Promote that Conference Call!

If a tree falls in the woods, but there's no one around… no wait, if an conference call is held, but no participants have dialed-in, does it still make a sound?  You can't have a conference without people, and even a slick, well-planned webinar is can become a failure if only a handful of participants join in.  So getting the word out to clients, potential customers, investors, and even employees is an important part of hosting an conference call.

With that in mind, I'd like to present three of the eight simple, low-cost tips about promoting meetings from The Forum Effect

Number 2 of 8 – "Add a conference promotional message to the outgoing e-mail signature line for all of employees."  This tip is very simple, clever, and free.  Think about how many emails leave your company on any given day, and that's not even counting the ones that get forwarded.  Your message (with a link to a registration page) could be seen by a huge amount of people in a short amount of time.

Number 3 of 8 – "Offer free advance webinars on topics that will be featured at the conference to ‘tease' the conference."  There are actually two reasons this is a good idea.  The first is to generate interest and build hype.  The second is it lets all those participants get acquainted with dialing-in and participating in a webinar.  It also gives your team a chance to have a dry run of sorts to work out any problems before the big show.

Number 5 of 8 – "…Answer potential attendees' two most important questions: What's in it for me? Why should I come to your event?"  These are two very important, yet often overlooked questions.  Their answers should be put in pretty much every place you mention your webinar.  And it's not just for conferences or events, answer these questions everywhere in your company: "Why should I… buy that product, visit that store, care about the TPS report?"

Unexpected Communication

Unexpected CommunicationWhat happens when we "zone out?"  How do we go from "I need to pay attention to this," to, "Wait, what did he just say?"  I'm sure there are plenty of reasons, some particular to each person and some not.  I think a major one for all of us though, is when we get to a part that we know, or have heard before we just… change the channel.

Unfortunately, since we don't actually know what's coming, or how long the portion will last of "what we already know," new information can zip right over our distracted heads.  As a speaker, too many of these moments can mean the difference between a good job and "Snooze Fest."

"Don't pass the cream!" is Bill Lampton's suggestion for getting your participants to focus on your message.  Well, it's actually the punch-line of a great story about an experience he once had with an unexpected communicator.  Regardless, Lampton means to demonstrate that doing the unexpected gets people's attention very quickly and cements you in their memories after.

In an audio conference call, this could mean announcing the first agenda item, then getting a participant to take a stab at presenting it with their own thoughts and conclusions for five minutes or so.  Or, on the lighter side, you could dial into the conference and "forget" that you aren't muted, all while discussing your "double-life" and the bank heist you pulled the night before. 

Then there's my favorite: at some point during the first ten minutes of a video conference, have a friend in a gorilla suit casually walk behind you, peer over your shoulder into the camera, and saunter away.  The gorilla never returns, and you, of course, never noticed it or broke your presentation flow, but you can bet that eyes will be riveted to you for the rest of the meeting.

It's not likely, but if you have any "unexpected communication" tips that can beat the video conference gorilla, I'd sure like to know them.  Leave your tip in a comment and we'll see.

In the Beginning...

Even at its most basic, audio conferencing can be a powerful business tool.  And, like many things in business, though something may work fine, it most always can work better.  That's why I wanted to look at one vital area of a conference call and discuss how it can be improved.

The Beginning of the Conference

While the "meat" of the audio conference is why everyone dials in, it's the beginning of the call that is as much, or possibly more important.  Starting on time, the greeting, introductions, these items are very important to set the tone for the rest of the conference.  Of those three, starting on time is especially crucial for two reasons.  1.  It shows respect for your participants and guest speakers, and demonstrates you value their time.  2.  It encourages the participants to want to attend your next conference call.

The greeting is a great way to signal a definite beginning to the call, and allows you to set whatever mood you would like.  Regardless of tone, it's always a good idea to acknowledge and thank your participants, and let them know what the next hour or so is all about.

Here's a tip that is a bit unorthodox: right after the greeting, state your main point and conclusion.  Typically you wouldn't get to this until the end for many reasons: it needs setup, it's the big finish, and/or logically it just fits at the end.  But consider this, if you begin with your conclusion, then as you make each point, they will be noticed and associated with the final conclusion.  This could help your participants follow your presentation better, and maybe even make a stronger finish.

