Conference Call Icebreakers

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.

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

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

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.

Web Conferencing – Worst Practices

June 16th, 2014

The Internet has turned into such an amazing piece of technology that interviews no longer have to be so personal – they can now be done through a live stream of both offices. This works particularly well for jobs looking to interview applicants out of state and even the country. However, web conferencing requires proper etiquette, too. Here are a few taboos to avoid:

Wearing Pants
You laugh now, but only until the moment comes in your web interview when you have to get up from your chair because you forgot an important resource on your desk, forcing you to reveal your pajamas or underwear. Now, I’m not sure how often this happens but memes and jokes aside, wearing and entire set of appropriate clothes will be well worth the effort.

Being Distracted
Turn off your computer programs! You should be focused on the interviewer/presenter, not the front page of Reddit. Turn off your Spotify, close PhotoShop, and make the effort to be involved in the meeting. Find a room in your house that is quiet. If you have roommates, ask them to give you the house to yourself for an hour or so. Take the animals outside and clear your desk. It’s important to stay alert and focused on the task at hand.

Being Unfamiliar
There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to get a meeting or interview going with someone who didn’t set up their equipment properly. Not only does it distract the rest of us, but it also throws the entire agenda off track. Fiddling around with your microphone or even camera while the conference is in progress is unacceptable. Try to prepare your equipment the night before and test it again 10 – 20 minutes before the meeting starts.

Internet Presence
You don’t want to have a screen name such as hotgrrrl86 or playaXstatus123 when a professional calls. Your online presence says a lot about you, and these account names and tagged photos of you on Facebook. Part of dressing for the job means providing an accurate portrait of the digital you. Show respect and effort for your potential or current employer by taking the time to make another, more professional, account. As an added bonus, include a nice picture of yourself – not the one you really liked from spring break on the beach.

How to Successfully Schedule a Conference Call

June 5th, 2014

It’s never easy gathering a group of people to be together at a single time whether it’s a party, reunion, or a simple conference call. Every life and business comes with busy times, slow times, and other interruptions that can delay important meetings and get-togethers. However, with proper communication and notice, scheduling a call or meeting can be very simple.

Make a List of Attendees
Try to write down or make note of everyone you would like in attendance. This will definitely help organize a specific time and what sort of information to expect from each person. Having this information handy for when you actually schedule the call will lessen the chance of your forgetting to invite someone important!

Consider a Date & Time
Be mindful of everyone’s schedule. Be wary of time zone changes, early mornings, and lunch hours. Send a quick email or text informing your list of attendees of the date and time you have in mind – an early warning will give your partners a chance to reschedule other duties or schedule their activities around that time.

Send a Meeting Request
Use your Google Calendar or another meeting scheduler to send a meeting request to every participant when you’ve cleared a specific time. Be sure to include the call-in number and password in the request – these are two very important things you can’t forget about. Having the meeting requests be completely organized will benefit every participant at the time of the meeting.  Some, if not most, meeting requests will even allow you to put in an accurate description of the call’s agenda so that your participants can prepare their information and you can stay on task.

Send a Reminder
Send a reminder a few hours early to your partners. This way, they will know to start getting ready for the call. Or, if something unexpected comes up, they can cancel their attendance and you can mark them off your list instead of waiting for them to jump on the line.

Meet like a Pro!
By the time your meeting time arrives, you can rest easy knowing the call has been properly scheduled in a timely manner and includes all necessary information.  With your agenda properly shared and requests activated, your meeting should go smoothly if you stay on task and keep an eye on the time.

Presentation Matters

May 20th, 2014

Within any business, there will be times when you will have to give a presentation or pitch an idea to your management and group of coworkers. The key to a successful presentation is, well, your presentation! Next time you’re up for one, try following these guidelines to help you project your message and attitude appropriately.

Own Your Audience

When you step out in front of everybody, you’ll want to make strong eye contact with them. This will secure their attention and tell them you are ready to start with confidence. To do this, you’ll want to get rid of your stomach butterflies before you walk into the spotlight and address them. Try holding your hands above your head for 15 second intervals and taking really deep breaths. This exercise should make you feel big and powerful, giving you that boost to own your presentation. Get up there and project your voice to everybody in the audience and engage them.

Engage Your Audience

Encourage questions. Try playing out a scenario with your audience, getting their brain gears cranking. With a more engaged audience, you will feel better about your topic and encouraged to continue forth with your ideas and demonstration. Ask your audience questions and to see if they will participate and keep them thinking about your topic. Keep your eyes bouncing from person to person, letting them know that you have their attention too.

Use Visuals

A presentation is always better with something the audience can set their eyes on and get a visual understanding of your project and/or ideas. Software like Microsoft PowerPoint and Prezi could help you with this. Both programs have a lot of options to keep your audience interested and convey your message using images, videos, lists, examples, et cetera. If a computer program is not going to be available, try using poster board, large papers, or making your own signs for your viewers. Using visuals is almost necessary in order to keep the boredom levels down and attention spans up.

Presentations can be very difficult. However, using these guidelines could help you feel better about them. Don’t be afraid to project your voice and value the opinions of others. Audience participation can pay off, too. Having a structured Q&A system at the end of your presentation could stir debate and develop an idea further, maybe even help untie the knots in your plan that were holding it back from being perfect and executable.

Unique Call Ideas

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!

A Beginner’s Guide to Conference Call Etiquette

May 1st, 2014

So it’s your first official conference call. You’re nervous about your business partners on the other line, the quality, the conversation, and everything in between…We get it! We have been there before. Here are a few tips to keep you feeling professional and on task.

