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Video and Web Conferencing - Tips for Conducting and Participating in Both Telephone and Video Conference

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Compiled by Louise Franck Cyr using materials from The Complete Guide to Facilitation by Tom Justice and David Jamieson.

Audio Teleconference Facilitator Best Practices

Meetings are increasingly being conducted over the telephone. The cost savings of such meetings is enormous, and there are actually some advantages to working via the phone, especially if the audio teleconference is conducted using the guidelines below. Here are some guidelines to use when you are facilitating a conference call.

Guidelines:

One person is responsible for arranging the phone hookups for the conference.

One person is responsible for constructing an agenda and getting it to participants at least one day before the phone conference. The agenda is limited to a page and includes the purpose of the conference, the expected outcomes, the suggested steps for achieving the outcomes, and the names of all participants. Send out well ahead of time any materials that participants need to review for the conference. Included on the agenda is the method people will use to connect to the conference and any call-in numbers needed to connect or re-connect if they get cut off.

One person is the facilitator, moving the group through the suggested steps on the agenda. This same person can serve as a timekeeper, or a separate person can watch the time allocations for each item. It is often wise to have a person who is not the group leader act as the facilitator for the call. When there is a clearly designated group leader and a separate facilitator, the facilitator goes through the agenda with the group leader prior to the call.

One person is responsible for taking notes during the conference and getting the notes out to participants within 24 hours. Best practice is to e-mail immediately following the audio teleconference.

Remind people of a few conference-calling “ground rules” at the start of the call. Here are some of the most common ground rules:

  • Always identify yourself.
  • Wait for one person to finish before speaking; otherwise, comments will be muddled or cut off on speaker phones.
  • Stay on the call from start to finish. If you cannot stay on the call, let people know at the start of the call.
  • Be fully present. Have someone else handle business while you’re on the call.

“Round-robin” speaking can be used at audio teleconferences. The facilitator calls on each participant in turn and asks for comments. Use the participant list and call on each person in the same order each time there is a discussion. This avoids one person being cut off before he or she is finished or more than one person trying to speak at once.

Before moving from one agenda item to the next, the facilitator summarizes the discussion, the actions agreed upon, or the next steps for doing agreed-upon actions.

Limit audio teleconferences to 90 minutes maximum. Well-organized conference calls take less than an hour to conduct. Stop at the agreed-upon maximum time for the call, even if you have not completed the agenda.

Identify the appropriate next steps before the end of the call. Schedule subsequent calls or meetings before completing the call.

At the end of the call, the facilitator summarizes the discussion and clarifies the actions agreed upon. Persons responsible for action items are named and one person designated as “responsible” if more than one person is working on an item.

Each person signs off at the end of the call, letting others know he or she is going off the line. If some people want to talk after the call for any reason, this is arranged between them while all the other people are still on the line.


Audio Teleconference Participant Best Practices

Meetings are increasingly being conducted over the telephone. The cost savings of such meetings is enormous, and there are actually some advantages to working via the phone, especially if the audio teleconference is conducted using the guidelines below. Here are some ideas and tips to use when you are participating in a conference call.

Ideas and Tips:

  • When using a speakerphone, wait until there is a slight pause before speaking; otherwise you may cut off the last speaker before he or she is finished.
  • Arrange for someone else to handle your work while on the call. Interruptions disrupt the call.
  • Stay on the line for the whole call. If you must leave before the scheduled ending time, announce your situation at the start of the call. Accept decisions made by others in your absence.
  • Always state your name before commenting. Also, state the name of the person to whom you are addressing your comments. Research indicates that both practices improve audioconference productivity.
  • Take notes. Jotting down notes holds your attention in the absence of face-to-face contact. Take the notes according to who says what.
  • Keep notes about points you want to make. Don’t offer your thoughts immediately. Wait until it’s your turn, or until you have several things to say. Use the WAIT (why am I talking) tip.
  • If no one is assuming the role of facilitator for the call, suggest that someone do so.
  • Acquire a shoulder rest for your phone if you’re not using a speakerphone. If you do a lot of audioconferencing, invest in one of the recently improved types of speakerphones, which enhance your voice quality substantially.
  • Lightweight headsets are the best tool to use for audio teleconferencing. The newer models are cordless giving you more mobility during the call. This investment, once you get used to using it, will pay off in improved productivity in much of your other work also.
  • Hold the receiver away from your mouth. Breathing noises may cause interference on all the phone lines.
  • Enunciate clearly, and use concrete examples. Speak at slightly slower than normal speed. Experienced communication observers report that conference participants are heard more clearly if they slow down their delivery a bit.
  • Be especially conscious of your tone and vocal inflections. Research indicates that people interpret vocal cues more accurately than facial expressions or body language. Alliances and factions are more easily recognized, as are resisters and supporters.
  • Be on time for the call. Calls patching in after the conference has started are even more disruptive than late entrances to face-to-face meetings.
  • View the conference calls as an opportunity to sharpen your listening skills.
  • Be conscious of your “air time.” Ask for the thoughts of others who may not be contributing enough.
  • Look over any related materials before the call so that you can stay with the group during the call.
  • Get your coffee or beverage, go to the restroom, and so on, before the call so that you’re not frustrated while on the call.
  • Do your part to encourage a focused approach to conference calling. If an agenda is not pre-published, ask that one be developed before the call gets in full swing. Check that follow-up notes will be distributed to all members. Clarify decisions and agreements before the group moves from one agenda item to the next. Ask that responsibilities for assignments be clarified between meetings.
  • If people are sharing a speakerphone, everyone needs to move close to the microphone so they are clearly audible. Better speakerphones can pick up from a range of 12 to 15 feet. Most are only effective in much shorter ranges.

