To Teleconference or Not To Teleconference, that Is the Question!

There is a lot of talk these days about how people should be doing more conference calling to save money. We all know, however, that there are some things you just can't do or information you just can't get in a conference call that you can in a face-to-face meeting. Below are some considerations to think about when deciding on whether you really need a face-to-face or whether a conference call or videoconference will do.

  1. Consider the purpose of getting these people together and what you hope to achieve.
  2. Examine all your communication options and whether a conference call is the best way to get what you need to have a successful meeting. Maybe what needs to be done can just be done by email or in an email chat room? Ask yourself, does it really need a fully facilitated meeting? Does the meeting goal depend on observing body language or high levels of personal interaction, trust, and relationship building?
  3. How many people will be involved? Remember that if you have 12 people involved, each person only has, on average, 5 minutes to speak. Don't engage people if they are not going to participate.
  4. How highly dependent is the content on visual images that you need to walk your participants through. Will it be detrimental if they can't see what is going on?
  5. If you have a highly distributed group you are getting together, what will be the effect of different time zones on people being able to be there and alert. This is an increasingly more important consideration as more businesses go global.

Once you know the answers to these questions, you can then determine whether it is a plain vanilla teleconferencing that is needed, or a video conference, or a real face-to-face meeting.

Building Relationships: The Power of Audio, Web and Videoconferencing

Nothing is more important than the relationships a company builds with its customers and partners. To foster these relationships, larger companies sometimes have annual conferences where people from across the country come together to meet each other, catch up on new company products and services, and learn new ways to use the company’s system. These usually cost quite a bit of money for both the company and the participants.

 Although nothing beats a good physical face-to-face conference, just in terms of time and money it is not something that can be done more than once every year or two. And, getting together with key clients and partners only once every year or two to fill them in on what’s going on is just not sufficient to build a real relationship.

What some companies have decided to do is to still offer the once-a-year physical meeting, but to augment them with quarterly web meetings that are similar to their large conferences, but smaller in scope (50 to 75 people) and that target different market niches and that use audio and video tools to provide interaction between parties.

Due to the more intimate nature of the web meetings over the physical get together, this becomes a venue to find out how clients are actually using the product and its features and get them to share what they are doing and what they are finding out about it. It also proves to be a great vehicle to brainstorm and troubleshoot with clients about products under development; and provides a great way to find out what the client’s priorities are for new products, allowing the meeting convener to better prioritize product enhancements or new product releases.

Scheduling Your Webinar: When is the Best Time?

Because webinars don't require people to go anywhere, there's a lot of flexibility in deciding when they can be scheduled. Most presenters have not adjusted to this brave new world of freedom or the kind of things they need to think about when scheduling their webinar. Sometimes the best time for a webinar is completely counter to when you think the best time for a face-to-face seminar should be held.

First, and this you would think is the most obvious, is to be sure you arrange your webinar so that it works with the time zone in which your attendees live.

Depending on whether you are looking for a national or international audience, you may need to think, about scheduling your webinar twice.

Believe it or not, industry surveys have found out that if you are targeting professionals, Mondays and Fridays generally have good attendance, not what you would think. But these are bad days if your target is the support staff.

Also summer months and holiday weeks, like the beginning of the week of Thanksgiving or the week between Christmas and New Year can work well, though scheduling can again depend on your target audience. For example if you are looking to attract express delivery people, anytime two months before Christmas is off limits.

Because other meetings usually begin and end on the hour, start your webinar at a quarter after the hour and end on the hour or an hour and a half later. This lets your attendees get back from their previous meeting and get ready and lets them finish your webinar before they have to get to their next meeting.

Try to avoid the lunch hour. The best times to consider are generally 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. because people are already at work, generally no matter how late their workday starts, and your webinar will be over before those who come in early have to go home.

Second Life: The Brave New World of Team Conferencing

The world of virtual conferencing is changing and I have seen the future! Just as email radically changed how businesses and people communicate, virtual conferencing is going to revolutionize the conferencing industry. You can see the embryonic stages of this if you go to Second Life on the Internet and log on.

Second Life is a virtual world created by Linden Research where people create digital entities, also known as avatars, that interact in real time by voice, if you have a microphone, or via keyboarding if you don't. Since it went online in 2003, more than a million users have joined and the number is growing dramatically each year.

It is a place where you can own property, create a business, start your own radio station, earn real money, and…… hold meetings and seminars. In fact there are hundreds of groups from 12-steppers to government agencies to businesses like Toyota and IBM that are opening up shop and holding meetings and information sessions there now.

Although manipulating an avatar takes still takes some getting used to, so it is not something that will be in the conferencing mainstream for some time yet. Because you can move freely though the virtual world as you talk with the other people in your conversation, this exciting new technology promises to fill the gap between the static videoconferencing environment and the face-to-face meeting or site visit.