Have any of you readers ever started a conference with your conclusion?  Tell me how it worked out.

Time

Time

What is it that they say about time?  That you can spend it, or borrow it, but you can't buy it?  That it flies when you're having fun?  I've always noticed that when I really needed time, it just seemed to slip through my fingers.  Audio conferencing can be like that.  One minute you're introducing the topic, and the next you're trying to cram three main points into the last five minutes.

One of the most obvious signs of a professional conference call is adherence to the schedule.  What is more important, however, is not that you ended on time, but that you used that time wisely.  People notice things like that.

So how can we use our audio conferencing time wisely?  Here are a few tips:

  • Before the conference, before invitations to the conference, create an agenda complete with a schedule
  • In the schedule, allot five to ten minutes at the end for questions, follow up, conclusion, and a farewell
  • Distribute the agenda/schedule to all participants so they can come prepared to listen and with questions
  • Meet-by phone or pre-conference-with speakers and other hosts to go over schedule, and decide on time cues to keep them on track
  • Prepare back channel communications-instant messaging, texting, web conference chat--with speakers to quietly tell them time cues if needed.
  • Record and table off-topic questions, digression points, and great ideas that aren't exactly on point, and announce that they will be the subject of their own meeting and audio conference
  • Considering your particular participants, be open to having your Q&A spread out through the conference instead of at the end

Running a successful audio conference is not just about effectively conveying information to the participants, but also laying the groundwork for future successful audio conferences.  The best way to do that is to respect the participants' time.  Try to schedule a conference to best suit the time zone containing the majority of the attendees, keep the conference to an hour-hour and a half max-and always, always end on time.

Getting More People To Attend Your Conference Call

How to get the word out about your conference call? Bummed by the low attendance at your last one or two or ten? Read on.

Make sure the conference call is well publicized.
If it’s for a specific team, you’ll need to make sure the time is a suitable hour for everyone to attend. If it’s an open invitation conference call, you’ll need to make sure that a large number of people are even aware you’re hosting a call. Sending out email reminders is one very good way to do this, announcements on Twitter is another, even announcing the call on Facebook or LinkedIn has worked for our clients.

Send out a couple more reminders as the event approaches.
Try a week before and then the day before or the day of if you’re using email. Facebook reminds users with its sidebar scheduler, and you can also send out Facebook email if attendees have agreed to join a group or become a fan (all that Facebook lingo!). Make sure the date and time are clear and include a subject. What is your conference call about? Discussing budgets? Agreeing on a design? Advising entrepreneurs on marketing themselves better? A clear subject will get more people.

Use incentives to attract listeners and then wow them with content.
I can’t tell you how many times someone comes up with an incentive (win a 100 dollars!) and then drones on and on about stale marketing ideas for entrepreneurs. Or someone raffles off a dinner for two and then won’t entertain any ideas on a new design for the logo. Or someone promises the budget meeting will be worth the time to attend and then doesn’t even show up or sends a lackey to do the job for him. Match the content to the incentive and you’ll light up those phone lines.

The point of a conference call is to interact with others. If you’re worried no one will show up on your call, invite a few associates or coworkers to join you. Simply having someone guaranteed to be there will help you plan for a better conference. If you find that your team skips the weekly conference in favor of making more client calls, you’ve got to find some way to convince them that the twenty minutes spent together as a team will help to retain and attract more clients, and that’s the hard part. Spending some time brainstorming how to get everyone on the calls is a worthy task for you to-do list.

Conferencing Distractions

"What do you think, Mr. Smith?  Mr. Smith?  Hello, are you there?"

"Oh, sorry.  Ah… what was the question again?"

Obviously Mr. Smith wasn't giving the conference call his full attention.  Even if you've been in just a few conference calls, you've probably experienced a similar situation.  These days, we have so much technology and productivity at our fingertips; it can be difficult not to get distracted.

Email is one of the main culprits of distraction when audio conferencing.  It's almost impossible not to click on the inbox when you hear that little chime, or see some unchecked mail.  But when we do, we run the risk of losing track of what's being said.  Unless exchanging emails is part of the conference call, the best idea is to close your email until the call is over.

