Secrets to Successful Conference Calls Part Two – The Right Provider


Last week, I talked to you about how planning and execution are important to having a successful conference call. Despite your new found ability to plan a great event, depending on your conference call provider, you could be setting up for a disappointing experience. Not all conference companies are created equally, so here’s a quick little guide to choosing the best provider so that you can have a successful conference call.

How Do You Decide?

In my experience, price is the most common concern for new customers. No matter if they are switching from one company to another, or if they are 100% new to hosting conferences, price is where decisions get made. I understand that – sticking to budgets is important. An excellent rate is imperative, but there is more to consider than just how much you pay per minute. Here are some dos and don’ts of choosing your provider.

DO:

  1. Choose a provider who asks you about what you need / want to do on a conference. This is my favorite question to ask customers, because not only does it help me to define what you need, it also helps me to let you know about other features that are available. If it’s your first conference call and you’re going to have a 300 person conference, I usually suggest an operator assisted event so that you can make sure the call goes smoothly.
  2. Pick the company that provides the quickest response for customer service. When choosing a provider, consider the response time if something doesn’t go correctly. More than once, I’ve had customers switch to AccuConference because other services offered zero customer service. It’s an important consideration in the process, because if there’s an issue, you want someone to answer the phone and be able to work with you to solve the problem.
  3. Shop Around. Most telecommunications providers offer some form of conference call services. However, it never ceases to amaze me when people are shopping around that are currently under contract to pay around 15 and 20 cents per minute. There are better deals with other services, with better reliability. While you’re looking around, take our handy list of questions to use when choosing your conference call provider.

DON'T:

  1. Accept restrictions. We ask to know about any conference that will be over fifty people otherwise you just use the service as you need to. For other companies, that number may be set lower or higher, and could be restricted to the times of day or days of the week. Don’t accept this when you choose a conference company, there are plenty of others.
  2. Use a service that isn't secure. When you choose a provider, you need to find out how their telephones lines work. A lot services will use public lines (and the internet) to route you and your participants to the conference room. A service like ours doesn't use public teleconference lines, so you’re going to have a more secure experience.
  3. Conference without a guarantee. Does the provider you’re choosing have a 100% guarantee on their services? A provider that doesn't work with you when a call doesn't meet your expectations probably doesn't offer customer service the way you need.

You can plan and plot your conference call or online meeting all you want, but without a reliable conference call provider, you and your participants might be disappointed in the outcome. Do ask the right questions and don’t hesitate to call us directly if you have any questions.

Secrets to Successful Conference Calls: Part One – Setup and Testing

Everyone knows that the first step to hosting a conference call is finding the best conference call provider. After you know who you’re going to use as your conference host, you can turn your attention to planning and executing your event. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some of the best tips that we’ve learned in our own experiences, as well as some of the impressively smart things our customers have been doing.

Here are the first two secrets to successful conferences.

Conference Size Estimation

Let me just be blunt with you – if this is your first conference call, you’re likely to overestimate. Let’s say you send out 300 invitations to a conference, my experience tells me that your turn out is going to be around 150. Because you’re going to pay based on how many lines you reserve, you want your estimate to be as accurate as possible. In addition, different kinds of conferences will yield varying results.

Here are three of the most popular kinds of conference and the kinds of attendance results we see.

First Time / Sales Types of Conferences

We have a client who hosts conference calls that are advertised on infomercials - you might have seen them if you’re up at two in the morning. They have three thousand people sign up for one conference call and in the end only about six hundred show up. Make sure the provider you’ve chosen will allow you to make changes 24 hours in advance of your call; you don’t want to pay for over estimations.

Mandatory Events

We have another customer who hosts conferences that are state mandated classes. People sign up for them and her attendance runs around 85%. Anything that is a mandatory meeting will have a higher than average attendance because, well, people have to attend the conference.

Pay to Attend

A conference that requires people to pay to attend will yield close to 99% attendance. No one is going to waste good money to pay for a conference they don’t attend. One of our customers sets up classes they teach through our conference calls. We know if they ask for 150 lines, they will have 150 people show up.

