Time Tips

There are a ton of things to consider when planning a conference. Believe it or not, one of the considerations that can give you the biggest headache is “What time?”. Here are three things to take into consideration when setting your conference time.
Be advised. Always alert participants that the time zones listed on the meeting invitation may not reflect their time zone. Be sure to note on the invitation what time zone you’re listing things in. For example, our company is in central time, so anytime you hear us refer to times, it would be CST. We note all the major US time zones on invitations and agreements, so hopefully; we can help keep things clear.

Special Considerations. When the US goes on Daylight Savings Time, everyone skips ahead an hour – except for the state of Arizona. As confusing as it can be for you, I’ve actually found it is pretty confusing for them too. When DST is in effect, it’s a good idea to note your invitation that the times reflect daylight savings.  

International Participants. When setting up your meetings, remember when dealing with international participants they can sometimes be up to a day ahead of you currently time wise.
Knowing who is invited to your conference and where they are located makes the planning process smoother as well as helping things move along well. Being well prepared will help relieve your stress and make things go a little smoother so that you can focus on the reason why everyone is together.
Besides time zones, what are some other things to consider when planning a conference?

Twitter Concert

I had the wonderful pleasure last Thursday of getting to see @eddieizzard live at the American Airlines Center. Let me just say that if you like history, can handle a bit of naughty language, and don’t mind comedy that makes you think, Eddie is someone you should check out.

While it was a great show, what intrigued me most was what happened before the show began. You know how it goes, you get to a concert early, you always find your seat, and then you get something to eat or just hang out until the show starts. It’s exciting on one hand, but on the other hand, waiting for the show to begin is the thing that drags on and on, with nothing to entertain you. Eddie changed this up a little. He live streamed his Twitter feed on two big screens. Anything with @eddieizzard showed up on the screens.

The plus side? It was something to watch and it helped to pass the 30-45 minutes before the show started.  It was also exciting to see that there were so many people around the world who were watching Eddie’s twitter feed. The buzz grew inside the arena. Posts from those who could be sitting across the arena to the person who could be at the end of the row expressed excitement and anticipation. One guy even proposed to his girlfriend.

The downside? Well, some people just want to be seen or, in this case, read. So there were a lot of really pointless tweets that made it into the stream, some didn’t make sense, some were just plain offensive, so you had to weed out the bad and pay attention to the good.

How can this help you? Share a web browser on your next conference and set up a Twitter page. Get someone to man the page and refresh the replies page. Are you using a hashtag? Search for the #text on Twitter web and watch the tags roll in. People always join conferences early; why not give them something to check out while they wait for everything to begin? Not only are you providing some entertainment, you’re also getting everyone’s mind focused on what you have about to come. Tweet some teasers, you know, if you’re about to unveil something amazing. Let the buzz gather and follow the topics of conversation. Address questions before your participants even have to answer them.

How can you use a live Twitter feed during your conference to make it better? What scares you about opening that door? 

Save Time or Waste Time?

One of the things I love about customer service is that there is always a new way of getting a hold of someone.  When online ordering became the big thing, I was very excited. Is there anything better than not having to pick up the phone and order a pizza? I hate calling restaurants. I hate speaking to airline customer service – nothing against them; I’m just a very flustered customer. It’s easier for me to do things online and I’m more comfortable with that. The more I order services and food online, the more I have different experiences.

Last Thursday, the office ordered lunch from a very popular sandwich joint here in the area. We eat early when we order as an office, so I went online, put in everyone’s order and selected a delivery time between 11 and 11:30. It was about 10:20 AM, so I figured that was at least an hour, it had to be plenty of time. I was wrong. Not too long after that I got a call from them, letting me know that it would actually be closer to 12:30. Two hours later. She said they were behind in deliveries. My question? Why could I place an online order for that time period? Should that be changed when that delivery time is no longer available? I think so.

This morning, I was ordering an airline ticket and this little message popped up asking me if I wanted to talk to a live person. No. No I don’t, I’m handling my purchase online. If I wanted to talk to someone I would have. If I need help, I promise I’ll call you.  I think I’m more bugged by this because it implies that if you spend a certain amount of time on the site, you must be stuck. For me, I was trying to do a million things at once and I had something else to handle before I could finish my purchase. I don’t need you to tell me I need help; I’ll tell you when I need your assistance.

On a side note, my plane ticket purchase was made successfully, without the need for the airline rep to call me.

What about online ordering has made your life easier? Have you had an experience like above or do you simply skip ordering online a go to the real person?

