Remember: Conference Call Mute Is Never On

It is an inevitable thing that is going to happen on conference call. Someone is going to forget to mute their phone. There are a million stories out there of how people have heard bathroom visits, ordering fast food, or worse. These interruptions are embarrassing, not only for the person responsible, but also for the host of the conference call.

Most conference hosts are diligent about putting the call into lecture mode and participants usually try to mute their conference lines. This doesn’t always happen.

Once, as an operator on a conference, I had the pleasure of dealing with a client who was going to have some high profile people on their conference. The client expressed to me that it was important that there were no back ground interruptions on the call. I explained that all the participants would be muted, but since there would be about seven people on with the special speaker code, those lines wouldn’t be muted. I suggested they use our star feature to mute the call and even had everyone test out the function to make sure the feature worked.

Inevitably, when the call started and one of the high profile guests was speaking, my client’s line was not muted and I suddenly heard the announcement that train #356 to Boston would be departing in five minutes. Having been on a number of operator conferences, I made the decision to mute his line, in order to avoid that playing over these high profile guests. It made me uneasy to have to do that – but I couldn’t risk his conference being interrupted, and this is the exact reason why people elect to have operators on their conference.

Audio conferences can be tricky. They aren’t necessarily hard to participate in but there are a lot of things to remember, and sometimes – it’s the simplest things that we can forget about.

It brings up a great point about being on a conference – always assume your line is not muted, even when it is. Even when you are certain you’ve muted your phone, or you just got the message that your line was muted, you never know when something could happen to unmute. What if your moderator accidentally turns off the feature or you’re disciplining one of your kids, across the room from your phone, and the moderator suddenly opens the lines up for questions.

In an instant the entire conference hears you explaining to your children why chocolate frosting is not an appropriate substitute for paint.

Always assume that your line is live – and it’s a good rule that can apply to audio conferences or video. Assuming that you’re on video will save you from possible embarrassment.

How are you managing on your conference calls? Are you assuming that mute is on, or are you doing things the same way that you would with a conference that was live?

Tell me your embarrassing moment in the comments – and if yours is the one that inspires the deepest shade of red, you’ll win a prize. (Details to come) I look forward to hearing your stories!

Using the ICEPACk

Until today, I had never heard of ICEPAC, but this acronym stands for the steps of creating a great presentation. Whether you have weeks to craft, or get handed the project last minute, this acronym--and the other tips in the article--break down a presentation into easy-made parts.

ICEPAC

Interest - If no one cares about a subject, then why bother with a web conference? If they’re supposed to care, then it’s your job to make them care. Think about how your message will affect your participants daily lives and business, and emphasize the more interesting points.

Comprehension - There’s such a thing as too much detail, especially if your participants will get information overload. Keep data to bite sized chunks, avoid jargon, and cater to their--not your--expertise.

Emphasis - The main message is the whole point of your presentation, so emphasize it. Put key information on its own slide. Pause after saying a main point, or even precede it with, “This is important.”

Participation - Getting your participants involved creates more investment on their part. Utilize Q&A often, or ask impromptu, “soft ball” questions. Use the Socratic Method to draw people out, and praise highly when it works.

Accomplishment - For people to be more open to ideas, they have to like the ideas. And the best way of getting them to like ideas is for them to be a part of their creation. With good participation, you’re halfway there, but the web conference as a whole should be satisfying with something completed, decided on, or improved.

Confirmation - This is more than follow-up after the conference, it includes during as well. Q&A throughout is good to make sure you’re on track. And it never hurts to get participants to repeat their assignments so you know they understand.

Try ICEPAC when you create your next presentation and let us know how it worked for you.

How to Debate Effectively and Rationally

Host your next debate via conference call by setting up an account with AccuConference.  Universities receive a 50% discount. 

Today is November 3, 2010, which means that the elections were held yesterday. Now, whether it was a good day or a bad day for you and your political ideals, the results are going to stick around for 2 years. “They” say you’re not supposed to talk about politics; it leaves open too much room for drama and disagreement. In watching the election coverage last night, I saw that a lot of the members of the panels on various news organizations couldn’t have a meaningful debate.

They were rude, inappropriate, and just downright mean to their fellow panelists. I’m a huge supporter of a healthy debate, civility in discussion, and above all, being passionate about what is being discussed. Ultimately, if you’re going to have a discussion, you should be passionate about it, otherwise, what are you talking about? We’re advised not to discuss politics and it’s because of this passion that these kinds of discussion can be dangerous firecrackers waiting to explode.

