The 7 Deadly Sins of Conference Calling

January 16th, 2015

The 7 Deadly Sins of Conference Calling

 

There has been a lot of research done in the past few years trying to determine what people are actually doing during conference calls, and some of the results are shocking. Some of these can be avoided by leaders planning ahead, keeping meetings short and sweet, and checking in ever so often to make sure people are still on board with the subject at hand. But some of these habits can be tackled by the individual participant, and with that, we bring you The Seven Deadly Sins of Conference Calling.

 

  1. Grabbing a bite

Have you ever actually listened to someone eat? Have you ever really listened to the way your mac-n-cheese sounds? Now imagine hearing that sound over a headset with 50+ people on the call. We might all be able to agree that your colleagues would prefer to not hear that on the other end of the line. I promise, your leftovers will be just as delicious moments after the conference call.

 

Eating on a conference call

 

2. Getting your flirt on

According to a 2014 poll 10% of responders admitted to using online dating sites while on conference calls. We were just as shocked as anyone to hear that using online dating sites might, in fact, be wildly inappropriate use of time while on a conference call (can you smell my sarcasm?). Save the dating for after hours, and swipe right to undivided attention.

 

3. Catching up with mom

Yes, we’ve all experienced the euphoria of our mothers finally figuring out how to use social media and posting embarrassing childhood photos on our wall, but the last time you’d want to be checking your facebook is during a conference call. Social media is an integral part of the modern workplace, but if it becomes a distraction during phone calls, it’s probably best to give mom a ring a little later.

 

4. Zzzzzzzzzz

Thinking about getting some shut eye during a call? Maybe think again… 27% of respondents to this survey have admitted to falling asleep during a company call. Unless you’re being paid to be a part of NASA’s sleep study, do yourself and your colleagues a favor and grab some coffee, stretch, and rub those eyes. Must…stay…awake…

 

Sleeping on a conference call

 

5. Checking email

This one is a no brainer. Unless you’re being asked by someone to send a specific email, keep your attention on the task at hand. Groupon isn’t as important as we make it out to be, and yes, there will still be great deals available for your viewing pleasure tomorrow.

 

 

6. Taking care of business

In public speaking, it is often suggested that you imagine your audience in their underwear. I can’t say the same can be said for conference calls. A reported 47% of employees admitted to using the restroom during conference calls. Have fun picturing that one next time you’re on a call.

 

7. Too Many Cooks

Does everyone in the family need to attend the conference call? In all likelihood, the answer is no. Having too many people on the line can get frustrating, both for moderator and participant, especially when everyone is trying  to interact and get a word in. If properly moderated, conference calls can be a breeze, but in order to keep everyone on task and engaged, it might be smart not to invite everyone and their dog. This can be another good way to make sure that everyone in the call is on task and engaged, not committing any of the other 7 deadly sins.

Advantages of Audio Conferencing

October 15th, 2014

People working

Clear communication is the key to maintaining a healthy relationship across any platform, but is especially relevant in the workplace. Although the most common form of inter-office communication occurs via email, there’s still something to be said for the conference call. When it comes to employees and clientele, there are a few significant reasons to consider picking up the phone instead of heading for your inbox.

Research has demonstrated that the majority of employees that use conferencing technology use conference calls more frequently than videoconferencing1. This could be for a variety of reasons, including convenience and availability. In any case, the fact that conference calls remain heavily utilized illustrates that they serve an undisputable role in establishing the relationship between employees and clients alike.

 

In addition to the convenience of setting up a conference call, the lack of visual connection (as found with videoconferencing) allows for both parties to have professional conversations in a variety of settings (i.e. home, job site, etc.). This is an especially nice perk when it comes to calls that could occur across time zones, during weekends, or spur of the moment. For those who travel frequently for work, these calls are a great way to touch base without being completely invasive.

