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Featured News Story

Conference call dread - How to prepare for them and survive them

January 2012

Being asked to arrange a conference call can sound the knell of doom for some people. Having to deal with several people on the phone, all at the same time, without the benefit of eye contact, is worse to some people than speaking in public.

To give it its correct title, a conference call is known as an ATC (Audio Tele-Conference). It can be set up to allow each participant to speak or just to listen in on the conference. Conference calls can be arranged via a landline or via a VOIP connection, such as Skype.

To ensure that the conference goes smoothly, preparation is all-important. Unless it is an emergency situation, start preparing as soon as possible:

  • Contact all participants with the time and date for the conference and ask for confirmation by a certain date.
  • Try to arrange for no more than six participants, as larger groups can be difficult to control.
  • Make sure you have contact details for each participant and put them in a document that is easy to locate.
  • Send out an agenda and any other relevant documents or handouts to everyone involved in plenty of time for review before the conference.
  • Send a reminder the day before the conference with the telephone number and access pin.
  • Arrange for the conference to be taped in case any participants lose their connection or are unable to connect.
  • Arrange a back-up plan, e.g. a secondary call provider.

Shortly before the conference begins, it is wise to appoint a call moderator who will be responsible for keeping to the set agenda and deciding whose turn it is to speak. This is important as some calls only allow one speaker at a time and someone 'butting in' may cut someone else off. It also goes without saying that the choice of environment is important. To make the most of a limited window, it is essential to arrange a quiet place to make the call. Try to arrange a private room or office that will be free of noise and distractions during the course of the conference.

During the call, bear in mind that it is only your voice that is 'on show'. Even if some of the other callers know you, your voice may be distorted by a speakerphone or interference on the line. Identify yourself each time you speak or until the other callers are aware of your identity and if you require a response from a specific person, ask them by name to answer you.

Above all, keep calm, even if things do not go quite according to plan. When properly organised, a conference call should not make the organiser come out in a cold sweat! Think of it more as you would any other meeting and not as a phone meeting specifically. Things can go wrong just as easily at a face-to-face meeting as on the phone but if you have prepared carefully for all eventualities, you should have no need to worry.

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