"… According to the Travel Industry Association, average domestic air fares actually dropped 1.3 percent in August compared with August 2006. But other factors, especially a 6.5% rise in average hotel rates, drove up overall travel costs by 2.4 percent for the month."
From the New York Times 10/2/07 "Conference Calling as Plan A, With Flying as a Backup"
Travel costs are rising and so are travel headaches. Not only do busy executives have to hassle with longer lines at airline checkins, long flight delays, and security check headaches, but add a 6.5% increase in the average cost of a hotel room. There just isn’t a better time for executives to be looking for a cost efficient alternative to travel for some business needs.
Conference Calling is just one of the solutions that top executives routinely implement as a cost saving measure to improve the bottom-line. With travel expenses up nearly 2.4% for September alone, the squeeze to find replacements to business travel is top priority for concerned business owners.
It used to be that the technology that drove conference Calling and Web conferencing was expensive, hard to use, and spotty in stability, but with new advances and new technology this has certainly changed. Conference Calling is a truly viable consideration in light of the overall increases in the cost of business travel.
Have you ever been away at a conference and heard a really dynamic speaker? Or have you had the opportunity to consult with someone on a business trip who really changed the way you saw your organization?
When you returned to the office you were probably enthused and excited about what you learned and did your best to pass it on to your colleagues. It is likely that some of them got it and some of them wanted to get it, but couldn't quite understand your excitement.
You may have walked away from a speech or workshop with a great understanding of the speaker's core content, but you may not be the best person to convey that message.
This is where teleconferencing comes into the picture. By using video conferencing technology, you can see to it that the message gets through loud and clear.
No more do you have to say:
"I really wish you could have been there."
"I tried to take really good notes."
"I tape recorded some of the sessions so you could listen to them."
With video conferencing you can have that great speaker interact with your entire department. That way, even staff that does not usually get to travel can still be informed. Your vision will be clearer once everyone has had the opportunity to benefit from meeting with the speaker as you did. It is easier to implement new ideas when everyone is on the same page.
Conference calling gives you "Star Power". Well, maybe not the Britney Spears variety, but the power to use * key plus a command on your phone keypad to interact with your conference call attendees.
Here are a few "Star Power" commands to get you started:
- Use *1 to dial out of your conference call and then dial a new phone number to check with someone else on fact and figures. Your other parties will not hear this personal call.
- Use *2 to return to your conference call with a new participant. You can do this command after you have done *1.
- Use *3 to return to your conference call in progress without a new participant. You may have needed to check a date with your secretary before you got back into the call use *3 to stop the call from using *1 initially.
- Use *2 anytime during a conference call to start conference call recording. To be compliant with law, all participants will hear a message that the call is now being recorded.
These are just a few of the * key commands that can enhance your conference call. We have nine * key commands in all. When you set up your account with us we’ll even send you a laminated wallet card for easy reference.
Our "Star Power" using the * key will really work to enhance your conference call and put you in control of your conference call with one or two easy keystrokes.
If you have customers in different parts of the country or even different parts of the world, you have likely conquered the difficulties of routine communications. But what do you do when a customer has a very specific query about a product, one that cannot be answered in a quick e-mail or 10 minute phone conversation?
This is one area where web conferencing can help. You can use this technology to address the issue yourself and if you need to include colleagues, and none of you needs to leave the office.
Before you initiate a web conference, make sure that the client in question is web-savvy enough to participate. You don't want to set up a web conference only to find that your goal of helping a customer cannot be met because that person is unaware of how to use their computer or the internet. Depending on you area of business, you may be able to use this as a teaching opportunity, getting your client up to speed and answering their questions at the same time.
A web conference is not just a way to answer any questions that pop up when someone uses your product, it is also a way to impress them, with your knowledge and customer service skills.
As we stated in the previous blog. Groups asked to use a new communications tool, like video conferencing, go through phases. We have already discussed the first two: forming and storming. It is at the "storming" stage that the most oversight has to be exerted to make video conferencing really work. This can be done by having the most experienced members, or some designated individual(s) intensively model the behavior for others. This might mean a lot of interaction with those using the system to see if they are having any problems and getting feedback on what is and what is not working for everyone to a more intensive schedule of video conferencing meetings to get people comfortable and make this style of communicating a familiar activity.
After a generally short, but intense "storming" phase, as people get used to the hardware and different style of interaction, as well as become more comfortable with their fellow desktop video-ers, the group enters the third "norming" stage. At this point, all webcams are on and the stuffed animals are gone and people are interacting, for the most part, normally.
