Making Conference Calls Better For Your Team

What is the definition of a great conference call? Is it the successful transmission of information? Is it connecting with the team? I think for each person it really depends. What works for one person may not work for another. And, in reality, it is both successful transmission of information and connecting with the team and more. To get that more, it requires a close look at a few conference call factors.

1. Consider who’s on the call. Do you know that one person prefers more interaction with others on the call? Do you know which people prefer to listen and interject their comments only when necessary? Then the question becomes how to make it work for both.

2. Consider learning and working styles when preparing conference agendas. Do you have auditory learners with verbal learners or visual learners? Utilizing handouts, and PowerPoint, and speaking covers all the learning and working styles and makes sure that everyone leaves the conference feeling like they kept up and learned something.

3. Ask conference attendees for feedback. If you’ve decided not to prepare handouts, you will hear about it more than likely. If you’ve made a decision about putting everyone on mute, is that what everyone wants? Can you explain your decision when pressed?

4. Experiment a bit. Add a Q&A session, allow an attendee to lead the call, allow attendees to Twitter the call as it happens, try a web conference or a video conference, whatever you think may make the conference call a better experience for your attendees.

5. Make sure the work gets done, but make it enjoyable. Sure, the overarching goal of a conference call is to get the job done, but can you also joke around (appropriately) and run contests and play guessing games and trivia. This is an essential part of a successful conference after all. Helping a team interact and share integral information with each other.

However, your mileage might vary. Are there specific things you’ve tried in recent conference calls that worked especially well? Do you have a process you use to ascertain whether or not your conference calls work well for your team/attendees? If so, please leave a comment. We at Accuconference desire to find the best information about successful conferences to give to you, but we know sometimes the most helpful tips come from our clients.

How To Prepare For Your First Conference Call

If you've only attended a conference call, but never actually hosted or presented on a call before, we've collected our best tips to help make your first conference call a success.

Make sure everyone has the correct time, date, dial-in number, and pin.
Prepare to have to provide this again to those who may lose it or forget or panic before they arrive to the conference call (usually those who are new to attending conference calls).

Hand out agenda or presentation printouts before the call.
Some presenters prefer not to give hand-outs before a call, but it's much easier to track the presentation when you have something to look at. Those who don't give hand-outs before risk getting a lot of questions about whether or not there will be printouts, so just save yourself some time and hand them out before, so everyone has something to look at.

Prepare yourself with back-up notes and reminders to speak clearly and calmly.
Have notes or index cards with your main points and remind yourself to speak slowly. Remember that the faster you go through your material, the more confusion and questions there will be. Plus, as you force yourself to speak slowly, you'll calm yourself down automatically. Not that we're encouraging you to be boring! Nothing wrong with talking animatedly! People love that.

Don't be too hard on yourself when you make a mistake.
You might stumble over words or mispronounce a name, but don't worry about it. Everyone makes mistakes. If you make a mistake, just keep right on going, or chuckle a bit, if that helps smooth it over. Be gracious if someone points out your mistake, and say thanks. People will remember that more than the mistake.

End on time and don't keep people for more than ten extra minutes.
Don't go over by much. If you state your call will be an hour, try to stick to that time. Nothing is worse than sitting for another twenty minutes waiting for the presenter to attempt to wrap it up. People will drop off the call if you keep going for too long. Once you've delivered your message and taken appropriate questions, feel free to sign off.

See, you did it! You're now a pro! A conference call is actually really fun. It's a great way to feel connected on a project, inspire a group of people, or to feel as if you're in the same room and not a long ways away.

Conferencing with Twitter

Twitter

Let's say we're having one of those quick conference calls that turns into a big deal.  We're outdialing to get others in the loop, shooting emails back and forth, instant messaging, and switching between lecture mode and open conference to get ideas while maintaining order.  That's a lot of information flying around.

Now let's say we setup a private Twitter account.  We'll call it, "CompanyXconference," and since its private, only our conference "friends" can see what's on it.  Think of it as a virtual whiteboard that never runs out of space, and we hold the dry erase marker.

As the meeting progresses, we tweet questions- and answers - people's ideas, what's being talked about, and whatever else we want to record and share.  Then after the meeting, instead of sending an email of the minutes of the meeting to everyone, people can just look at their CompanyXconference friend.

Audio conferencing and Twitter don't always have to be private.  If we're hosting a large conference for customers and potential customers, a public Twitter board might work better.  We could tweet what part of the agenda we're on and what's coming next.  Any websites we want attendees to check out can be linked in a tweet.  And presentation materials can be distributed/downloaded with tweeted links as well.

