Keep Notes in Your Conference Account

Since you know how to download your CSV files for your conference information, I'm going to tell you about another neat included service that you have in your account. Did you know that your conference call history is a note taking machine waiting to happen? Conference calls can often be jam packed with information and when you have multiple conferences in a single day, they all start to run together.

Our call notes system helps you keep track of the information or action items you need to take based on a conference call. Here are some of the ways our customers are using the system.

Using the Same Conference Codes

Since our codes can be used again and again, the history stores everything by the name, date, and time. Using the conference code notes system lets our customers go in and mark "call with client X" or "sales meeting".

Track Moderators

Even if it's not needed to track what the subject matter of the conference was about a lot of our customers use the notes system to keep record of who initiated the conference.

Next Steps

Once a conference is over, go to the notes section and add in the actionable items that were taken away from the conference call. You can leave yourself a to-do list based on the conferences in your account. You can also leave it as a note for your assistant or IT Manager. Let’s say it is time to issue new codes on the conference line, you can leave a note for the person who manages that to prompt them to go in and make the change. "Needs new conference codes for security" is a great way to let the person who manages your conference account know that some things need to be changed.

Are you using the note taking system or is it new for you? We've found it to be beneficial for our customers as well as to how we stay organized here. How could you see yourself using the system or how are you using it?

Bonus

If you have one of our toll free forwarding numbers, you also have access to this system. Keep notes on who you talked to, what you talked about or information that is contained in a saved fax. If you're going back later on to check and see if a document or phone call has been received, you can scan the notes and make sure that you've done what you need to. We use the system internally to keep track of what customers have sent us. Since we all take care of the faxes received into our office leaving a note on it also lets us know that the fax has been looked at by another operator.

Conference Call Checklist

So you want to have a conference call?  You can always start a conference call in minutes, however we suggest a bit more preparation for a conference between you and your co-workers. When inviting clients or customers to your conferences, there are a few extra things you will want to do. 

First: Decide What Your Call is About

Write out what the meeting is going to be about and create an agenda, making sure to estimate how long each point will take.  It's always good to give yourself 5-10 minutes of margin.  Don't forget to budget time for questions.

Second: Decide Who

Once you've worked out when you want to have the call, decide who is going to be there.  This is a good time to ask yourself if you'll be having a guest speaker or if you need an operator assistance.   

Third: Send Your Invitations

Now that you have all of the above worked out, it's time to send out your invitations.  Your email invitations should include:

  • What the meeting is about
  • Their call-in number and participant code
  • When the meeting is and for how long
  • An abbreviated version of the agenda

Your participants are taken care of, so where will you be?  The beauty of audio conferencing is that you can host a conference call from pretty much anywhere.  So your only guidelines should be to conduct your conference call from a quiet place where you won't be interrupted.  And—for absolute best quality—use a landline.  One final suggestion: use a headset.  It's much more comfortable than cradling the phone in your neck.

Use this helpful conference call checklist before you plan your next meeting:

PREPARE YOUR CONFERENCE

__Choose the date and time.
__Determine if you need operator assistance.
__Will there be a guest speaker?
__Do you need a registration page?
__Do you want the conference call recorded?
__Will there be a visual element requiring web conferencing?

CREATE AN AGENDA

You need to write an agenda to send to speaker and participants so the know what to expect. 

__Does it have a realistic timeline?
__Is there a need to have breaks?
__Will there be Q&A? How long will your Q&A session be?
__Do you need a different version for participants?

TECHNICAL CHECKLIST

__Do you know how to mute your telephone?
__Is the sound quality on your conference good?
__Did you do a practice run to make sure that you know how to join the conference and the webinar?
__Do you have a backup method of connecting in case there is a problem with your connection?
 


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

12 Conference Call Attendees That Cause Annoyance

Come on, admit it. Close your eyes and think about your last conference call and you'll immediately think of a number of people that turned the last conference into a disaster. There are a lot of different circumstances that call for conference call participation, but it never fails - there are always those one or two people who just make the experience slightly unbearable for the rest of the team.

The person who is always late.

Consistently, this co-worker will join the call five minutes late and demand to be caught up before the call can continue.

The last minute participant.

This person is different than the "late participant". This participant decides at the last minute they need to join the conference call about something that is out of their scope or they are unfamiliar with. Usually the first ten minutes of the conference are spent bringing this person up to speed.