Despite the speed at which modern technology is advancing, some businesses (especially those with financial limitations) can’t afford to invest in a complete videoconferencing setup. Subsequently, it’s nice to have an audio fallback that will still allow for group communication; conference calls (affordably) offer just that. Businesses that have the means will often have their conference calls hosted, which provides a variety of features (billing depends on the selected options).

Speakerphone Discussion

For both small and large companies alike, conference calls are a respected, reliable way to connect employees and clientele. The user-friendly aspect coupled with universal applicability makes conference calls a clear standby.

 

 

 

  1. Harris, Daniel. “Preferred Conferencing Solutions in the Workplace IndustryView | 2014.” Preferred Conferencing Solutions in the Workplace IndustryView | 2014. Software Advice, 15 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

Keep Yourself Entertained, Call Style

September 16th, 2014

We thought of a pretty good idea that anyone can play. We first tested this out in our offices and as it turns out, everyone loves it. Basically, it’s just conference call themed bingo! The steps to creating your own game are pretty easy, and feel free to use your own creativity and inter-office lingo for optimal fun.

The Board
Since a traditional Bingo card has a 5 x 5 layout, it’s probably best to duplicate it. Basically, you’ll want to divide your paper into 5 columns and 5 rows, giving you about 25 blocks. The size of the blocks can differ, it’s really up to you and your colleagues to decide what you want to do.

Write one of the following words and phrases into the boxes:

 

Deliverable
Actionable
Synergy
ROI
Buy-In
Value-add
Bleeding Edge
Scalable
Best Practice
Think outside the Box
Leverage
Drill Down
Hard Stop
110%
Window of Opportunity
Low Hanging Fruit
Above Board
Agreeance
At this Juncture
Back Door
Irons In the Fire
Kudos
Deep Dive
Parking Lot (verb)
Circle Back
Move the Needle
Reach Out
Step up to the Plate
Push the Envelope
Narrative
Check in
Table This
Touching Base
Operationalize
Brand Trajectory
Methodology
Monetize
Capitalize
Incentivize
Mission Critical
Downsize
Pop-Off

 

The Game
Now, while you’re on a call, check or mark off one of the squares if someone on the other end speaks one or more of the words and phrases. The point of the game is to get 5 in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally and the first person to do so can shout BINGO, but make sure you’re on mute! The hardest one we have every played was the Black Out game. That’s the one with a goal to get every square checked off on the board – probably best for really long meetings and calls.

Meetings and calls can be excruciating sometimes – we get it! Having a little game to play during can help you stay awake, keep focused on the presenters, and have a bit of fun with your coworkers.

Keep Yourself Entertained, Call Style

September 16th, 2014

We thought of a pretty good idea that anyone can play. We first tested this out in our offices and as it turns out, everyone loves it. Basically, it’s just conference call themed bingo! The steps to creating your own game are pretty easy, and feel free to use your own creativity and inter-office lingo for optimal fun.

The Board
Since a traditional Bingo card has a 5 x 5 layout, it’s probably best to duplicate it. Basically, you’ll want to divide your paper into 5 columns and 5 rows, giving you about 25 blocks. The size of the blocks can differ, it’s really up to you and your colleagues to decide what you want to do.

Write one of the following words and phrases into the boxes:

 

Deliverable
Actionable
Synergy
ROI
Buy-In
Value-add
Bleeding Edge
Scalable
Best Practice
Think outside the Box
Leverage
Drill Down
Hard Stop
110%
Window of Opportunity
Low Hanging Fruit
Above Board
Agreeance
At this Juncture
Back Door
Irons In the Fire
Kudos
Deep Dive
Parking Lot (verb)
Circle Back
Move the Needle
Reach Out
Step up to the Plate
Push the Envelope
Narrative
Check in
Table This
Touching Base
Operationalize
Brand Trajectory
Methodology
Monetize
Capitalize
Incentivize
Mission Critical
Downsize
Pop-Off

 

The Game
Now, while you’re on a call, check or mark off one of the squares if someone on the other end speaks one or more of the words and phrases. The point of the game is to get 5 in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally and the first person to do so can shout BINGO, but make sure you’re on mute! The hardest one we have every played was the Black Out game. That’s the one with a goal to get every square checked off on the board – probably best for really long meetings and calls.

