Ways to Avoid Conference Call Disasters in the Workplace

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By Peter Davidson, guest contributor

There are many common disasters that can destroy your conference call's productivity, but with some careful planning, you can avoid these issues.

Conference calls often serve as the backbone for major projects, especially if those projects involve collaborating with another business or with a branch of your company located in another state or country. These calls also allow businesses to remotely interview potential new employees or conduct long-distance research with experts. But as with anything that relies on technology, there can be some issues that can cause a great conference call to crash and burn. Here are some of the most common problems and what you can do to avoid them.Technology Issues
The biggest problem you'll face is technology. The call will drop, the video conferencing software will glitch, or one location won't be able to hear the other. Any problem that could go wrong with your system will, at some point, go wrong, so expect it to happen. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to cut off some of the most common issues. First, always use reliable conference call software and equipment. Good software and equipment won't be prone to as many issues.

Second, even if you have the newest top of the line conference call setup, go ahead and test it out the day of the conference call. Make certain everything on your end looks good and, if possible, ask someone at the other location or locations to test their equipment, too. Test out every different feature-mute, unmute, mute one location, etc. You want to make sure that everything works as it should, even if you're not planning on using that function.

Third, know who is responsible for the equipment and have their contact information on hand. Let them know when your call is scheduled to occur so they can be standing by. You should also have them teach you how to perform some simple troubleshooting such as how to reset the system just in case they can't be reached.

Fourth, if possible, have a backup plan in place. If your video conferencing software goes down, have a speakerphone system standing by. Don't let the entire meeting fall through just because of faulty technology.

Time management issues
While technology will often be the issue, sometimes even when everything functions as it should, a meeting can still be a disaster. This is especially true if people have never used conference calling software before. Participants end up spending too much time figuring out how to use the equipment or aren't sure how to even have a conference call. To prevent this, make certain everyone has been trained in the equipment and software on their ends.

You also want to make sure you have made an agenda for the meeting and sent copies to every participant. You or the designated moderator needs to make sure the discussion stays on topic and that the group doesn't spend too much time discussing minor details.

It's also a good idea to record the call, especially if it's a planning meeting for a major project. Even though someone should be appointed to take official notes, it's possible something will be missed. A recording allows you to go back later and double-check details. Just be certain everyone understands that the meeting is being recorded.

Poor planning
Another conference call disaster to avoid is poor planning. If you're in charge of coordinating the meeting, it's your job to make sure everyone knows when the meeting starts. If you have people in different time zones, make certain to account for that. A meeting at 8:00 a.m. your time may be very inconvenient for those who are in a time zone three hours ahead of you. Be certain to take that into consideration.

Also, be sure you're in a good location for the meeting. You don't want to have background noise around you, nor do you want people interrupting. Use a quiet conference room or office if one's available and close the door. If you're in your office, you may want to also close the blinds or make certain others in the office know you're unavailable.

Don't be discouraged
Technology fails. People get confused with the time zones. Conversations can go off on tangents. Any of these things can cause your carefully planned conference call to descend into chaos. But don't be discouraged, especially if this is your first conference call. Their usefulness far outweighs any kinks you'll need to work out. Once you understand how to fully harness the technology at your disposal and direct a conference call, you'll see how productive they can be.

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Peter Davidson is a business analyst who loves to share entrepreneurship and marketing secrets with the world.
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