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Quick and Easy Recipe for ‘Tasty’ Teleconferences

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Intercall is one of the world’s largest international conference call company. And Intercall’s own research showed that more than 60 percent of respondents admitted to doing something else while on a conference call. This “doing something else” is one of the key contributors to ineffective teleconferences.

I think it is safe to say many of us would like to improve our teleconferences at work. Many of them are unfortunately either too long, not focused enough, or generally unproductive. So what can you do? I’m a terrible cook but I like to try cooking something once in a while. One thing that makes it easier is to have a clear, easy-to-follow recipe to use. This got me thinking. Why can’t we have simple recipes for business topics such as teleconferences? I know that not all teleconferences are the same, but here is my attempt at a recipe for a good starting point for a teleconference.

Ingredients

  • 2 or more well-prepared and lively team members
  • Working phones and computers
  • An agenda
  • A clearly defined moderator
  • A clearly defined minute taker
  • Listening skills
  • Focus – as in not being part of the 60% who are doing something else during the call!
  • Participation
  • Coffee(optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix your team members, phones, and computers lightly until energized. Make sure the technology is working the way it will be needed and the team members are ready. Add coffee here if needed.
  2. Take the agenda, combine it with the moderator and use this to begin the call. Make sure the call starts on time and the moderator leads everyone through the agenda as efficiently as possible. Also, take the minute taker out of its package at this time and activate it.
  3. Pour in the participation, focus and listening skills from all during the call. This is important as it will give the necessary flavour needed to make your call productive. Bake this for 15-30 minutes (depending on the time given for the call). IMPORTANT: do not over-bake i.e. go over the agreed time, as this will cause a sour or bitter taste for all involved.
  4. Shake and clean the call by having the moderator summarize the key points, confirm the action items that need to be done and by whom, and schedule the next call.
  5. Let the call sit for a few hours to cool after baking. Then, have the minute taker send out the minutes to the participants, and those who could not be on the call to ensure long lasting flavour.
  6. Enjoy the tasty results of a productive teleconference!

By following this recipe, hopefully your calls won’t turn out as bad as my lasagne usually does.

Successful teleconferences aren’t difficult to have, but it does take a little effort by everyone to ensure consistent, productive success.

Good luck with yours and happy cooking!

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First aid tips and tricks for sickly teleconferences

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I’m going to give you a few quick and easy tips and tricks to make your teleconferences better. Why am I going to do this? You know why. Many teleconferences are horribly ineffective and waste a lot of valuable time. I have sat through hundreds of telecons, and have trained hundreds of other people who have sat through hundreds of teleconferences.

Three complaints I have heard time and time again are:





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  1. There’s a weird atmosphere on the call because there is too much silence.

  2. I can’t understand certain people when they talk.

  3. Our teleconferences are “always” a waste of time.

So, if you can give me a few minutes by reading on, I will try to give you some quick and easy ways to overcome these issues.

Silence is deadly…and uncomfortable

Silence can kill…a teleconference that is. If you are on a call, show some life and participate. Here are a few things you can try on your next call:

  • Give verbal feedback throughout the call. Simple sounds and phrases can really help the flow and atmosphere of a call. “Uh huh”, “I agree” and “Nice work Tom” are a few examples that can be used.
  • When you go through the agenda before the call, try to have at least one thing to contribute for each point. This way, you will be prepared to break the silence and look smart at the same time!
  • Don’t be afraid to express your opinion or give someone positive feedback. Not only does this help fill silence, but it can also build rapport (agreement) or generate some healthy discussion (disagreement).

What did he say?

It can be very difficult to understand some people on the telephone, and especially in teleconferences. This can be due to language issues, accents, the volume of a person’s voice, their phone habits, etc. The next time you don’t fully get something someone says on a call, try these:

  • Make sure you actually say something to them about it. Many times we don’t understand someone but don’t say anything because it is easier. Politely ask them to repeat themselves. Most of the time people don’t realize they are hard to understand.
  • Confirm understanding when you are not sure. Use phrases like “If I understand you correctly, you are saying…” and “Just to make sure I understand correctly, did you say…” This can be a more diplomatic way of telling someone they are hard to understand, and is especially helpful if you have asked them to repeat themselves a lot on a call.
  • Contact someone personally after the call. If you are having trouble understanding someone on a consistent basis, try calling them or emailing them after a call to politely bring this to their attention. You have to be careful how you do this, but many people will appreciate knowing that they should change the way they speak so people can better understand them.

