How to Choose the Time to Host Your Conference Call

When sending out an invitation, you want to be clear on when your conference call will be held. You also want to be sure to schedule it during a time that you're likely to get the best attendance. That can be hard when you're dealing with participants from across the nation, or even across the world. How can you possibly schedule your conference call around the number of parties and where they are located to ensure the best attendance? Here are three things to remember when it comes time to schedule your conference call.

  1. Majority time zone rules. Where are most your participants located -- that should be the primary time zone for your call, even if it's not the time zone you are end. These are potential clients, customers, or colleagues and you want to make things easy on them.
  2. Avoid the lunch hours. Once you set your primary time zone for the conference call, remember that people who are trying to eat lunch are less likely to attend your conference call when it's going to happen during the lunch hour. Avoid scheduling the time for the conference call between 12 and 2 to give yourself the best shot at having a good turnout.
  3. Give yourself a time limit and stick to it. Do everything you can not to go over your set time limit. Not only will this make everyone very happy, but it will also help your image. Now, you'll be remembered as the person who remembers the importance of time limits, and not the guy who keeps talking when everyone is trying to move on to their next task.

It's not a perfect system, but it can help to get better attendance on your conference call. What are you doing to increase attendance on your conferences?

How Good is Your Memory?

Some people have eidetic memory: they can recall almost everything they've ever seen or heard or read. A photographic memory as it's sometimes called. These special people could attend or host a conference call, remember everything that was said, and go on with their day. However, even these memory masters have a need for conference calls with a good recording feature.

One obvious reason for any conference call to be recorded is to know exactly what was said, in what order, and who said it. If this was the only reason to use recording then the eidetic memory folk would have no need for it. So what possible use could they have for conference call recording? The simplest reason is that everyone with a photographic memory knows that the majority of the human race doesn't share their perfect recall gift.

We can only imagine how many times one of them has had that annoying conversation where they have to convince someone with a fuzzy recall of actual events or conversations about what really transpired. So while a conference call recording will help most people know what was said, it will also help eidetic memory people help their people know what was said.

That's not the only reason they and the rest of the world would want to use recording. Getting away from the basic reason of sheer remembering, recordings can also be used to multi-task. While being recorded in a conference call, you could make sure to summarize at the end and specify task items for teams and individuals in your company. You can have your meeting be accessed for playback, or simply crop it down to the summary and upload it. Then you shoot an email to all involved letting them know that there is a recording available for call-in playback. They all call in individually, listen to your recording, know exactly what they are supposed to do, and you get on with your day.

Think of all the meetings, emails, conversations, questions, and misunderstandings you can avoid just by putting your exact words in a conference call recording. It's like a bit of eidetic memory for us all.

{Image credit: (CC) Larry D. Moore}

Have A Great Staff Conference Call

In business, we often find that things change rapidly and we have to keep our staff updated. One of the best ways to do that is with hosting a conference call with your employees. There are some important things to keep in mind when hosting these kinds of calls. Conference calls can get mundane quickly and when you don’t need to have one, there’s no reason to do so. Here are three tips for hosting a great staff conference call.

  1. Timely. Before sending out an invitation to participants for your next conference call, make sure you have planned it out. Studies have shown that there is only 23 minutes to get and keep your participants attention, so you need to operate within that time frame. Make an agenda and be sure to stick to it so that you can get on record with all your important information.
  2. Informative. It’s not always necessary to require a monthly meeting for your team or business if there’s no new information to present. When things haven’t changed and there is nothing new to announce, you might consider not holding the daily/weekly/monthly call just because it’s on the calendar. This will free up some time for your staff to work on other things, while also putting more importance on the conferences that you do need to have.
  3. Applicable. No matter what the subject your conference call is about, you should make sure that you give not only information, but how to apply that information once the call is over. Don’t just tell your participants what is new, but tell them how to apply it to their everyday business, and how it’s going to make a difference. If people can understand the changes, they are more likely to embrace them.

    When you follow these three simple tips, you can ensure that your conference calls have high attendance and you’re being the best host you can be. What kind of things do you do on your conferences to keep the attention of your staff?

Everyone Needs to Listen

On a hot summer day back in 1989, a group of five year old boys were on a field with one pig-tailed (and quite adorable, I might add) freckled face girl in a Pirate uniform.

Just like her dad taught her, the little girl wearing her new baseball glove leans down from her spot in right field, her hands on her knees, watching the little batter at the stand, just in case he was to knock that ball as hard as he could. She’s on the tip of her toes, she’s ready to make a play, and she glances around to see which way she can run. That’s when she spots the boy in centerfield sitting on his butt and picking flowers.

