Every town, city, or county has matters that must be set before the public prior to a decision being made. Local governments do their duty by holding public forums, but quite often these forums are not well-attended.
Teleconferences are a very useful tool for municipalities looking to engage the public on issues that concern and affect the majority of citizens. There are many people who would hesitate to attend a public forum for any number of reasons such as bad weather, physically unable, lack transportation, busy schedules, the reluctance to give an opinion, or the feeling that they really can’t make a difference. You cannot get everyone to participate, but you may be able to broaden your audience if you use a teleconference to communicate with citizens.
With a two-way teleconference you can give voice to those whom you would not normally see at a town hall or city council meeting. Those who are afraid to give their opinion in person will be less inhibited if they are in their own living rooms. You will be able to really get a sense of public opinion about a topic this way. It will increase good will because residents will feel as though local government is really interested in connecting with them and values their thoughts and ideas.
It is the buzz on the Web – social networking, but just exactly how can you use social networking with conference calls? Here are a few suggestions to help you dive in and use social networking tools to boost attendance at your next teleconference.
First it's important to know of and to have accounts set up at some of the top social networking sites. We see lots of activity on Facebook, LinkedIn, Rover, and MySpace. Additionally, there are a plethora of other new sites that seem to be appearing daily in the social networking arena. Select one or two that you find easy to use and then harvest Outlook or your address book and start inviting people you know to be a part of your social network. It's easy. Many of the social networking services actually allow you to upload your Outlook contact files and then the services will send out automated invitations to people you know. I get lots of invitations and I haven't turned one down yet, so don't be fearful of rejection. Social networking is just that, socializing with others online and adding them to your network as they add you to theirs.
Second, once you have worked to build your network, now's the time to update your site with information about your conference call schedule. Facebook allows people in your network to see when you post something new to your home page. Other social networking sites have similar functions. Why not use the power of social networking to help you get your message out about your next teleconference. You may find that for the small amount of time you spend in getting connected with others using Facebook or LinkedIn, that the payoffs can be huge.
What if you wanted to have a teleconference, but you didn't want to do all of the talking? What do you do? Get someone else to do it! Specifically, get an expert to be the main speaker at a teleconference sponsored by your organization.
Think about the expense and logistics of arranging for someone to speak or lecture on a topic that is hot in your industry right now. Then think about how you can offer interested parties the chance to hear from an industry leader without having to rent an auditorium or venue. Admit it, you're intrigued!
Make sure that the speaker you select really does have some relevant information to share on hot button topics that your audience will care about. This person does not have to be known all over the world, either. They just have to have a credible reputation and be a dynamic speaker. People will get excited about the teleconference, even if the speaker is not an international jetsetter.
When you promote your teleconference be certain to highlight its convenience. Tell participants that they won't have to fight traffic or find a parking spot. When the teleconference is over they can put what they've learned into practice right away and share it with colleagues who couldn't take part in the teleconference.
Now all you have to do is find a speaker!
There are many standard services that a teleconference hosting-service can offer which make the experience more pleasant for the conference call participants. There are other hosting-services, however, that provide increased value at minimal extra charges that not many people know about. The extra values increase the effectiveness of a conference call and ensure a better outcome for the person holding it. Below is a list of features that you should think about when deciding on a teleconference hosting-service to help conduct your businesses.
Although this may not be something you normally would consider, Call Recording and Audio Playback are essential features to seek out when looking for a teleconference provider. How many times has someone called in late or missed one of your teleconferences? Having a provider with a call-recording option allows you to make a digital recording of the call which can then be stored on your provider's site. The audio playback option then allows those who were unable to join the conference to call in and not miss a thing.
A related service you might want to look for in a provider is Transcription. This service will make and provide a written transcript of the recorded conversation to you. This can be extremely important when planning business or sales strategies, carrying out interviews, or negotiating contracts or sales during a teleconference.
Post Call Tracking is another feature that you could find useful, especially if your conference call is one that includes a lot of people. This service allows the provider to track who participated in the call and who called in to hear the recorded call via the Playback mode. This is something very important if the information in the call is essential to your business goals.
Be forewarned, not all teleconference hosting-services offer these services. One place you can find all of these, though, is right here at AccuConference. In addition to all of these services, and more, we also hold the industry's "gold standard" in customer service.
Anyone with conference call experience knows the general features and customer service you need in a conferencing provider. Less well known, however, are the extras that can make your life easier and your conference calls more effective. Below is a list of services you might want to consider using, if your service provider offers them, that is.
First, an important feature is automatic email reminders to people participating in your teleconference. Having the option to email participants a week before, a couple of days before, the day of, and just before the teleconference is a powerful way to make sure your teleconference has the maximum participation.
A pre-conference option is indispensable, especially when the organizers of the call are not in the same room. This option allows you and your team to get together "virtually" just prior to the conference call - separate from your participants - to make any final arrangements and get everyone on the same page.
The Q&A option allows you to manage live question and answer sessions without all the confusion and over-talking associated with open calls. In Q&A mode, participants push a button on their phone that "raises their hand". The moderator can then selectively unmute the phone of any participant they choose - leaving all other lines muted - so only one person speaks at a time. This can be done on the moderator's computer, or simply pressing a “star code” on the phone to take the next in line. This flexibility and the peace it guarantees is a real life saver.
