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May
06
2013
Web Conferencing Terminology Maranda Gibson

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.

Apr
29
2013
Social Media Cautions in News Gathering Maranda Gibson

Last Wednesday as I was scrolling through Twitter, I learned that the loud bang I heard outside of my house was not the wind, as I thought, or a gun shot, as no police officers showed up, but the sound of an explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas.

Over the following week, I gained a lot of information about that and other things going on around in the world from Twitter. While it’s been a great place to gather real information, it’s also a place that you can get lost in the web of misinformation. Even the most well-known of news rooms fell victim to announcing things before they were fully confirmed which caused a firestorm of Twitter snark.

It’s a good teaching place though, especially for those of us who feel like Twitter is a great place to find "real-time" information, but the events surrounding last week should also teach us some caution.

    1. Tread Carefully – While “citizen journalists” can be a useful place for information in an unfolding situation, you need to be somewhat cautious about what and whom you believe. Not too long ago, I heard that a school near my hometown was on lockdown and I took to Twitter to see if I could find any information “on the ground”. What I saw was a ton of misinformation that the issue was related to everything from an active shooter on campus to nothing. It turned out the school was locked down as a precaution in response to a robbery nearby.
    2. Wait Before You RT – Look, I understand that we all want to share breaking news and events, and most of us aren’t official journalists. So, what’s the rush? Even a journalist will take the time to check their sources and make sure that it’s true. Let your finger hover over the RT of the tweet from @teenagermakingthingsup until you see it’s been verified. It’s better to spread correct information than to have to go back and apologize for being "had".
    3. Check the Hashtag – I had no idea the @AP had been hacked until I logged into Twitter and saw the trending topic about bombs in the White House. For a moment, I was full of fear. It’s been a long week. Then I clicked on the topic to see more information and saw everything advising me it was a hoax. A few moments later, it was gone from the trending topics. Instead of selling off my investments, I took a moment to check the facts and confirm what was really going on.

While social media is gaining ground as a viable new source for information – I would remind you of something that your father told you many years ago. “Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean that it’s real.” As Twitter and other social networks grow in popularity and usefulness for gathering news and information – it’s also a good time to remember that these things still exist online.

Just be cautious.

Apr
22
2013
Solving Conference Call Echo Maranda Gibson

When you dial into an audio conference you want to have a smooth and efficient meeting. Few things disrupt meetings like the sound of your co-worker screaming into the Grand Canyon and letting his voice echo back into the call. Okay, so he’s probably not taking the conference call on the Grand Canyon, but his line is definitely causing a bit of echo.

What causes echo and what can you do to fix it?

Make Sure There is Only One Line Connected in a Room – When you have multiple parties in the same room connecting into the same conference, it will create an echo on the conference line. Sound will travel on a delay from your neighbor’s cubicle or desk and into the phone you’re using. Instead of having everyone connect individually, gather the participants in a room and let them dial in together. This will eliminate the conference echo caused by participants in the same room.

Check Your Surroundings – The chance of experiencing an echo is greatly increased when you’re taking your conference call in an enclosed space. The sound of your voice will bounce off of the walls and back into your phone system, and create an echo on your call. When possible, take your conference call in a more open space, like a conference room. If that’s not possible you’ll need to adjust the tone of your voice to try to minimize the impact.

Are You Using a Speakerphone? - Speakerphones are convenient but are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to conference echo. Built in speakers can cause an echo on the conference call. A speaker phone has both a microphone and a speaker built in, so when the volume is up too high, it can cause echoing and distortion. Turn your speakerphone volume down to help with some of this interference.

Speakerphone Bonus: If you’re using a speaker phone to join into the conference and having trouble with the code, mute the device or disable the speaker line to enter the code. This might help your code get recognized.

Conference echo is a nuisance because it immediately disrupts your ability to host an effective meeting. Anytime you have a sound issue on one of your conferences that you can’t figure out, be sure to give customer service a call (800.989.9239) and let us help.

Apr
10
2013
Speech Improvements I Learned from Sync Maranda Gibson

I recently bought a new SUV. It’s a beautiful black Ford Escape, a vehicle I have had my eye on for a long time. One of the most exciting features to me was the “Sync” system where, using my USB device, I can tell my car what to play, instead of having to manually search for songs. Like in the beginning of most relationships, there were some severe communication issues that we had to work through.

Just as I was considering breaking up with Sync, I realized that I had some things I needed to work on, before I called up a couple’s counselor. I learned some things about the way I need to talk to Sync to help her respond better to my needs.

