The differences between men and women in and out of the workplace have filled volumes. When teleconferencing or video conferencing, it helps to understand the underlying difference in approach. As women became a more powerful force in the workplace, the differences in the way men and women communicate generated significant academic study. In the 1980s, Georgetown scholar Deborah Tannen succinctly summarized more than a decade's worth of linguistic research into what has become a widely accepted belief: Men talk to deliver information and women talk to create relationships. Tannen called these two styles of speech report talk and rapport talk.
Though oversimplified, this observation has been popularized in books such as John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus to the point that it is universally accepted as the defining statement about gender and speech: Men talk to deliver information. Women talk to make friends. Or, as Rob Becker says in his funny one-man Broadway play Defending the Caveman: Men are the hunters, always focused on the target. Women are the gatherers, always seeking more information.
In the workplace, we have learned the dangers of stereotyping, but there is a kernel of truth in the general concept. Numerous scientific studies have proven that men and women do use their brains differently which often results in different thought processes and communication styles. Cultural learning exacerbates these differences. In teleconferencing or video conferencing with business colleagues, encouraging both communication styles can build consensus and lead to more creative problem solving in the pursuit of your goal.
In an interesting experiment, an American university professor divided students into two groups. Both listened to the same lecture by a native speaker of English. Each group was shown a photograph of the purported speaker. The group that was shown a photo of an obviously American speaker exhibited greater comprehension of the material than the group which believed it was listening to a non-native speaker. Both listened to exactly the same speech delivered by the same individual.
Personal assumptions, cultural bias, gender, age or racial prejudices, education preconceptions, and power hierarchies – so many factors affect the way we perceive others. Even when we speak the same language, these biases can affect the way we hear and understand each other. In communicating with foreign customers or colleagues in a teleconference, the effort must be made to set aside our cultural differences to understand each other. Often cultural references and idioms get in the way of clear communication and repetitive efforts must be made to arrive at a shared understanding. Video conferencing can present additional challenges where body language and gestures common in one culture may give unanticipated offense in another.
Many companies that regularly do business in foreign countries have implemented cultural advisor services to assist their employees in putting the company's best foot forward. If your company does not offer such a service, you can find many country-specific websites that provide helpful advice on bridging the cultural gap by entering a search for foreign customs + business meeting. Proper advance preparation will ensure a smoother, more productive teleconference or video conference with your foreign counterparts.
So you've scheduled a teleconference—great! Now you want to make sure that it is successful and meets your goals.
Here are some ways you can ensure a successful teleconference:
Send out reminders:
Of course you have the teleconference on your calendar, but what about everyone else?
Even if they have written it down, they could get caught up with something and not pay attention to the time. A reminder will jog participants' memory and is a great way to maximize attendance. You can actually send out two reminders—one the week before and another a few hours before.
Watch the clock:
Don't let any participant drone on (and don't drone on and on yourself either). Only the featured speaker should speak at length. If you find that someone is making long-winded comments or trying to push their own agenda, don't be afraid to steer the teleconference back to the main topic. Make notes of hot topics for future teleconferences.
Have a well-timed agenda:
Just as you don't want one person to go on and on, you also don't want to spend too much time on one issue. On the flip side, you don't want to jump from topic to topic at a speed that will leave the participants dizzy. Be aware that a teleconference should not be exhaustive. They should be informative, but every aspect of a topic cannot be covered. Decide just what information you want participants to leave with after they hang up.
The great thing about conference calls is that they can be recorded for future use. An audio, video, or web conference is not a one-time only event.
You can make previous conferences available to your staff as a teaching/learning tool. If someone was out the day of the conference they can still catch up by listening to/viewing it.
And you can also make them available to customers to inform them and market your products and services. You can create a library of past conferences and make it available on your website.
These conferences can also be mined to data. No one can remember all that took place during a teleconference and if you were the one moderating the conference you’ll remember even less than others. So go back, listen, and take notes that you can use in the future.
Your Marketing and PR departments can also use these conferences for sound bites and media-friendly quotes that can populate press releases, brochures, and other marketing materials. Just be sure the clear it with the individual you want to quote. If they work for your organization, this probably won’t be a problem. If they are from outside, you may even want to ask them to sign a release beforehand and then just let them know later what quotes you’ve decided to use.
Making a conference call or audio workshop memorable and having attendees leaving, but remembering what fun they had and all the great new people they met is an art. Much of it comes from getting the teleconference participants to interact with each other in a relaxed and stress-free atmosphere. Lightening the mood and providing a lot of lighthearted topics and free interaction within the group is one key element in making a conference memorable. Below is a list of other ways you can make your conference call or audio workshop something to be remembered and talked about for years to come.
