of ideas and opinions to create a plan, program or fully realized concept.
- You want to encourage a positive group dynamic or build team spirit.
- You have only a short time to build consensus or reach an agreement.
- You need to explain a complex subject or introduce a new concept or product.
You're wasting your time (and everyone else's) if your reason for holding a conference call or video conference is among the following:
- All necessary participants cannot be available at the same time.
- You or the other participants don't have time to properly prepare.
- Participants cannot be available for the time required to properly discuss and consider the issue.
- You have a simple message to deliver or question to answer.
- You are imparting information that does not require discussion or an immediate response.
If you and your staff are new to video conferencing, you might want to take a refresher course in the importance of proper body language. During a video conference, if your mouth is saying one thing but your body is saying something else, viewers are going to be confused about your message. The non-verbal cues we give and receive during a conversation can have a powerful impact on the message we take away from a meeting. It's important that your body language reinforces what you are saying during a video conference.
Here are a few tips for projecting good non-verbal cues and reading the body language of others:
- Eye contact holds the listener's attention and expresses interest, sincerity and confidence.
- Lack of eye contact implies dishonesty, furtiveness, discomfort or lack of confidence.
- Smiling when you speak focuses attention on you. People respond positively to smiling faces. Smiling also decreases tension and projects friendliness, acceptance and cooperation.
- A furrowed brow or frown indicates disagreement, tension, discomfort or confusion.
- Relaxed arms and open palms suggest honesty, acceptance and a desire to negotiate.
- Crossed arms or balled fists indicate disagreement, tension, refusal or anger.
- Leaning forward signals concentration, interest, concern, acceptance and approval.
- Leaning backward signals resistance, doubt, disinterest or dismissal.
To ensure a successful conference call, you need to create an atmosphere that encourages participation. Here's how:
- Keep an open mind. Leave your preconceptions behind and open your mind to new thoughts and ideas.
- Be friendly. Begin the conference call with a smile and a greeting.
- Respect differences. You will encounter many different personality types and personal styles. Look for the positive aspects in each and harness them to reach the group goal. Make an effort to allow every voice to be heard.
- Recognize individuals. Let individuals shine within the group. Acknowledge and seek out people with special expertise or talents to share.
- Give credit. Thank and recognize the ideas of others. Acknowledging the contributions of others fosters trust and confidence.
- Accept challenge. Accept criticism without getting defensive. If your ideas or opinions are challenged, meet that challenge with explanation, discussion and persuasion.
- Be yourself. Be sincere. There's no need to play a role or try to be what you're not. Be content to be yourself.
- Be responsive. Watch the participants for verbal and nonverbal signals and respond. Look for signs of inattention or boredom which may indicate that the meeting has gone on too long or that one person or view has become too dominant. Lack of eye content or a high-pitched voice can signal anxiety. Ask what the person is feeling and why. Use these signals to keep the group focused and on task.
The differences between men and women in and out of the workplace have filled volumes. When teleconferencing or video conferencing, it helps to understand the underlying difference in approach. As women became a more powerful force in the workplace, the differences in the way men and women communicate generated significant academic study. In the 1980s, Georgetown scholar Deborah Tannen succinctly summarized more than a decade's worth of linguistic research into what has become a widely accepted belief: Men talk to deliver information and women talk to create relationships. Tannen called these two styles of speech report talk and rapport talk.
Though oversimplified, this observation has been popularized in books such as John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus to the point that it is universally accepted as the defining statement about gender and speech: Men talk to deliver information. Women talk to make friends. Or, as Rob Becker says in his funny one-man Broadway play Defending the Caveman: Men are the hunters, always focused on the target. Women are the gatherers, always seeking more information.
In the workplace, we have learned the dangers of stereotyping, but there is a kernel of truth in the general concept. Numerous scientific studies have proven that men and women do use their brains differently which often results in different thought processes and communication styles. Cultural learning exacerbates these differences. In teleconferencing or video conferencing with business colleagues, encouraging both communication styles can build consensus and lead to more creative problem solving in the pursuit of your goal.
In an interesting experiment, an American university professor divided students into two groups. Both listened to the same lecture by a native speaker of English. Each group was shown a photograph of the purported speaker. The group that was shown a photo of an obviously American speaker exhibited greater comprehension of the material than the group which believed it was listening to a non-native speaker. Both listened to exactly the same speech delivered by the same individual.
Personal assumptions, cultural bias, gender, age or racial prejudices, education preconceptions, and power hierarchies – so many factors affect the way we perceive others. Even when we speak the same language, these biases can affect the way we hear and understand each other. In communicating with foreign customers or colleagues in a teleconference, the effort must be made to set aside our cultural differences to understand each other. Often cultural references and idioms get in the way of clear communication and repetitive efforts must be made to arrive at a shared understanding. Video conferencing can present additional challenges where body language and gestures common in one culture may give unanticipated offense in another.