Our biggest communication issues broke down into two categories – my consonants run together and my voice trails off at the end of words. When I would request that Sync play “play artist Tom Petty” she doesn’t hear me clearly. The two “T” sounds become one in the middle of my sentence so she isn’t entirely sure what I meant. The same thing happens where they are “soft” sounds at the end of words. For example, if I request that she plays Adele, she fires back with a bunch of options because the system heard the first part “Ade” but not the rest.

In order to have a good relationship with Sync, I had to change the way I spoke to her. I knew what I was saying, but she wasn’t translating it correctly, and it was causing a rift in our relationship.

Communicate Better with Participants

It’s hard to know when something isn’t communicated effectively to another person since the speaker knows what the intended points are. I knew what I was trying to say to Sync but it was getting lost somewhere along the way. I had to change the way I spoke to her in order to improve our relationship.

You can improve your relationship with your participants by making your entire presentation to a recording device. Then wait a few days and go back and listen to yourself. Make notes about parts of your speech that are fading away or aren’t being translated well.

Letting someone else listen to your presentation is also a great way to understand how a participant might interpret your speech. Take the recording and give it to a friend. Ask them to listen to the entire thing from start to finish and make notes along the way. They can jot down the things that don’t make sense or a misunderstanding that they might come across.

Communication is not just about what you say but how you say it. You can evaluate how to speak before you ever step in front of your audience so that you can know how you will sound and how your words will be received.

Mar
21
2013
Connect With Participants on Webinars Maranda Gibson

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?

Mar
14
2013
Conference Calls With Your Sales Team Maranda Gibson

Many moons ago, I worked in direct sales. While it wasn't my favorite job in the world, I learned some valuable skills. The company liked to keep us up to date on new approaches with monthly conference calls, and they were very helpful. When it’s time to set up your next conference call with team members, here are some sales conference topics that you can use.

Success Stories

Each month, invite the “top seller” to make a brief presentation to new hires or those who wish to participate. You can open up for a straight Q&A session to let your new people or the ones that need a little extra motivation find out about what strategies make someone successful in the sales business. A lot of times it helps to simply hear what works for someone else and try to incorporate that into your own approaches.

Skill Refreshers

Once a quarter, set up a conference call with departments or teams that would not usually have direct contact with each other. Use these opportunities to role play situations with a large group and then allow for questions at the end. Ask your employees what was great, what could have gone better, or what needs a little bit of improvement. It’s a great chance to hear new thoughts and approaches from those you wouldn't usually have contact with.

Brainstorm a Better Pitch

The sales persons pitch is the greatest device they have when it comes to closing a deal. If the pitch doesn't resonate, then you've lost your potential client before you even have a chance to start talking about benefits to your product or service. Get your team together on a conference call and start collaborating on a pitch that can be delivered in a clear manner with the same messages delivered across the board. Host a follow up call after a couple of months and find out some of the feedback on the pitch. If it’s still not working – you can attack the pitch again and continue doing so until you find one that works.

Before you start any conference call with your sales team, it’s important to break the ice and start opening up the lines of communication. A good ice breaker planned into the meeting agenda will get people talking and feeling comfortable with each other.

Motivating a sales team doesn't have to be all about money and success. Giving them an open door to get new ideas, stay current, and keep things going helps just as much.

Mar
07
2013
Problem Solving in Customer Service Maranda Gibson

Not long ago, I received a phone call from a customer who was very frustrated that something hadn't gone the way she planned on her conference call. Her participants had been on mute, they were not able to speak, and she could not figure out how the conference had ended up in that setting. As she spoke, I ran through all of the possible things that could have caused the issue. By the time she was done telling me what happened I had a pretty good idea of what caused the issues on her conference call.

That didn't mean that I was about to take over the conversation and tell her exactly what I suspected. I   have a very specific thought process when I'm problem solving with customers and always follow three basic rules.

Remember that the company is guilty until proven innocent. We frequently get calls from customers who have typed in the wrong code. This prevents them from joining their conference and they will call us to see what we can do to help. When we get one of those calls from customers, the first thing we check is within our own system. We check our side to make sure everything is good to go first. This kind of information will help us diagnose the problem the customer is having and we are the cause until we can find out otherwise.

Don't talk down to customers. Once we have determined that everything is okay from our side, it's time to ask the customer some more questions. It's an imperative part of problem solving, but the golden rule here is to not talk down to the customer. When one of our clients is having a problem, it's getting in the way of them conducting business, and they need our help, not a tone that would make a customer feel that I’m secretly saying "I told you so". It’s much more important that we offer solutions to the customer than to prove the customer wrong.