Perhaps the best part of a conference call with customers, potential customers, and Twitter is the networking possibilities.  If you're getting people to watch your tweets during a conference, it's an easy step to have them "follow" you and be "followed."  And once they're following you, they'll see your updates and announcements, and you can keep in touch with them; formally or informally.

These are just a few ideas, how have you used Twitter with your business?  Leave a comment and tell us all about it!

Top Five Common Courtesies on a Conference Call

In line with last week's post on reducing background noise on a teleconference, we know of some common courtesies that help conference calls go better. These are simple, easy to remember tips that improve time management, team building, tolerance, and communication while on a weekly or even daily call.

1. Try not to hog the speaking time. We all know that one person who just has a lot to say (either from too much coffee or too much solitude; one can't be sure of exactly what is the cause) and they just go on and on about little details (or perhaps even needless gossip) that everyone feels is a waste of time. Try giving speakers time limits—say for presentations, ten minutes, for adding something to a conversation, two minutes - and then it is someone else's turn. This usually is only necessary when you have multiple talkers on a call. I know some non-talkative teams using conferences that would love to get anyone to talk for more than ten minutes!

2. Don't react rashly. Sometimes hot topics come up while on conference and the responsibility of everyone on the call is to not get offended and react. True, some jokes are really quite tasteless and some political comments are uncalled for (and quite out of place) but reacting to such things only escalates the drama. Let the team lead handle it or be decisive and gracious if it falls on you to reroute the conversation back to the right topic. Reacting is really not even fair; on a call, you can't see how the comments were said and you can't see body language of the person making the comments.

3. Try to speak to everyone. Sometimes a conference takes place in a conference room full of people while several members dial in. In those occasions, it is really hard for those on the phone to hear if a conversation goes on far away from the speaker. If you're ever in a conference room with people on the phone, try to make sure everyone can hear the person speaking. If that just isn't possible, have someone repeat what was said or send transcripts so that those dialing in are not left in the dark.

4. Communicate conference changes and updates. I can't tell you how many times I've dialed into a conference only to find the room had changed or the time had changed or even the day had changed. Make sure everyone attending the conference knows ahead of time if changes have been made. Sometimes it may become necessary to get replies from team members agreeing to the changed time, just to make sure. Also, if you're sending out relevant handouts that are needed during the conference, make sure to do this well enough in advance that everyone can access them easily for the call.

5. End when you promised. Employees appreciate respect for their time (even if they're on the clock working for you) as much as you appreciate them showing up to work on time each day. As much as you need the conference to begin on time, your team needs it to end on time. Days are busy and people plan other work, out of office appointments, and other calls around these conference calls. The ability to stick to a timed schedule is appreciated and a sign that you take everyone's participation in the call seriously.

These common courtesies are really simple (shows a little can go a long way), but as a manager, nothing is simple (probably because human beings are involved). Managers appreciate employees who are courteous and employees love managers who return the favor.

How To Prepare Your Team For A Conference Call

As a manager, you can do a lot to get your team ready for its annual, semi-annual, bimonthly, monthly or weekly conference call (there are all kinds out there, trust me). Or you can assign these tasks out equally among your team. Either way, using these tips to ensure everyone is ready to be at their best while on conference may help you to make your teleconferences the best that they can be.

1. Confirm the day, time, and length of a conference at least three times. Most people just send it out once, and several advocate twice, but we think three times is a charm. Once when you send it for their calendars and schedules, once about a week before (of course this doesn't work if it is every week), and then again the day before. Some folks even send out the morning of the call. Choose whatever seems reasonable to you.

2. Send out handouts a few days before or the day before. This way, attendees have time to look them over, formulate their ideas and thoughts, and are able to prepare effectively. Sending out handouts just before a conference really defeats the purpose of the conference. Of course, it does depend on how much you intend to accomplish during your call, how often you meet, and how difficult the issues are. I advocate the day before or at least four hours in advance of the call.

3. Send out an agenda the morning of the call. Prepare an agenda so that attendees can see for themselves what will be discussed and what they should be prepared to respond to. Another helpful tip is to ask for other items when you send out the agenda. That way, everyone has a chance to take part in the call and the most pressing issues are all included.

4. Start on time, but if folks are running late, be flexible. People get delayed all the time. If most of your group is there, go ahead and start, but if a lot are late, be patient, encourage present participants to review the handouts and agenda while they wait, and hold off for a few minutes. 

5. Be open for questions. No matter how much of an effort you make to get the handouts and agenda to attendees in order to communicate what is to be discussed, be open if some folks are still a little lost. It happens. Life is stressful. Be courteous and helpful, offer to send them the handouts or agenda again, and try to honestly answer questions as the conference progresses. It's really all about attitude when preparing for a conference. The more easygoing you are (not lackadaisical, but laid back and approachable), the better things will go.