“Hey!” She yelled, “Get up and get ready for the ball!” This little girl did not have a soft or soothing voice. She was loud and when she yelled at this boy, every parent and player heard her.

This story is true – and it’s quite possibly one of my dad’s favorite stories about me. The thing about being on a team sport is that you all have to be in it 100% - -and it’s the same idea for working on a team in the office. If one person on your team is sitting down and playing with flowers, then you’re not all in it. We collaborate all the time in the work place and there are three essential parts of collaboration.

  1. Everyone has a voice. On a team, everyone is responsible for collecting information and helping out. Everyone should be communicating together and respecting each other’s viewpoints. You have to listen if you’re going to succeed. How many times have you seen the catcher go out to the mound to calm down a pitcher? The catcher isn’t the coach – but they are a team, and they have to listen to each other.
  2. Everyone is responsible. On a team, everyone has a job, and they are responsible for that position. A center fielder who is sitting on his rear end in the middle of a game is not doing his job, and if he misses a big play, everyone is going to feel it.
  3. Everyone listens. Not only do you have to listen to each other, you also have to listen to the team lead and respect them as such. Think of a short stop and a third baseman both going after the same pop fly. If you don’t communicate and listen, then you’re going to slam into each other while trying to make a play.

I’m sure none of us realized, while playing sports as a kid that we were being trained for life in the business world, but we were. The principals we learned working together on that team, we should be carrying them with us into our lives every day. How are you applying team sport principals to life in the office?

Preparing For a Disaster

This morning, I came across this heartbreaking story about Blake Hobbs, an independent meeting planner, who was running a 250 person meeting at the Marriott World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. An uneventful day, Blake went to notify hotel security about someone taking ice from the machines on the plaza and felt the force of the first plane that struck. He made sure that his attendees were evacuated promptly from the area and spent the rest of the day walking uptown, and trying to get to his Lake Wily, South Carolina, home safely.

None of us like the idea of a disaster striking in any circumstance, but with stories of earthquakes in busy city centers and stories of severe weather striking at any time, the fact of the matter is that the world doesn’t stop when we are in a meeting or on a conference call. Here are some points to keep in mind when planning your next meeting or event.

  • Everyone has a role. If you’re hosting a conference, assign single individuals to be “in charge” of a particular task in the event of a severe circumstance. You could be moderating a conference call with all of your people scattered around the country, or you could be doing a live broadcast from a conference room filled with live attendees. Have someone call in on a cellular phone, just in case you have to evacuate the area or go to a safe area so that you can let the conference call attendees know.
  • Know the areas. Know the ins and outs of the building – including the fire escape routes, the tornado safety shelters, and the procedures. It’s important to know what you are supposed to do so that you can advise your people and your employees where to go. There are often different procedures depending on the emergency.
  • Have a coded system. When I worked in retail, I had to learn the different codes, that way if something happened I would know how to direct customers that were near me. As an employee it was partly my responsibility to make sure that shoppers were safe, but we didn’t want to cause panic. Instead, we used codes to announce potential dangers. Things like “Code Black” and “Code Red” meant different things so that we would know how to advise people to get safe, before we told them what was going on. Safety is the most important thing.

Planning, hosting, and attending a conference is supposed to be a fun and exciting experience, and statistically speaking, you will probably never need to know the procedures in the event of a tornado. It’s important to know and understand the procedures and have a plan in place. What steps do you take before a conference to plan for the possibility of a disaster?

Survey Finds Companies Not Getting the Most Out of Conferencing

IT global solutions and services provider Dimension Data announced the results of a wide spread survey of IT leaders across the US on their unified communications strategies. The study found that while many businesses in the United States have implemented strategies like conference calls and web conferencing, not every is utilizing them to the best advantage. Many companies who are trying to make the switch from travel to conferencing to get their business done, have no long term plan for adoption.

Here are some of the stats:

89% of organizations have employees that work from home but 74% of conferencing solutions are offered “in-house”, leaving many telecommuters with no way to collaborate with those in the office.

While 70% of the organizations studied report having video conference capabilities, 70% of business leaders still travel at least once a month.

Mitchell Hershkowitz, National Practice Director of Dimension Data says, “Successfully implementing unified communications within an organization requires more than technology. Developing a roadmap and strategic plan is essential to demonstrating how the technology aligns to corporate goals and creating a clear plan and requirements that translate to enabling business groups and end users.”

