In my daily search of the internet for knowledge I encountered an article on AllBusiness.com that, at first glance, seemed to just have some basic teleconference tips. However, mixed in were a few I'd like to share with you:
Speak Slower – It can be easy sometimes to forget that sound works differently in a conference call than in a conference room. Speaking slowly and clearly will ensure everyone understands you. And even though you may speed up to save time, you lose the savings when you have to repeat yourself.
One at a Time – Interrupting or talking all at once is universally annoying. Since you can't point in a teleconference, designate the order people should respond, or read off their names. You can also use lecture mode to let your participants queue up. Then you can cycle through their "raised hands" at your leisure.
Repeat Important Information – This might be a good idea in any meeting, teleconference or face-to-face. I was going to say that repeating vital points in a teleconference is especially important because you can't see faces, but I recall many times around conference tables where what was said was not exactly what was meant, and it took repeating aloud for them to realize it.
Write it Down – Ideas can strike at any time, but usually when it's not your turn to speak. Instead of blurting it out loud-and interrupting someone, see above-write down your killer idea. Doing this prevents, "Uh, I forgot what I was going to say!" as well as gives you a chance to expand on-or trash-your brilliant thought.
AllBusiness.com suggested taking detailed minutes and notes of each teleconference, to be distributed immediately after. I wholeheartedly agree… somewhat. Lose the pen and paper and make sure your "Automatically Record" box is checked. Then allow people to dial-in after the conference to listen to the recording, or just download it for emailing or uploading to the company website.
How many purposes for a meeting are there? Thousands probably. What was the purpose for your last conference call? Did you have a goal that needed to be accomplished? Did you reach that goal? So here's the "other hand," as much as got done, how many teleconferences have failed to meet the goal you set out for it?
Looking at the big picture, if you didn't reach your main goal, how effective was everything else that got covered during the meeting? More important, how can you be more effective next time? I read a post on WikiHow that answers just that very question.
Beginning with my favorite, (their fourth point), "Be clear about the purpose ..." For me, I call it the "end game." In other words, how do I want things to be after it's all said and done? Let's say the purpose of your next conference call is to educate the sales staff on a new product that should increase revenues by 20%. And that's the end game: the sales staff increases revenue by 20% with the new product.
To make that happen with your conference call, we look at WikiHow's other points:
- First, with your end game in mind, clarify and organize your ideas. If it seems like too much, boil it all down to three main points for your presentation. Build your presentation only with stories, facts, and ideas that support those points.
- During the conference call, keep those points at the forefront to stay on-topic. Be alert to deflect any question, statement, debate, or whatever that could divert the meeting from the end game.
- Then there is the excellent point number 8: Listen. Yes, you are the one dispensing knowledge, but in listening, you can learn how much they are learning. What points do you have to repeat? Where is there a misunderstanding? What, if anything, will keep you from reaching your end game?
So what is your word for "end game"? If not mentioned above-or in the WikiHow article-how do you make sure to accomplish your conference call meeting goals?
"…it's customary now for professionals to lay BlackBerrys or iPhones on a conference table before a meeting—like gunfighters placing their Colt revolvers on the card tables in a saloon. 'It's a not-so-subtle way of signaling 'I'm connected. I'm busy. I'm important. And if this meeting doesn't hold my interest, I've got 10 other things I can do instead.''"
Do you have a computer that is always connected to the internet virtually anywhere, that is very close to a desktop replacement, that you can hold in your hand? How we communicate, how we do business is changing… yet again.
Nothing used to stand out more at a business meeting than a laptop on a conference table open and ready, its owner typing and clicking away. Not only was this a bit distracting, but you couldn't be sure if they were taking notes, returning an email, or playing solitaire.
With the coming of age of computers that are also mobile phones, not much has changed; it just got less noticeable. But this isn't a bad thing. Customers expect to be able to contact whoever, whenever. Fortunes can be won or lost on the timing of an email reply. And the speed of business these days makes it difficult to tuck-and-roll if you fall off.
And the possibilities! Be on that conference call, but at the same time check the quarterly numbers, look up clients, browse their websites, view the latest TPS report, email action items, text the person running late, and twitter updates on your company's private account.
And while you're doing all of that, make sure to flip back to the internet browser to see if anyone has indicated they have a question on the live-updating teleconference screen… because you are also running the call.
Business communication is different from other types of communication. It always needs to be clear and concise, and most of the time it needs to be fast. But fast or slow, when you give a speech or presentation, or send an email or memo, remember that you’re giving them information, but you also want them to do something with it.
To help make sure your communication has the right focus, the Michael Hyatt blog has five questions to ask yourself while preparing to communicate. They are:
- What do they need to know?
- Why do they need to know it?
- What do they need to do?
- Why do they need to do it?
- What can I do to help them remember?
