Today, twice as many companies are communicating via audio and video conferencing than five years ago. Between 2000 and 2006, a leading indicator of changes in the communications industry -- sales of conferencing equipment -- doubled from $2.84 billion to $4.33 billion. It seems more and more people are realizing how much they can benefit from conferencing. If you are one of these people, you should know that thorough organization and planning is required to ensure effective and productive communication. Here are some tips to ensure a smooth conference call:
- Ask participants to identify themselves when speaking.
- Provide participants with a conference agenda ahead of time and encourage discussion on weak agenda items.
- Watch the clock. Keep the conference within the expected time parameters.
- Allot time for questions. Designating a Q&A session at the end of the conference can help keep the meeting on track.
- Close the call with a summary of items discussed, decisions made, and future action agreed upon.
- Schedule a follow-up meeting if you run out of time, but still have points to cover. Be considerate of the fact that your colleagues have allotted a set number of minutes to the conference call.
- Follow-up the conference call with an email or letter reiterating major points, decisions made, and future assignments.
- Thank all participants for their time and input.
Taken in Fort Worth, Texas by Vanessa Foster
What if you wanted to have a teleconference, but you didn't want to do all of the talking? What do you do? Get someone else to do it! Specifically, get an expert to be the main speaker at a teleconference sponsored by your organization.
Think about the expense and logistics of arranging for someone to speak or lecture on a topic that is hot in your industry right now. Then think about how you can offer interested parties the chance to hear from an industry leader without having to rent an auditorium or venue. Admit it, you're intrigued!
Make sure that the speaker you select really does have some relevant information to share on hot button topics that your audience will care about. This person does not have to be known all over the world, either. They just have to have a credible reputation and be a dynamic speaker. People will get excited about the teleconference, even if the speaker is not an international jetsetter.
When you promote your teleconference be certain to highlight its convenience. Tell participants that they won't have to fight traffic or find a parking spot. When the teleconference is over they can put what they've learned into practice right away and share it with colleagues who couldn't take part in the teleconference.
Now all you have to do is find a speaker!
Anyone with conference call experience knows the general features and customer service you need in a conferencing provider. Less well known, however, are the extras that can make your life easier and your conference calls more effective. Below is a list of services you might want to consider using, if your service provider offers them, that is.
First, an important feature is automatic email reminders to people participating in your teleconference. Having the option to email participants a week before, a couple of days before, the day of, and just before the teleconference is a powerful way to make sure your teleconference has the maximum participation.
A pre-conference option is indispensable, especially when the organizers of the call are not in the same room. This option allows you and your team to get together "virtually" just prior to the conference call - separate from your participants - to make any final arrangements and get everyone on the same page.
The Q&A option allows you to manage live question and answer sessions without all the confusion and over-talking associated with open calls. In Q&A mode, participants push a button on their phone that "raises their hand". The moderator can then selectively unmute the phone of any participant they choose - leaving all other lines muted - so only one person speaks at a time. This can be done on the moderator's computer, or simply pressing a “star code” on the phone to take the next in line. This flexibility and the peace it guarantees is a real life saver.
Like any business meeting, teleconferences are either heralded by groans or cheers. The response your teleconference receives depends largely on how effectively you orchestrate the meeting. Knowing what participants hate or like most about teleconferences can help you avoid the pitfalls and hold an effective and productive conference.
The four things people like most about conference calls are:
- They encourage group members to participate and share ideas openly.
- They foster commitment to the organization by investing participants in the decision-making process.
- They produce superior solutions through group participation and effort.
- They create a feeling of organizational unity.
The four things people hate most about conference calls are:
- They fail to begin or end on time.
- They accomplish little for the amount of time invested.
- They fail to reach a consensus or accomplish their goal.
- They are dominated by a few participants.
Make an effort to plan conference call that will create positive synergy for your business. Avoid holding conferences that are boring, repetitive or fail to accomplish their goals. You should strive to conduct a conference call that follows a specific stated agenda, starts and ends on time, is conducted fairly with an opportunity for all to express their views, and accomplishes its stated goals.
When preparing for a conference call, a speaker often spends a lot of time poring over what they will say and trying to get their planned remarks just right. Then they just leave their introduction up to chance. If you are engaged to speak as part of a conference call that is being sponsored by another organization, it is likely that someone else will be introducing you to the audience.
If it all possible, you should write your own introduction. Why? While there are no guarantees that it will be delivered as written, it may be very helpful.
You will prevent a rambling introduction that can take away time from the actual conference call.
It allows you to decide which parts of your career you want to highlight. You know which part of your experience is most relevant to the audience. It will also give you the opportunity to promote parts of your business that you really want to push.
On the other hand, you don't want to deliver your remarks as if you are reading them word for word from your notes. You want to sound informed, but conversational. So your notes should include all of the important points you want to make, but you shouldn't try to write down every single phrase you expect to say.
During the holiday season, some schools beamed Santa into classrooms all the way from the North Pole via video conference. Students were excited to have the opportunity to actually speak with Santa and discuss their Christmas gift lists.
Besides asking about gifts, they also had all kinds of logistical questions to ask. For example, one child asked if the reindeer get sick. The video conference also gave them time to debate that age old question: Does Santa really exist.
But it wasn't all fun and games. In addition to the fun of Santa's video visit, the children got to practice their interviewing and critical thinking skills. Thinking and asking critical questions is an important part of any child's education.
The holidays are over, but if you are a teacher or instructor, you too can use video conference technology to enhance the classroom experience. Just think about it: if you are studying literature or a particular story, why not bring the characters to life? Sure you could bring someone into the classroom, but a video conference will allow the character to be interviewed in their own habitat or milieu.
Your students will be thrilled with the experience of preparing for and participating in a video press conference with Tom Sawyer, Jo from Little Women, or Peter Cottontail.