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Greg Kramer
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Ninja Conference Call Tips

So I attend virtual meetings (aka Conference Calls)… a lot of them… 5-6 a day for the last 2-3 years. Over this time, I've developed a few opinions that I would thought I would share…

+1/Share if you like this, comment if you have things to add (or subtract)

1) Schedule in advance - I, and most people I know, have a fairly scheduled work life. The power of Google Calendar and iCal is that we pack out schedules tightly. Scheduling a meeting on the same day is, well, uncool. If there's a true fire, OK… but really… the house needs to be burning down to force a group of people to scramble. Zig Zagging… like sh*t… happens but it we should try to avoid it whenever possible.

2) Find a time that works - Just creating conference calls and expecting everyone to show up is, again, uncool. Yes, it's an extra step but it's important. You can skip this step but don't have the expectation everyone (or anyone) will show up. There's a protocol… and that protocol is to ask for permission to set a meeting time.

3) Create an event - A meeting not in Google Calendar does not exist, period. As soon as you agree on a time, more than 24 hours in advance… somebody needs to create a calendar event immediately (before it's filled with something else). Sending a call # over email is not the same as calendar event. Makes sure you put the call info in the meeting invite. For the super cool - Format for mobile users (see below)

4) Video vs Audio - I know video is sexy… and if you have something to show - a Demo, Slides, Video - It's perfect. However, if you are just going to talk… stick with audio. Nearly every video call delays your start time by 10 minutes while people get there web camera working, their desk set, their internet sorted or their permissions working. Then, you can get to see a bunch of poorly lit people with crappy wifi connections and bad audio looking down below the camera and typing notes. You also force everyone to plant themselves. They can't call in from the car, coming from another meeting, etc. This also contributes to late starts and no-shows. I get video is just like being there… I like being there even less than video unless you work in a really cool office and provide lunch.

5) Audio - Now that we've established that audio still rules, let's talk about this.

- Mute yourself. The very first thing I do after joining a call is mute my mic. I don't use the conference call tools. I use my phone settings. You can tell you are with meeting pro's when you can hear a pin drop between speakers… this is not because they have great mics… it's because they mute throughout the meeting. You really don't want to be the one filling the call with typing, street traffic, or kids.

- Speakerphones - The devil created speakerphones to specifically create confusion, misunderstanding and suffering. I know you think you think your speaker phone is different because you can hear everyone great. Unfortunately they can only hear half of what you are saying most of the time and they are spending as much time trying to understand what you just said as they are thinking about the project. In our company, we literally take calls in separate rooms… so we don't have to use speakerphones.

- Get a good mic. Order a bunch of mics on Amazon and then record new greetings with each one. Listen to the greetings, pick the best one… send the rest back. In my experience, you will pic the Etymotic in-ear, Plantronics Boom, or TheBoom. They are all expensive. You just need to decide how valuable it is for people to understand what you are saying. It won't be the same mic for everyone... the register of your voice will be treated differently by different mics. If you are a woman, you want more bass response... for deep voiced gentlemen, you want less bass response so you are more intelligible. Again... we're not looking to sound "Good" we're trying to make sure we understand each other.

6) Start all meetings within 2 minutes of starting. Don't give into a culture of waiting for people. It wastes everyone's time. For most meetings, figure you are blowing about $2/min/person waiting in payroll/etc. So 15 people waiting 5 minutes is $150 you could have spent somewhere else.

7) Keep it short - If your meetings are longer than 25 minutes, they are generally poorly organized or too many people are in them. If you need more time, schedule more than one. Just remember, you are tying up people who often are billing at $50-400 per hour. Someone is paying for this… it might be you.

8) Have agenda - There's a lot to cover - Create an agenda and email it to everyone. You can create a Google Doc… but still email it. Like video, Google Docs creates a new layer of everyone looking for the link, sorting permissions, etc.

9) Think about what you really need to discuss. Calls are great to deal with with brainstorming and hashing out ideas. Emails are great for detail (and easier to reference). 

Nit picks…

Use a service that allows IP connections (like Goto Meeting) but don't join using cellular IP… it rarely works. If someone is connecting from overseas, it really makes a difference. (When I connect from Africa, the only thing I'm thinking on a non-IP call is… "I am paying $3.00/minute for them to get to the point".

Don't use services that make everyone record who they are an announce them. It's a good shame game for late comers but it's really annoying and most people just hit pound and skip it.

Add a "cellular" section to invite that formats the number and code together like this 
555-555-1212 ;1234566# - Yea, people can cut and paste one number into the phone and they will be prompted for second number in interface. - This is life changing for many.

If you join late, don't introduce yourself unless no one talks for more than 15 seconds.   

Thoughts? Agree/Disagree? Comments Commence!

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