How To Prepare Your Team For A Conference Call

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.

How to Reduce Background Noise While On a Conference Call

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.

Picking the Right Conference Call Service

As more and more companies choose to do business utilizing conference calling, the question is often asked of us: How do I know exactly what kind of conferencing tools I'll need?

We feel that when you choose a conference call service, you should keep in mind future conferencing needs, even if you're sure now you'll never need anything that fancy later on. We always encourage folks to keep their options open.

Accuconference offers a wide range of conferencing tools, some of them you definitely need now and some you don't. However, adding the ability to share applications later is always an option, so no worries.

I just want to host a straightforward conference call.

A simple conference call among a smaller group (less than fifty) will require a conference line, invitations, and a date that works for everyone taking part in the meeting. Check it out.

What if I want to add a PowerPoint presentation?

Web conferencing allows you to share, review and revise documents or web pages, demo products or present a proposal—all in real-time, sharing the same screen space. Look here.

How about video? I really think it's important that people can see me as I speak.

Video conferencing will never replace the in-person meeting, but it will support your business meetings by providing you with unique ways to interact. The online collaborative tools can enhance a meeting in ways that can't be done in person. Find out more here.

Plus, Accuconference offers recording playback at your convenience, secure conference controls right from your computer desktop, and toll-free customer support for any questions you may have. A full list of our customer benefits is here.

Often people aren't sure about teleconferencing because they're nervous about learning how teleconferences work, not sure if everything will run smoothly at the right moment, and general nervousness about having to speak with a group via the telephone.

We can't help you with your nerves (talking on the phone in a teleconference will get easier over time, we promise), but we can promise a stress-free, easy to use experience when you choose our teleconferencing system. Our rates are reasonable and well-priced when compared with other conferencing services, and we offer outstanding customer service. And I mean outstanding. Our customer service specialists will and often do bend over backward to help our clients with any issue.

Still not sure about conferencing even after that amazing list of benefits?

If you have any questions or want more information on how Accuconference can help you with your teleconferencing needs, please let us know.

The End is Near

Proper time management isn't just good for efficiency's sake.  It can help you be successful, accomplish your goals, and not be insulting.  That's a lot to put on being timely, but in certain circumstances, it's dead-on true.

Seth Godin wrote "Plan for the End" recently in an entry in his blog.  By this he meant that almost always a presentation, meeting, or interview has a scheduled ending, and if you don't plan your time right, you risk missing the opportunity to convey your point.

Using a blown radio interview as an example, Seth shows how rambling on with a deadline rapidly approaching can cause you to miss your point and even be seen as an annoying person.  Another example he used was presenters who "need" a few more minutes than they are allotted.  Instead of trimming to be on time, they try to rush through the last of their presentation -- and more importantly -- their conclusion.  Or they go long, waste their audience's time, and lose the audience's attention.

A good way to avoid all of this, of course, is to make sure to work within time constraints.  Another way is a bit different: begin with your main point and work down from there.  Seemingly, it's not as dramatic to not have a big finish, but what's wrong with a big beginning?  And there's nothing stopping you from beginning and ending with the same point.

Starting big captures your audience's attention and they can follow you better as you present supporting ideas.  Then, even with seconds left, you can summarize those ideas and proclaim your main idea again, coming full circle.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

3 Conference Call Habits to Improve

Making a phone call is an integral part of almost all businesses.  Even the street dog vendor occasionally needs to reorder buns.  It's a good thing then that telephones have kept up with the vast changes we've gone through in the past twenty years.  The technology may have improved, but old habits die hard.

1. How many times have you said, "I'll have to ask about that and get back to you"?  How much time has been wasted and progress halted by this phrase or variations of it?  When this happens to you again – and you know it will – hang-up, start a conference call, and outdial the person you were just talking to and the person you need to talk to.  Now all available information is at hand in the call.  Questions and follow-up questions can be asked, decisions can be made, and time isn't wasted.