We proceed carefully on a conference call when discussing something that is controversial or will change the face of our company, like hiring and firing. We shy away from open discussion and the sharing of ideas. Why is that? We are adults and we should be able to have conversations.

The principals of debate are clear but somewhere along the lines we’ve forgotten what it was like to have a civil conversation with others about topics we might disagree with. Here are ten tips to consider before engaging in healthy debate.

  1. Be prepared. Don’t be surprised when the passion from both sides bleeds through.
  2. Let the other person finish. Interrupting the other person makes you look like a jerk.
  3. Be open to accepting another person’s point of view. In order to engage in debate, you must be willing to understand where someone is coming from, even if you disagree.
  4. Consider your response carefully. Think about what you are about to say before you just fire off at the mouth. You can’t take it back once you say it, so don’t say anything you’ll regret.
  5. Have Respect. Have respect for the other person’s opinion, but don’t concede your own.
  6. Listen intently. Healthy debate is not just about making you heard; it’s about hearing someone else.
  7. Try to see things from the other side. Before you respond, consider what the other person has said and what their motivations might be. You don’t have to agree, but everyone is capable of understanding the other perspective.
  8. It should be called conversation, not debate. It should be about discussing opposing points of view and learning from each other.
  9. Answer follow up questions. If the person you’re speaking with asks you a direct question, answer it. They are engaged in the conversation and want to know more about your feelings.
  10. Be passionate, but be polite. Name calling and generalizations only encourage people feel attacked. You can have passion about your point of view, but you should never revert to name calling. You’re not eight and this is not the playground.

Bonus Tip: Shake hands.At the end of every debate, shake hands and take a moment to converse about something that’s not debate related. These conversations usually come up with our inner circles, so once it’s all over, talk about something you both agree on.

Look, debating with a person who opposes your views and an opinion is hard, but when you’re a grown up, I like to think it’s possible to sit down and talk about things with others, no matter what their opinions. Some of the greatest ideas in the world have been born from healthy debate and there’s no reason why we should just not talk about something because we disagree.

Storm Spotters Use Video Conferences on Mobile Devices

Storm Spotters Use Video Conferencing On Mobile Devices

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated by the weather. When severe weather strikes, you can find me online tracking the storms and watching the coverage across the United States. I love to watch storms as they pop, fire, and start to hook around, causing that intimidating tornado warning. As long as the warning sirens around me aren’t sounding, I am all over the coverage and the radars. Recent outbreaks of the severe weather have shown me something very interesting.

Storm chasers are using their mobile devices to broadcast their chase to the local weather stations. If you like watching the weather you’ve probably stopped over at severestudios.com or chasertv.com. These are chasers who have live streaming video from their cars of the storms they are chasing. Not all storm spotters are equipped with these kinds of devices and for a meteorologist, who is broadcasting live in studio, the storm spotter is essential to knowing where the worst of the weather is located.

With mobile video conferencing becoming more widely available on devices, chasers without a partnership with a streaming website can call their local weatherman and show them what they see, as well as telling them where they are. One of the hardest things about storms is that they are unpredictable and while the National Weather Service and local meteorologists do the best they can, it’s an imperfect system. Having chasers in the field gives you an ability that wasn’t there for prediction ten years ago: Knowing exactly where a tornado is on the ground.

Radar signatures are very helpful but there is no sure fire way to say that a storm will put a tornado down at a specific location. Unfortunately, confirmation of tornados to broadcasters only comes in the form of damage reports from emergency management, and for those reporting the damage, the information is simply too late. Imagine the ability to have spotters everywhere with mobile devices, streaming as they watch the clouds roll through. Meteorologists could then see as funnel clouds form, drop to the ground, and kick up debris.

Imagine the warning you could give if you could say there was a tornado on the ground on a particular street or intersection. As someone who lives in an area that is prone to tornado touchdowns, I have to say that the use of this technology could give greater piece of mind to the public, as well as giving meteorologists a better idea of how tornados form, and what makes for great conditions for tornados.

How do you think video conferencing on mobile devices will change the way storms are predicted?

The Monsters Guide to Public Speaking

The Monsters Guide to Public Speaking

Halloween is this weekend and with it comes scary stories, fright nights, and a lot of things you don’t see every day. It’s the one time of the year that ghosts and goblins can come out of their hiding places. Since they only make one public appearance a year, they like to make it count and offer some valuable insights into the realm of public speaking – what works and what doesn’t.