Many companies that regularly do business in foreign countries have implemented cultural advisor services to assist their employees in putting the company's best foot forward. If your company does not offer such a service, you can find many country-specific websites that provide helpful advice on bridging the cultural gap by entering a search for foreign customs + business meeting. Proper advance preparation will ensure a smoother, more productive teleconference or video conference with your foreign counterparts.
So you've scheduled a teleconference—great! Now you want to make sure that it is successful and meets your goals.
Here are some ways you can ensure a successful teleconference:
Send out reminders:
Of course you have the teleconference on your calendar, but what about everyone else?
Even if they have written it down, they could get caught up with something and not pay attention to the time. A reminder will jog participants' memory and is a great way to maximize attendance. You can actually send out two reminders—one the week before and another a few hours before.
Watch the clock:
Don't let any participant drone on (and don't drone on and on yourself either). Only the featured speaker should speak at length. If you find that someone is making long-winded comments or trying to push their own agenda, don't be afraid to steer the teleconference back to the main topic. Make notes of hot topics for future teleconferences.
Have a well-timed agenda:
Just as you don't want one person to go on and on, you also don't want to spend too much time on one issue. On the flip side, you don't want to jump from topic to topic at a speed that will leave the participants dizzy. Be aware that a teleconference should not be exhaustive. They should be informative, but every aspect of a topic cannot be covered. Decide just what information you want participants to leave with after they hang up.
The great thing about conference calls is that they can be recorded for future use. An audio, video, or web conference is not a one-time only event.
You can make previous conferences available to your staff as a teaching/learning tool. If someone was out the day of the conference they can still catch up by listening to/viewing it.
And you can also make them available to customers to inform them and market your products and services. You can create a library of past conferences and make it available on your website.
These conferences can also be mined to data. No one can remember all that took place during a teleconference and if you were the one moderating the conference you’ll remember even less than others. So go back, listen, and take notes that you can use in the future.
Your Marketing and PR departments can also use these conferences for sound bites and media-friendly quotes that can populate press releases, brochures, and other marketing materials. Just be sure the clear it with the individual you want to quote. If they work for your organization, this probably won’t be a problem. If they are from outside, you may even want to ask them to sign a release beforehand and then just let them know later what quotes you’ve decided to use.
Making a conference call or audio workshop memorable and having attendees leaving, but remembering what fun they had and all the great new people they met is an art. Much of it comes from getting the teleconference participants to interact with each other in a relaxed and stress-free atmosphere. Lightening the mood and providing a lot of lighthearted topics and free interaction within the group is one key element in making a conference memorable. Below is a list of other ways you can make your conference call or audio workshop something to be remembered and talked about for years to come.
- Think about the liberal use of humor. Remember to be cognizant of taste, of course don’t use off color humor or jokes stay safe. But like the entertainment elements, when incorporated into presentations these help to lighten the mood for attendees.
- Have teleconference conveners and staff interact with the group throughout the event. This not only helps attendees identify the people running the show, but it serves the purpose of lightening the mood and presenting additional networking opportunities when the time for follow-up starts after the call. If your staff is small, use your own staff to act as attendees and use pre-planned questions to start of the interaction at your free exchange or question and answer time.
- Play upbeat music where people enter and leave the conference call. Choose music and lyrics that reflect the conference theme. This can also make for a good conversation starter among attendees. If your attendees know each other or have had some interaction with each other, allow for casual open conversation between participants before the teleconference starts.
- Have the phone registration line staffed by outgoing employees who have a great telephone presence. This leaves an energetic and upbeat initial impression about the teleconference and enhances the anticipation for your event.
Most people don't have any idea what it takes to put on a successful conference call or audio workshop. What they DO remember, however, is how much fun they had, who they shared stories with, and having a good laugh. It is widely known that people relax when they are happy and they also learn faster and remember more. By being astute in your planning, you can make your next teleconference or audio workshop something to be remembered by making sure it incorporates many elements of "fun".
Most conference call organizers think that building in fun or irreverent activities will make people think they are being "silly", but when the teleconference staff starts thinking of and planning fun activities, they start feeling much more positive and energetic about the whole conference. If YOU are having fun, it becomes infectious and the teleconference attendees will join in. Take your teleconference seriously, but not yourselves! Below are some ways to infuse an element of fun into your next conference call or audio workshop and make your attendees really remember the good times they had there, the great information they received, and the great contacts they made.
- Use a title that promises fun AND reflects the theme of your teleconference. You can always have a serious subtitle. Try and reflect the promise of fun in your pre-conference communications.
- Open the call or audio workshop with a light-hearted opening that plays off its location, theme, and the nature of your audience. Remind attendees that the point of the conference is to meet new people, get new information, and most of all to have FUN while doing it.
- Make sure that you circulate the names of attendees and business names prior to getting on the phone, if appropriate. Better yet, depending on your teleconference and how much advance notice you have, ask each attendee to send you a one sentence blurb on a specific fun topic like favorite ice cream, food or pet and include this in the email introduction prior to the call that will list the attendees. If appropriate, you could even include the email addresses and phone numbers of participants so that contact and networking can be done after your event. This may not be appropriate in all circumstances but would definitely work in interoffice teleconferences or team events.