Plan Ahead
If you have a meeting scheduled, write in into your day calendar. Set alerts on your phone and computer. Make sure you have all the documentation beforehand and, while you’re in the meeting, try not to be distracted by other phone calls, employees, or even the ball game. Send your incoming calls to your voicemail and concentrate at the meeting at hand. With fewer distractions, more can be accomplished during the call.

Come Prepared
If your host has emailed or sent an agenda of sorts, have that ready along with the other materials that are requested to be present during the meeting. Nothing is more unproductive than a disorganized call. Community efforts plummet and a lack of information could lead to wasted time explaining information that should already have been clear. Your input and question are usually encouraged, so have the information in front of you.

Don’t Be Late
Probably one of the more common no-brainers: arrive to your phone call on time! Countless times have we been in calls and halfway through the agenda we’re suddenly interrupted by the beep of someone arriving later than scheduled. Not only is it rude, it’s very distracting and aggravating. The host of the call may even feel a little discouraged because they have spent the time and effort in preparing this call and gathering the information needed for a successful meeting. Being late and interrupting them could ruin their confidence!

The Introduction Matters
When you come onto the line, introduce yourself professionally. The speaker and guests need and deserve to know who they are talking to. Avoid rambling about your past achievements or accomplishments that are irrelevant to the call, but make sure to provide enough information so that your people know who you are and what you do. “Good Morning! This is Tim, the director of sales from the Northern branch,” should suffice.

Pay Attention & Participate
Sitting and listening to a plastic box isn’t a load of fun, we know. It can be easy to daydream or stop paying attention all together. You’ll want to try to stay focused on the task at hand and avoid fiddling with office supply like tapping pencils or shuffling papers. Avoid chairs that squeak and if you must speak to another in the room, be mindful of the mute button. You also don’t want to be caught off guard when your opinion or input is required by the speaker. Your participation is usually encouraged during calls. Allow your voice to be heard without overbearing or interrupting others. Feel free to pitch your ideas or changes your may find more efficient to the issue at hand with confidence. Or, if you’re happy with the idea, let your speaker know you approve. They may appreciate the encouragement.

This winter telecommuting is king

February 26th, 2014

For many people this is the longest, coldest, snowiest winter they have ever seen.  I have some memories of the blizzard of ’78 but I don’t remember the winter lasting as long as this one.  And I certainly don’t remember the number of snow storms we are dealing with this winter.  And it is taking its toll on businesses as well.  The economy is suffering as fewer people are able to leave their homes to spend money in stores and on activities that should be happening outside at this point in many areas of the country still covered in snow.  But for businesses that have made provisions for telecommuting the blow has been less than for others.  And many companies have discovered that conferencing services can provide the means to continue work processes from home without missing a beat.  So for those of you who still are wondering what can be done trapped in your home when you can’t get to the office here are some of the tools available for telecommuting.

Audio Conferencing – The simplest thing you can do is hold conference calls.  You can have a meeting anywhere on any phone.  The meeting participants simply need to dial into the conferencing system where you can meet with up to 300 participants at any time of day.  So if you were going to meet with a group to discuss something and you are trapped at home you can still meet anytime, from anywhere.

Web Conferencing – If you need to share documents or do a presentation you can still do it from home with web conferencing.  Anything you can have on your PC you can share with your participants.  They can even download copies of your materials as part of the meeting.  So as long as you have your PC and a telephone you can have an interactive web meeting that includes visuals.

Operator Assisted Conferencing – Have a large meeting where you need to interact with your audience?  You can still do it from the comfort of your home.  Participants are greeted by an operator and you will know who attended your meeting and an orderly Q&A can be conducted.

So don’t let this winter keep you from conducting your business.  Telecommuting is easy and affordable.

Add Visuals to your Conference Call

December 17th, 2013

If you had an in person meeting in a conference room with people you most likely would use some type of visual aids to communicate with the group.  It may be in the form of a handout or maybe an overhead presentation.  And even if you didn’t plan on having a formal presentation for the group you may at some point get up and draw on the whiteboard to illustrate a point or organize your thoughts.  So why do so many people still do conference calls and don’t consider sharing visuals with the other participants? There are several reasons why people still aren’t using a web conferencing service as a regular part of their conference calls.

Unaware of the Availability of Services – The truth is many people are just unaware that web conferencing services exist.  Maybe they have even attended a webinar at some point but thought the technology was not readily available or only good for presentations to large groups.  But web conferencing services are widely available and easy to use.

Afraid of Learning a New Technology – Like any new technology the early adopters are eager to learn new technologies and incorporate them into their routines.  Then there is the rest of us.  But web conferencing services are much easier to use then when they were first introduced and the learning curve is very small.  The web conferencing service supplied by Zip Conferencing is very intuitive and most people don’t even need any instruction in order to start their first meeting and use features like screen sharing where you can share your PC screen with your participants.

Don’t want your Participants to have to download software – Web Conferencing services are not all alike.  Some of the more established brands use software that needs to be installed on everyone’s PC in order to work.  But some of the newer services like the one supplied by Zip Conferencing are written in Java and use that software which is resident on most PCs to communicate with the other participants on the call.  So there is no need for your participants to download software in order to participate on your meeting. You simply send them an invitation with an embedded link in it that takes them right to your meeting.

So the next time you are going to schedule a conference call why not add visuals which will enhance the call by holding the attention of your participants and improve the retention of the materials?