The tragic part of being a new user to conferencing or other systems is that you may not always know when the “right time” is to initiate a conference call with another party. It’s often seen as “easier” to travel to a face to face meeting, which defeats the purpose of trying to implement this kind of strategy. If using a conference service is all about saving money and being more efficient, why are some continuing to do things the “old-fashioned” way?

They just don’t understand the savings potential. A lot of people can wrap their mind around why conference systems are important, but they can’t see how their bottom line going to be affected. Show them in hard number exactly how much it costs, on average, to travel for business meetings, and how much the average conference call will cost them.

No clue how to use a service. When you’ve never been exposed to something like conference calling or something other than the standard “old-fashioned” means of communication, it’s overwhelming to just be expected to change. Be sure you give your people detailed information about how to use the service, who the new provider is, and how to get ahold of someone at customer service if they have questions.

If you’ve recently introduced a new conferencing strategy to your team but find yourself frustrated as to why they aren’t using it more, it could be because they simply don’t understand how it works, or why they should. Send out an email letting them know you’re available for questions and anything you can’t answer, you’ll get from the service provider. How did you give your team the heads up when implementing a unified communications strategy?

The 23 Minute Conference Rule

A UK study reveals that the average attention span on a conference call is 23 minutes. After 23 minutes on a conference call, the participants on your call start to tune out and do other things. This is the part where they start checking their email, sending text messages, or playing Angry Birds. In fact, some people in the study admitted to falling asleep all together. When it comes to a face to face meeting, the attention span is increased to 35 minutes.

Whether you use conference calling services to have meetings, or you are still doing things in the traditional face to face way, this study is important to you and if you take nothing else away you should take away this – you have to get to the point. Here are three quick tips that you can apply to your next meeting so that you can say what you need to say while most people are going to be paying attention.

  1. Keep it short and sweet. A long drawn out introduction is only going to eat into the time that you have to keep everyone’s full attention. Instead of planning on a long introduction about the conference topic, send out an agenda ahead of time so that everyone already has a heads up. This way you can get right into the content.
  2. Use less time than you need. According to the study you have 23 minutes to say everything you need to say. When it comes time to actually plan out your conference, give yourself a little less time than what you actually have. This way, if you run over, you won’t be extending the time too much. It’s always better to end a little early, rather than ending very late.
  3. Wandering minds will wander. No matter what you do to keep the attention of the group, there will still be people who are going to tune you out. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do about the Angry Bird addicts. Reach who you can because you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to make a point to those who aren’t paying attention.

When you only have 20-30 minutes to make an impression that is going to stay in someone’s mind, you have to do what you can with the time allowed. Send out an agenda, plan for less time than you have, and remember that those who are going to be distracted will do so – and there is little you can do about it. What are you doing to stay within in the 23 minute time limit on your conference calls?

Respect is Key to Great Content

I recently had a chance to catch an interview that Michael Hyatt conducted with Scott Schwertly, who launched the presentation company Ethos3. His new book, How to Become a Presentation God, is available also. The interview showed off some of the great points from Scott’s book, but there was one that stood out the most to me.

Great content begins with respect.

Scott narrows down the point to remind us how important it is to be clear and concise with your messages. You only have about seven seconds to make a first impressions and it’s important to come out and get the audience’s attention. It’s a simple message that I and other presentation writers have addressed many times. You have to be the audience’s superman, you have to come out and get their attention right away, otherwise everyone is simply going to tune you out.

Scott is absolutely right. You have to respect your content and by doing that – you’re also respecting your audience. They have come to see your presentation and already have expectations. There is no need to explain that you are there to talk about “Subject A” when the first slide of your presentation clearly states that.

The audience understands what they hope to gain with a particular subject and when you take the stage or get on the conference, your goal should be to help them get every second worth of their time.

It’s not just about respecting your content – you do this because it’s respect for your audience too.

The rest of the interview is great and you can check it out over at Michael Hyatt’s blog. Check out the Ethos3 presentation blog too, it always makes me laugh. Thanks for the interview Michael and the great info Scott.

What Being a Baseball Fan Taught Me about Business

Daylight savings time went into effect this weekend and that can only mean one thing. No, it doesn’t mean that we were all late for work this morning, it means that in just a few short weeks, men around the country will be pulling on tight pants and oiling up their gloves. That’s right folks – it’s baseball season. Texas Ranger fans (like me) are hoping for another dream season – but there’s a lot of baseball to be played.