Considerations For Last Minute Events

Remember that the more last minute your conferences, the lower your attendance will be. More than once, we’ve had people set up last minute operated calls where they invite fifty or sixty people and only end up getting ten or eleven total attendees.

If you’re an AccuConference customer, we always suggest using registration pages on conferences where you’ll be sending fifty or more invitations. This will help you to know exactly how many of your invitations have been accepted and filled out.

Testing and Quality

Sound quality is one of the biggest issues we hear about on conference calls. Not all phone systems are created equally and your method can cause any number of poor connection issues. There are two things that can drastically affect your conference sound quality – like feedback, cut outs, and general disruptions to your conference.

  1. Phone Equipment
  2. Phone Provider

Before you start your conference, you need to run down some basic testing steps both before your call begins and while in pre-conference with your speakers.

  1. Get a co-worker and dial into a test conference the day before your conference. Testing is all about creating a dress-rehearsal, so mimic the same set up that you will have when it’s time for the live conference. Use the same phone, put yourself in the same room, and let your co-worker tell you about any sound issues like echo or feedback.
  2. On the day of the call, use a pre-conference to check the same things with your other speakers. Make sure that everyone can be heard and that the lines aren't cutting out.

Correct estimates of conference attendees and testing your equipment before the call are very important parts of your conference planning session. If you need some help planning your next event, give us a call and let us take it from there.

Distracted on a Conference Call – It’s Probably Your Brain’s Fault

If you find yourself distracted on conference calls, you might feel like you have a case of Monday’s – Friday’s. While that may be true, your distraction could be due to your brain feeling out of its element.

Your brain likes to sort out patterns and enjoys when things are predictable. When talking to another person face to face, your brain is able to draw conclusions about what the other person is saying to you and conversation will flow smoothly. It’s like a little computer, taking everything, processing it, and then spitting out answers to questions or making decisions. The problem is that your brain is always looking for data and there are some situations, like an audio conference that can be very hard on your brain.

Why Can Audio Conferences Be So Distracting?

When you and your brain walk into a physical meeting, your brain begins to break down the people in the room.

Cool – there is the speaker and her name is Judy. I can tell because she’ll be in front of the room so I won’t be trying to figure out who is speaking when I heard a voice.

On an audio conference call, your brain is severely limited on the data at hand. You only have voices to go by and since your brain wants to know everything, it starts to feel a bit like scrambled eggs. You’re trying to listen, but someone has a bad connection – which breaks up the predictability of speech your brain is loves.

While you are trying to listen and absorb the information being said, the different parts of your brain are trying to figure out who is speaking and if there is background noise that you can’t recognize, pieces of your thoughts will then be allocated to trying to figure out what that noise was.

So How Do We Combat Scrambled Egg Brain?

Add a visual element to your presentation. A simple PowerPoint will do the trick. Visual aids enhance a speaker’s word and provide positive impacts to your conference calls. Nearly 85% of information is retained when a visual aid is paired with an oral presentation.

Use conference features to limit the noise. Using things like lecture mode or muting your line when you’re just listening on a conference will lower the background noise and give all the participant’s brains less to focus on and figure out.

Have an operator host your next call. While not exactly a “visual” element, putting an operator on your call can signal to the cognitive areas of your brain that the particular event is “special” and deserves some extra attention. Operator calls can also take the names of your participants so that they can be announced by name if they ask a question. This will relieve the brain of some of that “who is speaking” pressure and allow them to focus on the question.

Remember that for as much as we like to say we can “multitask”, our brains do not function like little computers. For every task you add while focusing on another, you take away the available capacity for your brain to fully work on another task. You may be doing ten things at once but each task is only being filled at 5% capacity.

10 Things You Hate About Conference Calls

For the most part, our users see conference calls as a necessity to any business. They save you from traveling long distances to have meetings and get things done without having to congregate into a large conference room.

However, that doesn't mean there aren't things that people don’t like about conference calls. I did some fun little searches like “I hate conference calls!” and here are some of the things I've found people dislike the most about their conference calls.