Additional Hassle

Since Christmas Day, weary travelers have been trekking through airports worldwide with one thought in mind: How long is this going to take? The TSA already recommended that you give yourself one to two hours for security checkpoints before your flight, especially when flying to international locations or in to the United States. Since the failed bombing on Christmas Day, security is even tighter. Now, the TSA website states that "At this time, security checkpoint requirements for passengers departing U.S. airports remain the same. Passengers do not need to do anything differently, but they may notice additional security measures at the airport." Interesting, since the day that Joan Rivers can't get on a plane and people are detained for not exposing the amount of money they make seems like more than just "additional security measures". Taking my shoes off is an additional security measure, limiting the amount of liquid I can take on my carry-on bag is an additional security measure. Getting a full body scan is a bit more than an "additional measure" and a bomb sniffing German Sheppard is not the way I was to spend my time hanging out in the terminal. Good luck if you're trying to fly into the United States from another country.

Why are we still putting ourselves through the hassle? In the past it had always been about trying to close a deal or do some training but with conference call providers that can do audio, desktop and web sharing, I have to ask, what's the point of the headache when you can easily do something different? Set up a conference, stay in your office, and avoid the delays. I can guarantee no one on the conference is going to mistake your white chocolate mocha as an explosive device.

Proceed As Planned?

Do you value time? Not your own, but someone else's. The thought for this blog post came to me this morning as I made what is usually a pretty calm commute into the city. Not once, but twice did I get cut off and nearly hit by people who were in a big hurry. It's not surprising to run into bad drivers but as the thought "I'm sure they are just in a hurry" crossed my mind, I quickly started to argue with myself.

Sure they are in a hurry but I am trying to get to work too. If that driver cuts me off and I rear end him, not only will he end up being late, even after all that, so will I. Frankly, that's not acceptable. We should be looking after each other when it comes to time that we spend doing things for other people. Something like a conference call can be set up days, weeks, even months in advance.

When it comes time to be ready for your meeting, you should be, but that doesn't always mean that you are. There are times when you don't get the numbers you need, when something happens in your personal life, whatever can happen, it very well might. Don't be afraid to reschedule. Send out an apology and let everyone know that you're sorry, but at this time you'll have to rearrange the conference for another time.

I firmly believe that people would rather reschedule a meeting than to have to listen to you when you don't really have anything to say. So what do you think? Is last-minute scheduling a good idea or a bad idea? Is it better to get everyone together and tell them you'll have to try again or should you just proceed as planned?

Two Tips For Better Preperation

I read an interesting tweet this morning from @lanakila that was very thought provoking. It said "can anyone REALLY prepare for a conference call?". The answer to that question is yes, as long as you're looking ahead. The number one rule of conferencing is to not wait until the last moment.  If you get an invitation for a conference, then you should put it on your calendar, and make sure you are aware of it.

For those hosting a conference call, be sure that you've been upfront about the subject of the conference. If you're on a team meeting for a new project, you want to make sure that the ones you have invited know that this is what the conference is about. Never assume that people will know that the conference call is regarding. You need to have the right people come with the right information in order to make it work.

If you're participating in a conference, make sure you read the details of the invite and think "how does this apply to me?". There's a reason you've been invited. Perhaps you're a member of the project team, and if so, what is your role? What information do you have that can make the conference a failure or a success? You could possibly be a department manager and you must now be responsible for informing your department of rule changes or new information.

Is there a better way to try to prepare for a conference call?

How do you prepare for meetings or conferences? 

Extra Preparation

Last week, Seth Godin wrote a blog about how to prepare for the fall back of the 2%. A really interesting post that basically says you can make something as easy as pie, but there's still going to be a group who doesn't quite get it.

When it comes to conference calls, you can use a registration page to prepare for the 2%. Creating a registration page will create a link for you to send out. It will direct them to a sign up page that will gather information and allow them to register for the call. It will save their name, company, and email so that you'll know who to expect.

The registration page can also set up reminders to go out for your participants so that you can make sure each person received a notice that they signed up for the conference. Someone will always forget that they are supposed to be on the call, so having a reminder system in place is always a good idea.

For after the conference, the registration page not only stores who signed up for the conference but also takes a log of which of those people showed up.  This allows you the ability for the all important follow up. If the conference is a mandatory call for employees or business partners you have record of attendance so you can schedule a make up date. You also have a record of contact information to follow up with those who did not attend.