Conference Call Etiquette: More Do's and Don'ts

People are funny. Things they would never do in public, they have no compunction doing in private; and this applies to conference calling as well. Almost without exception, people who end up being disruptive in conference calls are completely unaware of what they are doing and would be appalled if they knew the negative impact they were having. As we noted previously, good conference call etiquette requires you behave on a teleconference as you would in a face-to-face meeting.

The list of unintentional but annoying behaviors you can experience (and have probably done yourself) on a conference call are legion, but most boil down into three categories. Good conference call etiquette and maintaining that all-important professional image requires the following.

  1. Do not do other work. It is always a great temptation to multitask when no one can see you. A conference call needs your undivided attention and your respect for the other participants just like a regular face-to-face meeting does. If you are shuffling papers, or typing, or distracted by doing other things, other people on the line can hear it and from your responses tell you are not paying full attention. It is best to keep the meeting agenda in view and take notes on what is being said to minimize having your mind wander.
  2. Do not eat during the call. Few things are more off-putting than hearing someone chewing, smacking their lips, or swallowing over the phone. Resist the temptation to eat or drink through a straw just because you think no one can see you do it. One way or another, you will give yourself away and this will not project the kind of professionalism or respect for your colleagues that you need to. There will be plenty of time to eat after your call is over.
  3. Wait your turn. Interrupting people is the bane of conference call etiquette. It is not only rude, but on a teleconference, it is confusing to others who are listening because it makes what both people are saying unintelligible. Wait until the other person is done talking before you speak, or wait until you are called on by the host before expressing your opinion.

By following these and the other rules for good conference call etiquette we discussed previously, you will improve the effectiveness of any call you participate in, as well as project the respect you have for your colleagues and their time, as well as the kind of image you want the other people on the line to take home and remember you by.

Conference Call Etiquette: Making the Right Impression

Conference call etiquette is as important as conference room etiquette. Everyone knows that in a meeting with their colleagues, manager, or customer in the conference room, they need to pay attention, be polite, participate, and not do anything disruptive. The same holds true for conference calls.

Below is how you can insure you have good conference call etiquette during a teleconference so you and the other people on the call get the most from the conversation and so you project the same profession image you would if you were in a face-to-face meeting with a room full of important people.

  1. Be on time. No one likes latecomers, their late arrival disrupts the conversation and commonly someone needs to recap where the conversation is to get the person up to speed. Being late is one of the most egregious of all conference call etiquette faux pas.
  2. Do not participate in or listen in on a call unless you are officially invited. The presence of “mystery guests” or uninvited participants is the second biggest breach of conference call etiquette. Because no one can see who is around and listening to what they are saying, participants need to trust that they are only talking to the people they know they are supposed to be speaking with. Just as people might not talk to a customer the same way they would talk to the team or their boss, participants have to know who it is that is listening and talking so they can express themselves appropriately and speak as frankly or diplomatically as required. Trust on the part of all participants in a teleconference is a MUST and you need to respect that.
  3. Introduce yourself at the outset. Tell people (a) your name, so people will know who you are. (b) Your location, if you are in a different building or city or what your department is, so people can visually place you. (c) Your role: salesperson, accountant, public relations representative, so people know your expertise, what you do, and what you bring to the table. And, last but not least, (d) your reason for being the conversation: e.g., "to help solve our marketing problem" or "to learn about what the problem is and try and get the project back on schedule". Conference call etiquette requires that other people on the line know who they are taking to and why.
  4. Tell who you are each time you speak. Another important part of good conference call etiquette is to remind other participants of who you are when you have something to say. Unless the conference call host has already called you by name, when you speak you should mention your name and something else about you to help people remember you (e.g., "This is John in sales and I feel that…." or "This is Simone in London, my perspective is…").

By following these four rules for good conference call etiquette, you will improve the effectiveness of any call you participate in, as well as project the kind of image you want the other people on the line to take home and remember you by. Common pitfalls that too many of us have experienced and that you need to avoid are discussed in our next blog.

Conference Calling: The Hardware Makes All the Difference – Part 2

Given the demands of the modern business climate and our fast-paced 24/7 society, sometimes you just can't control where you are when you have to attend a scheduled conference call. Here are important tips to let you maximize your effectiveness and cause the least disruption when you can't be in the best of locations for that all important teleconference.