Zombie

Eating brains does not translate into a warm and friendly greeting to your guests.

Instead, arrive at your event about an hour early and shake hands instead of eating brains—oops, I mean breakfast. Introduce yourself and find out more about what brought people to see you speak and what they would like to know more about.

Ghost

Be transparent and friendly.

Standing up in front of a group of people can be intimidating. It will help you as the speaker to relax along with your participants if you are humorous, friendly, and open with your audience.

Witch

Don’t be afraid to dazzle with a little magic.

Unless you are presenting in Salem, MA, somewhere between 1692 and 1693, your audience would probably like a little flash and dazzle. Since you only have about two minutes to grab their attention and keep them interested for the whole presentation, don’t be afraid to open the presentation with a splash.

Frankenstein

Don’t walk like a robot.

Frankenstein makes an excellent point about the importance of being able to move fluidly around the stage. When you move, you’re forcing audience members to pay attention and notice you. Otherwise, you’re just going to be a droning and unmoving piece of furniture on the stage. The more comfortable you are with being in front of a group, the better.

Vampire

Give them something to sink their teeth into.

In the end, if you’re not talking about something that matters, you’re not going to get a great response. Be sure that the content of your presentation or topic is relevant and intriguing, and offer clear ways for your participants to be involved during and after the presentation.

Hope you enjoyed that insight from the people who know what it’s like to make one public appearance a year. You have to come out swinging; otherwise, you’ll end up six feet under.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Conference Call Rewards

At the store where I buy groceries they have one of those card programs where you get money off the specific items you buy. These cards have always had great deals on groceries and this weekend, I learned that I can use my card at the gas station to get a discount. I didn’t have to do anything special besides shop at this particular grocery chain. Just by being a member, I get a gas discount.

A lot of our customers call us and ask us how they can customize their services and, much like I was with the money off on a gallon of gas, are surprised to find that we have many included services. Here are five things we get asked about that are already a part of your conference service.

  1. AccuConference has the ability to record all of your audio, video, and web conferences.
  2. Pre-record an audio message that can be played to participants on a live conference call. You can control the recording playback from the live call screen, and pause the recording to take questions or add additional information.
  3. Your recorded web and video conference session can be provided within the day. While we have the ability to send you a CD, for when you need something right away, we can also send you a download link that will allow accessing the completed file much faster than waiting on the delivery.
  4. Our services can be customized to fit your individual needs for your conference. If you have special requests please give us a call and one of our operators will be happy to help explain our options.

Remember our services include a lot of things that you may never know about until you need them. Finding out that your conference services have a lot of options included is a wonderful surprise, with no loyalty card needed.

Turn Off Call Waiting and Other Tips

Attention to detail can make a world of difference. In a conference call, looking after the little details before and during can turn a good conference great, or at least keep it from going bad. There’s a list of 33 conference call tips from Corbin Ball that I recently read. Here’s a few of my favorites.

Call Waiting - On certain phones, the call waiting beep can be heard by the audience. And it’s especially annoying to the rest of the participants if you’re popular. Find out if your phone does this--usually the older landline models--and learn how to temporarily turn it off.

Identify Yourself - You can’t see your participants and they can’t see you--unless you’ve integrated the call with a video conference of course. Encourage everyone to say their name before speaking.

Identify Them - You’ve said your name, now say who you’re addressing. In a conversational or meeting type of conference call, it’s usually better to address a person than the group at large. So say your name, then say their name, then speak your piece.

Help Hotline - Unless you’re out-dialing, you have to distribute the dial-in number and conference code before a conference call. And even with out-dialing, you should make sure all participants have an external way to reach you--phone, fax, email, chat, carrier pigeon, etc--in case of any connection issues.

Rules at the Front - Even with old pros, it’s good to announce rules and basic etiquette at the beginning of a conference call. Some things to cover include identifying yourself and others, muting policy, time limits, pausing for rebuttals, no interrupting, and nice things like that.

Plus, it’s more genteel to do it at the beginning than to correct transgressions as they happen. So those are the tips that I thought were important enough to highlight. Which ones are your favorites? Have any tips you think should be on the list?