The Mumbler.

This person doesn't speak up on the conference and therefore cannot be heard. It's either because their voice is very soft or because they are sitting too far away from their phone.

The "if I can just jump in here" co-worker.

This person always has something to add to the conversation, but it's often at the expense of other participants. They interrupt other attendees on a regular basis and instead of apologizing and remaining quiet until it's their turn to speak, they continue talking as if it doesn't matter.

The person who always laughs when his or her leather chair makes a hilariously suggestive noise.

Oh, hahaha, it's so funny.

The person who thinks "it's time for a conference call" somehow translates into "time to eat lunch!"

You can always hear this person smacking their lips as they chew or gurgling down their diet soda. If you know you have a conference call during your lunch time, make plans to eat at another time. Inevitably, this person always gets prompted to respond when they have just taken a bite. They will then proceed to speak around it.

The co-worker that works from home in a sea of barking puppies or crying babies.

We're not sure if they run a day care or pet adoption center in their spare time, but it just always seems like the sound of baby crying or a dog in the background is amplified on a conference call.

The scream talker.

They always think that their phone mic is turned down too low and feel like they need to scream to be heard. Usually, their voice causes echoes and feedback on the conferences.

The "hello? hello?" participant.

This participant always suspects they've been disconnected from the conference and must then interrupt the flow of conversation in order to assure they are still joined.

The Traveler.

Yes, sometimes we have to travel when it's time to take a conference call, and there is nothing wrong with that. It just always seems like the other participants end up hearing the boarding announcement or the commuter train departure schedule better than they hear the actual conference call.

The Multitasking Genius.

With their speaker phone on, they proceed to "listen" to the conference while answering emails or getting text messages. The sound notifying them of a new text notification or the gentle and somewhat soothing pounding of the keys on the keyboard play into the conference and give everyone a sense of "nothing is going to get done here".

The person who uses the hold button on their phone, instead of mute.

When you put a phone on hold in a conference one of three things will happen: silence fills the room and everyone makes the assumption the call has ended, periodic beeps will play into the conference, or some rocking easy listening music is about to interrupt and derail your entire conference call.

Who is the person on your conferences that you always feel like needs to be muted?

The 23 Minute Conference Rule

A UK study reveals that the average attention span on a conference call is 23 minutes. After 23 minutes on a conference call, the participants on your call start to tune out and do other things. This is the part where they start checking their email, sending text messages, or playing Angry Birds. In fact, some people in the study admitted to falling asleep all together. When it comes to a face to face meeting, the attention span is increased to 35 minutes.

Whether you use conference calling services to have meetings, or you are still doing things in the traditional face to face way, this study is important to you and if you take nothing else away you should take away this – you have to get to the point. Here are three quick tips that you can apply to your next meeting so that you can say what you need to say while most people are going to be paying attention.

  1. Keep it short and sweet. A long drawn out introduction is only going to eat into the time that you have to keep everyone’s full attention. Instead of planning on a long introduction about the conference topic, send out an agenda ahead of time so that everyone already has a heads up. This way you can get right into the content.
  2. Use less time than you need. According to the study you have 23 minutes to say everything you need to say. When it comes time to actually plan out your conference, give yourself a little less time than what you actually have. This way, if you run over, you won’t be extending the time too much. It’s always better to end a little early, rather than ending very late.
  3. Wandering minds will wander. No matter what you do to keep the attention of the group, there will still be people who are going to tune you out. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do about the Angry Bird addicts. Reach who you can because you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to make a point to those who aren’t paying attention.

When you only have 20-30 minutes to make an impression that is going to stay in someone’s mind, you have to do what you can with the time allowed. Send out an agenda, plan for less time than you have, and remember that those who are going to be distracted will do so – and there is little you can do about it. What are you doing to stay within in the 23 minute time limit on your conference calls?

Five Tips for a Happier Home Worker

A few weeks ago, we had an ice storm and record breaking cold weather that trapped most people in their homes for four days. I personally went a little crazy after two days and was ready to return to the office. I couldn’t imagine how people do that kind of thing every day – then I realized they probably weren’t thrown in to the middle of it like I was, nor are they sitting in front of their lap top in their living room because they don’t own a desk.

