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.

How to Introduce Your Company In Presentations

This week, I've been working closely with a new customer about setting up a large event. He’s never done an event like this before and wasn't entirely sure where he should begin his conference. Introducing your company is likely high on your list of things to cover on your conference call, and here is the approach I suggested to my customer. You only have two minutes to get the attention of an audience, so you want to give an overview of yourself in quick, yet succinct manner.

Answering three simple questions will help you introduce your company without taking up a lot of time.

What’s Your History?

Remember those two minutes? Start by giving your participants a brief understanding of who you are. Tell your audience about your beginnings. How was your company formed? What was the idea? Your company story is the key to getting an audience to understand who you are, where you came from, and what you faced to build.

What Do You Solve?

If I were to tell you what we do, it would be that we help people communicate. It’s not about web conferencing, audio conferences, and the other products we sell when introducing ourselves – it’s about how we make things easier for you. Instead of telling your participants that you sell something, tell them what you do. People will be more receptive to this approach rather than feeling like the entire conference was an opportunity for a sales pitch.

What Sets You Apart?

When you’re introducing you’re company, be sure to mention what sets you apart. Whenever I have the chance to introduce AccuConference to someone new, I mention our customer service philosophy, because that is the center of what we do differently. In order to memorable, you need to define the company’s special qualities so that you can be the first thought when your services are needed.

You can tailor these questions to introduce your company whether it’s your next large conference call or a cocktail party. By setting up your company and explaining how you solve problems for your customer will peak the interest of anyone who needs a company like yours.

How do you introduce your company in a presentation?

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.

Voting on Conference Calls

Conference calls are held for a number of reasons. Using conference services for board meetings is incredibly popular and sometimes, you need to hold a vote on these kinds of calls. The difference is that you can’t just ask for a “show of hands”. Now you need a way to take votes in an orderly manner on your conference call. Here are some of the unique ways we have observed our customers using our conference systems to take official votes from board members.

Flagging

On the live call screen, you have the ability to click beside a person’s name and put a little “flag” beside their name. We developed this feature for a client who wanted a way to keep track of participants who had already had an opportunity to ask a question so that everyone got a chance. Use the live call screen to flag people who have voted either up or down on an issue.

Web Conferencing

With web conferencing, you can send out a poll throughout the conference to take votes on your suggestions, issues, or just to get a feeling about how your participants feel. You can edit them to ask any kind of question and select any kind of responses. If you’re using a PowerPoint to show your clients some different options they have in a web page design or product marketing efforts, you can allow them to vote on which one they want by using the polling system within the conference service. (Bonus: The polls can be preloaded so that you have them ready to go.)

Q&A Sessions

When we talk about using Q&A sessions on your conference, it’s usually it the context of, well, asking questions. But you can use the Q&A feature to poll your audio participants. Ask them to press *1 to put themselves in line to vote and then you can take their vote one at a time. If you record your conference call, you can have all of these votes on record for review or to recount at a later date.

Voting sessions can easily be done through a conference without having to cost a lot of time and you can easily keep a record of these votes using some of these options.

The Hook: 5 Ways to Quickly Get Your Audience’s Attention

Arguably the most important part of any presentation is the beginning. It sets the foundation for the rest of your talk. If you come across as a strong, entertaining speaker at the beginning of your presentation, people will be forgiving if your material gets a little more routine as the talk progresses. Most peoples’ judgment is reserved for those first few seconds of the talk. So if you want to get people listening you need to hook them fast.

Think about it. How many times have you heard a speech that begins with, “I’m here to talk with you today about….” Or “Thanks for coming out to listen to my talk about…” or some variation of these intros. While they do get straight to the point, they do absolutely nothing to grab your audience, to rivet them so they’ll listen, or in other words hook them. With that in mind, here are a few ways to get your audience’s attention right off the bat.

Quote, Anecdote, Rhetorical Question

These are some of the most common ways to hook your audience. You must be sure to use a quote, anecdote, or rhetorical question that segues nicely into your material. If, for example, you were talking about the current recession, you could give an anecdote about the Great Depression and use it to underlie the point of your message. Or you could ask the rhetorical question: Just how similar is our current economic crisis to that of the 1930s? These types of lead ins will get people wondering, and help them tune in to what it is you’re saying.

New Twist on the Familiar

Take a common story, quote, saying, or anecdote and change it. This will give your audience a new perspective on the familiar as well as grab their attention. If you handle the twist skillfully enough, you can actually make quite an impression. Let’s say you were giving a presentation on nutrition in America. You could say something like, “To eat, or not to eat. That is the question.” The bolder the twist, the better the reaction will be. However, you must make sure it makes sense and fits into your material. One of the best ways is to simply find popular aphorisms online and try switching the wording around.

