33 Tips For Using Teleconferencing for Meeting Preparation
by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach
As part of your meeting planning and preparation, you may find well find yourself having to hold teleconferences with your suppliers or members of your team around the country or world.
While your service provider will handle the technical aspects of the call, the real success of your teleconference is up to you. Planning and preparation is key. However, it's obviously not possible to plan all the details especially for last minute or emergency meetings. The following are 33 tips and guidelines to keep in mind before and during your calls:
1. Make a list of all attendees and check that they're availability on the date and time planned. Obviously, the more notice you can give them, the more likely they are to be on hand for your meeting.
2. Check with the service provider you choose if they require a reservation and if so, how much notice do they need. Make sure that the date and time you want is available.
3. Decide on the options you will use for your call. Will it be dial-in or dial-out? Do you want it recorded? Once again, your service provider will give you guidance in these areas.
4. Contact all participants and give them the date and time of the teleconference. Always remember to specify the time zone. To avoid any confusion, you might consider listing the various times in the particular time zones. For example, if your meeting is scheduled for 1pm EST, list 12noon CST, 11am MST and 10am PST.
5. Provide participants with the telephone number and access code for the call if you use a dial-in option. As a safety precaution, give your name and contact information in case any of your callers experience problems.
6. Create an agenda for your teleconference to ensure you cover all the important topics, and to help the meeting run smoothly and on time. It also keeps participants focused on the subject at hand, and helps stop them from "drifting off" during the discussion.
7. Send out handouts and supplementary material early so participants have time to read them and prepare for the meeting. Include a written agenda and short biographical information on the participants, especially when people aren't familiar with each other.
During the Call
1. Begin at the scheduled time. Don't wait for latecomers. Rather acknowledge and be sensitive to the "on-timers." Laggards will quickly realize that starting on time really means starting on time. Chances are that they will only be late once.
2. Take a roll call at the beginning of the conference so that everyone knows who is involved and listening. If participants don't know each other, briefly introduce them or have them introduce themselves.
3. Begin with enthusiasm, setting the tone for an upbeat and positive meeting. This is especially important if participants are going to be on the call for a long time. Since your voice is the only you're communicating with them, it needs to be interesting to listen to.
4. Outline the objectives and the agenda of the meeting. Give participants printed copies of the agenda ahead of time so that they can follow along.
5. Give participants the basic rules and guidelines for the call. Cover speaking time limits, instruct them to pause occasionally so that others have a chance to respond, and quickly go over the most important etiquette points outlined below.
6. Organize your presentation and discussion into clear, concise points. This makes it easier to follow and avoids possible rambling.
7. Keep an eye on the clock to ensure that you are following the agenda you've created.
8. Keep track of who is contributing to the discussion and who is not. Quiet participants may need some coaxing. Engage them by asking a question or ask for their opinion on the subject being discussed.
9. Pause periodically throughout the teleconference to get feedback and to take questions from the other participants. In the training arena, presenters try to break up their session every 8-10minutes to do another activity, such as Q&A. You might try a similar timing. It's tough listening to listening to the same person for an extended period.
10. Schedule a 5-10 minute break every 60-90 minutes for long conference calls so that people can refresh themselves - go to the restroom or grab a cup of coffee.
11. Before ending the meeting, go around the virtual room and address each person by name asking for any questions or comments they have as a result of the discussion. You might even ask them what was the most important point they heard.
12. End the teleconference clearly. Briefly go over what was discussed, clarify any action participants need to take, and finally instruct them to hang up.
13. Spice up your calls by assigning different sounds to individual participants. Ask your teleconference service provider about this option. For example, Joe in Accounting is associated with a barking dog, Jill in Marketing with a car horn. Participants use their keypad to play the sound when they begin to speak, or when they enter the call.
Basic Teleconference Etiquette
1. Be on time, and stress the importance of being on time to other participants.
2. Choose a location where there is little background noise. A closed office with a "do not disturb" sign on the door is ideal.
3. Use the mute button on your phone when you are not speaking, but, remember to un-mute yourself when you do want to talk.
4. Avoid cellular and cordless phones because of annoying static, and speakerphones as they pick up background noise and sound like you're speaking in a tunnel. Also, some speakerphones don't allow you to speak and hear at the same time, effectively "clipping off" parts of the conversation.
5. Turn off your call waiting. The beep as someone tries to reach you on another line is heard by everyone on the teleconference.
6. Address people by name when you speak to them. Since there are no visual cues, if you simply ask a question or make a remark without indicating to whom you are speaking, it's very difficult for other participants to determine who is being addressed.
7. Direct questions to a specific person, instead of posing them to the group at large. This avoids confusion and helps ensure that your question is met with an answer rather than just a silence while people try to figure out who is going to respond.
8. Ask all participants to identify themselves before speaking.
9. Avoid putting your phone on hold during a teleconference. Doing so will force the participants left on the call to listen to the music your telephone system plays to those on hold as adding an unnecessary diversion.
10. Take detailed notes on the topics discussed, including who said what. Consider having your service provider record the call in case you need to go back and clarify something that was said.
11. Introduce anyone who might have wandered into your room during a teleconference. You can handle this tactfully, by simply waiting for a break in the conversation and saying, "It appears that Jim Brown, our CEO has joined us, please continue."
12. Encourage participants to offer feedback on the teleconference.
13. Check if your teleconference service providers offer the opportunity to record the meeting into a voicemail system to allow participants, or those who unable to attend to listen to the meeting at their leisure.
Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” working with companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and training. Go to http://www.thetradeshowcoach.com to sign up for a free copy of ExhibitSmart Tips of the Week.