That week taught me a lot about what it takes to work from home and the things that would have made my four days in my living room a little more productive and a little less crazy. Here are five tips to being a little more productive at home and a little less distracted.

  1. Make a written schedule and include breaks. Plan out your day on paper and stick to it, but schedule yourself to have breaks away from your desk. I know you want to go change out a load of laundry – so put it on your schedule so it gets done and you can get back to work.
  2. Have a daily conference call to check in with your employees or co-workers. When you’re away from your desk and away from everyone, it can be hard to keep track of those that you work with. Check in with them daily and remind yourself of the people you work with.
  3. If you have an office to go to, schedule a day in the middle of the week to spend the day there. If not, grab your laptop or iPad so you can get out of the house for a little while.
  4. Shut the door when “work time” is over. Keep a separation between your work and home life by creating a work space that you can close the door to, that way, you won’t see the stack of papers on your desk that need to be finished. Out of sight and out of mind – enjoy time at home!
  5. Work with background noise that makes you comfortable. Some people work better with complete silence. Personally, I need some background tunes. In the office, you’ll rarely find me without my headphones on, and at home, I love the sound of the TV in the background. Take advantage of being at home and watch a violent slasher flick, if that’s what motivates you – just turn it off before you take a call or have a video conference.

I know a lot of you work from home – it’s a trend that we’ve seen on the increase over the last few years, and as someone who probably wouldn’t like it very much, I’m wondering if any of you ever felt the same. What did you do to make your day more productive at home? Did you hate it at first and now you love it? What happened to make you change your mind?

Increase Attendance on 2011 Conference Calls

Since the first official week of 2011 has come and gone, hopefully we’re all back in the swing of things. With the second week of the year kicking off, you’re probably finally sitting down to review all those things you tried in 2010, make notes on what you found to be successful, and what you didn’t.

There was a sharp increase of teleconference use in 2010, with companies and individuals embracing conference call providers to drive fresh business and clients to their products and services. For those of you that had a teleconference series in 2010 for the first time and want to focus on increasing your attendance in 2011 – here are a couple of tips from one of our event planners.

  1. Schedule conference times in the time zone best suited for the highest number of people. Chances are a lot of the people you’re inviting will be scattered throughout all times zones, so find the highest concentration of folks, and set a time most convenient for them. If 90% of your invites are going out to those on the west coast, you won’t get a high turnout if the call is at 8AM eastern.
  2. Schedule the teleconference before lunch time. After lunch, when we’re all full and thinking that we’re half way to heading home, we may find that we’re less inclined to really have our focus set on a conference call. I recommend between 10 and 11 AM.
  3. Plan ahead and send reminders. The longer you wait to send out invitations the more likely it will be that people will have other plans. Sending out invitations at least two weeks in advance makes it more likely that people will have the time to attend your conference call. Send them a reminder the morning of the conference in case they have forgotten.
  4. Don’t invite everyone. If you want to get the best turn out for your conference, use discretion when choosing who to invite. Send you invitations to the people you think would be the most interested in the conference. For example, if you’re selling Apple products, you wouldn’t invite Steve Jobs to your conference call.
  5. Make Your Conferences Interactive. Create PowerPoint presentations and share them with your participants. A little visual stimulation can go a long way.

When it comes down to increasing attendees on a webinar or teleconference, there is no perfect formula for getting people to show up and be active on your conferences.

For those of you who are old hat at hosting teleconference, what are your tips for increasing attendance? Comment any suggestions you have for companies that might be taking their first steps below. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions!

Get Connected to Your Staff, Students, and Speakers.

Tis the season for … snow, ice, and roads that you can’t even look at without spinning wildly out of control. In most parts of the country there is one constant in every winter season – winter weather, and it causes a headache. Seattle, WA and Buffalo, NY have already experienced a snow storm, one that snarls traffic, and makes getting to work nearly impossible.

Earlier this week, there were reports that we were going to get some “record-breaking snowfall” here in DFW. That report has since started to fade from the forecast, but if the early season computer models are already starting to predict snowfalls, I can only imagine what will happen come January.

Not only is this the beginning of the winter weather season but it’s also the holidays – a time of year when non-profit organizations are hosting fundraisers. What happens when an event you planned has to be cancelled or if your guests cannot safely arrive? As an educator, how do you prepare when a crucial lecture must be rescheduled? In government, you can’t run a country without being able to get people in the same place – so how do you continue when you can’t get to work, school, or your event?