Personal Story

This will help introduce you as a speaker and gives a personal take on the material. Part of what gives you credibility as a speaker is the authority you have to talk about a subject. A good way to do this, for example, could be to lead into your presentation with a personal story about how you got involved in the field, started your business, or became an expert on the subject. The key is to be either funny or endearing so people will trust you.

Audience Participation Exercise

This is useful as an icebreaker, but typically only works in small settings. The simplest example is to have everyone introduce themselves. However, you can get creative, depending on the setting. Often in classrooms teachers will have people work in pairs and find out 5 interesting facts.

The Screening Question

Also known as the “Show-of-hands Question,” this gets the audience to participate, engages them in the material, and gives you, the speaker, an idea of how much the audience already knows.

With all of these options and a dash of creativity, you should be able to think of a good way to grab your audience’s attention quickly.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

8 Open Ended Questions for Engagement

One of the best ways to get your participants involved on your conference call is to open up for questions at the end. Many times, I've seen even the most impressive presentations end up with 'no questions' at the end. I've talked before about what to do when no one asks a question on your conference and one of the tips I suggested before was to ask a friend or co-worker to be the first person to raise their hand.

Now, some may disagree with me about using a "plant" on your conferences to get the ball rolling for Q&A. I'd offer the counterpoint that it is human nature to be shy and that no one really wants to go first. Q&A is an opportunity to refine parts of the presentations and silence will hurt the chances to do so. If the co-worker or friend asks a legitimate question about the content, I don't see anything wrong with this kind of tactic.

An open ended question is one that cannot be answered with "yes" or "no". It's important that the question gives the speaker an opportunity to explain some of those finer details while giving the opportunity to spark questions in some of the other participants. Here are eight great ways to start an open ended question on your next conference.

  1. "What is the purpose of..."
  2. "Can you explain...."
  3. "How would you use..."
  4. "What judgment can we make..."
  5. "How would you estimate..."
  6. "Explain the changes that..."
  7. "How would you summarize..."
  8. "What statements support..."

These questions are great conversation starters because they are legitimate in reference to the content presented and they give the speaker that extra chance to go over those finer details or even mention something they mistakenly skipped over when going over the presentation. Additionally, I suggest only doing this once a session and only if you don't get any one else in the question queue. This is to get the conversation started, not to take it over completely. The goal of asking your co-worker to ask the first question is to open the door for others to come along behind them.

Have you ever "planted" your co-worker to ask the first question?

Is Your Presentation Busy Work?

Do you remember elementary school? I can recall the days when our teachers spent afternoons having us do math worksheets, grammar practice, or simply sitting at our desks reading quietly. The goal of busy work was to require the students to be silent and focus on work.

Sadly, I've seen some presenters doing this with their presentations on conference calls or at events. A quick search for "tips on presentations" will bring up a lot of great resources, but many of them fail to mention one very simple and important tip.

Don’t Use PowerPoint For the Sake of Using PowerPoint.

This one tip might make your life a little easier and make people enjoy your conferences a bit more. Using a PowerPoint for every single presentation renders the visual element useless in the long run. How can you tell if your PowerPoint has become busy work – something that is only there to force participants to follow along with you?

Ask Yourself Do Your Presentation Slides:

Serve as Your Script?

If they do then you should introduce yourself to index cards. What is the point in taking the time to make a presentation if you're just going to write down everything you're going to say? Reading word for word from your slides is a waste of everyone's time. If reading from slides is your plan, simply hand out the slides and then tell participants to contact you if they have any questions.

Have more than zero fancy flashy transitions? (Yes you read that right)

Sure, the temptations to have each of your slides fade in and out, appear in a splash of animated fireworks, or accompanied with musical fanfare is always there. These can be distracting and look unprofessional to certain groups.

One thing I've seen that works really well in presentations is to use an image slide instead of a flashy transition when you need to shift gears to a new topic or draw the attention of the audience to the point you're about to make. It's less distracting than a bright flash or a new slide that flies across the screen, but it still grabs the audience's attention.

Rely too heavily on the bullet point as the common "theme" of each slide?

If every slide is featuring a bulleted list you are running the risk of overloading your participants with too much information in one presentation. A good rule of thumb is to use a presentation to present one overall or main idea, and let the slides support that common theme.

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions take a step back and ask yourself why you are using a presentation. If the goal in including slides with your presentation is to "make people pay attention" you are creating PowerPoint busy work.

Get More Engagement: Even if your presentation topic doesn't need a twenty page PowerPoint presentation, you can still use a one page "landing" slide with your company information and logo. Visuals can be powerful for participants, even if you’re just using your contact information.

What other ways have you seen PowerPoint's used as busy work?

Keys to Being An Effective Listener

I have a bad habit of not looking up from my cell phone when someone is talking to me. I am listening, yes, but I am not giving that impression. When I keep my attention on my phone, I’m sending the non-verbal message that I am not listening.