Especially if you have a lot of information to convey, these questions can help keep the presentation focused and easily digestible by the participants. They should also drill-down the scope of what is to be covered to just the parts that are pertinent or important to the actual audience.
The question that I believe is the most crucial is number four. It’s tough—and frustrating—to be told to do something without knowing why or how the task fits into the big picture. Telling people the why along with the what lets them be a part of the team.
But my favorite part of number four is that if everyone knows the goals and greater purpose, then each can be on the lookout for problems, or even opportunities for improvement. Instead of just one person trying to hold everything together, there’s a team working together towards the finish line.
If a tree falls in the woods, but there's no one around… no wait, if an conference call is held, but no participants have dialed-in, does it still make a sound? You can't have a conference without people, and even a slick, well-planned webinar is can become a failure if only a handful of participants join in. So getting the word out to clients, potential customers, investors, and even employees is an important part of hosting an conference call.
With that in mind, I'd like to present three of the eight simple, low-cost tips about promoting meetings from The Forum Effect
Number 2 of 8 – "Add a conference promotional message to the outgoing e-mail signature line for all of employees." This tip is very simple, clever, and free. Think about how many emails leave your company on any given day, and that's not even counting the ones that get forwarded. Your message (with a link to a registration page) could be seen by a huge amount of people in a short amount of time.
Number 3 of 8 – "Offer free advance webinars on topics that will be featured at the conference to ‘tease' the conference." There are actually two reasons this is a good idea. The first is to generate interest and build hype. The second is it lets all those participants get acquainted with dialing-in and participating in a webinar. It also gives your team a chance to have a dry run of sorts to work out any problems before the big show.
Number 5 of 8 – "…Answer potential attendees' two most important questions: What's in it for me? Why should I come to your event?" These are two very important, yet often overlooked questions. Their answers should be put in pretty much every place you mention your webinar. And it's not just for conferences or events, answer these questions everywhere in your company: "Why should I… buy that product, visit that store, care about the TPS report?"
What happens when we "zone out?" How do we go from "I need to pay attention to this," to, "Wait, what did he just say?" I'm sure there are plenty of reasons, some particular to each person and some not. I think a major one for all of us though, is when we get to a part that we know, or have heard before we just… change the channel.
Unfortunately, since we don't actually know what's coming, or how long the portion will last of "what we already know," new information can zip right over our distracted heads. As a speaker, too many of these moments can mean the difference between a good job and "Snooze Fest."
"Don't pass the cream!" is Bill Lampton's suggestion for getting your participants to focus on your message. Well, it's actually the punch-line of a great story about an experience he once had with an unexpected communicator. Regardless, Lampton means to demonstrate that doing the unexpected gets people's attention very quickly and cements you in their memories after.
In an audio conference call, this could mean announcing the first agenda item, then getting a participant to take a stab at presenting it with their own thoughts and conclusions for five minutes or so. Or, on the lighter side, you could dial into the conference and "forget" that you aren't muted, all while discussing your "double-life" and the bank heist you pulled the night before.
Then there's my favorite: at some point during the first ten minutes of a video conference, have a friend in a gorilla suit casually walk behind you, peer over your shoulder into the camera, and saunter away. The gorilla never returns, and you, of course, never noticed it or broke your presentation flow, but you can bet that eyes will be riveted to you for the rest of the meeting.
It's not likely, but if you have any "unexpected communication" tips that can beat the video conference gorilla, I'd sure like to know them. Leave your tip in a comment and we'll see.
Even at its most basic, audio conferencing can be a powerful business tool. And, like many things in business, though something may work fine, it most always can work better. That's why I wanted to look at one vital area of a conference call and discuss how it can be improved.
The Beginning of the Conference
While the "meat" of the audio conference is why everyone dials in, it's the beginning of the call that is as much, or possibly more important. Starting on time, the greeting, introductions, these items are very important to set the tone for the rest of the conference. Of those three, starting on time is especially crucial for two reasons. 1. It shows respect for your participants and guest speakers, and demonstrates you value their time. 2. It encourages the participants to want to attend your next conference call.
The greeting is a great way to signal a definite beginning to the call, and allows you to set whatever mood you would like. Regardless of tone, it's always a good idea to acknowledge and thank your participants, and let them know what the next hour or so is all about.
Here's a tip that is a bit unorthodox: right after the greeting, state your main point and conclusion. Typically you wouldn't get to this until the end for many reasons: it needs setup, it's the big finish, and/or logically it just fits at the end. But consider this, if you begin with your conclusion, then as you make each point, they will be noticed and associated with the final conclusion. This could help your participants follow your presentation better, and maybe even make a stronger finish.
Have any of you readers ever started a conference with your conclusion? Tell me how it worked out.
