Productive Audio Conferencing
This is one of those things that they don’t teach in schools. Conference calls are reasonably intuitive, but not particularly efficient. Notwithstanding innovation at a pace we can hardly conceive, the old dependable conference call remains a constant for all kinds of workers: mobile, remote, even traditional desk bounds.
The way we plan for, enter and manage conference calls has changed little, at least when compared to other business processes and technologies. And, with good reason, conference calls are not on people’s top 10 list of preferred activities.
But conference calls don’t have to be the bane of one’s existence. There are methods, disciplines and services that can make them more productive. Here are some tips to consider:
If you host calls with any frequency, marry yourself to one service. Sadly, many of the interfaces are different from one another, so getting used to one you like is the way to go.
Many services now offer “pinless” calling, meaning as long as you the host is calling from a pre-associated number, the service will assume who’s calling and add them to the bridge.
I recommend services that support HD audio. HD is widely supported on internal calls with most UC systems. Since HD isn’t possible over the PSTN, the options to support external users are tricky. The two simplest are services or equipment that support SIP URI or WebRTC calls. Not everyone needs to be in HD, but the more that are improve overall quality. Another option is to use a web-based service.
Managing the Call
Every meeting, no matter the size, improves with strong leadership and moderation. This leader is responsible for setting and managing the agenda against goals and time constraints.
Caller etiquette should also be controlled by the leader, and if not then the leader should clearly delegate the responsibility. Nothing is worse than background noise, particularly when the culprit does not even realize they are the cause. Distractions like this should not be tolerated; either mute or get off the call. Some newer services even allow the moderator to mute the noise-maker from a distance.
People have a tendency to interrupt or simply talk over each other in a conference call. Again, a strong moderator can and must control this.
Lastly, time-management. Too many calls run long or are scheduled too long to begin with. Sure, sometimes with large groups this is unavoidable. But be realistic in how long a group can stay focused or productive.
A screen share can be very useful in drawing or keeping one’s attention, but only if they are dead simple to enter and use for your guests. Most enterprise services offer the ability, but intuitiveness varies.
The leader should distribute meeting notes as soon as possible (book yourself a 15 min buffer to do so); these should include any key decisions taken, along with listing those accountable for any to-do’s and due dates
Distributing and sharing information have become simpler. Services like SkyDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox are excellent -- simplify sharing and even allow collaboration. This is particularly handy for ongoing or regularly scheduled conference calls.
Conferences are not going away. If anything, they are growing in popularity due to an increasingly distributed workforce. Even with the rise in video, audio-only participation makes sense in a variety of situations. When managed properly, audio conferences can drive huge productivity gains. When you’re the host, get it right. People will thank you.