  1. Open conferences with more than 10 people.
  2. Confusion over “hold” versus “mute” on telephones.
  3. Conferences that begin or end late.
  4. Reading directly from presentation slides.
  5. The sound of someone typing an email (or beating their keyboard with a baseball bat, sometimes it’s hard to tell).
  6. Intro tones
  7. Dogs, babies, and the cashier at 7-11.
  8. Poor sound quality.
  9. Calls that happen during lunch hours.
  10. A ten minute conversation about what the conference call will cover.

The good news is that these kinds of things are easily managed within a conference call provider’s features or just by preparing your meetings in advance.

Send out an agenda to set in advance what the call will be about and how long it will take, so that there’s less worry over running over at the end, and eliminate the need to discuss what the call is about.

Use lecture mode with any conferences over ten people. You’d be surprised the difference in the amount of background between five participants and ten. You should also turn off intro tones on calls this large, because nine people coming onto a conference at once is a lot of noise.

For smaller calls, let everyone know they can use *6 to toggle mute on and off for their own line so that background noise is at a minimum. This will also prevent the hold button from being used, which many times will deliver some sweet hold music or even a company announcement into the conference line.

Sound quality can be affected on your conference by a number of things from using a cell phone with a poor connection down to the kind of speaker phone you are using. Using a VoIP phone could be affecting the quality of your connection depending on the kind of service you have.

It’s always a good time to review your conference call etiquette and contact us if you have any questions about feedback, noise, or just want to learn more about what you can do with your conference call.

Solving Invalid Code Messages

Invalid code messages are one of the biggest topics we get calls about. Getting an invalid code message happens to all of us and no matter what the reason; the most important thing is being able to get you into your conference. If you are getting an invalid code message, please call us right away and we can look to see why and advise you on what to do there.

Of course, the solution to all of your invalid code messages is to set up QuicklinQ conference lines. With a QuicklinQ conference no code is needed to enter the conference. Just dial a phone number and you’re placed into the conference.

Call us to find out more – 800.977.4607.

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post…..

Here are the three biggest culprits to invalid code messages.

Closed Accounts

When you call us, we’ll check to see if your account is closed for any reason and then let you know what we need to reactivate or who we need to talk to. This is an easy one to fix and once we get an administrators approval the account can be reopened in a matter of seconds.

Technical Issues

Anything that interrupts the transmission of data can cause us to not get the right conference code. These things range from using VOIP phones or even background noise.

Wrong Code / Wrong Phone Number

Sometimes it’s just a matter of using or entering the wrong code.

If you’re getting an invalid code message give us a call right away. We can even call you and join you to the conference if we need to.

How Much to Charge for a Webinar

Webinars and conference calls can be a great way to reach more consumers and make connections for sales. More and more it's becoming a viable strategy to educational institutions and companies and before we start to talk about deciding how much to charge, there’s another question you have to answer first.

Should You Charge For Your Webinar?

Deciding to charge comes down to what kind of content you'll be presenting. Not all webinars are created equally and fall within one of two categories: premium or marketing content. Marketing content tends to be the kind that is designed for gaining exposure to a product or brand. Premium content is information that you can’t get anywhere else.

Let me give you an example – we have a customer in the banking industry that offers webinars on recent changes, updates, or new regulations in that field. The information is not available anywhere else and it's education in nature, which makes it acceptable to expect a small payment for attendance.

Now that you've decided if you want to charge for your webinar, you should do a bit of research before you choose an amount.

Start With a Google Search

The truth is that a webinar is online content and a lot of people have the expectation that it should be free. Start with a Google search in reference to the topic that you want to host a webinar about. Even if your webinar is "premium" content, if you see a lot of free content already out there it might not be the best idea to charge.

Ask Yourself What Makes Yours Exclusive

If you decide you still want to charge for your webinar, you need to determine what makes yours exclusive and special. Is there a very popular speaker on the conference? Are you getting insider information that participants usually can’t get unless they attend a conference or pay a membership fee? If you’re going to ask people to pay to attend something make sure that they are paying for something worthwhile. Before people choose to spend money on something they are going to want to decide what's in it for them – so make sure you have the answer to that question ready.

