UK businesses are more reliant on conference calls to do business than ever before , according to research conducted by mobile headset-maker Plantronics. It found that office workers are spending an average three hours more a week on the phone than they did 12 months ago.
The reasons behind this are partly economic -- 40 per cent of those surveyed claimed that the need to cut spending had led them to use conference calls -- and partly environmental.
But 54 percent of respondents felt that their calls weren't as effective as they could be, with lack of etiquette a big issue -- late joiners, heavy breathers, 'Houdini' disappearing acts half-way through.
What might improve matters?
1. Remember, even if people can't see you they can still hear you. Apply the same etiquette to a conference call that you would a face-to-face meeting. You (probably) wouldn't check your emails or start talking to someone else in the middle of a meeting, so why would you do it on a conference call?
2. Treat your fellow callers like an audience: Thirty percent of workers claim to lose interest because they find other callers voices boring or annoying. As with any other presentation, conference calls need the speaker to engage with the audience and hold their attention. When speaking, try to vary the tone of your voice to help convey your message. Your energy and passion for the subject will be projected through your voice and help keep people engaged.
3. Like most business skills, it needs to be taught Even though conference calling is being more widely used, most people have never had any formal training on how use it effectively. It pays to get some training on how to use the equipment and on the presentation skills needed. This goes double if you're using conference calling to pitch to customer.
4. Make use of equipment and surroundings, such as noise cancelling headsets or suitable office space to carry out conference calls properly. Think about any staff who are dialling in remotely or from home. They need the right equipment too.
5. Give your conference call a script. Conference call users don't need to know what they're going to say word-for-word, but the meeting should have a clear structure. Creating an agenda in advance of the call will give it a clear direction and ensure that all the time is used effectively. In addition, each call needs a moderator, who can drive the conversation. This will not only stop the call from digressing but also ensure that each party gets enough time to make their points.
With about four out of every five UK office worker taking part in three or more conference calls each week, businesses can't afford for them to be unproductive and need to make sure they have the correct supporting technology and training in place to make them work.