Like any business meeting, teleconferences are either heralded by groans or cheers. The response your teleconference receives depends largely on how effectively you orchestrate the meeting. Knowing what participants hate or like most about teleconferences can help you avoid the pitfalls and hold an effective and productive conference.
The four things people like most about conference calls are:
- They encourage group members to participate and share ideas openly.
- They foster commitment to the organization by investing participants in the decision-making process.
- They produce superior solutions through group participation and effort.
- They create a feeling of organizational unity.
The four things people hate most about conference calls are:
- They fail to begin or end on time.
- They accomplish little for the amount of time invested.
- They fail to reach a consensus or accomplish their goal.
- They are dominated by a few participants.
Make an effort to plan conference call that will create positive synergy for your business. Avoid holding conferences that are boring, repetitive or fail to accomplish their goals. You should strive to conduct a conference call that follows a specific stated agenda, starts and ends on time, is conducted fairly with an opportunity for all to express their views, and accomplishes its stated goals.
When preparing for a conference call, a speaker often spends a lot of time poring over what they will say and trying to get their planned remarks just right. Then they just leave their introduction up to chance. If you are engaged to speak as part of a conference call that is being sponsored by another organization, it is likely that someone else will be introducing you to the audience.
If it all possible, you should write your own introduction. Why? While there are no guarantees that it will be delivered as written, it may be very helpful.
You will prevent a rambling introduction that can take away time from the actual conference call.
It allows you to decide which parts of your career you want to highlight. You know which part of your experience is most relevant to the audience. It will also give you the opportunity to promote parts of your business that you really want to push.
On the other hand, you don't want to deliver your remarks as if you are reading them word for word from your notes. You want to sound informed, but conversational. So your notes should include all of the important points you want to make, but you shouldn't try to write down every single phrase you expect to say.
If you are speaking as part of a conference call, you have to remember that it isn't just a phone call. It is business! You cannot talk the way you'd talk to a friend or relative on the phone.
Act as if the audience can see you
Have you ever been advised to smile when answering the telephone? The person on the other end cannot see you, but they can sense the friendliness of your tone and smiling will help you convey warmth. The same thought applies to public speaking over the phone. If you are slouching, this will come across in your voice. Sit up straight as if every participant can see you.
Work the room
No, you cannot actually go around the room shaking hands, but you can make everyone on the line feel welcome. When people introduce themselves, say hello or make a brief comment that adds onto what they've said.
"I'm Fran from Silver Industrial."
"Hello Fran, I've visited your company's new facility. It is state-of-the-art."
Use imagery to help participants get the picture
You won't have any charts or pie graphs to show, but you can help your audience create mental pictures.
"Industry analysts predict unstable growth in that sector—it will be kind of like riding a roller coaster."
"These variables tend to appear suddenly and the experience can be jarring—imagine yourself in a bumper car being bumped by a several other bumper cars all at once."
Modern technology can make holding a conference call or video conference a breeze. But there's still a fair amount of work and organization involved in planning and holding an effective conference. Before you decide to invest your time (and money), you should examine your reasons for wanting to schedule a conference call or video conference. If your reason is listed below, you're on the right track.
- You need the interaction of ideas and opinions to create a plan, program or fully realized concept.
- You want to encourage a positive group dynamic or build team spirit.
- You have only a short time to build consensus or reach an agreement.
- You need to explain a complex subject or introduce a new concept or product.
You're wasting your time (and everyone else's) if your reason for holding a conference call or video conference is among the following:
- All necessary participants cannot be available at the same time.
- You or the other participants don't have time to properly prepare.
- Participants cannot be available for the time required to properly discuss and consider the issue.
- You have a simple message to deliver or question to answer.
- You are imparting information that does not require discussion or an immediate response.
To ensure a successful conference call, you need to create an atmosphere that encourages participation. Here's how:
- Keep an open mind. Leave your preconceptions behind and open your mind to new thoughts and ideas.
- Be friendly. Begin the conference call with a smile and a greeting.
- Respect differences. You will encounter many different personality types and personal styles. Look for the positive aspects in each and harness them to reach the group goal. Make an effort to allow every voice to be heard.
- Recognize individuals. Let individuals shine within the group. Acknowledge and seek out people with special expertise or talents to share.
- Give credit. Thank and recognize the ideas of others. Acknowledging the contributions of others fosters trust and confidence.
- Accept challenge. Accept criticism without getting defensive. If your ideas or opinions are challenged, meet that challenge with explanation, discussion and persuasion.
- Be yourself. Be sincere. There's no need to play a role or try to be what you're not. Be content to be yourself.
- Be responsive. Watch the participants for verbal and nonverbal signals and respond. Look for signs of inattention or boredom which may indicate that the meeting has gone on too long or that one person or view has become too dominant. Lack of eye content or a high-pitched voice can signal anxiety. Ask what the person is feeling and why. Use these signals to keep the group focused and on task.