Meetings and calls can be excruciating sometimes – we get it! Having a little game to play during can help you stay awake, keep focused on the presenters, and have a bit of fun with your coworkers.

Acoustically Sound Conference Rooms: Part 3

September 11th, 2014

As we have learned so far, we know that installing some sound blocking panels and hanging some sound absorbent material can make a black and white difference with your conference calls. Another option can not only affect your conference room, but also your entire office if you’re willing to set up a floor-wide system.  It’s called Sound Cover-up.

C = Cover-up (via sound masking)

To cover up sound, also called sound masking, is the practice of adding a natural or artificial sound into your room to cover up unwanted sound. Believe it or not, adding sound actually eliminates distractions. Think of it this way: conversations between two people in a quiet room are more noticeable than in a room with background sound and other conversation. By introducing a soft and ambient noise, it’s possible to contour the human speech. Sound masking does not fully eliminate these noises, though. The idea is to exclude noise by adding noise, therefore masking (or hiding) the unwanted office noise that exists. For example: cabinets opening and closing, papers being rustled, printed, and crumpled, squeaky chairs, desks, doors, and loud foot stomps in and outside of the room. I’m sure you’re aware of these noises.

Sound masking systems are audio systems that create spatially consistent sound levels such as a white or pink noise. Some masking systems will have a variety of mixtures of these two noises in order to get the best results, properly masking those annoying sounds. This noise makes it so that anyone can talk to another at a normal level and be clearly understood by their conversation partner, but not have the speech distract someone, say, in a neighboring work station. This method is perfect for open-plan offices.

These systems can also be used to incorporate music and/or a paging system within them. Sound masking systems usually come in the form of small speaker boxes that can be placed in numerous locations including open offices, within the ceiling, underneath the floor, even air ducts and underneath desks. Sound making systems obviously produce a sound — but that sound should be barely perceptible.  It should be non-directional and harmoniously uniform throughout a given space.

If you’re ready to find something to make up for your conference room’s acoustical weaknesses, there are plenty of sound masking systems out there for you to compare and contrast. Having a sound masking set up really will increase privacy between workers, eliminate office annoyances and other such distraction, and definitely improve you and your employee’s work flow.

Acoustically Sound Conference Rooms: Part 2

September 4th, 2014

In the last article, we talked about softer material that will absorb the sound energy and what material won’t. Now we will cover something similar, but also necessary for acoustic perfection.

B = Blockage

The difference between noise blocking and noise absorbing is that absorbing noise is based on allowing noise to pass through a product, but to create privacy between rooms the noise needs to be blocked and not just simply absorbed. Blocking sound for your conference calls requires products that are designed to eliminate sound from entering or leaving the room. These products can be heavy, dense, bulky, or designed to separate the wall so that one side of the wall doesn’t have hard surface contact with the either.

You can block the sound by decorating your walls with acoustically-sound material. Believe me, it’s worth investing in specially-made panels and some soundproofing insulation, barriers, and other products made by the sound experts. Some of these panels even come in many different forms like modern art and also fabric wrapped. However, let me reiterate – using a structure of softer material such as foam (much like the anechoic chamber) isn’t going to block the sound. That will absorb the sound and transfer it to the other side.

If there are no other acoustic improvements, try having at least 15% of the wall surface covered with sound blocking panels. The best way is to either have them on all walls or on two walls out of four – this way there is no room for echoes to bounce back and forth.

Sound blockage is not only important for your conference room, but for your company as well. That privacy that’s created with these panels will lower distractions and enhance performance with continued focus from not only your coworkers, but yourself. You can take and make your conference calls with confidence!