Since I’ve experienced being both a Rangers and an Atlanta Braves fan, I’m accustomed to heartbreak and I’ve learned that in order to pull for a team that doesn’t always win, there are a couple of emotions you have to embrace. As I’ve gotten older, I realize these emotions often mirror what we feel when we take on a new project or take a new direction in our jobs.

  • Faith. There are few teams in MLB who have more faith than the Boston Red Sox fans. Even with the 86- year long “Curse of the Bambino” their fans still showed up for games. They did everything they could, including burning a Yankee’s hat at Mt. Everest in order to break the curse. The fans believed that no matter what, their faith in their team would pay off – and in 2005, with a win against the Yankee’s in the World Series, it seemed like all was right in the world. When we make a change in a product or we start a new advertising campaign, we want to control the outcome, but it does take a lot of faith to stand behind something when you can’t predict the future.
  • Patience. In the late 80’s, I went to my first Major League baseball game at Fulton County Stadium and a monster was born. I began to follow the sport a little closer and by 1991, excitement for Atlanta Braves fans was growing. Bobby Cox had taken over and the pitching dream team (including Smoltz and Glavin) was coming together. Fans could feel the buzz in the air – we could feel the electricity and the stadiums couldn’t sell red foam rubber tomahawks quick enough. It took until 1995 for Braves fans to finally feel the victory – and it was a beautiful thing.
  • Passion. Last spring and fall was like a dream for me as a baseball fan. On October 31, when I walked into Ranger’s Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, I proudly admit that I had tears in my eyes. I’ve been a fan of baseball for as long as I can remember and getting to go to a World Series game was incredible. Despite the Ranger’s poor performance in Game 4, fans were still on their feet – we still loved our team. No matter what, those rally towels were flying, the hope for the comeback was there, and everyone hated the Giants fans in the upper decks. After the game was lost and everyone started to leave, the chatter was still heard around the stadium, “Yeah, but we beat the Yankees.”
  • Your new campaign has all the pieces in place. You’re excited and can’t wait to see the success. Remember that you have to give the pieces time to cultivate, grow, and grow before you see the success. Greatness doesn’t come over night. Now, you may not want to put your antlers up during a business meeting, but standing behind the campaign you’ve put in place or the product you’re selling is essential. You have to love what you’re selling and believe in its benefits in order to be able to translate that to customers or your boss.

Without passion and fire behind your words and actions in business, you’re just going to end up feeling disappointed. Unless you believe in the amazing and that anything is possible, you’re going to end up getting bogged down in all the things that could go wrong. Much like any given day at any ballpark across America, there’s a number of things that couldn’t happen. If things don’t turn out your way, I’ll leave you with this piece of advice my father (a successful Little League coach) always told me – “You win some. You lose some. And some of them get rained out.”

Communication Exercises

My Fair Lady (Pygmalion) is a charming story about a young girl with a bad accent who takes speech therapy in order to prove herself as a society lady in London. It’s a great movie – classic Audrey goodness and in an age where films about speech therapy are winning Oscars again, it’s not just about good entertainment.

Eliza Doolittle had a rotten accent and some pretty reprehensible mannerisms. Despite her charming qualities, she can never be presented to society as a lady without some *ahem* fine tuning. With the help of Henry Higgins – Eliza finds a voice that was hidden under her bad mannerisms and atrocious speech. While the musical adaptation is lots of fun, the movie does teach us a very important lesson about phonetics.

Phonetics, for those of us that don’t know, is the study of how you articulate and sound when you pronounce certain words. The sounds we grow up hearing and the language that we speak can affect our phonetics. Those of us with accents are often searching for ways to improve our pronunciation. In case you don’t have a Henry Higgins close by, here are some things you can do to help improve the way you speak.

  1. Listen more effectively. In order to say things in a clearer fashion, you must be able to listen to the conversations around you. One of the best things to listen to is an audio book – the people reading those books are paid to have excellent pronunciation.
  2. Practice. It does make perfect – so practice the words you struggle to pronounce. If you just don’t think you’re getting it just right, have someone pronounce it for you, or try this pronunciation tool.
  3. Twist it up. Get yourself a list of tongue twisters and set yourself five minutes a day to read them aloud. Reading them over and over will teach your mouth and tongue how to say words that might otherwise be difficult. Your tongue is a muscle and this is the perfect work out.

When it comes to public speaking there are a lot of things that you can do to improve the way you pronounce your words. When you pronounce words better, you can speak clearer, and help your audience understand the message you’re trying to communicate. If all else fails, remember that the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.