These calls are a waste of my time

Most teleconferences run too looooooong. Here are a few things to do to save everyone some time:

  • Get feedback from the participants. First, assess if this is a common opinion by asking for feedback from the participants. Ask everyone what they think is causing the calls to run too long. Then, using the feedback, try to get rid of those ‘time wasters’.
  • Make some calls optional if possible. Give people a chance to opt out of certain calls. Then they can choose to use their time the way they want. Just make sure to take clear and concise minutes so that anyone who misses a call has the important information discussed.
  • If you usually have 30 minute calls each week, try doing the same thing in 20 minutes. If you usually have 60 minute calls, try doing them in 40 minutes. You will be surprised how much you can accomplish in less time if you focus on doing so. Remember, it is the moderator’s responsibility to keep things within the timeframe. With that said, some of the most successful teams I’ve worked with have had a designated “time watcher” that can help remind the moderator when time is running out.

These suggestions can turn your sickly teleconferences into the most productive time of the week!

Ok, just joking; but at least you can make them a bit better. If you are interested in more ways to make your teleconference better, download our ‘Sweet sixteen – quick and easy steps to better teleconferences’.

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Teleconferences are not normal calls

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Not your typical phone call

Teleconferences are a great way to connect to people around the world. They’re less expensive than face-to-face meetings, often take less time, and solve problems more efficiently than emails do. Conducting a teleconference should be easy. All you have to do is connect everyone on the phone and make decisions as if you were all in person, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. A teleconference is not your average phone call. It is a meeting and needs to be prepared for as such. Below are some key points to help you remember that a teleconference isn’t your typical phone call.

3THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND FOR A TELECONFERENCE

Teleconferences aren’t difficult to carry out, but many people are not mentally prepared when joining. Having the awareness, through the 3 main points below, that your telecon is not just a normal call is a great start.

1. Plan

  • Send out an agenda beforehand with objectives, time(length) of call, participants, and specific results you want to achieve.
  • Identify roles: moderator, minute taker, etc. Remember, ideally the moderator and minute taker will be two separate people. Also, just because someone sent out the Outlook invitation, doesn’t mean they are automatically the moderator. Make it clear before the call.

2. Moderate

  • The moderator should ensure that the call starts on time, not too much time is spent on certain topics, and the call allows for everything to be covered within the designated time
  • The moderator should also open and close the call in an official way. Open: state the objectives and goals and introduce people if needed. Close: review the action items identified and what the next steps are.
  • The moderator should make an effort to include everyone on the call as best they can with pointed, open questions directed at specific people. This will encourage and facilitate participation.

3. Participate

  • Everyone should participate by being prepared to say something for each item. (You may not say something for each point, but you should be prepared to do so.)
  • Ask questions if you are not sure of something
  • Speak naturally in the direction of the microphone
  • Identify yourself when speaking (if necessary)
  • Pause occasionally so others may make comments
  • Try not to talk over others and interrupt by using polite phrases

More tips on teleconferences?

You might enjoy reading Chad Phillip’s post: Teleconference tips and phrases. The simple and practical checklists in our latest Ebook: The ultimate book of virtual teams checklists may also be of interest to you.

THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF VIRTUAL TEAMS CHECKLISTSVTchecklists

How effective is your virtual team?

 

 

 

 

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Virtual Teams: Pre-Meeting To Do’s

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What do you do before your virtual team meetings?

Preparing for any meeting is important, especially for virtual meetings via teleconference or netmeetings.  It is difficult working in virtual teams as you don’t see your other team members face-to-face very often.  So, try not to put yourself at a further disadvantage by forgetting to do a few small things before your meetings.  Here are five easy things you can do before your virtual team meetings to help make them more productive.

5 Pre-Meeting To Do’s for Virtual Teams

1.  Identify Team Members

List the decision makers, subject experts and opinion leaders before the meeting and identify their possible input and interests in the outcome of the meeting.