2. Do you ever get a writing cramp trying to keep up taking notes on a lively discussion?  Ever miss important points on a long list?  Have you regretted not writing down a great speech?  A lot happens during a conference call and this is why most have an "auto-record" feature.

If you don't already, make sure you're conferences get recorded automatically.  It doesn't cost extra and the recordings can be easily downloaded.  The next step is to get into the habit of using those recordings.  Review a meeting to make sure everything got covered.  Listen to make sure your list matches the actual one.  If there was a great soliloquy, you've have it on tape.

3. The mute button is your friend.  It is imperative that everyone in a conference call know how to mute and unmuted themselves.  Muting cuts background noise to the minimum.  It helps avoid embarrassing situations such as kids running into a room, or a loud, suspicious leather chair squeak.  Using a group mute such as lecture mode allows a speaker to talk freely without interruption and lets you choose when to take questions.

There is a flip-side to muting to be acquainted with: mute delay.  If you and your participants are on the ball and mute whenever not speaking, then if a question is asked, there will be a delay.  Unlike a telephone where someone can instantly respond, a muted person needs a few seconds to be able to speak.  Give them that time by how you phrase your questions:

Incorrect:  "What were last week's numbers, Mike?"

Correct:  "Mike, I've got a question for you: what were last week's numbers?"

Saying Mike's name get's his attention.  Announcing you have a question for him gives him time to unmuted.  When it's time to answer, Mike will be ready with an answer.

These three habits may seem little, and they are to a point.  But despite their size, you'll find yourself having more effective and efficient conference calls if you use them often.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Multiply and Diversify

How many times on the phone or face-to-face have you ever said, "Let me check with them and see what they say. I'll let you know."? If you're like most of us, you've probably said it a lot. Meetings, impromptu get-togethers, and random run-ins suffer the most from not having the right people at hand when you need them. On a conference call, you may still encounter this problem, but it becomes a very minor inconvenience.

Conference calls have a feature called "outdialing" that allows you to bring anyone you like into the conference. They don't have to have the conference call-in codes, or even the dial-in number. All they have to do is pick up the phone when you call.

Here's an example on using outdialing in a conference call. Let's say you are on the line with your CFO and VP of Operations and the discussion turns to cutting shipping costs. Questions that arise include, how many boxes are left over each shipment, are there enough different size choices, and how much would custom sizes cost? Normally, you would write down these questions and get back to everyone later when you knew the answers.

Remember you're on a conference call so things are different. First of all, you need answers about your box usage. You outdial your Shipping department manager and bring him into the call. He answers your two questions, as well as the three others that follow afterwards. With the manager still on the conference call, you outdial your box vendor. The vendor can give you different sizes – even the particular sizes that the Shipping manager speaks up with – and the costs satisfy your CFO, who also is able to get a bulk discount right then and there.

Normally – without conference calls or outdialing -- this example would take at least a hour to accomplish, but more probably a day and many back-and-forth calls. Discover the efficiency that outdialing can bring to your business. Next time your are on a phone call and need to "check something," hang up and get everyone involved into a conference call.

Now you have to figure out what to do with all the time you've just freed up.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Now That the Election Is Here

A recent poll of small business owners reported that 80% of small business owners are confident that they will weather the current economic storm and 64% expect their small businesses to grow (I agree with both groups). This does not surprise me in the least. That's what entrepreneurs do-in good times and in bad. No matter who is declared the winner in the presidential election this week, small business owners are not deterred. We will keep things moving forward.

In a similar, although more worrisome, response, 67% of respondents to that poll responded that they weren't sure how to get clients or customers in this economic climate. And 60% indicated they intended to cut costs. However, the poll reports that for the second month in a row the Small Business Optimism Index actually went up, "indicating that small business owners are feeling more optimistic."