Don't blame the customer. This is a fine line with the customer because you, as the company representative, know that the system wasn't at fault and you're relieved, but it's important to remember that until you hang up the phone, you have to help the customer. It's important that I tell the customer how to prevent the same problem, and not what they should have done to not have a problem in the first place.

Problem solving with a customer can become a he said / she said event if you allow it. I've found that when it comes to a problem, most customers don't want to get upset, they just want you to tell them what is wrong and either fix it – or tell them how to fix it.

How do you approach problem solving with customers?

Mar
01
2013
17 (+4) Tips For More Productive Conference Calls Maranda Gibson

Conference calls have become an important part of corporate business life and yet they are not always used to their best advantage. The world of telecommunications has traveled light years since the old days of the traditional party line, but the modern conference call is really just an expansion of that retro concept. Today, most companies use a specialized service provider for conference calls and they are being used more and more in conjunction with web conferences. These service providers maintain the conference bridge and provide the phone numbers used to access the meeting or conference call.

How can your business better utilize this service? First, let us define exactly what service we are talking about. What is meant by the term, conference call? This is a telephone call in which the caller wishes to have more than one party listen in to the audio portion. Calls may also be designed so that the called party can participate during the call or so that the called party merely listens in and cannot speak. A conference call is also sometimes referred to as an ATC (Audio Tele-Conference).

In a book called "Death By Meeting" author, Patrick Lenzioni, argues that conference calls really should be more fun. He says: "If I didn't have to go to meetings, I'd like my job a lot more." According to Merlin Mann and his fascinating, irreverent and very witty family of websites dealing with personal productivity known collectively as 43 Folders, the following ideas have helped to make his life in general and conference calls in particular, easier and more productive. Also check out this interview with Al Pittampalli, the author of the Modern Meeting Standard. Consider them the next time you schedule a conference call. Read on and hold that call, please!

  1. Circulate an Agenda.  Don't do a conference call without first circulating an agenda to all involved parties. An agenda helps to structure the conference and helps members to prepare by providing in advance the type of information they will need in order to effectively participate in the discussion.
     
  2. Get familiar with each other. Have everyone in attendance introduce him or herself up front. In fact, make that the first thing on your agenda. It is important for people who don't know each other's voices especially well to become familiar as quickly as possible.
     
  3. Give the conference a theme. Don't meander, for the road is costly and time-consuming and leads ultimately nowhere! Use the agenda to amplify the theme in question by explaining how it will be covered or explored in each section of the meeting.
     
  4. Have conference calls only when you need to. Many are unnecessary and could be avoided with either a one-on-one call or a focused e-mail exchange. Group calls should only be made when either in-depth dialogue or brainstorming is required.
     
  5. Establish meeting timing. This includes when the meeting will begin, break and end ahead of time. Provide a time structure, which all participants must adhere to and matters will flow smoothly.
     
  6. Focus on the conference. Limit "electronic grazing" to during the conference call. Set it up like they did in the old frontier days at the saloon with all who enter checking their guns at the door!! The equipment is different; phones and laptops to be exact, but the attitude is the same. No multi tasking while the meeting is in session. This means no email, no phone calls and this means you! Attending the meeting is like being pregnant; one either is or one isn't present at the meeting. If an emergency occurs and a call needs to be made, then the person should leave the room to make the call and not tie up the meeting.
     
  7. Schedule guests and make the best use of everyone's time. Use your agenda to indicate when people will be needed to present their arguments and avoid the traffic jam of having thirty people in a room for three hours, twenty of whom will have nothing at all to do or say until the last 15 minutes of the meeting. Tick off items on the agenda as they are covered.
     
  8. Delegate roles. Don't wear too many hats at your own meeting. Employ someone to keep track of the time so that you as the leader are free to focus on the matters presented in the agenda and keep the meeting rolling along at an even pace.
     
  9. Stay focused on your time element and subject matter. Not all issues require the same amount of time to settle and any issue that can be resolved offline or does not require the input of the majority of the group should be dismissed as quickly as possible and ticked off the mighty agenda.
     
  10. Welcome late arrivals. If you join into a conference call after it has already begun, make sure that other people know you are there. If you are the organizer of the conference call and this happens, seek an opportunity to introduce that person and then quickly review any key decisions that have been made. (If the person being late is you the organizer, you probably should find someone else to head the conference call in the first place.)
     