Consequences:

  • Knowing who to address when
  • Knowing who can answer specific technical questions
  • Focus information on decision maker’s interests

2.  Establish Ground Rules

The team decides on acceptable meeting behavior before the meeting begins and holds each other accountable to the rules; for example no interrupting, poll opinions, always have an agenda, etc…

Consequences:

  • Promoting behaviors that will improve group interaction
  • No single “enforcer” necessary
  • Accountability through reminding

3.  Publish an Agenda and Goals

Publishing an agenda should be a “must do” but it doesn’t always happen or it doesn’t happen in time for the participants to prepare. Another important feature of an agenda is a purpose statement or goal. What do you want to achieve with the meeting? What does a good meeting look like? Answering these questions will help you and your participants feel like you’ve accomplished something when the meeting is over.

Consequences:

  • Clear direction for the meeting
  • Improve preparation of participants
  • Way to keep participants focused and on topic
  • Feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s over

4.  Build Relationships

Take time before the meeting to get to know team members personally. It’s really important to build rapport and commitment to the Virtual Team.

Consequences:

  • Learning what others are interested in beyond the work of the meeting
  • More information to assist understanding
  • Help design metaphors and stories to illustrate key points
  • Increase commitment to virtual team

5.  Master the technology you will use in the meeting

Understanding your technological tools, what can go wrong and knowing how to fix it in advance of the meeting is crucial. Know what tools are available to your participants and be prepared to trouble shoot with participants. Always have a back-up plan.

Consequences:

  • Head off technical problems before they happen
  • Save time addressing technical problems during the meeting
  • Have input options for participants

You can ensure your virtual team meetings run more smoothly by taking a few minutes and doing the five things above.  What else have you done that has worked well?  Let us know in the comments area below.  Also, if you want to improve your overall participation in virtual teams, you can download our eBook of checklists and check out our seminar on Working Effectively in Virtual Teams by clicking here.

Handling Complaints Quickly: Phrases to Help

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Avoid having small issues escalate into big ones

Handling complaints quickly can help your company avoid having small issues escalate into big ones. This summer I had the pleasure of taking my five year old to a well-known fun park on a beautiful, but scorching hot August day. For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to share this experience and the hours of standing in line it includes, let me tell you this, tempers can fray quickly.

On the bright side, standing in line means that you have lots of time for people watching. I particularly enjoyed one incident where the officials staffing the line decided that it was getting too long. Their solution: change the direction. What happened was that the line simply reversed its order, so that those who had just arrived went to the front and those who had been waiting for over an hour got to go to the back. I felt really sorry for the young French official being eaten alive by the customers – she looked pretty scared. The decision to change the line hadn’t been her decision, but what could she have said instead of just “sorry, sorry, sorry.”? A basic structure for handling complaints along with some suitable language certainly could have come in handy.
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3 Common stages of handling complaints

1.  Listening and empathizing

You might not agree, it might not be your fault personally, but the customer is angry and needs a chance to vent their anger. Don’t keep butting in, let them have a bit of a rant, make some sympathetic noises and try some of these phrases:

  • I see your point / I understand.
  • I can appreciate that.
  • Thank you for pointing that out.
2.  Apologizing and accepting responsibility

Angry customers need to be calmed down – a simple “sorry” goes a long way. And “It’s not my fault” or “there must be a misunderstanding” is never going to improve the situation – avoid both of those phrases at all costs.

  • I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.
  • I’m / we’re terribly sorry about that.
  • Please accept my/ our apologies.
3.  Promising and taking action

You’ve said sorry, now the customer wants to hear what you’re going to do about it. Here are some phrases that might have worked well in the above situation.

  • I’ll let my manager know how you feel, and let’s see if we can find a solution.
  • I’m going to see how we can make this better for you.
  • Here are some vouchers for lunch for any trouble we may have caused you.

3 Possible outcomes of not handling complaints well

1.  Loss of sales

Your competitors may benefit. The customer may decide to take their business elsewhere. This means a loss of sales.

2.  Damaged reputation

The customer will badmouth you to others. Social media means that this is so much easier to do than it used to be. Thousands of people could hear, and you have no way of defending yourself – you just look bad.

3.  Unhappy staff

It isn’t fun having people shouting at you. If there is a clear structure in place, however simple it may be, it will give staff confidence in unpleasant situations. Handling complaints in another language is that much harder, so having some key language up their sleeves will also contribute significantly to how they feel about dealing with the situation.

Why not share your ideas on other language that would be useful or other simple steps that you feel could be taken when handling complaints?

