Teleconferencing has revolutionized the business landscape. It has made the global marketplace a viable reality, allowing businesses to instantly connect with their customers across the country and around the world. Today teleconferencing is driving the growing movement away from the traditional 9 to 5 office setting to a flex-time remote work environment where colleagues keep in touch electronically. Daily teleconferencing has allowed many companies to permit their employees to work remotely without detriment to productivity, efficiency or customer service. The opportunity to better balance work and home commitments has improved employee morale. The cost savings in facilities expenditures, travel expenses and workday productivity have been so significant that many firms now actively promote remote working. Teleconferencing is leading the way to the virtual office of the future where cubicles and office commutes will be banished and business will be conducted via telecommunications.
Effective teleconferencing takes a little practice and requires a unique mind set. Unlike traditional meetings, there is no visual element to teleconferencing which can be very freeing to participants. There is no dress code. It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad hair day. The visual cues we use to define and sometimes stereotype each other are absent. In a teleconference, all participants are equal. This can often lead to less inhibited interaction between the participants. Without visual intimidation, some people feel more comfortable and are more willing to speak more freely. While this is generally productive, it’s important to guard against speaking without consideration. Without the visual cues that alert us to how others perceive our comments, it can be easy to provoke an unanticipated negative reaction with a thoughtless remark. In a visual conversation, you could mitigate your remark with a clarifying comment. This advantage is lost in teleconferencing. In a teleconference, you need to speak carefully and be more perceptive to tone and inflection as a reflection of emotions.
Teleconferencing can create a false sense of casualness. The urge to multi-task or nosh away can lead to inattentive behavior and communication that is unprofessional and distracting to other participants. Teleconferencing can also create a false perception of privacy. It is easy to underestimate the ability of others to hear the noises we create, often to our embarrassment. Telephones amplify not only our voices but a host of body function and background noises. Never eat during a teleconference; and if you take a drink of water, turn away from the microphone or mute your phone. There is nothing ruder than hearing someone masticate or chew gum over the phone.
You will be most effective during a teleconference if you conduct yourself as if you were meeting face-to-face. Exhibit the same courtesy, decorum and professionalism you practice in a physical meeting. Your goal during a teleconference should be the same as in a face-to-face meeting: to be heard, to be remembered, to be an active participant and to contribute to the proceedings.
Use these tips to give yourself a teleconferencing edge:
• Use good equipment to ensure a clear connection. Wired phones provide the clearest signals, followed by cordless phones, cell phones and, finally, speaker phones which can produce an annoying echo and pick up distracting background noises. Consider using a Bluetooth headset or one with a microphone positioned directly in front of your mouth. Headsets funnel sound directly into your ears, providing exceptional clarity; and the microphone will clearly pick up your comments without background noise. It is important to pre-test your equipment to avoid problems during the teleconference. The moderator should also pre-test the bridge being used to connect participants.
• Prepare for the teleconference well in advance of its start. Clear a workspace by the phone and have all documents, notepad and pens in place. Prepare a list of call participants to use as an identification aid. Print the reminder notice so you have the phone number and access codes immediately available in case you lose the connection. Have a backup cell phone in reach in case your phone fails or the power goes out. Turn off call waiting. Reduce all possible sources of background noise. Close windows and doors, turn off fans and radio, etc. Have a glass of water handy to keep your voice lubricated. Go to the bathroom. Sit and wait quietly for the call; use those moments to review the agenda and teleconference procedures and to get your head in the game.
• With only verbal clues available, it can be difficult to keep track of and differentiate participants in a teleconference. Each participant should introduce himself at the start of the teleconference and again each time he makes a comment. Keep a list of conference participants handy as an aid to identification. Don’t assume that someone is not on the call because you didn’t hear their name. They may have dialed-in late and failed to announce themselves.
• Don’t speak over someone else. Some comments or debate may generate a cacophony of replies that drown each other out. Wait for your turn to speak. If the conversation starts to move to a new agenda point before you have been able to comment, interrupt politely with “Excuse me. I’d like to comment on that before we move on.”
• When answering a question, repeat it first to ensure that everyone heard the question.
• Make wise use of the mute button. Mute your phone when you are not talking, and check to see that it is unmuted when you want to comment. Be careful of what you say even when your phone is muted. There’s nothing more embarrassing than making an ill-considered comment and discovering the mute button isn’t on. Remember not to put your phone on hold during the call. You don’t want to subject the group to your hold music. Simply mute your phone if you have to attend to another matter.
• Take notes to stay focused. Remember that sound carries. Avoid shuffling papers, munching, clacking away on the keyboard, tapping your pencil on the table, and definitely rubbing against vinyl or leather (it makes a rude noise). Extraneous noises will distract other conference participants and detract from your professionalism.
For other conference call questions, visit Amy Linley at Accuconference.com.
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Amy Linley gives practical and usable advice regarding communication and meetings at AccuConference.
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