Conference calls, whether by phone, video conference, or a combination of the two, have become a standard collaboration tool for most organizations. And yet many people are baffled about how to run a successful video conference. How can we use our technology tools to make meetings more productive and pleasant, instead of endurance tests of miscommunication?
Some meeting tips, like muting far-end participants’ audio before starting a meeting, are old news — part of a frequent remote collaborator’s standard bag of tricks. Others are less obvious, while still easy to do.
7 Tips for Conference Call Success
1. Set up early.
Start early, especially if you’re using a remote collaboration tool for the first time. Starting well before the meeting is actually scheduled to begin — using that time to check that meeting software runs correctly and your audio devices are recognized by it — is key to ensuring you’re online and ready at the scheduled time. How many times have you waited while a meeting participant slogged through the download of a WebEx/Bluejeans/GoToMeeting update while everyone else drummed their fingers?
2. Silence your noisemakers.
Meeting over a meal? Encourage meeting participants to open food wrappers before the meeting or under the table. The racket of noisy chips bags, in particular, is a distraction most collaborators would rather live without. Are you a finger drummer or table tapper? Leave your mad rhythms at your desk. Sounds made on a table get transmitted through the tabletop to a conference system’s microphone and are often more distracting for far-end participants than for those in the room with the drummer.
3. Adjust volume levels and conference device location.
How loud should the conference system be? Whether using a speakerphone, a dedicated video conference unit, or a conferencing app on your laptop, turn up the volume just enough for the people farthest from the unit to comfortably hear it. When a conference device is louder than necessary, echo is more likely. If making the unit loud enough for people to hear it at the ends of the table makes it too loud for those near its loudspeakers, you’re probably using the wrong device for the size of the room. A properly designed conferencing system puts all listeners a similar distance from the nearest loudspeaker.
Where should that conference system be? If you’ll be using a tabletop device, center it between the talkers. Better still, do that before starting the call. Sliding a conference phone or laptop across a table during a call is likely to send a raft of noise to your remote meeting participants that will temporarily drown out voices.
4. Wear a headset.
Calling in from your phone or laptop? Wear a headset or earbuds. The closer a microphone is to a talker’s mouth, the less likely it is to pick up background noise.
5. Know how to mute quickly.
Become a hotkey hotshot. Many collaboration apps make a laptop key or phone button a mute switch, letting you mute and unmute your microphone without having to mouse over to an onscreen button.
6. Only share relevant windows.
Limit the real estate. If you’re working on an enormous screen and sharing the whole thing during a remote presentation, meeting participants on laptops will likely see your content shrunk by three-quarters or more. Share just the window of the application you are presenting. This eliminates a lot of clutter for viewers, and it’s less likely to expose confidential content in your email program’s inbox or chat applications, for example.
7. Speak at a normal level.
Give your voice a break. Many of us tend to speak louder when we’re on conference calls. We don’t have to, at least not when we’re in relatively quiet places. Give your vocal cords — and your colleagues — a break, and talk in your normal speaking tone. If your throat feels tired after a conference call, that’s a sure sign that you are working your voice harder than you have to.
Are you the meeting organizer? Follow these additional tips:
Start meetings with remote participants muted. Learn how to quickly unmute individuals or the whole group. You’ll avoid having to determine who of your remote collaborators is the source of annoying background noise.
Leading a big meeting? Hand off managing the session to a colleague: have them be the meeting’s “organizer” and handle people who send comments and questions via chat. Before the meeting starts, call in from your laptop, and have them hand presentation capability over to you. You’ll be free to present without having to also manage chat and call muting functions.
Did you know? The design of your conference system and room acoustics are the biggest factors affecting conferencing success and productivity. See TEECOM’s workplace design portfolio for examples.