Office Conference Etiquette

When conferencing from your desk, there are a lot of things that can be in your way or on your mind, even though you’re trying to conduct some business, and when you’re lost in your full-steam-ahead mindset, you could be bothering the others trying to work beside you. Here are a couple of ways to be polite the next time you have to take a conference call from your desk.

  1. If at all possible, take your conference call in a private area, even if all your conference rooms are filled. Not only will this cut down on the possibility to disturbing your neighbor, you’ll also be separated from your distractions like IM, email, and even Angry Birds. Let the people around you know you’re going to be on a conference. Tell your buddy at the desk beside you that you’ll be on a conference for a little while, so you may not be as fast to respond to emails or IM.
  2. Resist the urge to put the call on speaker phone. The people around you weren’t invited to your conference call, so they don’t need to hear it. If you want to be hands free, do that by a headset instead of disturbing your cubicle buddy.
  3. Speak in a normal voice on the conference. Just because it’s a conference call doesn’t mean that the ability for your to be heard has decreased that much. Speak in your normal voice in order to be hear.
  4. Make a funny sign to hang on your cubicle wall to let everyone know you're on a conference. Monsters and zombies are pre-approved by yours truly.

Having a conference call from your cubicle can be a bit of a distraction to your every day work environment. We’re used to getting up and going into conference rooms and being able to block out everything, but that’s not always a possibility, so we have to be able to keep ourselves focused, as well as not disturbing our buddies.

MagicJack Blocks Conference Calls (UPDATE)

A few months ago, I let you know about the problems that some of our customers were getting when they were trying to connect to our conference services with MagicJack. The basic rundown is that we were told to simply email them to request that the phone numbers be unblocked. It has not turned out that easy and we wanted to update our customers on where we stand in the resolution.

  • We contacted MagicJack via email, as per their request, to ask our numbers be activated. In response, they asked for some additional information, information that applies to VoIP providers, like an IP address. Since we are not a VoIP provider, we do not have that kind of information to give them.
  • For a brief period in time, MagicJack customers attempting to dial in on one of our toll free numbers were being blocked, but those issues were resolved within 24 hours of letting our contact know.
  • MagicJack has let us know that an interconnection is required in order to proceed but since we are not a VoIP provider, we’re not able to connect to them in such a manner. Their response is “Unfortunately, if we cannot interconnect there is nothing I can do”.

What does this mean for you as a MagicJack subscriber trying to use AccuConference?

Unfortunately, this means that if you’ve been experiencing this interruption in trying to connect to AccuConference, for now, you will continue to get this message. MagicJack has provided no additional information on how we can resolve this, simply stating that we can’t interconnect, therefore, we cannot resolve the issue. We are continuing, on our side, to try to work everything out, but it doesn’t seem like it’s understood we are not a VoIP provider, so we cannot give them what they want to fix the problem. There’s no other solution for us.

For the time being, our hands are tied, but that doesn’t mean yours are. If you’re a MagicJack customer, please feel free to contact their customer service department and let them know that the numbers are being blocked. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission by visiting their website and clicking on “Internet and VoIP”. This will file a complaint with the FCC for “unlawful advertising” while the FCC is continuing to work out regulations and rules for VoIP providers.

Encourage Great Questions

Most of the time, when it comes to ending a presentation or conference call, it’s always the same – “We’d now like to turn the floor over for questions.” Then this dreaded thing happens -- silence comes over the crowd and no one seems to have any questions. Everyone knows that the call for questions can be the quietest part of your presentation, when it should be the most collaborative moment you have. When else will you have all these great minds in a room together to pick each other’s brains and share ideas?

In my personal experience, the missing questions are usually related to it being a lot of information thrown at your audience at once, without any real time to digest things. It’s not until later; when you’re reviewing your notes that you’ll realize you have an entire list of questions.

As the presenter there are a few things you can do to help open up the possibility of getting some great questions.

  • Pass out an agenda to the participant prior to the conference. This gives them time to review the information ahead of time and they might even show up with some questions.
  • For long presentations, take periodic breaks for questions. The longer you give information, the more likely questions are to be forgotten. Your audience will be able to feel like they are staying “on topic” which will encourage questions.
  • Give multiple ways that participants can ask questions. Don’t give them the audio only option, also provide a chat box, or email to submit their questions. A lot of people do have stage fright that that could be preventing them from asking their question.

Three little things can change the outcome of your next conference and make it the meeting of collaborative genius you had been hoping for. What are you doing to encourage questions after your conferences?