Tips and Techniques for Telecommunication
- Wednesday, July 11, 2012 10:07 am
Teleconferencing (tc) and Video Teleconferencing (vtc) are now considered business essentials. Reducing or shifting resources often means tighter travel budgets and less money for group interactions (lunch/snacks, external facilitators, meeting space). Other organizations have project or department leaders with teams circling the globe. Even the smallest organizations may take part in a tc/vtc due to practicality. But with all of this telecommunication comes breakdowns in telecommunication. What do you consider Best Practices for conducting a teleconference or video teleconference? Depending on the size of your company, location, dependence on telecommunication, whether or not everyone is teleconferencing or just two people calling in while the rest of the group is sitting around a table – some of these points may or may not apply.
- Are the right people on the tc? Is there anyone who really shouldn’t be there? Who is missing?
- Have well-defined goals and objectives for the tc – what is the purpose? What are you hoping to achieve?
- Limit, if possible, the number of people on call – 20 people on a call will be confusing and overwhelming.
- Consider the time the call takes place
- Be aware of international/time zones
- Be aware that the best time for the facilitator is not necessarily the best time for the majority of the group (especially if it is a recurring tc)
- Limit the length of the meeting. It is impossible to keep a group excited or engaged if they are staring at a phone for 2 hours. If it needs to be a half-day session then consider breaking it up over two days. Allow for breaks.
- People dialing in - do so one minute prior to official meeting start - to assist with the testing and to participate in some socializing.
- For meetings in which just one or two people are calling in and the rest are face-to-face, use a Nameplate and/or photo placed by the phone or at a seat. While it sounds silly, it is easy to forget/engage the person on the phone. This will help remind the others in the room of the tc’ers presence.
- Send the agenda, any content pertinent to the meeting (slides, etc) as well as tc protocols a couple of days before the tc. Add on the time, date, dial-in information and contact person (usually the facilitator) to create a reminder.
- Participants should be expected to read, review materials prior to meeting. Meeting time is focused on discussion, decision making, Q&A - rather than presentation.
- Define roles beforehand – facilitator, minute keeper, timekeeper, technology checker and pre-tc assistant (person or persons in charge of sending meeting request, reminder, agenda, homework/materials/necessary content). These names and roles should be included on the agenda.
- Technology check – have someone in charge of testing the virtual equipment before the meeting starts (feedback, fading, crackling noises, etc.) Make sure international team members can call in. All participants joining should also check their devices before the call such as headsets, cell phone battery and signal strength (if using a cell is the only option). Organizations using a pay conference call line should check minutes to make sure the call won’t cut short.
- All members joining should attempt to locate a quiet place with minimal distractions. Turn other hand held devices or land lines off/put on mute. Laptops should be used for slides/content for the tc only. Use a land line if possible. Try not to use speakerphone - headsets or speaking directly into the phone will provide greater clarity and less static.
- Get feedback from your group about tc protocols – engage everyone in setting some rules. It will make everyone laugh (no dogs barking, please) and be part of the solution. A few to consider:
- When to use – and not use – the mute button,
- Eliminating back ground noises,
- Multi-tasking during the call,
- How to address someone who arrives late to the tc
- Speaking protocol – for example, saying your name before you speak, let someone finish speaking before jumping in (no cutting someone off), letting key speakers finish and then have open discussion
- Beyond the tc- when to go offline instead of taking up valuable meeting time
During Your Teleconference:
- Start Agenda a few minutes after the hour - not on the hour - to allow for any last minute issues (technology, someone’s clock is off a couple of minutes, etc.). Agenda could state: call in at 8:00 am, meeting start 8:05 am.
- Begin with an introduction/role call –have everyone give their name and location
- The facilitator should use a more disciplined approach on who talks, timings, etc. - than what is typically acceptable in a f2f meeting. The facilitator ensures that those on phone are included - asked for comments, acknowledged - throughout the meeting, not as afterthought to a discussion.
- The facilitator should build in techniques to ensure engagement of all - example: "Let's take 30 seconds of silence to think before we do a round robin to hear opinions on what we just heard. We will do the round robin alphabetically - as shown on the list of meeting participants on the Agenda."
- Engagement and participation should be expected as standard behavior - a team guideline. For example, obvious distractions (email, other phone calls, noises, sidebars) will be called out by facilitator. A facilitator’s role is to engage, not lecture – allowing and encouraging everyone to speak.
- Stick to agenda, start and end on time
- Be cognizant of any language barriers – everyone should be expected to speak clearly, slowly
- All participants should note their tone and voice “body language”. Tc’s add another variable into communication – tone, keeping calm and politeness go a long way, especially during a heated topic. Ultimately, it is the facilitator’s job to maintain control and group composure during the tc.
- Facilitator follow up – you will want to summarize points of each main section of the agenda rather than wait until the end. Also, frame your questions in a more focused way (Does anyone have any questions? vs. Does anyone have any questions about the stakeholder’s assessment results for our department?) Reiterate action items, main points, concerns or questions to make sure everyone is clear/on the same page. Ask the minute taker to assist you with this process.
- Make sure to send meeting minutes within 48 hours. Allow for comments, edits, clarification from participants. Detailed minutes also allow latecomers to fill in what they missed.
- Ask for group feedback on tc structure. Ask your group what works/doesn’t work in your tc’s – this could be technology used, pre-tc protocols, meeting protocols, meeting time, actual content - whatever happens in or around your teleconferences. How often you get feedback (once a quarter, bi-annually) should depend on how often your group uses tc’s as a means to make major decisions, how many opportunities they face to meet face-to-face, if it is a new team, major gaps culture/working style/generational/time zone differences, etc.
- Rotate your roles every once in awhile – give everyone an opportunity to step up to the plate.
Things to Consider:
- You may want to record calls for those who couldn’t attend as well as a back-up for minutes.
- If you always use tc’s or vtc’s with one particular group (for example – international teams) consider budgeting for bi-annual/annual f2f’s. If this is not feasible, you could have a shared virtual space introducing each person by picture; ability to share personal activities such as charities, hobbies; birthday announcements and a place for suggestions on projects, notes.
Managing a Geographically Dispersed Team - Mindtools
Achieving Your Goals Together, While Apart – Mindtools
Teleconference Meetings: How to Have More Than Babble - Steve Kaye, http://www.presentation-pointers.com/printarticle.asp?articleid=588
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