  11. Meetings won't run themselves. Be aware of which tips work best for you and remain consistent in their use. Meetings have never been able to run themselves, and you as the leader, must always think things out thoroughly so that people attending do not feel they are wasting their time. After all, that is the one commodity that we never seem to have enough of and that waits for no one, as the old saying goes.
     
  12. Stick to the point. Keep conference calls short and very sweet. This way, each participant knows what to expect, more or less, in terms of why they are there and what they are supposed to do. There is nothing more boring than a rambling speaker and nothing that will lose a listening audience more quickly, except maybe a sudden office fire.
     
  13. Get through the agenda first. Consider dealing with any matters that are not  on the agenda last even if they are brought up at the beginning of the conference. This prevents sidetracking and losing precious time in covering the more pertinent issues at hand.
     
  14. Invite only the people that need to be on the conference. Don't call bosses and technical experts to attend the conference unless you know in advance that their advice will be needed. Regardless of the outcome of the conference, they will definitely owe you one and be eternally grateful.
     
  15. Limit the Chaos. Limit the number of people on the conference call to four or at most five. Chaos is sure to follow if there are too many opinions circulating at the same time. Problems are likely to occur because the more opinions, the harder it becomes to keep track of who is speaking and a common reaction is to go on automatic pilot and "leave the meeting in your mind."
     
  16. Wait your turn to speak. Try not to interrupt when others are speaking and wait for the appropriate moment to jump in. One has to listen and concentrate much more acutely over the phone than is necessary in person.
     
  17. Summarize and follow up on meeting proceedings. This can either be done by you or by a project manager, if one has been so assigned. Take a few minutes at the end of the conference to review any major new projects that were generated in the meeting and email the list of resolutions to all participants. Also, take a minute to identify those issues or questions that must be explored further. Don't forget to thank everyone for his or her participation and say goodbye.
     
  18. Practice makes perfect. Familiarize yourself with the conference call service before you use it.  You're going to want to know how to use the conference call service so that you can use your mute functions and any of the moderator controls.  You should be able to call the conference company and get a quick overview of the different commands that you can use. 
     
  19. Start the conference on time.  You've sent out a lot of invitations that have a specific date and time provided to the other participants.  Start at the right time so that the conference will begin for those who showed up at the right time. Participants who are late will just have to miss the introduction. 
     
  20. Pay attention. As a participant you should take good notes. This will help you retain information and it will encourage you to pay attention, rather be distracted by your cell phone, email, or social networking. 
     
  21. Use visuals on conference calls that require them.  Not every conference is going to require them, so use them only in situations that call for the visual representations. 

The mercurial business world of today demands quick decisions based on as many facts as possible. Aided by the cold hand of technology, telecommunications has made the transfer of information an instantaneous and ubiquitous affair. Take advantage of this process. Wasting time hurts business and morale on many levels and it is something that can be avoided by planning ahead all the details for your next conference call. Follow these tips and you are sure to have more productive conference calls. Perhaps not all of these ideas will work for you, but many of them will.

And by the way, hold that call, will you? I have to go. There's a conference call I have to attend ...


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

Feb
28
2013
Announcement: Operator Answered Call Reporting Graph Maranda Gibson

When you have an operator answered conference call, you will get a line chart that shows you the progression of your attendees at various times.

This data is a compilation of the information that you can collect from the CSV file found on your account after each conference. What we do is plot it along a line graph so that you can see your average call time and your maximum number of users. Charts are much more fun to look at than Excel spreadsheet files.

We want to make sure that you can see how your conference calls work and how your participants are responding. Maybe you are unnecessarily overbooking for your conferences or this data might show you how you can break up your calls and maintain your participant count.

If you receive one of these graphs and have some feedback, we'd love to hear what you think. Is something missing? Maybe we can add data that you would like to see to it. Give us a call at 800.989.9239 to discuss the graph or if you have any other questions.

Feb
13
2013
Web Conferencing Review - Updated Features Maranda Gibson

We have some exciting additions to our web conferencing platform.

Video Conferencing

Share your video as part of the web conference so participants feel like they are in the same room.

Desktop and Application Sharing

Our program allows moderators to share their screens with a simple download. Participants observe as you navigate through websites or share your programs directly from your PC.

YouTube Video Sharing

Share your video directly with participants using the URL from youtube.com. Pause and play the video as needed.

Added Timed Polls

Put a time limit on responses from participants.

No Download for Participants

Participants will continue to access all of these new features through the web.

Stay tuned for audio streaming over the web for participants.

Call today 800.989.9239 for a one on one demo.

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