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Accounts Receivable: Improving Collection

If you work in accounts receivable, then you know how difficult it can be to call customers about overdue invoices. If you’re working in a second language, then the challenges start to multiply: the person might not understand you, they might be rude to you or they might get defensive when you ask for payment. For these reasons, many accounts receivable professionals prefer to write emails or letters about overdue invoices. However, it’s important for you to pick up the phone and speak to the accounts payable department personally.

Three reasons to call, not email, a client regarding an outstanding invoice

  1. Personal contact can help maintain a healthy working relationship with your customers.
  2. Consistent personal contact can show you’re serious about collecting payment on time. It might be helpful to manage your calls with a call log so you don’t call customers too often, which can be seen as pushy.
  3. Your firm will be proactive in comparison to other firms who are content to write emails and hope for payment.

Three English phrases for politely enquiring about outstanding invoices

  1. ‘Hello, my name is John Smith from ABC Company. I’m calling regarding invoice #1234 in the amount of €1,000,000; due date July 1st, 2013. Do you have the same information in your system?’
  2. ‘Do you know when we can expect payment for this invoice?’
  3. ‘How can we support you in the payment process?’

Three possible outcomes of calling, not emailing, clients

  1. Your patient attention to a client’s payment situation now might turn your company into a preferred supplier later.
  2. Establishing a personal relationship with your accounts payable contact person will help make future payment issues easier to solve. Even if you’re billing a large company who outsources accounts payable, establishing a relationship with someone responsible for approving payments can make outstanding invoices easier to close.
  3. Your phone call starts a dialog with the client, unlike an email or letter. A conversation will give you the chance to ask about the overdue payment, but also about other issues connected to the customer’s account: are invoices coming on time? Are invoices being received by the appropriate department? Is there anything you can do to help them?

If you have experience working in accounts receivable, perhaps you know more strategies for collecting payments effectively. If so, please feel free to make a comment in the comments section below.

Teleconference Tips and Phrases

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From a business perspective, teleconferencing makes a lot of sense: with a simple set-up, a company can host a meeting with employees, customers and suppliers from around the world at very low cost. However, the flip side is that teleconferences present significant challenges to participants for several reasons. Most companies still use audio-only conferencing, which means there are no visual clues to help us understand each other. On top of that, the call quality can sometimes be very poor. We also have to consider the fact that teleconferences can involve people from many different levels of English proficiency. All of these factors make teleconferences an efficient, but sometimes stressful, way to exchange information. Here are some teleconference tips and phrases that might help you feel more comfortable during your next call.

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General teleconference tips

  • Get familiar with the equipment. If you are responsible for the meeting, learn how to use the teleconference equipment before the meeting. If you have technical problems,, they will be easier to solve, which will save everyone time.
  • Do a roll call. Take a moment at the beginning of the teleconference to allow everyone to identify themselves. This will let you know who is involved, but can also serve as a technical check: if someone is too loud or too soft, the problem can be addressed now. Also, make a note of the names and use them later to identify participants.
  • Have an agenda and refer to it often. An agenda is a good idea for most meetings, and teleconferences are no exception. Frequent reference to the agenda can be a good tool for making sure participants keep their attention focused on the meeting and not on their text messages or emails.

Phrases to use in teleconferences

1. Phrases for managing people:

·         Block an interruption: “Sorry Tatjana, could we let Karsten finish, please?”

·         Nominate a speaker: “Adrian in Michigan, do you have anything you’d like to add?”

·         Announce yourself: “This is Chad in Stuttgart. Could I say something?”

2. Phrases for managing technical problems:

·         Someone is not loud enough: “I’m afraid we can’t hear you very well. Can you please speak up?”

·         Technical problem on your end: “I think there’s a problem with the line. We’re looking into it now. Please give us a moment.”

·         Technical problem on the other end: “Unfortunately we can’t hear you very well. Could you check the connection on your end?”

3. Phrases for various events:

·         The next point on the agenda: “Could we please move to the next point on the agenda, production costs? John in Farmington Hills, could you tell us something about the proposed numbers, please?”

·         Someone enters the room: “One moment please, Jessica from HR has just joined us.”

·         A moment of silence: “Sorry everyone, we’re looking for the PowerPoint slides. Please give us a second.”

Using the tips and phrases above can help your teleconference run more smoothly. Do you have any ideas you could add to our list? If so, let us know in the comments section below.  Also, see how you can further improve your teleconference skills by clicking here.

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