Seth Godin has a great blog post, and I had to hold back a huge grin as I read it. Entrepreneurs are not easily swayed by bad financial news, and actually, I think, the worse conditions get, the more impassioned we become. Godin writes, "Wealth is not created by financial manipulation, the trading of equities or the financing of banks. They just enable it. Wealth is created by productivity. Productive communities generate more of value. Productivity comes from innovation. Innovation comes from investment and change [emphasis mine]."
So, how do you implement investment and change into your company's mode of operation? A few ideas include:

  1. Keep your brand fresh.
  2. Sell by social networking.
  3. Motivate your sales team.
  4. Put your customers to work for you.
  5. Use a proactive attitude to get out of a sales slump.

Will these tips work in this economy? Why not? Sure, there are issues affecting all of us, but why not "do as Seth advises" no matter what issues your company is facing? Why not work to increase productivity? I don't mean just do more for the sake of doing more, but put your passion into every customer service call and pay attention to the details. Make your customers happy and show it through your innovation and ability to flex when necessary. Put forward ambitious plans to your team. Help them to become passionate about sales and marketing in these harder economic times. As a CEO, your passion and productivity will go a long way toward inspiring others to follow your lead. Get a hold of Seth Godin's new book, Tribes, and read and use it. People waiting for someone to lead and why can't it be you? Why not you? What are you waiting for?

Say Good Bye to Sticky Notes

Reminders are everywhere. It began with a ribbon around the finger and has evolved to mounds of sticky notes attached to every foreseeable corner of your desk. It's cluttered, messy, and not at all in line with your company's recent pledge to be more streamlined and efficient. Companies want written records and one of the most important things is about follow up. With conference calls, they can be so jam packed with information that sometimes it might feel like you are writing non stop throughout the whole thing just to take good notes on what you need to discuss more later on. Hopefully, you are recording every conference call.

The new call notes system can help you keep track of the information for particular conference calls. A single click of the mouse can tell you everything you need to know about a particular call. With the conference call note capability, now it's possible to go into the conference and add a tag (up to 100 characters) beside the conference name in the history.

Notes
The call notes column has been added to your conference account history.

If you're not sure where to start or why you would want to take advantage here are some perfect examples of why this feature is such a great addition.

  • Purpose: A lot of companies use their conference codes again and again, but still need to keep track of what was discussed on a specific conference call.
  • Editing Recordings: Many offices have a staff of people who handle the editing of call recordings. Usually they have to wait for the director or manager to let them know when and where the conference should be edited. With the conference notes system you can tag the call with the editing instructions for the person to know what you want on each call.
  • Initiation: Update the notes section to include the person who either initiated the conference or was moderating the call.  If you invited a speaker or even a VIP to the call, you can list their name in this section as well.
  • Task Manager: Use the call notes as a task manager. Instead of flooding yourself with handwritten notes about things that need to be done, use our online notes to keep track of which calls you need to have transcribed, which calls need to be uploaded for review, hosted on your website, or sent to individuals. Are you now planning to make some of these calls available for dial-in playback? Put a note into the call to remind yourself to go back and set the conference to allow for that. Are you ready to change your codes on a particular call? Make a note that says "need code change" to either remind yourself to do it or to let a secretary or assistant know that needs to be done.


Use the call notes system to indicate specific information about your call.

Notes

With an 800 forwarding account this feature is available as well

  • As an engineer or someone over seeing a large project, you can make call notes in your log regarding who was calling you and what they were calling about. If the contractor calls to let you know there's a delay you can make a simple note: "Contractor – delay in permits" that way you know what is going on without having to go into each recording.
  • Faxes: When you receive a fax through your forwarding number, the PDF is stored on your account log and by using the call notes system you can keep track of what the fax is regarding without needing to keep a printed copy of the fax.
  • Use the call notes system to track for business purposes. When a call is received the log can be updated to reflect the persons name, phone number, or content of the call.

By doing this, the need to keep written notes is further eliminated, allowing even more access to the things that are important, like business information, and taking one more step towards eliminating the sticky note pad all together.

More Talk About Using Teleconferencing To Save Money

The city of San Jose, California has a proposal on the table this week to save their "in the red" city employee travel budget.

Teleconferencing.