What is it that they say about time? That you can spend it, or borrow it, but you can't buy it? That it flies when you're having fun? I've always noticed that when I really needed time, it just seemed to slip through my fingers. Audio conferencing can be like that. One minute you're introducing the topic, and the next you're trying to cram three main points into the last five minutes.
One of the most obvious signs of a professional conference call is adherence to the schedule. What is more important, however, is not that you ended on time, but that you used that time wisely. People notice things like that.
So how can we use our audio conferencing time wisely? Here are a few tips:
- Before the conference, before invitations to the conference, create an agenda complete with a schedule
- In the schedule, allot five to ten minutes at the end for questions, follow up, conclusion, and a farewell
- Distribute the agenda/schedule to all participants so they can come prepared to listen and with questions
- Meet-by phone or pre-conference-with speakers and other hosts to go over schedule, and decide on time cues to keep them on track
- Prepare back channel communications-instant messaging, texting, web conference chat--with speakers to quietly tell them time cues if needed.
- Record and table off-topic questions, digression points, and great ideas that aren't exactly on point, and announce that they will be the subject of their own meeting and audio conference
- Considering your particular participants, be open to having your Q&A spread out through the conference instead of at the end
Running a successful audio conference is not just about effectively conveying information to the participants, but also laying the groundwork for future successful audio conferences. The best way to do that is to respect the participants' time. Try to schedule a conference to best suit the time zone containing the majority of the attendees, keep the conference to an hour-hour and a half max-and always, always end on time.
How to get the word out about your conference call? Bummed by the low attendance at your last one or two or ten? Read on.
Make sure the conference call is well publicized.
If it’s for a specific team, you’ll need to make sure the time is a suitable hour for everyone to attend. If it’s an open invitation conference call, you’ll need to make sure that a large number of people are even aware you’re hosting a call. Sending out email reminders is one very good way to do this, announcements on Twitter is another, even announcing the call on Facebook or LinkedIn has worked for our clients.
Send out a couple more reminders as the event approaches.
Try a week before and then the day before or the day of if you’re using email. Facebook reminds users with its sidebar scheduler, and you can also send out Facebook email if attendees have agreed to join a group or become a fan (all that Facebook lingo!). Make sure the date and time are clear and include a subject. What is your conference call about? Discussing budgets? Agreeing on a design? Advising entrepreneurs on marketing themselves better? A clear subject will get more people.
Use incentives to attract listeners and then wow them with content.
I can’t tell you how many times someone comes up with an incentive (win a 100 dollars!) and then drones on and on about stale marketing ideas for entrepreneurs. Or someone raffles off a dinner for two and then won’t entertain any ideas on a new design for the logo. Or someone promises the budget meeting will be worth the time to attend and then doesn’t even show up or sends a lackey to do the job for him. Match the content to the incentive and you’ll light up those phone lines.
The point of a conference call is to interact with others. If you’re worried no one will show up on your call, invite a few associates or coworkers to join you. Simply having someone guaranteed to be there will help you plan for a better conference. If you find that your team skips the weekly conference in favor of making more client calls, you’ve got to find some way to convince them that the twenty minutes spent together as a team will help to retain and attract more clients, and that’s the hard part. Spending some time brainstorming how to get everyone on the calls is a worthy task for you to-do list.
"What do you think, Mr. Smith? Mr. Smith? Hello, are you there?"
"Oh, sorry. Ah… what was the question again?"
Obviously Mr. Smith wasn't giving the conference call his full attention. Even if you've been in just a few conference calls, you've probably experienced a similar situation. These days, we have so much technology and productivity at our fingertips; it can be difficult not to get distracted.
Email is one of the main culprits of distraction when audio conferencing. It's almost impossible not to click on the inbox when you hear that little chime, or see some unchecked mail. But when we do, we run the risk of losing track of what's being said. Unless exchanging emails is part of the conference call, the best idea is to close your email until the call is over.
Chat, or instant messaging, is both a blessing and a curse for audio conferencing. With chat on, at any time a window could pop up with something important, or something frivolous. Either way, we stop paying attention to the conference call.
However, sometimes things need to be said during audio conferencing that can't actually be said out loud. Chat is excellent for this. It's instant and just between you and the other person. Quick messages like, "You've got one minute left, wrap it up," or "The answer is blue," can be invaluable.
Because instant messaging can be invaluable as a means of backdoor communications, you might not want to shut it off. Instead, switch your instant messaging status from "Available" to "Busy" or "In a meeting." That way, you won't be bothered except by an urgent message from another participant in the meeting: "Don't forget today is Mr. Smith's birthday!"
But during the audio conference when you ask someone a question, don't assume that someone is distracted just because they don't answer immediately. Good audio conferencing manners dictate that you mute yourself when not speaking to cut down on background noise. They may just be trying to find the unmute button. Here's a good tip on asking questions during an audio conference.