Services to Look for in Your Teleconference Provider

Anyone with conference call experience knows the general features and customer service you need in a conferencing provider.  Less well known, however, are the extras that can make your life easier and your conference calls more effective.  Below is a list of services you might want to consider using, if your service provider offers them, that is.

First, an important feature is automatic email reminders to people participating in your teleconference.  Having the option to email participants a week before, a couple of days before, the day of, and just before the teleconference is a powerful way to make sure your teleconference has the maximum participation.

A pre-conference option is indispensable, especially when the organizers of the call are not in the same room.  This option allows you and your team to get together "virtually" just prior to the conference call - separate from your participants - to make any final arrangements and get everyone on the same page.

The Q&A option allows you to manage live question and answer sessions without all the confusion and over-talking associated with open calls.  In Q&A mode, participants push a button on their phone that "raises their hand".  The moderator can then selectively unmute the phone of any participant they choose - leaving all other lines muted - so only one person speaks at a time.  This can be done on the moderator's computer, or simply pressing a “star code” on the phone to take the next in line.  This flexibility and the peace it guarantees is a real life saver.

What Makes a Conference Call Succeed or Fail?

Like any business meeting, teleconferences are either heralded by groans or cheers. The response your teleconference receives depends largely on how effectively you orchestrate the meeting. Knowing what participants hate or like most about teleconferences can help you avoid the pitfalls and hold an effective and productive conference.

The four things people like most about conference calls are:

  1. They encourage group members to participate and share ideas openly.
  2. They foster commitment to the organization by investing participants in the decision-making process.
  3. They produce superior solutions through group participation and effort.
  4. They create a feeling of organizational unity.

The four things people hate most about conference calls are:

  1. They fail to begin or end on time.
  2. They accomplish little for the amount of time invested.
  3. They fail to reach a consensus or accomplish their goal.
  4. They are dominated by a few participants.

Make an effort to plan conference call that will create positive synergy for your business. Avoid holding conferences that are boring, repetitive or fail to accomplish their goals. You should strive to conduct a conference call that follows a specific stated agenda, starts and ends on time, is conducted fairly with an opportunity for all to express their views, and accomplishes its stated goals.

Make Your Introduction Tight and Leave Your Notes Loose

When preparing for a conference call, a speaker often spends a lot of time poring over what they will say and trying to get their planned remarks just right. Then they just leave their introduction up to chance. If you are engaged to speak as part of a conference call that is being sponsored by another organization, it is likely that someone else will be introducing you to the audience.

If it all possible, you should write your own introduction. Why? While there are no guarantees that it will be delivered as written, it may be very helpful.

You will prevent a rambling introduction that can take away time from the actual conference call.

It allows you to decide which parts of your career you want to highlight. You know which part of your experience is most relevant to the audience. It will also give you the opportunity to promote parts of your business that you really want to push.

On the other hand, you don't want to deliver your remarks as if you are reading them word for word from your notes. You want to sound informed, but conversational. So your notes should include all of the important points you want to make, but you shouldn't try to write down every single phrase you expect to say.

A Video Conference Can Bring Characters to Life

During the holiday season, some schools beamed Santa into classrooms all the way from the North Pole via video conference. Students were excited to have the opportunity to actually speak with Santa and discuss their Christmas gift lists.

Besides asking about gifts, they also had all kinds of logistical questions to ask. For example, one child asked if the reindeer get sick. The video conference also gave them time to debate that age old question: Does Santa really exist.

But it wasn't all fun and games. In addition to the fun of Santa's video visit, the children got to practice their interviewing and critical thinking skills. Thinking and asking critical questions is an important part of any child's education.

The holidays are over, but if you are a teacher or instructor, you too can use video conference technology to enhance the classroom experience. Just think about it: if you are studying literature or a particular story, why not bring the characters to life? Sure you could bring someone into the classroom, but a video conference will allow the character to be interviewed in their own habitat or milieu.

Your students will be thrilled with the experience of preparing for and participating in a video press conference with Tom Sawyer, Jo from Little Women, or Peter Cottontail.

Public Speaking Tips—for When You Can't See Your Audience

If you are speaking as part of a conference call, you have to remember that it isn't just a phone call. It is business! You cannot talk the way you'd talk to a friend or relative on the phone.

Act as if the audience can see you
Have you ever been advised to smile when answering the telephone? The person on the other end cannot see you, but they can sense the friendliness of your tone and smiling will help you convey warmth. The same thought applies to public speaking over the phone. If you are slouching, this will come across in your voice. Sit up straight as if every participant can see you.

Work the room
No, you cannot actually go around the room shaking hands, but you can make everyone on the line feel welcome. When people introduce themselves, say hello or make a brief comment that adds onto what they've said.
"I'm Fran from Silver Industrial."
"Hello Fran, I've visited your company's new facility. It is state-of-the-art."

Use imagery to help participants get the picture
You won't have any charts or pie graphs to show, but you can help your audience create mental pictures.
"Industry analysts predict unstable growth in that sector—it will be kind of like riding a roller coaster."
"These variables tend to appear suddenly and the experience can be jarring—imagine yourself in a bumper car being bumped by a several other bumper cars all at once."

Clear Communication Is the Hallmark of Effective Leadership

"If a leader can't get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn't even matter," Gilbert Amelio, former CEO of National Semiconductor and Apple Computer, once said.

In a Right Management Consultants survey of 133 organizations, 40% of managers and executives were found to exhibit strong leadership characteristics. However, of that 40%, fully one-third lacked the communication skills to effectively manage employees. In the business world, an effective leader needs to be a strong communicator. It is not enough to have vision; you must be able to communicate that vision to your employees.

Not surprisingly, effective communication skills topped the list of traits considered most valuable in a manager. In order of greatest importance, the following are the skills companies seek in a successful manager:

  • 47% Good communication skills
  • 44% Sense of vision
  • 32% Honesty
  • 31% Decisiveness
  • 26% Favorable workplace relationships
  • 23% Intelligence
  • 22% Creativity
  • 21% Attention to detail

When you consider the best managers that you have known how do they measure on this list. The ability to lead is tied very closely to the ability to communicate and the ability to motivate others.

When to Schedule a Conference Call or Video Conference

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.

Body Language "Speaks" Volumes During Video Conference

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.