"With San Jose confronting chronic budget deficits, one councilman suggests the capital of Silicon Valley could employ computer technology to shrink its more than $1.3 million annual travel costs by substituting virtual travel for the real thing.

Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio has proposed an addition to San Jose's travel policy for city employees that would require them to explore whether Internet teleconferencing could be used to substitute for traveling on the taxpayers' dollar.

'Millions of dollars on travel seems to be high for a city suffering a deficit,' said Oliverio, whose proposal will be considered next Wednesday by an agenda-setting committee chaired by Mayor Chuck Reed. 'Using technology will not only save the city money, it will also help our environment.'

The proposal comes on the heels of a scathing city audit of travel expenses for San Jose's pension trustees and retirement services department that found a loose policy allowed them to routinely overpay for airfare, transportation and lodging. Oliverio noted the retirement travel audit looked just at the spending of one department, whose trip expenses totaled about $90,000 a year and are paid out of pension funds rather than the city's operating budget.

According to travel expense figures provided by the city manager at Oliverio's request, city travel expenditures averaged more than $1.1 million annually over the last eight years."

The Pioneer Press based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota reports on the trend for conventional businesses as well.

"Video conferencing has been underwhelming corporate America for years. But maybe it's finally ready for its close-up.

With oil hovering around $100 a barrel and the rigors of business travel looking more and more like an episode of 'Survivor,' more companies are giving the high-tech alternative to the in-person business meeting a second look.

And more are buying in. Video conferencing was a $1.14 billion global market last year, up sharply from about $800 million in 2006, according to Wainhouse Research, a Boston-area technology consultancy that focuses on the industry."

This spike in teleconferencing activity for businesses and city governments shows that once again Americans have figured creative workarounds during the past year. If you haven't considered teleconferencing, why not check it out? You may save some money in the process.

Web Conferencing with your IPhone

Iphone and Web Conferencing

Less complicated is pretty much the American mantra.

We want it all and we don't want to have to wait for it. Drive-thru's, toll tags, tap and pay services for credits, and there's even an entire marketing campaign dedicated to why you should use your check card instead of cash. We want it quick, we want it now, and we don't have time to wait for it.

Apple cashed in when they created their iPhone system, integrating a MP3 player, a cell phone, and a mobile internet browser into a single device. Part of being less complicated definitely means that it's important to carry around less stuff in your pockets. Listen to music, answer a phone call, check your email, and the great thing about it is that you can do it all from the city park or from JFK International Airport.

The iPhone has, in many ways, eliminated the need to carry around a laptop to meet your busy lifestyle. It can also take some of the pressure off when travel is delayed or you get stuck in traffic. Gone are the days when you had to drag out the laptop, plug in the wireless card or fork over ten bucks for airport Wi-Fi just to hop on a manage your conference call, a call that you had expected to be in your office for.

Use the access to the 3G network on your iPhone and log into the AccuConference customer website (don't worry touch users, it works, you just need to make sure you have a WiFi connection). Just go right through the Safari browser and pull up your account information. Once you're logged in, you have the ability to manage on-the-go with your iPhone. View the live call that is going on and scroll through the participant list. It is updated in real time just like when you are accessing this feature from a laptop or PC it is just a smaller screen in the palm of your hand. You can also listen to the call at the same time that you are controlling it so that you're not trying to juggle too many things at once.

The iPod's touch sensitive screen will recognize when you click the different features from the Live Call screen. You can access the toggle functionality for Lecture Mode, Free Recording and more. Use your finger the same way you would use a mouse so that you can identify those noisy callers and mute their lines. Who knows, they could be experiencing muddy travel plans as well.

It's not just for travel purposes either. Sometimes computers can go horribly wrong (see the blue screen of death blog from Friday) when you're right in the middle of something, even if it is a conference call. Just pull out your iPhone and access your customer information. No one on the call will ever know the difference and you'll be able to do the same things you would have on your PC without having to go into panic mode.

There are a lot of "it's" in the world and this is just one little thing that makes "it" go a lot easier.