Check the Industry Cost

Do a quick search and see how much it would cost to attend a class at a local university for this information and include any potential travel costs like airfare or hotel. Beating that cost should be easy considering everything you need is online, including materials. Now, find out if your competitors are providing any webinar content like this? Can you beat their costs? Starts there and then adjust your cost as needed to cover any expenses.

The truth is that when it comes to 'what to charge for your webinar' there isn't a perfect answer. There may be times when you feel that charging wouldn’t be the best idea so I say you should always go with your gut. Just remember that your webinar attendance cost should come down to the value and not the money you want to make.

Recording Consent Laws – What to Know

One of the questions we get often is about the legality of recording conference calls. Recent events have raised the question of when is it legal to record a call and, most important, how do you know?

There are two kinds of recording laws – one party and all party consent.

One party consent means there must be at least one person being recorded to agree and everyone else does not need to be notified. Generally speaking this means that a person can record their own phone calls without letting the other person know about the recording.

All party consent means exactly what it sounds like – if you're going to record a conference call or meeting, you must have the consent of anyone who is in attendance. References to two-party consent makes an assumption that there are only two people on the conference, but be advised if you're in a state that is referred to as two-party, and you have three people on the conference, everyone must know about the recording.

Most states have adopted the federal policy of one-party consent, but there are a number of states that require all party consent (California being one of them) and I came across this recording resource for journalists that break down the requirements by state.

Federal law prohibits recording any conversation outside of one-party consent. So if you had an idea of setting up a microphone to hear what people are saying about you – think again, it's not legal.

For conference calls that cross state lines, I want to issue a word of caution here. The law isn't really clear on this one. You are in Michigan, and you call into our conference lines (which are in Georgia), and are joined by people around the United States for a call. Some court cases have suggested that because the call crosses state lines these become federal jurisdiction and the one-party consent statute would apply. The best rule of thumb is to treat any conferences that involve parties from multiple states as “all-party” consent.

So where does the Federal Communications Commission come in? FCC rules state that you can gain consent in a few different ways: gain verbal consent from the parties involved, play a "beep" at various intervals, or announce that the call is being recorded at the beginning. If you've ever had an operator assisted call with us, you know that we always announce that calls are being recorded and it's to ensure that both your call and our company adhere to FCC regulations.

There are limited exceptions to state consent laws – like on conferences with investors, recording is mandatory. When legal warrants are in play for wiretapping, no one has to be notified that calls are being recorded by law enforcement.

While it’s always a great idea to record your conferences, we want to make sure you understand that there are varying laws out there on when you have to disclose. If you need to turn on recording announcements, you can do that through your customer account or give us a call and let us walk you through that.

Disclaimer:This blog post is not meant to give legal advice, but rather to inform you of the different laws that exist in regards to recording consent.

How to Download Recordings

There are a few ways to download your audio conference recordings from AccuConference. For no charge, you can record your conference calls and they will be available on your customer account to download for thirty days. One of the things we get asked about is how to download the recordings from the customer account. Not just where they can be found but actually where do they go once you click on them.

There are a few ways you can download our recording files (or most files) from a website. Here’s how you get your conference recordings from our site.

Click directly on “Save”

When you click directly on “Save” the file will go to your “Downloads” folder on your computer. This is a special file designated by your preferred web browser to store any of the things you get from different websites.

When you download a recording directly from our website by clicking on “Save” the file will usually go into that folder. It might pop up on a bar at the bottom of your browser and you can double click and play the file or click and drag it to your desktop to save it there.

Right Click and Select “Save Link As” from the Pop Up Menu

This method allows you to save the file in a specific location, rather than having it go directly into your “Downloads” folder on your computer.

After you click on “Save Link As”, you will be able to choose a folder or location on your computer. You can create a folder on your desktop for your conference recordings or save them directly to a shared drive and make them available for all of your co-workers.