There is nothing you can do to "fix" the 2% but you can put something in place, even in a conference situation, where you can have that extra help.

How do you prepare for the 2%?

AccuDial iPhone Application Available

App Store It's clear that conference calls are a vital part of any business. More than likely you'll find yourself dealing with multiple businesses that use multiple conference call providers. With your week filling with different conferences to attend, meetings to go to, how do you keep it all together? You use your phone calendar to store your daily plans and until now there wasn't an application that helped you do the same thing with your different conference calls numbers and codes.

AccuConference is happily presenting our updated iPhone application, AccuDial. It's a free conferencing tool that's available from the App store or iTunes that can help you to keep all of your conferences together. It's pretty simple. Just download the application, enter a new conference, and plug in the information. Name it anything you would like and attach a date and time to it if you like. When it's time for the conference you can either sort by the name or the date to find the right conference for the day (or the hour).

This application is not limited for use by AccuConference customers and allows anyone with an iPhone to connect to a conference call hosted by any teleconferencing provider. To get started, simply download the application, select it from the home screen, click on the settings (the wheel in the top right hand corner) and start adding conferences. You can add up to fifty and if you need help figuring out what goes where, just click on “help” in the top of the screen to pop up some quick descriptions and suggestions on how you can use the different options.

Since it's free, there's no reason not to give it a try, right? Go on over to the App Store or to iTunes and download the application and give it a try. If you have comments or suggestions, you can leave them here.

Download Here

AccuDial Iphone App

The Future of Work

The future is tomorrow… but then I guess it always is, isn't it.  As far as the next big things of work and the workplace, we’re already seeing "the future", or more exact, the changing of the past.  In an interesting article by The Futurist on the Britannica.com, they have predictions of the future of work.  Going hand in hand with the article, I think that we who use conferencing are already working in the future.

It's not really stated in the article, but I believe that all the major changes—barring the generational changeover—stem from our ability to communicate and collaborate effectively despite distance.  For example, the second prediction says we’ll be working for smaller, leaner companies organized to take advantage of outsourcing and consultants.  The only way that could make sense financially is if conferencing is at the core.

The "what" and "when" of work in the future is made possible and regulated by conferencing technology.  If a company wants to have employees responsible for the big picture of the company in addition to their personal work and sell 24/7 in an on-demand, internet-driven marketplace, conferencing will have to be at the foundation.

Obviously the move towards smaller offices, home offices, and the like, located to take advantage of geographic, convenient, or financial benefits--rather than large, single location workforces for command and control purposes—will only be possible through conferencing—or teleporting.

So if The Futurist is a bang-on prognosticator and these visions of the future of work are going to come true, a company should adopt conferencing now to have a solid foundation to support all the changes to come.

For all of us already heavily leaning on conferencing, the future looks mighty rosy!  How do you think things will be in the workplace of the future?  Tell us about it in a comment.

Conferencing Backchannels

What is the point of a lecture or presentation?  In most cases, it’s to educate or inform the audience and influence them in some way.  So when we’ve put a lot of time and thought into what we’re going to say, we want to do everything possible to pull off a successful presentation.  One of those things we can do isn’t something we actually do… it’s something our audience does.

Backchannel communications is any form of exchange of information “behind the scenes” during a conference or presentation.  At many conventions, a Twitter-stream provides an overall backchannel for the convention participants.  And it’s not only for them.  Participants who couldn’t make it, and anyone else interested in the convention can follow the events, happenings, and impressions of the tweeters in attendance.

For presentations in general and conferencing specifically, a backchannel of communication for the audience can greatly increase conferencing benefits.  For one thing, people can talk about what we’re saying, even as we’re saying it.  They can post their thoughts, feelings, ideas, have an interesting counterpoint to make, more information, or a better conclusion.  Without really realizing it, all of them are collaborating every time they post or even read a post; and all this going on in real time.

The backchannel isn’t just for the participants either.  If we add a web conference to our conference call and activate the chat feature, we can get instant feedback by glancing at chat activity while we speak.  This can help us know when to clarify, when to move on, when they’re with us, and when we’ve lost them.

People seem to feel much more comfortable posting their questions on chat than having to ask them aloud.  And because the questions are posted when they’re thought of, they’re not forgotten by Q&A time.  Also, since we can see a question pop up, we can choose to stop and answer right then, ignore it, or work the answer into our lecture.

For a truly dynamic, controlled group discussion, you really can’t beat a good chat backchannel.  What other ways can we create a communications backchannel in our conferences?  How else can it be used?