Archive for the ‘Tips and Tricks’ Category

Keep Yourself Entertained, Call Style

Tuesday, 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

Thursday, 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

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Tuesday, 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.

Conference Call Icebreakers

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Sometimes when you’re waiting for a meeting to start, it’s nice to get a feel of everybody on the call. I like to ask questions about themselves and ask a bit about how their work day is going. My utmost favorite thing to do, however, is break the ice with those who are a little more uncomfortable and shy about talking or being on the call. Try these:

Fun Facts
When asking everyone to introduce themselves, have them say a quick introduction and an interesting fun fact about themselves. I think sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised and learn quite a bit from a little sentence about that person. I’ve learned about those who have their SCUBA certification, or Hawaiian being their first language, someone who was on a now-cancelled TV show, and even met someone who could yodel! This can be a really fascinating way to get your participants to lighten up a bit.

Book, Movie, Album
Try asking your participants what they would want to have with them if they were trapped on a deserted island; usually, I only allow one book, one film, and one music album. This question can be really interesting and you find out what someone is into because usually they would choose either a super great piece of work, or their ultimate favorite. I have found a lot of new titles to read from this method.

Would You Rather
Keeping it rather simple (and work appropriate), ask participants “Would you rather…” questions. For example, would you rather jump into a pool of ice water or walk on hot coals?” Or “Would you rather be able to fly or have the ability to be invisible?” Easy questions like that are quick to get people to start thinking and to further boost creativity, have your participants ask each other their own questions. I find this a really fun and humorous game to get me geared up to present.

Questions
Sometimes it’s kind of fun to get specific favorites. Ask certain participants what their favorite pizza toppings are or what their best “scar story” is…Maybe ask them what’s the best dish they can cook or what their first job was. Ask their favorite vacation spot and go so far as to ask what their favorite guilty pleasure movie, song, or TV show is. What ice cream flavor is missing that they would invent? This ice breaker can be really fun and loosens up your colleagues.

Try using one of these ice breakers next time you’re on a call. I think you’ll find that getting everybody to lighten up and get their mind gears grinding will boost productivity and you may even get some better feedback. I always find it better to have a less awkward and tension-filled call for my meetings, anyway – I think you’ll like it better, too!

Managing Large Conference Calls – Best Practices

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

ZipConference’s audio conference calling allows the host to meet with up to 300 guests at any time. However, there may be a time where you’ll have to join or host a meeting with more than that. A 300-person call is a lot to manage, so having these tips in mind can lead towards a better and more organized call.

Consider Web Conferencing
Using our web conferencing service could be most beneficial for large conferences, as well. You will have a visual idea of who is participating and can open the idea of raising a hand for questions and comments for a more personal gateway. You can also prepare a slideshow or other type of presentation for your participants, grabbing their attention and keeping it.

Operator Assisted Calls
With this feature, you can hold a meeting with a hundred to thousands of people and have an extremely efficient call. The operator will take care of everything before, during, and after a call including scheduling, moderation, transcripts, announcements, polling sessions, and a whole lot more. We recommend using an operator assisted call if you feel uncomfortable about hosting a large meeting.

On Hold Music
If you plan on having more than 20 people on your conference call, it’s highly recommended that you change the conference call to have the “Music on Hold” option on for participants.  That way, your participants will be listening to nice music until the moderator joins the call.  Otherwise, your participants might start talking to each other and sometimes that can create a disorganized and loud group prior to the start of the conference call. It will also give people a little more time and less distraction to organize their thoughts and meeting resources such as papers, emails, and chats.

Entry/Exit Tones
Let’s be frank, turn the tones off completely. This option plays a quick tone into the conference call when a participant joins or exits.  All participants on the conference call will hear these tones, so when you have large number of participants on the call and some are joining and leaving at different times, it can be distracting if not really annoying.  Silent entry and exit for participants is recommended.

Mute is (Again) Your Friend
The next option we would recommend for your conference call is to mute all participants while you’re doing your presentation.  No matter how well behaved your audience is during the call, it is likely that someone is going to make some noise that will enter and disrupt the conference call. I know we’ve been over this before but since you’re dealing with a much larger number of people, the probability of distraction and interference is greater.

Web Conferencing – Best Practices

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Last week, we discussed web conferencing and what not to do. This week, we are going to go over a few tips and tricks that will help you become more successful when meeting online.

Make Yourself Known
Webcam meetings are a lot easier when you know exactly who is attending and which person to address for particular issues. When the meeting starts, introduce yourself and what you do for the company. Keep it short and simple – no need to take the meeting off track by giving a too long and too detailed explanation of yourself. Remember, not everybody on the web conferencing will be able to use a webcam or be able to recognize you from your face or voice. Speak clearly and slow enough that everyone can hear and understand you.

Eye Contact
When you’re using a webcam, you’ll want to try to make frequent “eye contact” with the camera by looking in its direction, not the screen. To a beginner, this may seem a bit awkward. However, your participants will appreciate the effort to make them feel included on the call on a more personal level, especially if they don’t have a camera and are using only the audio. Making eye contact can create a more comfortable environment in the meeting and therefore encourage their participation in the chat Q&A section.

Include Content
The host is responsible for incorporating interactive content and other media items. Don’t be afraid to share your screen and webcam, or include slides of information readily available for the participants to explore and refer back to. Include also an agenda. Again, this will always help the meeting stay on task. Even creating a poll can gather information and opinion quickly and simply.