  1. If you're on the road and must use a cell phone, find a place where your signal is strong and pull over and don't move the car until the call is over.
  2. If you are in an airport, find a bank of land-line phones and handle your call from there. That way, if the phone you are on is having problems, you can switch to another one in the matter of a minute or less.
  3. Use the mute button on your phone or the teleconferencing mute function to mute your line when you are not talking. It is best to eliminate the sound coming from your phone voice transmitter unless you are speaking. Using the mute eliminates any distracting background sounds from the place you are calling from or that you might make inadvertently. The only time you need to be heard is when you are speaking.
  4. Do not use your phone in speakerphone mode unless there are other people in the room that need to be in on the conversation. Speakerphones pick up all kinds of extraneous noise and have bad sound quality. Also, if you are in a room with others and sitting far from the phone, be sure to speak loud enough to be heard. This is particularly true for men. Men's voices tend to be lower in frequency than women's voices and not carry as well when there is background noise.
  5. Also, if you are in a teleconference where a number of people are in the same phone and you are speaking over a speakerphone, make sure not to carry on any side conversations during the call. No matter how quietly you think you are talking or whispering, other people in the room and on the conference call will likely hear what you are saying.

Conference Calling: The Hardware Makes All the Difference – Part 1

Good conference call etiquette requires not only that, as a participant, you comport yourself in the discussion in a professional manner, but also that you show you're a pro by not being the cause of any unnecessary hardware disruptions. You can always control your own behavior, but what about that of the equipment you're using?

In terms of hardware, there are always going to be things that are out of your control. You may not always be able to be alone in a nice quiet office with the door closed, you might have to be on travel, your phone might be on the fritz, or you might be in a large group clustered around a speakerphone.

Whatever the case, with some thought and knowing what the most likely problems are, you can minimize a lot of the distractions on a conference call that come from what you're using, as opposed to what you're saying or how you're saying it. Below are two things to keep in mind for your next teleconference.

If at all possible use a telephone with a land line, not a cordless phone, cell phone, or computer telephony (i.e., a phone that used Voice Over IP). The reason for this is that a land-line telephone has the highest quality sound with the least amount of static, cutting in and out, latency, jitter, echo, or other issues that degrade voice quality and the ability of others on the call to understand you. You can't leave a good impression if your phone is the one causing a lot of technical problems for the group.

If you get a bad connection, tell the host you're going to hang up and call in again to see if you can get a better connection. Nine times out of ten, this corrects any problems. Nothing is more annoying or distracting than to be stuck in an hour long teleconference when one person's phone is generating a lot of static or when there is an echo every time you speak.

Web Out-Dial Now Available:

You're about to start a conference call and "Forgetful Frank" still hasn't arrive. Usually you call to remind him but this time it's different.

You look at the live call screen and notice an inconspicuous box located on the left hand side. It's the web out-dial box and you intuitively know what it's for. You type in Frank's phone number and click "GO" to see what happens.

You continue talking as if nothing has happened. Seconds later, Frank's bellowing voice greets everyone on the call. Amazingly your meeting starts on time.

Allow me to explain this time-saving feature.

The AccuConference Web Out-Dial is an automated calling application that is controlled by your computer that invites participants to join a conference call.  The system can dial your entire contact list separately or all at once.

When your participants pick up their phone they receive three options:

Press 1 > to join the conference
Press 2 > to be called back in 5 minutes
Press 3 > to decline this invitation
The Web Out-Dial is like conference call cruise control… simply hit the button and then sit back to relax. No longer will your participants need to remember the exact time or codes for your call.

Bo ost your conference call attendance and save time. Visit our conference call features page to find out more about Web Out-Dial.

More ways to make (and save) money with conference calling

1. Sell your consulting services – meet with multiple people at the same time to maximize your time. Provide exclusive access by creating customized passcodes that expire after every use.

2. Host a special event – find a guest speaker that your customers would pay to hear. It could be a sales guro or motivational speaker, an author, politician, or industry spokesperson. Use online registration pages to track attendance and to distribute codes.

3. Record your calls – download your high-profile conference call recordings and make them available on CD for a price. The CD could contain sales and marketing strategies, industry-specific consulting, or be a recording of a popular guest speaker.

4. Blast-dial an important announcement –coming soon, this feature will automatically dial a list of phone numbers. This will let you pre-record important announcement and mass distribute them to current or prospective clients. This in turn will boost your inbound call volume and generate traffic to your website.

5. "Cold-Conference" prospective clients – Invite a list of prospective clients to an exclusive conference call. Provide them valuable information and then top it off with a lucrative sales pitch.

6. Reduce unnecessary business travel – Avoid paying for accommodations, transportation and eating out.

7. Use 800 forwarding – toll free forwarding ensures you never miss an important sales call.  Having a toll free number will also increase your call volume and give your company a larger geographic reach.

8. Increase sales – connect with your sales force, regardless of location. Use conference calling to follow-up on prospective leads. Record your sales pitches for training and customer quality.