Chat, or instant messaging, is both a blessing and a curse for audio conferencing.  With chat on, at any time a window could pop up with something important, or something frivolous.  Either way, we stop paying attention to the conference call. 

However, sometimes things need to be said during audio conferencing that can't actually be said out loud.  Chat is excellent for this.  It's instant and just between you and the other person.  Quick messages like, "You've got one minute left, wrap it up," or "The answer is blue," can be invaluable.

Because instant messaging can be invaluable as a means of backdoor communications, you might not want to shut it off.  Instead, switch your instant messaging status from "Available" to "Busy" or "In a meeting."  That way, you won't be bothered except by an urgent message from another participant in the meeting: "Don't forget today is Mr. Smith's birthday!"

But during the audio conference when you ask someone a question, don't assume that someone is distracted just because they don't answer immediately.  Good audio conferencing manners dictate that you mute yourself when not speaking to cut down on background noise.  They may just be trying to find the unmute button.  Here's a good tip on asking questions during an audio conference.

Making Conference Calls Better For Your Team

What is the definition of a great conference call? Is it the successful transmission of information? Is it connecting with the team? I think for each person it really depends. What works for one person may not work for another. And, in reality, it is both successful transmission of information and connecting with the team and more. To get that more, it requires a close look at a few conference call factors.

1. Consider who’s on the call. Do you know that one person prefers more interaction with others on the call? Do you know which people prefer to listen and interject their comments only when necessary? Then the question becomes how to make it work for both.

2. Consider learning and working styles when preparing conference agendas. Do you have auditory learners with verbal learners or visual learners? Utilizing handouts, and PowerPoint, and speaking covers all the learning and working styles and makes sure that everyone leaves the conference feeling like they kept up and learned something.

3. Ask conference attendees for feedback. If you’ve decided not to prepare handouts, you will hear about it more than likely. If you’ve made a decision about putting everyone on mute, is that what everyone wants? Can you explain your decision when pressed?

4. Experiment a bit. Add a Q&A session, allow an attendee to lead the call, allow attendees to Twitter the call as it happens, try a web conference or a video conference, whatever you think may make the conference call a better experience for your attendees.

5. Make sure the work gets done, but make it enjoyable. Sure, the overarching goal of a conference call is to get the job done, but can you also joke around (appropriately) and run contests and play guessing games and trivia. This is an essential part of a successful conference after all. Helping a team interact and share integral information with each other.

However, your mileage might vary. Are there specific things you’ve tried in recent conference calls that worked especially well? Do you have a process you use to ascertain whether or not your conference calls work well for your team/attendees? If so, please leave a comment. We at Accuconference desire to find the best information about successful conferences to give to you, but we know sometimes the most helpful tips come from our clients.

How To Prepare For Your First Conference Call

If you've only attended a conference call, but never actually hosted or presented on a call before, we've collected our best tips to help make your first conference call a success.

Make sure everyone has the correct time, date, dial-in number, and pin.
Prepare to have to provide this again to those who may lose it or forget or panic before they arrive to the conference call (usually those who are new to attending conference calls).

Hand out agenda or presentation printouts before the call.
Some presenters prefer not to give hand-outs before a call, but it's much easier to track the presentation when you have something to look at. Those who don't give hand-outs before risk getting a lot of questions about whether or not there will be printouts, so just save yourself some time and hand them out before, so everyone has something to look at.

Prepare yourself with back-up notes and reminders to speak clearly and calmly.
Have notes or index cards with your main points and remind yourself to speak slowly. Remember that the faster you go through your material, the more confusion and questions there will be. Plus, as you force yourself to speak slowly, you'll calm yourself down automatically. Not that we're encouraging you to be boring! Nothing wrong with talking animatedly! People love that.

Don't be too hard on yourself when you make a mistake.
You might stumble over words or mispronounce a name, but don't worry about it. Everyone makes mistakes. If you make a mistake, just keep right on going, or chuckle a bit, if that helps smooth it over. Be gracious if someone points out your mistake, and say thanks. People will remember that more than the mistake.

End on time and don't keep people for more than ten extra minutes.
Don't go over by much. If you state your call will be an hour, try to stick to that time. Nothing is worse than sitting for another twenty minutes waiting for the presenter to attempt to wrap it up. People will drop off the call if you keep going for too long. Once you've delivered your message and taken appropriate questions, feel free to sign off.