Above all, remember that conferences are made up of human beings with many faults and foibles and that the best laid plans can always go awry. If you're prepared and have prepared your attendees, the worst thing that can happen is if the power goes out (and it will), the phone line picks up static (it might), and no one shows up (just reschedule). No matter what happens, it helps to be prepared.

How to Reduce Background Noise While On a Conference Call

I've been on many conference calls with technical difficulties. Either the PowerPoint presentation wouldn't load on the web conference, or the teleconference organizer put all of us on mute and then asked for questions (and couldn't figure out how to get everyone off of mute), or someone tried to stand outside by a freeway and listen to the call on their cell phone making the call practically inaudible. You know how it goes. We've all been there.

A few ways to reduce noise if you're facilitating or listening in on a conference call and the call will not be muted.

1. Call from a quiet location. Please don't try and join a teleconference from a room or place where there are televisions on, cars driving by, copiers running, folks typing on keyboards or talking on the phone, or in a public place with a lot of activity. This can be difficult if you work in a cubicle, so try to think about the best way to take part in a teleconference if that's your locale.

2. Avoid cell phones and speakerphones. If you have no choice, utilize the mute button. Unless you expect to talk through most of the meeting, it will be easier for other participants to hear if you take the responsibility of muting and unmuting yourself throughout the call. Usually this is not a complicated task, just a simple button on and off.

3. Use quality headsets to avoid a "tinny" sound. Avoid low-quality cordless phones as they sometimes create a buzzing background. Most offices provide quality headsets, but if you're attempting to call into a teleconference from your home or from another location, take care to find the best quality phone you can find.

4. Don't use the hold button if your phone system has built in background music or announcements. Just use the mute button instead. That way, you can hear what's going on, but no one can hear you. If you have to take another call, just leave the teleconference to do so. And of course, if you don't have to take the call right at that moment, just let it go to voicemail.

5. Avoid multitasking, such as paper rustling or answering emails, which are picked up by phone. It's hard to resist when the call seems to go on and on and you have many pressing things to finish before lunch. Once again, the mute button is our friend (I use it a lot when I answer email, eat food, or file papers while on certain teleconferences.)

Because audio quality is the most important aspect of most teleconferences, web conferences, and videoconferences, remember your fellow conference attendees the next time you all are on the phone line together.

Picking the Right Conference Call Service

As more and more companies choose to do business utilizing conference calling, the question is often asked of us: How do I know exactly what kind of conferencing tools I'll need?

We feel that when you choose a conference call service, you should keep in mind future conferencing needs, even if you're sure now you'll never need anything that fancy later on. We always encourage folks to keep their options open.

Accuconference offers a wide range of conferencing tools, some of them you definitely need now and some you don't. However, adding the ability to share applications later is always an option, so no worries.

I just want to host a straightforward conference call.

A simple conference call among a smaller group (less than fifty) will require a conference line, invitations, and a date that works for everyone taking part in the meeting. Check it out.

What if I want to add a PowerPoint presentation?

Web conferencing allows you to share, review and revise documents or web pages, demo products or present a proposal—all in real-time, sharing the same screen space. Look here.

How about video? I really think it's important that people can see me as I speak.

Video conferencing will never replace the in-person meeting, but it will support your business meetings by providing you with unique ways to interact. The online collaborative tools can enhance a meeting in ways that can't be done in person. Find out more here.

Plus, Accuconference offers recording playback at your convenience, secure conference controls right from your computer desktop, and toll-free customer support for any questions you may have. A full list of our customer benefits is here.

Often people aren't sure about teleconferencing because they're nervous about learning how teleconferences work, not sure if everything will run smoothly at the right moment, and general nervousness about having to speak with a group via the telephone.

We can't help you with your nerves (talking on the phone in a teleconference will get easier over time, we promise), but we can promise a stress-free, easy to use experience when you choose our teleconferencing system. Our rates are reasonable and well-priced when compared with other conferencing services, and we offer outstanding customer service. And I mean outstanding. Our customer service specialists will and often do bend over backward to help our clients with any issue.

Still not sure about conferencing even after that amazing list of benefits?

If you have any questions or want more information on how Accuconference can help you with your teleconferencing needs, please let us know.

The End is Near

Proper time management isn't just good for efficiency's sake.  It can help you be successful, accomplish your goals, and not be insulting.  That's a lot to put on being timely, but in certain circumstances, it's dead-on true.

Seth Godin wrote "Plan for the End" recently in an entry in his blog.  By this he meant that almost always a presentation, meeting, or interview has a scheduled ending, and if you don't plan your time right, you risk missing the opportunity to convey your point.

