It’s one of those days: your list of daily responsibilities includes multiple deadlines plus a conference call with your team—and you need to leave work in time to pick up the dry cleaning and grab bread and milk for the evening meal.
With so much on your plate, it’s imperative to make the right calls during the teleconferencing portion of the day. Done right, the audio or web conference can be a real timesaver. Done wrong? That conference can cause as many issues as it solves. Read on for some tips on making the most of your conference calls!
What do we mean by conferencing?
Today’s audio or web conferencing often uses tools that include functionalities such as file sharing and shared presentation displays. As unified communications (UC) continue to evolve to encompass all forms of communication, conferencing technology is becoming more sophisticated, offering video, online streaming and other valuable functionalities.
Audio and web conferencing refer to meeting through a telecommunications medium, author of The Distance Learning Technology Resource Guide. "There are at least six types of teleconferencing: Audio, audiographic, computer, video, business television (BTV), and distance education," writes Carla Lane. Lane describes common factors that contribute to the shared definition of teleconferencing, such as the use of a telecommunications channel, linking to people at multiple locations, interactive meetings that provide two-way communications and dynamic meetings that require the users’ active participation.
The evolution of collaboration and conferencing
Collaboration has evolved over the years due to the rapid increase in unified communications and conferencing tools available in the marketplace. From the use of the first conference bridge number, where connections were not always easy and the voice quality often poor, to today’s wide-ranging UC offerings that make it possible to attend meetings from almost any location via smartphone, conferencing just continues to improve. The demand for these tools has increased as well, as workers collaborate from multiple locations across the globe.
Conferencing tools have evolved to provide functionality that provides access to real-time document updates, and secure access from multiple locations, with nods to a younger and mobile workforce who also demand BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) capabilities. Today’s conferencing solutions transform your conferencing experience with high-quality audio, easy connectivity to your existing platforms, and powerful conferencing features.
Benefits of conferencing and unified communications
In today’s business environment, conference calls make up half to three-quarters of audio calls both in and outside of SMBs and large enterprises. A recent study conducted by Wainhouse Research showed almost 70 percent of organizations will use more conferencing this year.
Unified communications tools allow you to collaborate with your team, even as they are traveling, or working from remote locations, offers tremendous value to the entire organization. The cost-savings can be significant. Travel costs, time away from the office, hotel expenses, and meeting room charges all add up. When you can conference in multiple staff members quickly and easily from different locations? Without the time spent on travel? It’s hard to argue.
And the conference can provide other benefits: It can encourage employee productivity, cut conference costs and even help with record keeping—especially when you record the meeting for everyone’s consumption after the fact. In fact, most of us have come to depend on the usage of conference calls and online meetings as tactics to work closely with staff, vendors, and clients situated in different geographic locations.
Web conferencing is used extensively in settings other than business. In medicine, for example, audio or web conferencing, called telemedicine in the health industry, has become a life-saving tactic for providing expert care to people in remote settings. According to the site, eMedicine, telemedicine was originally created as a way to treat patients who were located in remote places, far away from local health facilities or in areas of with shortages of medical professionals. While telemedicine is still used today to address these problems, it’s increasingly becoming a tool for convenient medical care. The medical industry is using unified communications as essential tools in continuing medical education (CME), postgraduate medical education, undergraduate medical education, telementoring and many other situations, writes Pankaj Lamba for the Australasian Medical Journal.
Problems related to some forms of conferencing
However, there are some realities to consider. Challenges with technology can be confusing and frustrating. Even the best tech solutions can be impacted by issues with connectivity or unclear audio. Audio conferences, of course, lack the visuals we’ve come to depend on in meetings. So, without being able to see your colleagues’ body language or make eye contact, you have to try to read the responses in the attendees’ voices. Even when video is included, the nature of the conference call can affect team dynamics, and people’s attention spans tend to be shorter than in face-to-face meetings.
13 tips to make your conferencing effective
The following tips will help you make the best use of your time on your next conference call!
1. You may need to spend more time getting ready for the meeting than you would in a face-to-face setting where you can read the participants’ reactions.
2. Be punctual. Plan to call in or log on at least five minutes before your meeting is scheduled to begin.
3. Test your audio. If you are calling in from your computer, check your microphone and speakers to make sure you can hear, and that your voice is coming through clearly.
4. Introduce yourself at the beginning of the meeting.
5. Speak slowly and clearly.
6. Pause to gather your thoughts before answering a direct question, or chiming in with an opinion on someone else’s statement.
7. Pay attention and try not to multi-task. It can be very easy to monitor your email inbox, or check your social networks during a web conference, especially if you are meeting with audio alone, but don’t do it! Giving your full attention and focus to the conversation at hand will ensure a more dynamic meeting than if you allow yourself to be distracted.
8. Be courteous. Don’t interrupt when someone else is speaking.
9. Mute your phone when you are not speaking to limit the distraction of background noise or other interruptions.
10. Record the conference, and give everyone on the call access to the recording so they can review the information shared and decisions made during the meeting.
11. Schedule each meeting to address a specific agenda, and avoid over-scheduling meetings. Holding a conference without a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish or why you need to get these people together can burn through valuable time and energy—try to avoid teleconferencing unless you have particular action items to accomplish.
12. Recap the action items and timeframe for completion before you conclude the call. This will help everyone stay on task and in agreement, at least as far as what has transpired during the conference call.
13. Thank the participants for taking the time to meet with you. Even when you all work together on a regular basis, your team will appreciate your recognition of the time and effort they have put into the meeting and the work they do.
Our world is growing and changing on a daily basis. Conferencing is changing as well, and will be impacted by societal and industry requirements in the years to come. Keep an eye out for changes, updates and new services that will respond to the growing demand for mobile access and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) as well as user requests for simplicity and ease of use. The technology we depend upon will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of the people it serves. But solid people skills, good meeting etiquette and a warm and friendly voice will always be welcome in a team environment.
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