In the next and final section, we will be covering a more universal way to enhance your conference room that’s called sound masking or sound cover-up.

Acoustically Sound Conference Rooms: Part 1

August 27th, 2014

As you have learned, there are quite a few frustrating aspects of conference calls. One of the major ones is that a room itself isn’t quite suited or built for a call. There are several reasons for noise echoes, feedback, intelligible vocals, disruptions, and distractions including a room that isn’t properly secluded from the rest of the company, which can and will produce annoying background noises, or louder-than-the-norm HVAC equipment. By making a few changes to the room, you can have a perfectly tuned acoustic setting which, in turn, produces better and more productive calls.

First, you should probably learn how sound works. Click here to read a quick run-down of how sound travels/works to get a basic understanding of it.

There are three ways to improve workplace acoustics and solve workplace sound problems – here are the ABCs of acoustical perfection: Absorption, Blockage, and Cover-up. Today, we’ll start with A and cover B and C over the next few days.

A = Absorb

Have you heard of the Anechoic Chamber? This room was designed to take in every noise produced without echo or reflection. This is the idea! Acoustic absorption refers to a material, structure, or object that absorbs sound energy when sound waves collide with it. Material that reflects the energy (sound) will give you a poor conference sound. Materials that absorbing the sound will produce a lesser reverberation time which can lead to better speech intelligibility.

Reverberation is the echo effect sound makes when it bounces off the walls or other objects that fail to absorb the noise. Essentially, the energy/sound produced moves toward that object and bounces back towards the source and spread into the room. Hard surfaces (i.e. tables, concrete, glass windows, etc.) within a room provide a more reflective surface that can be detrimental to clearly hearing and understanding the audio sources being produced into the room.

To better this issue, start by getting rid of these harder surfaces. For floors, find a carpet that is more sound absorbent rather than hardwood, tile, or concrete. Even a rug can help. If there are windows or glass walls, then try to put up some curtains or shades to cover the reflective glass. Keep in mind, though, draperies typically provide very little sound absorption, but it’s better than nothing! There are also such things called acoustical ceiling tiles. Made with absorptive materials, they will most likely be necessary for the ceiling. Don’t forget: furniture can also reflect sound from their smooth surfaces like tabletops, wall cabinets, desks, etc. Wood tabletops will provide a less reflective surface than glass or marble tops.

The less sound reflection in a room, the quieter and audibly-friendly your calls become. While it is impractical (nearly impossible) to eradicate all sound reflections in a conference Room, efforts should be made to keep reflective surfaces to a minimum. In the next section, we will talk walls and how to block echoes.

Short & Sweet – Tips for Keeping your Conference Call on Track

August 5th, 2014

All meetings worth attending are focused and straightforward. It can be a challenge, however, to manage large calls, especially when there are many vested interests. If you’re stressing out about staying on schedule and on point, set yourself up for success with these recommendations.

Plan Ahead & Prepare

When you’re planning a conference call, the lion’s share of your responsibilities come well before you dial in. You already know that you’ve got to have your ducks in a row. But you also need to provide attendees with the tools and resources they need to come into the call prepared to participate. Even if your conference call is only scheduled to last thirty minutes, be ready to invest a significant amount of time in planning.

  • Identify a single goal. This may sound simple, but most business calls revolve around decisions that depend on a variety of moving parts. If you can’t pinpoint the main objective of your conference call, it’s all too likely that participants won’t be able to either. This can lead to long digressions, confusion, and failure to arrive at an actionable solution to the situation at hand. Stave off the possibility of an unproductive call by establishing one clear, concrete goal. Make sure everyone who will be on the call knows what this goal is ahead of time. And don’t forget to provide a bit of context that supports why you chose this goal over any others that might have been on the table.
  • Share your agenda. Goal in place, build an agenda that reflects it. Include a bulleted list of discussion points to help keep you—and everyone else—on task. Share your agenda with each and every participant, leaving them enough time to look it over and digest it before the scheduled call. You may also want to include supplementary materials and handouts at this time. A summary of background information ensures that everyone is on the same page. Brief biographical statements of key attendees are helpful when a conference involves representatives from multiple partners or even from different departments in a large company or organization.

