AccuConferenceAccuConference

Aug
09
2007
Testing the Ice: The Importance of Getting People Talking Accuconference

Having an active conversation where everyone weighs in is crucial to having a good meeting or brainstorming session, solving a problem, or just getting things done. This generally isn't too hard when participants have to talk with people they already know and are already comfortable talking to. It's something else again to get a good give-and-take going when you need to get people who are strangers together or who generally don't talk shop with one another because of their different job status.

Fortunately people who regularly face this problem have come up with some clever ways to help overcome these hurdles and get everyone talking as equals. These are called "ice breakers". A good ice breaker should be fun, but not take up a lot of time. And, most importantly, it should be specifically targeted at the "ice" you need to break.

"Ice" can come from any number of sources. It may be people at the same relative level and mindset that just haven't met each other yet. It may be because you have people of different cultures, backgrounds, or view points. It may be that you're mixing people from different pay grades and levels of responsibility or that have different perceptions about each other.

To have a successful ice breaker, look at the "ice" and then look at the goal of your meeting. Now assess what part of the ice you need to break in order to maximize the results of what has to get done. Focus the ice breaker on that. You can't, and shouldn't try to overcome every possible obstacle or type of "ice" that might exist between participants, just the one most likely to hamper you meeting from achieving its objectives.

We'll talk about effective ice breakers next.

Aug
08
2007
Second Life: The Brave New World of Team Conferencing Accuconference

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.

Aug
07
2007
Conference Call Etiquette: More Do's and Don'ts Accuconference

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.

Aug
06
2007
Conference Call Etiquette: Making the Right Impression Accuconference

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.

Aug
03
2007
Conference Calling: The Hardware Makes All the Difference – Part 2 Accuconference

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.

Aug
02
2007
Conference Calling: The Hardware Makes All the Difference – Part 1 Accuconference

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.

Jul
30
2007
Group Communication Options: What's Out There and Why Accuconference

Not so long ago, there was only US mail and the telephone for people who needed to stay in touch. But in the last 10 years, there has been an explosion in the numbers and types of communications tools that can be used to keep your team together and keep important stakeholders informed of project and/or company progress.

Many still revolve around the land-line telephone because it is such a universal installation. But as computers and wireless installations have become increasingly more prevalent, communications technology that uses these platforms have entered and revolutionized the field.

The ability of these more recent platforms to let people share graphics in real time and the ability, of some, to allow that all important "face-to-face" type of meeting is dramatically changing how some businesses communicate, boosting their productivity, and dramatically cutting costs.

Due to the newness of some technologies, there can be reliability and interface issues that still need improvement, but the rapid rate of technology advancement and provider innovation is quickly eliminating these issues.

Some of these technologies include: classical and suped-up conference calls and videoconferencing; podcasts; webinars; Instant Messaging, just to name a few.

Jul
27
2007
Preferred Modes of Communication: Identifying the Right Media Accuconference

Once you and your team have produced your list of people for your communication plan, gotten everyone's phone number and email, and listed their role, there is one more thing that needs to be done. Add each person's preferred mode of communication to the list. This is one of the most crucial, but commonly overlooked, elements of a good communication plan. Different people have different ways they like to communicate and the more you respect that, the better off you and your project are going to be.

Some people are at their computers all day and constantly check their email, others travel a lot and you can catch them only on their cell phone, others prefer office phone calls, and still others only respond if you talk with them face-to-face. Not using a person’s preferred mode of communication means you may not get the information or feedback you need when you need it. This can prevent you from being able to effectively make a required quick decision or stave off an impending crisis.
In today's workplace, adequate communication is difficult because many times not all the people in your communications loop work in the same building or city or state, and some don’t even work the same hours. Once you know how you need to communicate to the people identified on your communications plan, you then need to identify which of the many available communications tool are best suited for your team/company and how they work.

Jul
25
2007
Strategic Communications: Tools – No Need to Reinvent the Wheel Accuconference

If you have never seen or put together a communications plan before, the uncertainty of not knowing what it should contain, how it should look, and what other people might be expecting to see can be paralyzing. As a result, a lot people stop after the exercise of identifying who should be on the list and what those people need to know, never actually completing an actual full blown plan. Because communication is so important to business and/or project success, don’t let this happen to you!

For almost anything in business or government, and that goes for communication plans too, there are books, tools, examples, freeware, and professional software packages for just about anything you want to do. The Internet has all kinds of sample communication plans that come with extensive descriptions of what they need to contain and what they look like that you can copy and download for free.

To find one of these, just use any major Internet search engine and type in: "project management, communications plan" and a host of sites will appear. Many of these have forms you can copy or download and use right away. Even if you have never written or even seen a communications plan before, within minutes you can be filling out a professional looking and organized communications plan.

Jul
23
2007
Strategic Communications: Who Needs To Know What When Part II Accuconference

When you forget or omit an important communications link and have a breakdown in communication, problems occur; and sometimes they are so big they take an entire project down; and everyone loses.

So how can you stop this from happening? Well, nothing can ever be completely avoided, but you can minimize the possibility of a major communications breakdown by generating a communications plan spreadsheet that lists all of the tasks and associated deliverables and who is responsible for them.

Your spreadsheet should also include who is to receive whatever product that task produces, whether that be an invoice generated by your accounting department, a status report for your upper management or a regulatory agency, a software tool to automate a piece of equipment in your company’s chemical plant, or a highway overpass for your customer.

In addition, your document should indicate who needs to approve the deliverable and how frequently along the way that person needs to be kept informed on its progress. Such a matrix of tasks, people, and frequencies of communication helps keep you focused and keeps you from forgetting who has to know what when and prevents you from tiring out your key people by spamming them unnecessarily.

Strategic communication will be your key to success!

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