- Think about the liberal use of humor. Remember to be cognizant of taste, of course don’t use off color humor or jokes stay safe. But like the entertainment elements, when incorporated into presentations these help to lighten the mood for attendees.
- Have teleconference conveners and staff interact with the group throughout the event. This not only helps attendees identify the people running the show, but it serves the purpose of lightening the mood and presenting additional networking opportunities when the time for follow-up starts after the call. If your staff is small, use your own staff to act as attendees and use pre-planned questions to start of the interaction at your free exchange or question and answer time.
- Play upbeat music where people enter and leave the conference call. Choose music and lyrics that reflect the conference theme. This can also make for a good conversation starter among attendees. If your attendees know each other or have had some interaction with each other, allow for casual open conversation between participants before the teleconference starts.
- Have the phone registration line staffed by outgoing employees who have a great telephone presence. This leaves an energetic and upbeat initial impression about the teleconference and enhances the anticipation for your event.
Sometimes you need to get your team or group together for a meeting, but it is just impossible for everyone to get together in the same place at the same time. Because it is important to have everyone seeing the same thing at the same time, a teleconference just does not seem like the best vehicle for interaction. What do you do?
Well, pretty much, you have two choices: web conferencing or video conferencing. How do you know which one would be best? It can be confusing. There is overlap in capability because web conferencing can include video and you can share documents via video conferencing.
To decide, which one is best for you and your meeting, you have to ask two things: "What do I, and everyone else, need to see?" and "What is being emphasized, the content of a presentation or interactions between people?"
If the answer is "the presentation and its content", then you should be thinking "web conference". If you want, you could arrange a small pop-up window on the screen with a video of the speaker just to add a personal touch. If the answer is "personal interaction", then video conferencing is your communications vehicle of choice.
Web conferences are very good if you are making product demonstrations, analyzing reports/data or doing software training. Video conferences are better for board meetings, negotiations, interviews, or depositions.
Of the two, because video conferencing requires more technology and infrastructure, it is the more expensive option.
Sometimes it is not a good idea to email a message, it is better to pick up the phone and chat.
We've all received an email message that we simply wished we wouldn't have gotten, one where we've been chewed out or chastised for something whether we deserved it or not. In some cases the criticism that has been sent in the email message would have been received in a much more constructive manner if instead it would have been given by phone.
Here's when it is best to pick up the phone and chat and not to email:
- If you have to discipline and employee, although email is faster and you have a written documentation of the situation, a verbal conversation is much better. A written confirmation of the call can be sent by email after the conversation.
- If you have a difficulty with a client, a long winded response by email should definitely be replaced by a quick phone call to clear up the gray areas. In most cases prompt action in a misunderstanding with a client will resolve a problem quickly before it grows into a huge difficulty or nasty misunderstanding.
- Training issues are best done by phone or even better via web conferencing. You have a much better chance of having an employee understand the directions if they see you perform the action once online while they watch. To send long instructions via email can cause some employees to scan the information and not to follow the instructions step by step as they do not understand the importance. Once you have verbally explained the instructions revisions or repairs may be minor or non-existent.
You probably have others that you can add to this list as well, but the key is to understand that although we all lean heavily on email as a major form of business communication that sometimes teleconferencing is by far better than email.
Now that Thanksgiving is over, we have a bit of a break before Christmas and New Year's at least for personal travel, but business travel continues as usual. This time of year however, is the bane for the business traveler with longer lines to check in at the airport, huge queues to get through airline security and capricious weather forecasts. Not only is traffic in the airport heavier and especially as we approach Christmas, but with fuel prices rising the airline fuel surcharge is adding to the cost of tickets to every location.
Consider one business traveler I know who is going to Manchester, England for a two day training class. The fare was $1600 plus a $300 fuel surcharge and this was for regular coach class. It was 250,000 frequent flyer miles to upgrade to business class.
December is looking like a super month to try out conference calling due to the chaos at the airports and escalating travel charges. Additionally employees want to stay close to home during the December holiday period. Many families and friends have get togethers, church events, parties, and celebrations nearly every weekend before Christmas. And of course there's the time needed for shopping for gifts!
Give your employees the gift that they will love most this December - staying home with their families by using conference calling!
A teleconference is a great way for associations and nonprofits to get the word out to members across the country.
Think of topics that could merit a teleconference rather than a letter or e-mail. What do you get the most mail about? What do your members keep asking about? Are you launching a new initiative? Find something that will pique their interest and set up a teleconference on that subject.
There comes a time when you have to go beyond FAQs. A teleconference will allow membership in various places to connect with someone at headquarters. You cannot underestimate the value of such an interaction. You get to speak on something that they need to know and you don’t have to hope that every read the memo. Fielding questions from members lets you know what is on their minds and this could yield topics for future teleconferences.