Using a blown radio interview as an example, Seth shows how rambling on with a deadline rapidly approaching can cause you to miss your point and even be seen as an annoying person.  Another example he used was presenters who "need" a few more minutes than they are allotted.  Instead of trimming to be on time, they try to rush through the last of their presentation -- and more importantly -- their conclusion.  Or they go long, waste their audience's time, and lose the audience's attention.

A good way to avoid all of this, of course, is to make sure to work within time constraints.  Another way is a bit different: begin with your main point and work down from there.  Seemingly, it's not as dramatic to not have a big finish, but what's wrong with a big beginning?  And there's nothing stopping you from beginning and ending with the same point.

Starting big captures your audience's attention and they can follow you better as you present supporting ideas.  Then, even with seconds left, you can summarize those ideas and proclaim your main idea again, coming full circle.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

3 Conference Call Habits to Improve

Making a phone call is an integral part of almost all businesses.  Even the street dog vendor occasionally needs to reorder buns.  It's a good thing then that telephones have kept up with the vast changes we've gone through in the past twenty years.  The technology may have improved, but old habits die hard.

1. How many times have you said, "I'll have to ask about that and get back to you"?  How much time has been wasted and progress halted by this phrase or variations of it?  When this happens to you again – and you know it will – hang-up, start a conference call, and outdial the person you were just talking to and the person you need to talk to.  Now all available information is at hand in the call.  Questions and follow-up questions can be asked, decisions can be made, and time isn't wasted.

2. Do you ever get a writing cramp trying to keep up taking notes on a lively discussion?  Ever miss important points on a long list?  Have you regretted not writing down a great speech?  A lot happens during a conference call and this is why most have an "auto-record" feature.

If you don't already, make sure you're conferences get recorded automatically.  It doesn't cost extra and the recordings can be easily downloaded.  The next step is to get into the habit of using those recordings.  Review a meeting to make sure everything got covered.  Listen to make sure your list matches the actual one.  If there was a great soliloquy, you've have it on tape.

3. The mute button is your friend.  It is imperative that everyone in a conference call know how to mute and unmuted themselves.  Muting cuts background noise to the minimum.  It helps avoid embarrassing situations such as kids running into a room, or a loud, suspicious leather chair squeak.  Using a group mute such as lecture mode allows a speaker to talk freely without interruption and lets you choose when to take questions.

There is a flip-side to muting to be acquainted with: mute delay.  If you and your participants are on the ball and mute whenever not speaking, then if a question is asked, there will be a delay.  Unlike a telephone where someone can instantly respond, a muted person needs a few seconds to be able to speak.  Give them that time by how you phrase your questions:

Incorrect:  "What were last week's numbers, Mike?"

Correct:  "Mike, I've got a question for you: what were last week's numbers?"

Saying Mike's name get's his attention.  Announcing you have a question for him gives him time to unmuted.  When it's time to answer, Mike will be ready with an answer.

These three habits may seem little, and they are to a point.  But despite their size, you'll find yourself having more effective and efficient conference calls if you use them often.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Multiply and Diversify

How many times on the phone or face-to-face have you ever said, "Let me check with them and see what they say. I'll let you know."? If you're like most of us, you've probably said it a lot. Meetings, impromptu get-togethers, and random run-ins suffer the most from not having the right people at hand when you need them. On a conference call, you may still encounter this problem, but it becomes a very minor inconvenience.

Conference calls have a feature called "outdialing" that allows you to bring anyone you like into the conference. They don't have to have the conference call-in codes, or even the dial-in number. All they have to do is pick up the phone when you call.

Here's an example on using outdialing in a conference call. Let's say you are on the line with your CFO and VP of Operations and the discussion turns to cutting shipping costs. Questions that arise include, how many boxes are left over each shipment, are there enough different size choices, and how much would custom sizes cost? Normally, you would write down these questions and get back to everyone later when you knew the answers.

Remember you're on a conference call so things are different. First of all, you need answers about your box usage. You outdial your Shipping department manager and bring him into the call. He answers your two questions, as well as the three others that follow afterwards. With the manager still on the conference call, you outdial your box vendor. The vendor can give you different sizes – even the particular sizes that the Shipping manager speaks up with – and the costs satisfy your CFO, who also is able to get a bulk discount right then and there.

Normally – without conference calls or outdialing -- this example would take at least a hour to accomplish, but more probably a day and many back-and-forth calls. Discover the efficiency that outdialing can bring to your business. Next time your are on a phone call and need to "check something," hang up and get everyone involved into a conference call.

Now you have to figure out what to do with all the time you've just freed up.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist