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Don’t Fight The Speakerphone!

Video and audio conferencing tips

For material handling professionals, audio conferencing can easily be compared to radio. In radio, you need to capture and hold the attention of your audience. Since you’re not seen, listeners can only imagine what you look like.

These are also the characteristics of audio conferencing. You need to grab and hold the attention of your audience. In addition, since you’re not seen, you must keep that smile on your face while you’re talking on the phone so you leave a great perception for the individual who is unable to see you.

While an actual “audio conference” is done through the phone company (and can handle literally hundreds of callers at one time) a simple audio conference can even take place on a speakerphone. Although speakerphones are not ideal for a conference meeting, they are fine for two or three people on each side of the phone lines who want to get things done at one sitting.

Ground Rules
There are four major ground rules to follow for an audio conference when you’re on a speakerphone.

The most important is NEVER initiate the phone call on a speakerphone. It is not professional. Initiate the call using the handset. If you don’t, it makes the person you’re calling feel as though they’re not very important.

AV Conference graphicWhen you initiate the phone call and need to use a speakerphone, be sure to ask the person you’re calling if they mind that you put them on the speaker. Then acknowledge anyone else that is in the room with you. For example: “Hi, Bob, can I put you on the speakerphone, I have Nancy and Paula with us.” You need to tell the caller everyone who is in the room on the conference call.

Recommended group size for a speakerphone conference call is five or six. More than that and it gets confusing.

Finally, you need a “facilitator,” someone who will lead the call. Each side should have one. The facilitator is very important when you’re in a situation with multiple participants on each side. If someone in your party wants to speak, you can motion you’d like to speak and the facilitator will introduce you. If you don’t have a facilitator (or don’t announce yourself each time), negative things could happen, such as two or three individuals start talking at once or someone takes up a lot of time saying, “Who said that?” or “I didn’t hear that.”

Audio conferencing dictates that each time you talk you introduce yourself. (Unless, of course, there’s only one person on the speaker, or if there are two and one is male and the other female.) Voices are similar and it’s not fair for the other side to have to guess who is talking. So a simple, “This is Nancy again, and I agree with Bob,” will suffice.

Never close the call on a speakerphone. Although it is okay for the other participants to say their “goodbyes” on the speakerphones, the facilitator, like a captain on the ship, should be the last to say goodbye. When you’re ready to complete the call, tell all parties involved you’re going to pick up the receiver to finish the phone call.

In actual “audio conferencing,” where the phone company hooks several phones up so several sites can talk together, the ground rules are similar. The more people you have on an audio conference call, the more important it is to announce who is talking.

This also applies in audio conferencing when the sites are in various cities and you’re not well known to the other participants. It’s nice to say, “This is Nancy in St. Louis and I believe that the sales meetings should be held in Miami.” The next caller would say, “This is Bob in Denver and I agree with Nancy about the meetings in Miami.” In other words, you need a lot of reconfirming on an audio call. Naturally, if all the people are totally familiar with each other, the city can be left off.

In addition, you should have someone designated to take notes. Better yet, with the approval of all parties involved, record the call so that notes can be written and distributed to all parties afterward.

Video Conferencing
Video conferencing is similar to television because “what you see is what you get.” Like TV was in the early days, the video conference calls are “live” and you don’t get a second chance to get it right. Also, like television, preparation is the key to making an effective video conference call.

An important aspect of planning a video conference call is taking the time to have a rehearsal. Keep in mind that video conferencing is like a play or television show in that you need to know what you’re going to say or do before you’re on camera.

Another factor is deciding what to wear. Best to stay away from white because it’s too “hot” for the camera. Also, red is not an effective color because it bleeds. Blues and grays are great camera colors. The old KISS method of “keep it simple, stupid” applies here for the dress code.

Rules to Remember
  • Never initate or terminate a call over the speakerphone.
  • Seek permission to place the other person on the speaker.
  • Introduce yourself when speaking.
  • Plan what to say.
  • Use a facilitator.

Smiling is very important in both audio and video. The camera is going to put a few pounds on you anyway. (Don’t worry, when you finally get to meet the people on the other end, they tell you how thin you are.) And if you’re not smiling, you’re not going to like the way you look—believe me! Unless your conference call is one that absolutely is “too serious” to even grin, learn to smile at the camera all the time. You won’t be sorry.

Presentation is another key factor. Since the other party can see you during a video conference, avoid having numerous papers in front of you. Do not give the impression you’re disorganized. All the notes you need should be kept on a 3 x 5 card (little larger if necessary). If by chance you need, let’s say, a ten-page document, then place the papers in a folder and keep them all together.

While video conferencing is less expensive than flying the participants to one location, it isn’t cheap. You do not want to waste any time. Each side should appoint a facilitator here too that will make the introductions. Keep the introductions short, sweet and to the point. If the participants don’t know each other, suggest putting a large paper name tent card in front of them so the other side can see with whom they’re talking.

The most critical part of video conferencing is planning. Plan your agenda in advance. Plan for the unexpected. Assume that things can go wrong and be prepared for that. In the event of a disconnect, there should be a plan between the facilitators as to who will initiate the call back. Remember that you can never be too prepared for a video conference.

Here’s some important information. Each side will have a mute button. Be very careful with mute; it’s sort of like the hold button on the phone. Every once in a while you think you’ve put the caller on hold and said something that you didn’t want the caller to hear, and what do you know? You missed the hold button. Same principles apply to mute. When you’re terminating the video conference call, wait until you are clearly out of the room with the video camera before you say anything that you’ll regret.

By the way, manipulation of a camera also should be done by a designated person. You might want to take a close up of a document or pan the camera to one person or another. There should be a specialist with you to do that. The video conferences that I’ve been to, while beneficial, have not been the same as watching television. The motion sometimes trails the audio, hence making herky-jerky moves that are initially disturbing. This will pass.

On the whole…have fun with video conferencing!

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Nancy Friedman Meet the Author
Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training, located in St. Louis, Missouri, and on the Web at www.telephonedoctor.com.

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