Structure & Strategy

You’ve got your agenda, notes, and a stellar presentation exactly the way you want them. The conference call is scheduled to start in ten minutes. It’s time to take the reins, making sure that all your planning pays off.

  • Be early. If you’re hosting the call, aim to be the first one on the line. Dial in five to ten minutes ahead of time. Nothing looks more unprofessional than a moderator who’s late to the game.
  • Start strong and on time. Don’t waste precious minutes waiting around for stragglers. Beginning on time lets participants who arrived on time know that you value their time and punctuality. You can bet that latecomers will only be late once.  Once the call has started, one of the first things you should do is outline basic guidelines for everyone on the call. Time limits for speakers, when and how questions are to be asked, and a reminder for that attendees should mute their lines to limit background noise are all good items to cover.
  • Keep your eye on the prize. Remember that goal you identified while preparing for your conference call? Good. Make sure to remind everyone else, too. If anyone forgot to review the agenda you provided, they’ll appreciate this opportunity to orient themselves to the conversation.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Stick to the agenda you created. If you find yourself running behind or the discussion wanders off topic, call attention to this fact, explain that you need to move on, and make a personal note about where you’re leaving off. You can revisit unfinished business at another time or during a follow up call.
  • Bring it full circle. Before the conference call comes to a close, provide a quick review of what was discussed, including any key questions raised or decisions made.  Relate this information back to the original goal, highlighting how the call furthered this objective.

Watch the clock. Respect participants’ time by ending your call on time. Once again, if there are matters yet unresolved, add this to your notes. It is better to revisit unfinished business than to assume everyone has the availability to stay on the call indefinitely.

Can You Hear Me Now? Optimizing Conference Call Audio

July 23rd, 2014

Audio quality can make or break the success of a conference call. With dozens of participants using a number of different devices, less-than-perfect audio can be a real problem. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize disturbances the next time you host a conference.

Echos

Conference call participants hear an echo when their microphone picks up their voice as it plays back through their speakers. This interruption can bring productive conversation to a standstill. The culprit here is one of the devices being used to dial into the call—usually a laptop or speakerphone with audio components not specifically designed for conference calling. Ensure you’re not the offender by investing in a high-quality microphone with built in acoustic echo cancellation. This technology recognizes when sound from your microphone is being returned to your speakers and filters it out before it can generate feedback.

 

Ambient Noise

Papers shuffling, HVAC systems turning on and off, the click-clack of callers taking notes on their laptops—these small sounds add up. Many microphones can, and will, pick up unwanted background noise, passing it along to everyone else on the conference line. Your line of defense here is three-fold:

 

First, set up your conference phone in a quiet location where third parties are unlikely to interrupt. You’ll want to place your speakerphone or alternative device away from walls, windows, and other surfaces that can reflect sound and cause residual echo.

 

Second, choose a microphone/speaker setup that employs noise cancellation algorithms to identify and remove the white noise of fluorescent lights, electronics, and other sources of ambient sound. If your conference calls regularly include numerous people in the same room, with participants coming and going throughout the meeting, consider a speakerphone that uses adaptive modeling to predict and adjust for a variety of acoustical events—including changes in seating arrangements and speaker location.

 

Finally, you may want to mute all callers at the beginning of the conference. It’s likely that some participants will be using devices without high-performance audio components and others will be calling in from uncontrolled environments—an open-layout office, for example, or their car. Participants can unmute their lines individually when they’d like to speak or pose a question.

 

Distortion

Conference call setups that use multiple microphones at the same time are prone to acoustic distortion. Speakers may sound as if they are standing in a tunnel. This occurs when a speaker’s voice is picked up by different microphones at different times, due to physical obstructions in the room that affect how sound travels. If you commonly have multiple speakers in the same room, look for a conference phone with a microphone array equipped with voice detection technology that activates only one microphone at a time as determined by the proximity of the speaker.

