By Sean O’Brien, Executive Vice President, Strategy and Communications, PGi
Conferencing is big business. I’m talking an estimated $5.3 billion worldwide by 2017 big. Unfortunately, conference calls are rife with opportunity for personal and professional blunders.
I mean, think about it: a conference call is the equivalent of placing a bunch of blind-folded people in a room together and asking them to collaborate.
Having an effective call isn’t magic; it’s simply the result of proper planning. In fact, you can ensure a successful audio conference through three simple steps:
Question: would you invite your coworkers into your home for an in-person meeting with Fido yapping away in the corner or your toddler screaming for another cookie?
Why, then, is this seemingly an acceptable practice on every single conference call we attend?
Often, attendees treat the removal of the visual component of the meeting as carte blanche to ignore every known professional courtesy and bombard the other meeting guests with the noisy nuances of their personal lives.
As an attendee or host, you have to know your surroundings, and adapt your behavior accordingly with two simple steps:
- 1) Get to a quiet place. If you’re meeting outside of the office, get to your home office or away from background noise if at all possible.
- If 1) is impossible, master your mute button! If you know you’re going to be bringing unavoidable noise into the conference call, stay muted until you need to speak. Minimize the disruption as much as you can.
- It’s that simple. So simple that we made a flowchart, because, well, everything’s better with flowcharts.
Know Your Attendees
The next step to ensuring a smooth conference call experience is knowing who exactly is on the line.
When it comes to your conference call attendees, remember the Three Ns:
- Due to the nature of conference calls, the number of attendees in your call can have a dramatic effect on how the call needs to be structured. If you’re dealing with dozens or hundreds of guests, a live Q&A session can be cumbersome to manage, and could be better handled in a webinar or outside of the meeting via email or corporate intranet.
- One of the primary difficulties in an audio-only meeting is trying to figure out just who exactly is talking. Include all of your attendees’ names in the body of your email invite, and politely request that everyone starts with “This is [name]” when they begin to speak to avoid confusion.
- As a conference call host, it’s up to you to be as accommodating as possible for the needs of your guests, which includes being mindful of schedules by adhering to a set agenda and timeframe, and providing multiple dial-in and access methods for mobile and remote attendees (more on that in a second).
Know Your Technology
Among all the latest technology trends and buzzwords – wearable tech, the internet of things, big data – it can be easy to overlook that the lowly conference call is more technologically complex than ever these days. We’ve come a long way from simply picking up the phone and dialing some digits. There are complicated passcodes, mixing VoIP with traditional PSTN phone lines, international dial-in participants, different devices and endpoints; the underlying infrastructure of virtual meetings has evolved into an incredibly complicated beast.
While you may not need to know all of the technical ins and outs of your audio conference tech, as the host, it’s your job to master the technology and make the process of joining and engaging in your meeting as painless as possible.
Make sure to consider the following tech tips when hosting your next conference call:
- Does your call require passcodes, or will the conference dial-out to your guests?
- If your call requires codes, make sure they’re clearly visible in the email invite, in both the “location” field and the email body itself. This will especially help mobile users who may not be able to easily dig through their email for the codes.
- Are there mobile options?
- Speaking of mobile users, you can make your conference call even more effortless to join by choosing an audio solution with mobile apps for smartphones and tablets. These apps offer a variety of feature, from one-touch audio connection to a visual list of attendees.
- Do you have a headset?
- Regardless of whether you’re connecting via traditional phone line or on a mobile device or laptop through VoIP audio, headsets are essential to drowning out background noise and making sure that your audio is crystal clear. If you don’t have one, get one!
- Do you know how to adjust volume and muting for yourself and/or others?
- This is a huge one, for conference call guests and hosts: you have to know how to adjust your volume and mute yourself or any noisy guests, preferably before the meeting starts in earnest. If you get caught in a noisy area (refer back to our flowchart above), you don’t want to be fumbling with your headset or phone app trying to figure out where the mute button is.
Can’t get enough conference call etiquette? There’s a SlideShare for that.