Avoid Sound Quality Issues
Sometimes technology can be a real pain. Don’t forget to test out your equipment beforehand, but you’ll always want to be prepared for something to go wrong. Be mindful of overlapping sounds, static, and echoes especially. Try to get your hands on a higher quality microphone. Background noise and other annoying distractions can come through and hearing your voice will become increasingly difficult. If necessary, get a pair of headphones or earbuds if the audio from the conference is making its way through your microphone.

Be Enthusiastic
Nobody wants to hear a dry speech. Your participants are supposed to be following their leader while you’re hosting the meeting. If you’re being dull and boring, attention spans are going to fade. Give them materials to look at, try to sound excited for new developments, and encouraging when critiquing others’ work. Request for their engagement and ask too many questions, especially if the meeting is a going to be a long one. A successful meeting can definitely boost morale and keep your coworkers productive for the day.

Unique Call Ideas

Friday, May 16th, 2014

When you hear conference call, I’m sure you think of the same thing everyone else does: sitting at a round table with a small box in the middle of the group. Hands crossed and a fresh cup of coffee, your business discusses important details about company policy or the new sales strategy that will be implemented for the new quarters. Not everything, however, has to be business. I find that there are other unique ways to meet with your people.

Group Projects
When I was in college, my group assigned to a specific teacher-issued project would have the hardest time getting together. Finding a time or place to meet was nearly impossible. 3 out of 5 group members were those who make a long commute to school so they really couldn’t spare the extra gas money on our small student budgets. Then, we had a great idea: why don’t we instead use an electronic conference. The conference call was a most excellent idea for those who could not physically meet up. We set a time and date in front of our computers, phones, or in a small private meeting room in the school library to discuss our next move. It saved us lots of money and time and we scored high on our projects!

Family Planning
My family is the type of family who live completely separate lives. And by separate I mean we never talk unless it’s a quick phone call to mom on Mother’s Day, an email to Grandma on Christmas, or until the family reunion/ graduation is planned. Years ago, when our reunion was in the bare bones stage, I used meeting calling to get ahold of my uncles in Montana and my cousins in Oregon so that they could get a hold of the more distant family. We ended up all talking together on a group Hangouts by Google and group video calls on Skype. It was so much easier to talk to nearly everyone on the party planning committee at once rather than sending email after email.

Birthday Surprise
When my mother turned 50, my brothers and I surprised her by getting together on a group call and singing “Happy Birthday” to her at the top of our lungs. My mother was over the moon! When she would usually expect a single phone call from each of us, this time she was able to get us all together to celebrate her birthday together!

There are plenty of uses for conference calls that will help with any occasion. Sometimes getting everyone together all at one single moment is a lot easier than clicking “Reply all” or relying on a particular person to pass the message down to the next person. I like to facilitate a group discussion and get everyone’s opinion, so having a team together, family or not, really helps out with plans and gets ideas moving. Try it next time your family is getting together or you just want to say “Hi!” to mom!

Join Conference Calls on your PC

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

There have been services out there for a while that allow you to hold a conference call using your PC, but all of the participants need to join using their computers.  Not everyone has a microphone on their PC and finds themselves at their desk when they need to do a conference call.  So doing a conference with just PCs is not that practical.  But what if one of the participants in a conference call finds it more convenient to join on their PC?  Usually, unless they have a phone app on their PC and use it like a phone they could not join a regular conference call.  Now Zip Conferencing has a way for participants to join a conference call using a combination of phone and PC callers.  And the biggest advantage can be cost.  Because if you find yourself somewhere in the world and need to join a US conference call you can join by computer and it is much less expensive than joining using an international phone call.  Here are the details on how to join using your PC.

 

To Get Started:

Log into your Zip Conferencing Hub.

Be sure to use the URL link located on your conference call confirmation. (company name.conferencinghub.com)

Enter your Client ID and Password.

 INSTRUCTIONS for Using the SOFTPHONE CONNECTION:

 Schedule a Meeting:

Once on the Home page of your Conferencing Hub, click Schedule under Audio Meeting in the MEET box.

 Enter your Meeting Subject, Date and Time of your conference.

Click Invite Attendees.  Enter the Guest’s email address then click Send.

*The Moderator will automatically be sent their invitation.

 

 Host and Guests:

In the invitation box of the invite that you receive, Click on JOIN BY COMPUTER.

In the Connect Audio box, select

CALL MY COMPUTER and click CONNECT.

 Participants that enter via the computer, the name that they type in the computer will appear on the screen.

  The HOST will be able to view all participants and will have the following options on their screen.

*The ability to invite additional guests from the screen.

*Record the conference via the Record Button.

*The ability to Lock the conference so no additional guests can attend.

*Mute ALL participants.

*End the entire conference disconnecting all parties from the conference.

****The Host can also go to the individual’s line and enter a different name, mute their line, send them and email, disconnect their line or move them to a sub-conference.


The GUESTS will be able to view all participants and will have the following options on their screen.

*The ability to self mute and unmute themselves.

*Disconnect themselves from the meeting.

*Send themselves an email.

As you can see, in addition to the convenience and cost savings the Host has access to features on their PC like seeing the participant’s name that they do not have access to in a regular conference call where all participants are connected by phone.