In communication studies the person talking is called the “sender” and the person listening is called “the receiver”. When the receiver has their head down, looking at their phone, or doing something else, they are not as engaged in the conversation as the sender might like. I need to teach myself how to put down the phone and become a better receiver. Here are three keys to becoming an effective receiver.

  1. Take a moment to digest the sender’s body language. When a message is being delivered, a lot of it is going to be inferred through the non-verbal messages displayed by the speaker. Your job as the receiver is to make inferences to what is being said and how it is being displayed by the presenter. Your sender’s body language is going to tell you a lot of things that are "unsaid" in the presentation and it’s important to watch for those signals, and not just listen to the words with your head down in your laptop or your smartphone.
  2. Resist the urge to finish the sender’s thoughts or sentences. When listening, there is a temptation to try and think about how you are going to respond. The problem with this is that you develop preconceived notions of the message that is being sent and it’s not always an easy task to dismiss the assumptions you’ve made when you “think ahead” of the speaker. You don’t want to miss the message because you’re trying to figure it out. Bonus: One way to practice this is to wait 5 seconds after someone talks before you respond. We don’t recommend this as a permanent fix because it will feel awkward and you might look crazy.
  3. Give the sender some feedback. No, you don’t need to interrupt the sender to give them feedback. Much like how you will be watching their nonverbal movements to make sure you are also sending non-verbal signals. Make eye contact or nod along with your speaker to show you’re actively engaged.

In order to be an effective receiver, you need to focus on your active listening skills. Beyond these tips there are plenty more things you can do to be an active listener.

What other keys necessary to be an effective receiver?

Web Conferencing Terminology

Last month, we rolled out our completely revamped web conferencing software. If you read our blog post about the announcement, you know we’re very excited about it. If not, you should, it’s a great introduction to the web conference system.

Since more of our new and current customers are calling us to ask about the program, I’ve noticed that we all have different ways of explaining things. I put together a useful tool to help you understand the terms that we’re using as they apply to our web conference system.

Webinar - Lots of people use this term differently, but to us a webinar is simply where you’re having a conference with a visual element.

Application Sharing – From the list of opened programs on your computer you can select any one of those programs to share with your participants. It limits the exposure of your computer screen and any notifications you get while sharing.

Audio Over the Web – Participants can now choose the option to listen to the audio streaming over the web. If they choose this option, they will not be able to participate in the audio portion of the conference, like raising their hand for questions.

Moderators – A moderator is a person who will control the aspects of the conference call. This includes the audio portions and sharing information.

Speaker - A speaker is different from a moderator in the sense that they can only share their programs and applications. They cannot remove participants or control the audio portions of the conference call. It’s a great way to invite different people to your conference line without having to give out your moderator code.

Conference Controls – There are two different sets of controls on web conferencing. One set of controls is for your sharing of information, like your desktop or video. The other will help you control and moderate your audio portions of your web conference.

Desktop Sharing – Different from application sharing, this option will share your entire display. It’s an easy choice when you have a lot of different things that you need to show. There is some risk with desktop sharing because anything that is on your computer will be shown to participants – including instant messages, email alerts, or web browsing.

Those are just some of the terms that you might hear one of our operators going over with you. If you want to know more about our web conferencing options give us a call and we can answer any of your questions about these options and more.

Connect With Participants on Webinars

Participants have a lot of distractions in front of them when they try to sit down and attend a meeting or web conference. As a speaker, you’re suddenly up against unseen foes of Facebook, Twitter, and email. Most participants will tune in completely to your webinar for the first couple of minutes, but after that, if you do not hold their attention, they will start to drift.

If you don’t want to lose your participants to the weeds of the Internet and other distractions, there are a couple of things you can do during your call to make sure you’re doing what you can to keep their attention.

Pace Yourself.

When you're speaking and presenting on a webinar, you are up against the clock. When presenters are up against the clock one of two things usually happens – they either go through the information entirely too fast, or they get lost in the minutia of their information. Practicing before the event in your allotted time will help you get the right pacing down and make any last minute changes.

Interact with Participants.

During the call, use polls and visuals to keep them engaged. Offer a prize for the best question to the speaker or set up a Twitter hash tag for participants to submit comments and questions about your presentation. If you decide to use Twitter during the conference make sure you have someone manning the account that can respond promptly. You can always go back later and personally respond to your messages, but don’t try to do that while you’re presenting.

Remember the Golden Rule.

Never read directly from your slides or handouts. I’m honestly surprised at how so many speakers continue to make this single mistake when it comes to trying to keep their audience involved in their conferences. Reading word for word from slides is the most direct way to get participants to "check out" of your conference. Why would they need to listen to you when they can just refer back to the copy of the slides? They should be used as a guide and not serve as a script.

Web conferencing technology is here to stay and will no doubt become even more prevalent in your day to day business operations. It’s a good idea to start making these changes to your presentation techniques now so that you’re not behind the curve later.

How do you connect with participants on webinars?