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.
In an interesting experiment, an American university professor divided students into two groups. Both listened to the same lecture by a native speaker of English. Each group was shown a photograph of the purported speaker. The group that was shown a photo of an obviously American speaker exhibited greater comprehension of the material than the group which believed it was listening to a non-native speaker. Both listened to exactly the same speech delivered by the same individual.
Personal assumptions, cultural bias, gender, age or racial prejudices, education preconceptions, and power hierarchies – so many factors affect the way we perceive others. Even when we speak the same language, these biases can affect the way we hear and understand each other. In communicating with foreign customers or colleagues in a teleconference, the effort must be made to set aside our cultural differences to understand each other. Often cultural references and idioms get in the way of clear communication and repetitive efforts must be made to arrive at a shared understanding. Video conferencing can present additional challenges where body language and gestures common in one culture may give unanticipated offense in another.
Many companies that regularly do business in foreign countries have implemented cultural advisor services to assist their employees in putting the company's best foot forward. If your company does not offer such a service, you can find many country-specific websites that provide helpful advice on bridging the cultural gap by entering a search for foreign customs + business meeting. Proper advance preparation will ensure a smoother, more productive teleconference or video conference with your foreign counterparts.
So you've scheduled a teleconference—great! Now you want to make sure that it is successful and meets your goals.
Here are some ways you can ensure a successful teleconference:
Send out reminders:
Of course you have the teleconference on your calendar, but what about everyone else?
Even if they have written it down, they could get caught up with something and not pay attention to the time. A reminder will jog participants' memory and is a great way to maximize attendance. You can actually send out two reminders—one the week before and another a few hours before.
Watch the clock:
Don't let any participant drone on (and don't drone on and on yourself either). Only the featured speaker should speak at length. If you find that someone is making long-winded comments or trying to push their own agenda, don't be afraid to steer the teleconference back to the main topic. Make notes of hot topics for future teleconferences.
Have a well-timed agenda:
Just as you don't want one person to go on and on, you also don't want to spend too much time on one issue. On the flip side, you don't want to jump from topic to topic at a speed that will leave the participants dizzy. Be aware that a teleconference should not be exhaustive. They should be informative, but every aspect of a topic cannot be covered. Decide just what information you want participants to leave with after they hang up.
The great thing about conference calls is that they can be recorded for future use. An audio, video, or web conference is not a one-time only event.
You can make previous conferences available to your staff as a teaching/learning tool. If someone was out the day of the conference they can still catch up by listening to/viewing it.
And you can also make them available to customers to inform them and market your products and services. You can create a library of past conferences and make it available on your website.
These conferences can also be mined to data. No one can remember all that took place during a teleconference and if you were the one moderating the conference you’ll remember even less than others. So go back, listen, and take notes that you can use in the future.
Your Marketing and PR departments can also use these conferences for sound bites and media-friendly quotes that can populate press releases, brochures, and other marketing materials. Just be sure the clear it with the individual you want to quote. If they work for your organization, this probably won’t be a problem. If they are from outside, you may even want to ask them to sign a release beforehand and then just let them know later what quotes you’ve decided to use.
Making a conference call or audio workshop memorable and having attendees leaving, but remembering what fun they had and all the great new people they met is an art. Much of it comes from getting the teleconference participants to interact with each other in a relaxed and stress-free atmosphere. Lightening the mood and providing a lot of lighthearted topics and free interaction within the group is one key element in making a conference memorable. Below is a list of other ways you can make your conference call or audio workshop something to be remembered and talked about for years to come.
- Think about the liberal use of humor. Remember to be cognizant of taste, of course don’t use off color humor or jokes stay safe. But like the entertainment elements, when incorporated into presentations these help to lighten the mood for attendees.
- Have teleconference conveners and staff interact with the group throughout the event. This not only helps attendees identify the people running the show, but it serves the purpose of lightening the mood and presenting additional networking opportunities when the time for follow-up starts after the call. If your staff is small, use your own staff to act as attendees and use pre-planned questions to start of the interaction at your free exchange or question and answer time.
- Play upbeat music where people enter and leave the conference call. Choose music and lyrics that reflect the conference theme. This can also make for a good conversation starter among attendees. If your attendees know each other or have had some interaction with each other, allow for casual open conversation between participants before the teleconference starts.
- Have the phone registration line staffed by outgoing employees who have a great telephone presence. This leaves an energetic and upbeat initial impression about the teleconference and enhances the anticipation for your event.