Then comes the best phase. The performing stage, where groups and conversations begin to form spontaneously and ideas and the project and interactions really take off.
Keeping these four stages in mind, helps you understand that giving your people a new tool and then expecting them to run with it right away is unrealistic. Knowing the phases of how adoption of new communications technology goes and your role in making it happen, however, lets you know that the initial confusion and chaos and displeasure that comes in the initiation stages are all a natural part of how people react to change, especially one involving something as important as how they relate to each other.
Remember that, like any change, people need time to adjust and build familiarity. Just like getting a new project team up and running, companies or teams that go into heavy video conferencing mode go through the phases of "forming, storming, norming, and performing".
The first phase is where the team or group that is going to be using the technology decides that this is the technology they are going to use to do their communications. Sometimes people aren't given that decision, though, and it is made by higher levels and they just have to live with it. During this phase, you introduce all the participants to the technology, show them how to use it and try to eliminate some of the "fear factor" inherent when people use things by themselves for the first time.
The next phase, the "storming" phase, is one of discomfort and distrust. Not only with the technology where they might not know exactly how to work everything or what to do when things go wrong, but also of the people on the other side of the transmission line, especially if they haven't worked closely with them before. In this phase, sometimes people will not turn on the camera, saying they are having technical difficulties or will put a picture or stuffed animal in front of the camera instead of training it on them selves. This is due to the desire for some people to want to remain anonymous until they feel more comfortable with the process and people. This can last a week or so, until people get more comfortable with the new mode of interacting.
If you are still using Office 2003 or an earlier Office product then you may not know that the new Office 2007 application uses a new file format that cannot be opened by earlier Office products. You may have had a client or prospect send you a document that you could not open in your version of Word, PowerPoint or Excel that ended with an X like a .docx, .pptx or .xlsx file.
Don't send your customer a note asking them to resend the file requiring them to resave it in the old Office format, just download the Office 2007 file compatibility pack from Microsoft.
You can download this compatibility pack free from Microsoft.
The new Office 2007 file format uses XML to keep file sizes incredibly small and to allow for future application interaction. Changing to the new XML file structure is a sweeping change and a controversial one as important changes always are. This compatibility pack allows users of Office 2000, Office XP, or Office 2003 to open edit, and even save files in the new XML format allowing for easy file transfer and exchange with customers already using Office 2007.
So if you aren't ready to upgrade your Office products to 2007, with the compatibility pack no one will know that you are still using Office 2000 or Office 2003.
Conference calling knows no bounds when it comes to connected people and getting the job done. No matter what your field may be, there is a way to use teleconferencing to your advantage. There are so many ways to use technology to meet your needs.
Here is one surprising example: The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance recently held a tele-winetasting as a way to promote a certain kind of wine. You may wonder just how an organization can hold a conference call event to push a product such as wine, but is quite possible.
The wines were shipped to participants in advance. Participants were responsible for chilling the wines and having them on hand at the appointed time. Those involved included the wine producers, food writers, and a wine consultant. These are professionals who are very interested in the product, so they knew how to prepare themselves and the wine to ensure that the tele-winetasting went off without a hitch.
During the event the participants tasted wines and compared notes -all without having to leave their homes or offices. The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance was able to accomplish their goal of publicizing certain wines without having to arrange for key persons to travel and meet in one location.
You want to schedule a conference call, what is the best day and time to call? Most of this depends on your business and the time zone that you are calling, but there are a few common sense guidelines that will help you to choose the day that may work best for you.
Stay away from Monday morning. Monday morning is usually reserved for putting out fires from the weekend or for tasking staff members for the week. If you need to phone on Monday do it after 2:00 PM when most of the heavy work load is out of the way.
Stay away from Friday afternoon. Some people will leave early on Friday or are working a compressed week work schedule and are off every other Friday, so it is best to steer clear of this day. If you must phone on Friday, do it in the morning around 10:00; after the morning crush, but not so late as to interfere with the plans of the day.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday may simply be best for your needs. If the teleconference is about tasking, Tuesday will be best so as to allow team members time to complete tasks for the week. If the teleconference is about accountability Thursday may be better as you will have more data from the week to review.
Wednesday is great for training, communications, reviews, and new directions or brainstorming sessions. People are in the swing of things on Wednesday and feeling more relaxed. They still have time to take on a new project before the end of the work week. Wednesday mornings seem to be better on this day than afternoons, but that may simply be from our experience.
Which ever day you choose, understand that the best day for you is most likely a personal choice driven by the needs of your business and your personal schedule. The best idea is at your first teleconference decide as a group the best day for your next call. You may find that the middle of the week will simply be the best for your team too.