Videoconferencing Best Practices

Introduction:

More and more Cooperative Extension is exploring efficient and effective ways to conduct organizational business. Videoconferencing is a viable way for us to meet to do our work. We can do virtually anything in a video conference that you would do in an in-person meeting – hold discussions, create and display graphics, and more.

Many groups get excited over the prospect of what this technology can do for them and the potential cost benefits of eliminating expensive face-to-face meetings. Consequently, too often people rush into videoconferencing, neglecting to do the necessary planning, preparation, and facilitation work. The result is often a rather drab and confusing interchange, which turns people off to the technology. This guide may help avoid that pitfall and others associated with videoconferencing.

Ideas and Tips:

Here are some ideas and tips for you to consider when you set out to facilitate or participate in the videoconference.

Set up facilitation roles to make the conference successful. One person is selected to serve as videoconference chairperson at the master site for the conference. Another person can act as the videoconference “facilitator,” or the chairperson can take on the facilitation role.

Plan, plan, plan. Start planning early: the videoconference calls for more detailed planning than the traditional meeting, and thus more lead time for this step. In addition to planning the typical agenda for a meeting, plan for the various switches to different sites and whether these switches will be voice-activated or director-activated. You will need to take the time to coordinate your meeting designs with the technician who will be handling the mechanics and the switching, to make sure your designs will work with the technology. Simple purposes and clear outcomes are called for. Don’t expect to be able to do everything in the videoconference that can be done in the face-to-face meeting; include some traditional group processes in your meeting design, to keep the session from becoming tedious, but be selective. Best practice is to check with all participants before the conference to make sure the agenda meets their approval.

Plan several shorter sessions rather than one lengthy one. Like the audio teleconference, participants seem to have a shorter attention span for the videoconference. In most cases, you are better off planning four separate one-hour sessions than trying to complete a single four-hour agenda.

Welcome all sites and participants, and have people identify themselves before starting the meeting. Begin the round of personal introductions, having the chairperson and/or facilitator at your site go first; then ask the participants at your site to introduce themselves. Next, switch to the other site(s) and have everyone else do the same. As in the face-to-face meeting, you can use the introductions as an icebreaker activity by asking that each person add some type of data to his or her introduction.

Brief people at all sites on videoconference ground rules. Here are several ground rules for you to consider. Some are more essential than others, and some apply only in certain cases.

  • Always pause before speaking.
  • Keep comments brief.
  • Before commenting, state your name.
  • Speak in a normal tone and at a normal volume.
  • Look into the monitor while speaking.
  • Refrain from side conversations.
  • Don’t play with your microphone. Let the technical person make any adjustments.
  • Move a little slower than you normally would. Avoid moving around or fidgeting a lot.
  • Refrain from shuffling papers or making other distracting noises.
  • Avoid making sudden gestures, which can make the video image choppy.

Another alternative is to mail the ground rules to the participants ahead of time and ask them to look over the rules.

Model looking into the camera when you talk. You can help build the norm of looking into the camera when speaking by consistently modeling the behavior yourself.

Track participation. Because not everyone is in the same room at the same time, it is more difficult for the facilitator to keep track of who is participating and who is not. Keeping written track of participation is one helpful option. You may want to make a list of participants, by site, before the conference; then you can keep this list in front of you during the conference, marking each time a participant speaks.

Before signing off, summarize the meeting and let everyone know how the meeting record will be distributed. Build time into the agenda for a good summary of the meeting, including the actions and decisions agreed on and the next steps of the overall process. Appropriate closure is particularly important in distance communication. Before ending the session, check out your summary with each site and invite participants to clarify its contents and to add anything you may have missed. Give each site the opportunity to say good-bye and sign off. Let everyone know how, and when, the meeting record will be distributed.

Compiled by Louise Franck Cyr using materials from The Complete Guide to Facilitation by Tom Justice and David Jamieson.


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