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The art of conference calling. Wait. You didn't know it was an art? It's definitely a skill worth building if you're running a modern business, and it is as much an art as any other form of presenting. Whether you want to blame it on technology and the internet, or the costs associated to flying, or even the huge slowdown in flying America took after 9/11 that forced us into doing more calls, the conference call has become a huge part of doing business and you can't escape it.
Here are the top five ways to be the best at conference calls.
Did you think it was about technology or the content you're presenting? Perhaps a little, but the way you deliver information is the key to capturing your audience's attention. How you talk on the phone is no different than how you present yourself on stage when presenting to an audience. In reality, your conference call is very similar to being on stage where the lights are so bright you can't see anyone's faces. Smile while you speak and your positive energy will come through -- the people on the other end of the phone will be able to sense and feel your smile. Try it.
You're going to start seeing a theme here in how conference calls relate to public speaking. The energy you put into the call is directly proportionate to the energy you'll get back. What is a great result in a conference call? Everyone enjoying the call. By bringing energy to the call you'll lift everyone up, maybe even create laughter and ultimately better rapport. Inflect your voice. Get excited about the items you care about. Tell stories that bring out your passion. At a minimum, speak clearly and with sufficient volume so everyone can understand and hear your words.
3. Be Yourself
Conference calls are like emails -- it's too easy to lack emotion, interpret things wrong and to dismiss the opportunity to build relationships. Since you saved so much time by not travelling, why not use some of the conference call time to build rapport and get to know people? It can be as simple as asking everyone for an introduction and as meaningful as talking about family and life at the beginning and end of the calls. Do what you'd normally do if you were in person for the first few minutes -- say hello, check in with each other, and ask questions not related to the call topic. Be a person, not a robot at the end of the phone.
The benefit of a conference call is speed. No flights. No hotels. No time wasted to get the meeting started. Don't waste all that saved time by being at the meeting but not taking part in the meeting. Focus your time and energy on the topic, the people, and the overall meeting. Eliminate distractions by hiding your phone, turning off email and taking notes the old-fashioned way -- pen and paper. If you're easily distracted when you're not talking, taking notes will help you stay engaged. It's also a great way to capture questions you want to ask when appropriate.
Know your tech. There's nothing worse than a presenter who has never used the conference call technology and wastes the first ten to fifteen minutes getting setup. Dial in early. Setup and test the service well before you meet. Download the software ahead of time. Most conference calls are very short and nobody wants to sit around wasting that valuable time on bad technology or users who aren't prepared.
What do you do when you feel like nobody is listening to you?
There's no worse situation than being the presenter on a conference call with people in a conference room on the other line who put you on mute. They give you no feedback. No laughter. Nothing. You may as well be an audio book or a pre-recorded webinar! But don't fret. These five skills will save you. Your smile and energy will lift up the room. Be yourself to gain rapport with your audience and people will unmute themselves to ask you questions. Stay focused and even ask questions to verify you're on the right track, which is a great way to engage everyone and to force them to unmute themselves. You might even find ways to make technology engage people more. For example, you might use the chat feature to gather questions and feedback while you present. Or perhaps your conference call service can track participant engagement.
On your next call, dial in five minutes early, greet everyone as they join, be sociable and inquisitive and smile. If you do nothing else but smile, you're going to have a better call.