 

Interference

If you keep your Blackberry in your pocket, a tablet on the table, and you’re sitting in a room of colleagues working on their laptops, you can expect to hear static, crackling, and snaps playing back on the conference line. These electronic devices cause interference that negatively impacts the performance of microphones and speakers. Make sure to keep these electronics away from your conference phone or alternative device. Better yet, leave them behind when it’s time for your call.

 

Connectivity

Sound cutting out and sentences being clipped? Check your internet connection. A slow or intermittent connection can decimate call quality.

 

Technology

When clarity is top priority, USB microphones outperform their more traditional analog counterparts. USB headsets and microphones translate native (analog) sound to digital without any additional hardware. And if low volume is a problem, USB devices usually offer a quick and easy fix.

Can You Hear Me Now? Optimizing Conference Call Audio

July 23rd, 2014

Audio quality can make or break the success of a conference call. With dozens of participants using a number of different devices, less-than-perfect audio can be a real problem. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize disturbances the next time you host a conference.

Echos

Conference call participants hear an echo when their microphone picks up their voice as it plays back through their speakers. This interruption can bring productive conversation to a standstill. The culprit here is one of the devices being used to dial into the call—usually a laptop or speakerphone with audio components not specifically designed for conference calling. Ensure you’re not the offender by investing in a high-quality microphone with built in acoustic echo cancellation. This technology recognizes when sound from your microphone is being returned to your speakers and filters it out before it can generate feedback.

 

Ambient Noise

Papers shuffling, HVAC systems turning on and off, the click-clack of callers taking notes on their laptops—these small sounds add up. Many microphones can, and will, pick up unwanted background noise, passing it along to everyone else on the conference line. Your line of defense here is three-fold:

 

First, set up your conference phone in a quiet location where third parties are unlikely to interrupt. You’ll want to place your speakerphone or alternative device away from walls, windows, and other surfaces that can reflect sound and cause residual echo.

 

Second, choose a microphone/speaker setup that employs noise cancellation algorithms to identify and remove the white noise of fluorescent lights, electronics, and other sources of ambient sound. If your conference calls regularly include numerous people in the same room, with participants coming and going throughout the meeting, consider a speakerphone that uses adaptive modeling to predict and adjust for a variety of acoustical events—including changes in seating arrangements and speaker location.

 

Finally, you may want to mute all callers at the beginning of the conference. It’s likely that some participants will be using devices without high-performance audio components and others will be calling in from uncontrolled environments—an open-layout office, for example, or their car. Participants can unmute their lines individually when they’d like to speak or pose a question.

 

Distortion

Conference call setups that use multiple microphones at the same time are prone to acoustic distortion. Speakers may sound as if they are standing in a tunnel. This occurs when a speaker’s voice is picked up by different microphones at different times, due to physical obstructions in the room that affect how sound travels. If you commonly have multiple speakers in the same room, look for a conference phone with a microphone array equipped with voice detection technology that activates only one microphone at a time as determined by the proximity of the speaker.

 

Interference

If you keep your Blackberry in your pocket, a tablet on the table, and you’re sitting in a room of colleagues working on their laptops, you can expect to hear static, crackling, and snaps playing back on the conference line. These electronic devices cause interference that negatively impacts the performance of microphones and speakers. Make sure to keep these electronics away from your conference phone or alternative device. Better yet, leave them behind when it’s time for your call.

 

Connectivity

Sound cutting out and sentences being clipped? Check your internet connection. A slow or intermittent connection can decimate call quality.

 

Technology

When clarity is top priority, USB microphones outperform their more traditional analog counterparts. USB headsets and microphones translate native (analog) sound to digital without any additional hardware. And if low volume is a problem, USB devices usually offer a quick and easy fix.