See, you did it! You're now a pro! A conference call is actually really fun. It's a great way to feel connected on a project, inspire a group of people, or to feel as if you're in the same room and not a long ways away.

Conferencing with Twitter

Twitter

Let's say we're having one of those quick conference calls that turns into a big deal.  We're outdialing to get others in the loop, shooting emails back and forth, instant messaging, and switching between lecture mode and open conference to get ideas while maintaining order.  That's a lot of information flying around.

Now let's say we setup a private Twitter account.  We'll call it, "CompanyXconference," and since its private, only our conference "friends" can see what's on it.  Think of it as a virtual whiteboard that never runs out of space, and we hold the dry erase marker.

As the meeting progresses, we tweet questions- and answers - people's ideas, what's being talked about, and whatever else we want to record and share.  Then after the meeting, instead of sending an email of the minutes of the meeting to everyone, people can just look at their CompanyXconference friend.

Audio conferencing and Twitter don't always have to be private.  If we're hosting a large conference for customers and potential customers, a public Twitter board might work better.  We could tweet what part of the agenda we're on and what's coming next.  Any websites we want attendees to check out can be linked in a tweet.  And presentation materials can be distributed/downloaded with tweeted links as well.

Perhaps the best part of a conference call with customers, potential customers, and Twitter is the networking possibilities.  If you're getting people to watch your tweets during a conference, it's an easy step to have them "follow" you and be "followed."  And once they're following you, they'll see your updates and announcements, and you can keep in touch with them; formally or informally.

These are just a few ideas, how have you used Twitter with your business?  Leave a comment and tell us all about it!

Top Five Common Courtesies on a Conference Call

In line with last week's post on reducing background noise on a teleconference, we know of some common courtesies that help conference calls go better. These are simple, easy to remember tips that improve time management, team building, tolerance, and communication while on a weekly or even daily call.

1. Try not to hog the speaking time. We all know that one person who just has a lot to say (either from too much coffee or too much solitude; one can't be sure of exactly what is the cause) and they just go on and on about little details (or perhaps even needless gossip) that everyone feels is a waste of time. Try giving speakers time limits—say for presentations, ten minutes, for adding something to a conversation, two minutes - and then it is someone else's turn. This usually is only necessary when you have multiple talkers on a call. I know some non-talkative teams using conferences that would love to get anyone to talk for more than ten minutes!

2. Don't react rashly. Sometimes hot topics come up while on conference and the responsibility of everyone on the call is to not get offended and react. True, some jokes are really quite tasteless and some political comments are uncalled for (and quite out of place) but reacting to such things only escalates the drama. Let the team lead handle it or be decisive and gracious if it falls on you to reroute the conversation back to the right topic. Reacting is really not even fair; on a call, you can't see how the comments were said and you can't see body language of the person making the comments.

3. Try to speak to everyone. Sometimes a conference takes place in a conference room full of people while several members dial in. In those occasions, it is really hard for those on the phone to hear if a conversation goes on far away from the speaker. If you're ever in a conference room with people on the phone, try to make sure everyone can hear the person speaking. If that just isn't possible, have someone repeat what was said or send transcripts so that those dialing in are not left in the dark.

4. Communicate conference changes and updates. I can't tell you how many times I've dialed into a conference only to find the room had changed or the time had changed or even the day had changed. Make sure everyone attending the conference knows ahead of time if changes have been made. Sometimes it may become necessary to get replies from team members agreeing to the changed time, just to make sure. Also, if you're sending out relevant handouts that are needed during the conference, make sure to do this well enough in advance that everyone can access them easily for the call.

5. End when you promised. Employees appreciate respect for their time (even if they're on the clock working for you) as much as you appreciate them showing up to work on time each day. As much as you need the conference to begin on time, your team needs it to end on time. Days are busy and people plan other work, out of office appointments, and other calls around these conference calls. The ability to stick to a timed schedule is appreciated and a sign that you take everyone's participation in the call seriously.

These common courtesies are really simple (shows a little can go a long way), but as a manager, nothing is simple (probably because human beings are involved). Managers appreciate employees who are courteous and employees love managers who return the favor.