Check with your conference call provider to see what their capacity is for last minute / large events. Get everyone on your conference call and let business continue as usual. Even if you’re in sunny California with a speaker who’s stranded in their hometown, you can get a phone hooked up to the loudspeakers and have your speaker call in. Their presentation still happens and your guests are still happy. Your event happens, despite Mother Nature’s disagreement with you.

Where was the worst place you were stranded during snow or ice? How did you continue conducting your business or did you crawl under a blanket and come out after everything thawed out?

Remember: Conference Call Mute Is Never On

It is an inevitable thing that is going to happen on conference call. Someone is going to forget to mute their phone. There are a million stories out there of how people have heard bathroom visits, ordering fast food, or worse. These interruptions are embarrassing, not only for the person responsible, but also for the host of the conference call.

Most conference hosts are diligent about putting the call into lecture mode and participants usually try to mute their conference lines. This doesn’t always happen.

Once, as an operator on a conference, I had the pleasure of dealing with a client who was going to have some high profile people on their conference. The client expressed to me that it was important that there were no back ground interruptions on the call. I explained that all the participants would be muted, but since there would be about seven people on with the special speaker code, those lines wouldn’t be muted. I suggested they use our star feature to mute the call and even had everyone test out the function to make sure the feature worked.

Inevitably, when the call started and one of the high profile guests was speaking, my client’s line was not muted and I suddenly heard the announcement that train #356 to Boston would be departing in five minutes. Having been on a number of operator conferences, I made the decision to mute his line, in order to avoid that playing over these high profile guests. It made me uneasy to have to do that – but I couldn’t risk his conference being interrupted, and this is the exact reason why people elect to have operators on their conference.

Audio conferences can be tricky. They aren’t necessarily hard to participate in but there are a lot of things to remember, and sometimes – it’s the simplest things that we can forget about.

It brings up a great point about being on a conference – always assume your line is not muted, even when it is. Even when you are certain you’ve muted your phone, or you just got the message that your line was muted, you never know when something could happen to unmute. What if your moderator accidentally turns off the feature or you’re disciplining one of your kids, across the room from your phone, and the moderator suddenly opens the lines up for questions.

In an instant the entire conference hears you explaining to your children why chocolate frosting is not an appropriate substitute for paint.

Always assume that your line is live – and it’s a good rule that can apply to audio conferences or video. Assuming that you’re on video will save you from possible embarrassment.

How are you managing on your conference calls? Are you assuming that mute is on, or are you doing things the same way that you would with a conference that was live?

Tell me your embarrassing moment in the comments – and if yours is the one that inspires the deepest shade of red, you’ll win a prize. (Details to come) I look forward to hearing your stories!

Turn Off Call Waiting and Other Tips

Attention to detail can make a world of difference. In a conference call, looking after the little details before and during can turn a good conference great, or at least keep it from going bad. There’s a list of 33 conference call tips from Corbin Ball that I recently read. Here’s a few of my favorites.

Call Waiting - On certain phones, the call waiting beep can be heard by the audience. And it’s especially annoying to the rest of the participants if you’re popular. Find out if your phone does this--usually the older landline models--and learn how to temporarily turn it off.

Identify Yourself - You can’t see your participants and they can’t see you--unless you’ve integrated the call with a video conference of course. Encourage everyone to say their name before speaking.

Identify Them - You’ve said your name, now say who you’re addressing. In a conversational or meeting type of conference call, it’s usually better to address a person than the group at large. So say your name, then say their name, then speak your piece.

Help Hotline - Unless you’re out-dialing, you have to distribute the dial-in number and conference code before a conference call. And even with out-dialing, you should make sure all participants have an external way to reach you--phone, fax, email, chat, carrier pigeon, etc--in case of any connection issues.

Rules at the Front - Even with old pros, it’s good to announce rules and basic etiquette at the beginning of a conference call. Some things to cover include identifying yourself and others, muting policy, time limits, pausing for rebuttals, no interrupting, and nice things like that.

Plus, it’s more genteel to do it at the beginning than to correct transgressions as they happen. So those are the tips that I thought were important enough to highlight. Which ones are your favorites? Have any tips you think should be on the list?