Recording your conference calls is a great way to keep everyone accountable and once you have the file on your computer, they are yours forever. You can use them for podcasts, put them on your website, or have them transcribed to meet any disclosure requirements. What will you do with your conference recordings?

Follow Your Instincts in Customer Service

A few weeks ago, something interesting and terrifying happened while refilling my gas tank. When I looked down, there was a puddle of gasoline under my SUV and gas was dripping down the wheel well. Since defects in gas tanks are actually pretty rare I suspected that it had to be overflow from when I was filling up.

Still, something didn't feel right. Even as I told myself that it was simply an overflow issue, I didn't fully accept it as the answer. After driving a block and half, I realized my miles to empty display had dropped nearly ten miles. I decided to take the vehicle to the dealership and lo and behold, there was a crack in part of my tank that needed to be replaced.

Cracks and defects in the gas tank are rare in vehicles. Who knows what could have happened if I had continued to drive around slowly dripping gas? I went with my instinct that something was horribly wrong, and I was completely right.

Instincts are a huge factor in why and how we do something. No matter if you want to call it your intuition, sixth sense, or your gut feeling, we do put a lot of importance on our instincts. They are a piece of us and driven by our personality and our makeup, so there are different instinctual reactions for everyone. Using your personal instinctual reactions at certain time when dealing with customers can be a boost to how you provide service for them.

Jump in When It's Right

If your instinct is telling you that your customer needs help, don't be afraid to go with your gut and jump in. Recently, I was walking a customer through some of the steps and after some of his questions indicated he needed a little extra help, I offered to put his invitation together for him. I want my customers to learn how to do things and I'm highly dedicated to not just answering their questions, but educating them on how everything works. There is a time and a place for education, but there is also a time for taking care of it so the customer doesn't have to.

Step Away When It's Not

It is possible to be unable to adequately communicate with a customer. As a customer, you think you're asking all of the right questions. As the operator, you feel like you're answering them, but you're both getting frustrated. Letting the customer talk to someone else doesn't mean that you're passing the buck, it means that you’re going to send the customer to someone that might have a better approach. We all learn differently, we all have ways that we are comfortable, and there might come a time when you are not able to speak to the customer in the way they need. Don't be afraid to step away from a client if your instinct is telling you that the conversation is going downhill fast.

In Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, he talks about how our spontaneous decisions can sometimes be better than the ones where we agonize over every little detail. Once we become an "expert", according to Gladwell, we can "thin slice" and use limited information to make a decision. This cuts out a lot of the information that can sometimes cause us to over think a solution. Instincts are a powerful tool in making a decision.

Do you trust your instincts?

Three Ways to Boost Your Conferences in 2014

Towards the end of 2013, I had a customer call in and ask me one simple question: "Is there anything we’re not taking advantage of?" There are a number of features we include, but customers might not know about. We went over a couple of things that I noticed he wasn’t using and suggested using things like web conferencing and conference call recording for his calls in 2014.

Here are three of my favorite features to suggest to customers.

Brand Your Conference Calls

Add a custom greeting to your conference line so you can brand your events to your company. You can also use it to share news and events. It’s easy to do and we can update the message as often as you like. A lot of our customers like this option because the participant knows who is hosting the conference and is reassured that they have dialed into the right call.

Custom Hold Music / Greetings

A customer in financial planning uses custom hold music to play a recorded message about the different services his company offers. This is a great use of a free option to turn the waiting room before the conference begins into a virtual billboard. You can also upload some of your own music and participants can jam out while they wait for the call to begin.

Registration Pages

One of our customers sets up luncheon events and uses registration pages as part of their invitation. These pages can be fully customized to add your logo, images, links to your site, speaker information, and more. Using a registration page lets you track attendance and know if you’re marketing your conferences to the right audiences by giving you a metric to measure your response rate.

All of these features can be a part of your next call with AccuConference. If you have questions about them, please give us a call 800.989.9239, or just give us a call to see if there’s anything more you can do with your conferences to get your participants involved. (Seriously, we like helping you.)